Ibaraki is the prefecture with the largest number of sake breweries of all Kanto prefectures (44 in 2015). The area of Ishioka, north of Lake Kasumigaura, was once dubbed "the Nada of the Kanto" and one still finds many breweries there with long histories (among them two of the oldest in the country). One sake area stretches west from Ishioka to the foot of Mt. Tsukuba - there are also several makers of soy sauce and miso here. Another sake area is in the northern part of Ibaraki, along the Kuji River - the scale here is smaller but there are several unique breweries.
Association Yeast No. 10 was developed by Mr. Ogawa Chikara at Meiri Shurui in the prefecture and is locally still called "Ogawa yeast." The prefectural technology center has set up a brewing technology division ("Miki Tsukasa Ibaraki") which has been active in developing new yeast strains (YS-44) and new sake rice (Hitachi sake 17-go). A new, very fragrant type of yeast is M-310.
The overall taste of sake from Ibaraki is soft and a bit sweet (due to the soft water one finds here), although the sake is also fresh and not too heavy. Also the Yeast No. 10 plays a large role here, leading to a quiet type of sake with little acidity.
Some of the main breweries are (in alphabetical order)
- Fuku Shogun (Meiri Shurui, Mito). Est. in the Ansei period (1854-1860). "Deputy Shogun," so named of popular hero Mito Komon, who was the second lord of the Mito domain and reputedly a sake lover. The Ogawa yeast mentioned above was developed at this company and results in fragrant sake and little acidity. Also produces shochu and umeshu. The Meiri Shurui Bessyunkan can be visited for the museum with archives about the company's history; tasting is also possible and there is a shop. Reservation only necessary for groups. A 20 min. walk or short taxi ride from the South exit of Mito Station.
- Hitorimusume (Yamanaka Shuzo Co., Ltd., Joso). Est. 1805. "Only Daughter." Specializes in dry "Nada-type" sake although using soft water (water from the nearby Kinugawa). Also fills the brewing tank in two stages instead of the usual three. Built on left bank of the Kinogawa river and buffeted by cold winds from Nikko in winter, so ideal surroundings for Kanzukuri (brewing in the cold season). Upon advance application brewery visit possible.
- Kikusakari (Kiuchi Sake Brewery, Naka). Est. 1823. "Full bloom of Chrysanthemums" (the flower representing the emperor, as Mito was an area with many imperial loyalists in the 19th c.). Known for its fresh and fruity, prizewinning ginjo sakes. Has diversified into brewing local beer "Hitachino Nest Beer," as well as wine making and shochu production. You can brew your own beer on the premises. Also makes a red, sweet-and-sour sake with Kodaimai, an ancient black variety of rice. Operates a shop, tasting corner and soba restaurant. 5 min walk from Hitachi Konosu St. on the Suigun line that runs between Mito and Koriyama.
- Sato no Homare (Sudo Honke Inc., Obara). "Local Pride." Holds the oldest written records regarding sake brewing, going back all the way to 1141. Present owner is the 55th in the family line. Only brews Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo. Has been drawing brewing water from the same wells for 800 years. Brewery visit possible upon advance application. 10 min by taxi from Tomobe st (stop of Super Hitachi from Ueno).
- Wataribune, Fuchu Homare (Fuchu Homare Brewery, Ishioka). Est. 1854. "Pride of the Capital." Wataribune is the name of an old sake rice, which has been revived by this brewery for one line of its sakes (Wataribune is in fact one of the parents of Yamada Nishiki).
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.