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

February 13, 2012

Sake from Miyagi Prefecture (Regional Sake)

Miyagi Prefecture forms the central part of Tohoku, and its capital Sendai, built by Date Masamune who established his castle here in 1604, is the largest city in northern Honshu with more than a million inhabitants. Although the western side of the prefecture is mountainous (including the famous Zao range), there is a large plain around Sendai. A famous scenic spot near Sendai is Matsushima, 260 tiny, pine covered islands in a shallow bay. There is a lot of fresh seafood from the Pacific coast with its many excellent ports as Shiogama and Ishimaki, while the central plain is a rice growing area.

Although the number of breweries is not as high as in Akita or Yamagata (25 in 2015), many of them concentrate on quality sake (about 80% of the total, against 25% nationwide) and especially junmaishu (more than 26%). Rice used consists in the first place of the famous food rice types Sasanishiki and Hitomebore, but also the Kura no Hana sake rice has been developed in more recent years. The taste of Miyagi sake is refined and probably the driest among the six Tohoku prefectures - due to both the extensive use of food rice (instead of sake rice) and the matching with local seafood.

Although most have overcome the disaster, breweries in Miyagi were hard hit by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

Some of the main breweries are (in alphabetical order):
  • Ichinokura (Ichinokura Co., Ltd., Matsuyama, Osaki City). Established in 1973 through the joint-venture of four historical breweries. By shifting to premium sake, it has built a strong base in Japan as a popular drink in izakaya restaurants. Uses various types of rice from Miyagi and always polishes the rice to at least 63% (7 percent more than necessary for premium sake). Also makes low-alcohol sake Himezen and the sparkling, light nigori Suzune. 
  • Katsuyama, brands: Akatsuki, Den, etc. (Katsuyama Shuzo, Sendai). Founded in 1688, and the only purveyor of sake to the Date lords of Sendai still in existence. Produces only junmai type sake. Interview with the president of the company, Mr Isawa Jihei, who is wine sommelier and looks at sake like wine, to be enjoyed during dinner. Also operates the kaiseki restaurant and wedding hall Shozankan (this used to be the brewery's guesthouse).
  • Urakasumi (Saura Co., Ltd., Shiogama). Established in 1724. Originated as producer of sake for the historical Shiogama Shrine, close to scenic Matsushima. Brand-name comes from a classical poem written by Minamoto no Sanetomo. Pioneer in producing ginjo sake. Developed a new yeast that is now Association Yeast No. 12. Operates a sake gallery (shop selling sake and accessories, as well as offering tasting for a small fee) next to the brewery. Brewery tours possible upon advance reservation, but only outside of brewery shown, not the actual brewing area.
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.