Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

October 11, 2011

Sake from Aomori Prefecture (Sake by Region)

Aomori is the northernmost prefecture of the Tohoku region, lying on Honshu island opposite Hokkaido, from which it is separated by the Straits of Tsugaru. It used to be a poor and inaccessible region, its two peninsula's (Tsugaru and Shimokita) have preserved old folk traditions longer than elsewhere. The castle town and administrative center in Edo times was Hirosaki, the capital Aomori was developed as a port city since Japan's modernization in Meiji times. Most sake breweries date from the Meiji-period (late 19th c.). Natural beauty can be found in the Hachimantai mountains, the Oirase Valley and Lake Towada.

Sake from Aomori has a dry and fresh style, sometimes with a slight sweetness, typical for many parts of Tohoku. Association yeast No. 10 is from Aomori and indeed leads to a smart sake with little acidity. The prefecture was early in developing rice stains that could stand the cold climate. Older types of sake rice are "Kojo Nishiki" and "Hohai," later came the superior "Hanafubuki." This has again been crossed with Yamada Nishiki, resulting in "Hana Omoi," a sake rice giving a soft but deeper taste than usual in Tohoku.

Sake breweries are concentrated in the Tsugaru area around Hirosaki, and in the Nanbu area from Towada to Hachinohe. Tsugaru has its own small group of toji, in the Nambu area work the Nanbu toji from Iwate. There are 21 active breweries in Aomori (2015).

Some of the main breweries are (in alphabetical order):
  • Denshu (Nishida Sake Brewery), Aomori City. Est. 1877. Denshu is written with the characters for "rice field" and "sake," a name chosen in recent times (the old brand name still used for some sakes is Kikuizumi) to express the importance of the flavor of the rice. Not surprisingly, it is junmaishu for which this brewery is best known. The sake is made by hand, in small quantities. Denshu has grown into a popular name among sake drinkers. No brewery visits, no sale of sake at the brewery.
  • Joppari (Rokka Shuzo), Hirosaki. "Stubborn Person" (Tsugaru dialect) in the sense of "totally committed to make excellent products." Company established via the merger of three Hirosaki breweries in 1972, with as new brand Joppari. Also produces shochu and various liqueurs.
  • Komaizumi (Morita Shobei), Shichinohe, Shichinohe-machi, Kamikita-gun. "The Well of the Colt." Founded in 1736 by a trader from Omi (Shiga); started operating as a dedicated sake brewery in 1872. Uses the excellent subsoil water of the Higashi-Hakkoda mountains; considers water as the most important element in sake. Uses only local rice as Mutsuhomare and Reimei, as well as local sake rice as Hana Omoi and Hanafubuki. No brewery visits. 
  • Momokawa (Momokawa Brewing, Inc.), Oirase Town. Other brand names are "Nebuta" and "Sugidama." Established in 1889 by Murai Kuramatsu in Hachinohe, but going back to the Edo-period brewery of the Miura family in Momoishi village. Uses pure water from the Oirase River aquifer. Momokawa started the SakeOne Brewery in Oregon, U.S.A., and is still involved with it. Brewery tours possible upon advance application. Boasts the largest sugidama (cedar ball) in Japan (2.2 meters in diameter). 
Aomori Sake Brewers Association
When planning a brewery visit, check in advance whether the brewery accepts visitors and whether it is open on the day and time you plan to go, especially if a long trip is necessary to get there (see the brewery's website for tel. no or mail address). Note that brewery tours, if available, always have to be booked in advance. Many breweries, however, do not allow visitors in their production area, or only in certain seasons / for certain sizes of groups. In contrast, if a sake museum or brewery shop is present, this is usually open without reservation.
Sake by Region:
Hokkaido/Tohoku: Hokkaido - Aomori - Akita - Iwate - Miyagi - Yamagata - Fukushima
Kanto area: Ibaraki - Tochigi - Gunma - Saitama - Chiba - Tokyo - Kanagawa
Hokushinetsu: Yamanashi - Nagano - Niigata - Toyama - Ichikawa - Fukui
Tokai area: Shizuoka - Aichi - Gifu - Mie
Kansai area: Shiga - Kyoto - Osaka - Hyogo - Nara - Wakayama
Chugoku area: Tottori - Shimane - Okayama - Hiroshima - Yamaguchi
Shikoku: Tokushima - Kagawa - Ehime - Kochi
Kyushu/Okinawa: Fukuoka - Saga - Nagasaki - Kumamoto - Oita - Miyazaki / Kagoshima / Okinawa
Reference materials: Kikisakeshi Koshukai Tekisuto by Sake Service Institute (Tokyo, 2009); Nihonshu no kyokasho by Kimura Katsumi (Shinsei Shuppansha: Tokyo, 2010); Nihonshu no Tekisuto (2): Sanchi no Tokucho to Tsukuritetachi by Matsuzaki Haruo (Doyukan, 2005); The Book of Sake by Philip Harper (Kodansha International: Tokyo, New York, London, 2006); The Sake Companion by John Gauntner (Running Press: Philadelphia & London, 2000); The Sake Selection by Akiko Tomoda (Gap Japan: Tokyo, 2009).
The blog author Ad Blankestijn works for the Daishichi Sake Brewery and is an accredited sake sommelier and sake instructor. He also hosts independent sake seminars to propagate knowledge about his favorite drink. The above text reflects his personal opinion.