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

April 11, 2012

Sake from Tochigi Prefecture (Sake by Region)

Tochigi Prefecture is home to the famous Nikko temples and the beautiful nature area around Lake Chuzenji and Mt Nantai, the Nasu resort area - both national parks -, and Kinugawa Onsen. Near the capital Utsunomiya (where one-fourth of the 2 million inhabitants of the prefecture live) is a well-known stone quarry, Oya, and Tochigi City is a laid-back town with canals and warehouses. Mashiko is a famous pottery town. The Kinugawa, Nakagawa and Watarase rivers flow through the prefecture.

There are 25 breweries in Tochigi (2015), all small or medium-sized. Areas with concentrations of breweries are the cities of Sano (in the western part of Tochigi) and Otawara (northern Tochigi) as well as along the Kinugawa. Presumably, they originally only brewed for their local area. Due to the salty food in this inland prefecture, sake used to be rather sweet - something also caused by the soft water - but recently the taste of Tochigi's sake has become drier in line with general preferences.

The prefecture has been active in the development of new fragrant yeast types (T-1, based on Association Yeast 9). The southern part of Tochigi is part of the Kanto Plain and here rice is cultivated, such as Hatsuboshi, a local food rice. As sake rice, Gohyakumangoku and Miyama Nishiki are popular and the prefecture is also endeavoring to develop its own types.

Several breweries in Tochigi have built warehouses of the above-mentioned Oya stone, which is excellent for temperature and moisture control.

Some of the main breweries are (in alphabetical order):
  • Azuma Rikishi (Shimazaki Shuzo, Nasu-Karasuyama). Est. 1849. ”Sumo wrestler from Eastern Japan." One of the largest breweries in Tochigi, with a wide assortment of sake (as well as shochu, liqueurs and wine). Famous for its sake aged in cave tunnels - it has various types of koshu on the market, varying between 5 and 15 years in age. The brewery also makes a Daiginjo Usu-nigori, a lightly clouded sake, and is active with various other seasonal products as well. Brewery tours 8also to the cave tunnels) possible upon advance reservation. There is also a shop. Short walk from JR Karasuyama St.
  • Kaika (Daiichi Shuzo, Sano). "Coming into Bloom." Est 1673, the oldest brewery in the prefecture. Surrounded by its own rice paddies where Wakamizu and Omachi rice is cultivated. Only makes sake of Honjozo quality and above. Known for its fragrant Daiginjo. Next to the brewery is a gallery with materials about sake brewing. 
  • Sohomare (Sohomare Sake Brewery, Co., Ltd.,  Kamine, Ichikai-machi, Haga-gun). Small brewery founded in 1872 by the Kono family, located in the Tochigi area. All sake is hand-brewed according to the traditional kimoto method. Uses Yamada Nishiki sake rice. Website also in English and French.
  • Tentaka (Tentaka Shuzo, Otawara). "Hawk in the Heavens." Est. 1914. Relatively new brewery set up by a sake trader who bought a brewery and changed his metier. Uses natural underground springs and cultivates its own Hanafubuki sake rice. Early adopter of jinjo brewing and junmaishu. Now also organic sake.
Tochigi 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.