Full names: Lucy Holmes and Tom Wilson
Roles: Co-founders of Kanpai London Sake
DOBs: 18/2/88, 4/6/85
Birthplaces: Norwich, Portsmouth
Fun Fact: Lucy went to her grandparents’ wedding. Her actual grandparents – they divorced and remarried in their 70s!
So, let’s start at the beginning – you’re a soon to be husband and wife duo, running what is, as far as I know, London’s first sake brewery. Please tell us how you met, where this crazy/excellent idea to start a sake brewery in Peckham came from, and how it’s been up to now?
We met the old traditional way – full of gin in a London bar! That was 6 years ago, but we’ve always shared a love for discovering new drinks, food and experiences. We can’t really pinpoint a time we decided to start a sake brewery. It’s a hobby that has got out of control! But the love for sake definitely came from our first amazing trip to Japan 3 years ago, and then the curiosity for it and the technicality in making it has kept us going.
Tom, you’ve been brewing beer for quite some time – what are the similarities and differences between making sake and making beer?
There are definitely similarities in the brewing process and the types of equipment involved. The key difference is that in beer making, you first extract the sugars then begin the fermentation. In sake making, the magic is that it happens simultaneously: the koji mould breaks down the starch from the rice into sugars so that the yeast can use it to make alcohol.
You described to me your intention to create a somewhat rawer style of sake – could you tell me the difference between what you’re making, and say what Ozeki or Gekkeikan do?
We feel the palettes of people here tend to go for big, bold flavours – hoppy beers and full-bodied reds. So we’d like our sakes to sit somewhere close to this. So it’s familiar, but different.
Asides from sake (and I presume sushi…), what might we find you guys eating and drinking? In terms of food and drink, what else is good in your neck of the woods?
We are spoiled for amazing food in Peckham and Dulwich. For an inspired burger that you’ll need 10 napkins to eat because it’s THAT juicy, head to Slow Richies, and whilst your there wash it down with a fresh pick of Brick Brewery Peckham Pale Ale. You also can’t go wrong with most of the jerk chicken on offer in Peckham – and a sweet baklava treat to follow from Persiopolis.
We’ve actually just come back from lunch at Artusi on Bellenden Road – they make their own fresh pasta and it’s second to none. But you’ll most likely find us scouring the shelves in Hops, Burns and Black for new sour beers, IPAs and chilli sauces. Oh and Gannapati have the best thalis in town! On that note, sake is fantastic with Indian food.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the business of sake making?
Sadly 9-5 it’s still desk jobs. So that means evenings and weekends are at the brewery. At the start of a new batch, it takes a lot of time and love. There’s very specific ways and timings to wash and steam kilos of rice. We also make our own koji rice – so we use spores and grow the mould ourselves, which has to be very tightly controlled in terms of temperature.
In fact, we have an alarm that will wake us up in the night if it’s going out of the right temperature range – it’s like having a newborn baby! Once the fermentation is going, it’s a case of keeping it happy and moving, before we press it in cotton bags and get to the bottling. We’re a very small microbrewery so everything we do is by hand – bottling is going to be a huge task soon!
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
Tom got the opportunity to brew alongside Gekkeikan’s master toji in Kyoto, what an honour!
Where do you get your ideas?
Usually after a few drinks!
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
Shipping rice from the US has huge challenges – we’ve learned how to get anything through customs!
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
The variety of food and drink on offer across London is our inspiration. How different flavours and cultures fuse and you can never keep up even though we try! We can’t pick out just one, but so many craft beer breweries in London inspire us, as have micro-sake breweries we have visited in the USA.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
Most is the satisfaction from making a product you can share with others to enjoy. The worst – it’s cold and hard work!
What advice would you give to aspiring drinks entrepreneurs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Practice, learn from inevitable mistakes and keep being curious.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Running a guest house in Sri Lanka. We’d happily have curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
If you could get anyone to try your sake (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the drinks would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
Tyrion Lanister – he drinks and he knows! We’re sure he’d love our cloudy nigori from one of his goblets whilst he comes up with a genius plan.
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for the brewery? If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Money and reality are no obstacle, so shoot for the moon…
It’s to get bigger and better and keep producing new varieties that people want to drink and share. Ultimately, we’d love to open up an izykaya (Japanese style pub) selling sake by the glass, so it’s accessible to everyone. The dream would be to serve sake on tap and see people chosing it to go alongside a whole variety of cuisines.
Where next for you and Kanpai?
Brewing and talking. We hope to pair up with some pop ups this summer to get our sake out there. We’re launching a crowdfunding campaign in May to hopefully give us a needed leg up to keep producing more and better sakes, and give people access to bottles from our very first batch from the brewery.
Anything I missed that you’d like to include here? (include as much or as little as you’d like)
Just that we’d love people to think of sake this way: it’s brewed like a beer, but enjoyed like a wine. Don’t be afraid of it, it’s not a harsh spirit that you have warm! It has delicate and a huge variety of flavours from melon to green apple to toasted nuts and chocolate. Our sakes are also box-tickers: gluten-free, sulphite-free, vegan, preservative-free, hangover-free…
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you were forced to fend off an alien invasion and singlehandedly save mankind using only the tools available at Kanpai, how would you do it?
Glycol cool them in the tank!
If you had a time machine that could send you backward in time as far as you wanted (without any logical paradoxes, timeline contamination, etc.) – what period of time would you visit and what are the first 3 things you’d do once you got there?
To 1970, when Free were number 1 in the UK rock music charts. We’d go to their gig, crowd surf and enjoy having no mobile phone!
If you had a day to spend in the life and body of your seven year old self (but with your current experience and mindset), what would the first three things you would do?
Get a book to learn another language, ask for a steel drum for Christmas and run around naked (because we’d get arrested doing it at our age!)