Sake Brewery Tour

Hida Takayama (飛彈高山) has what it takes to produce the best sake: an ideal climate, pristine mountain stream and high quality local-grown rice.

There are six breweries in the city opening to the public. They are easy to identify – just look for the giant cedar ball hanging outside the entrance.

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During the peak brewing season of January and February, breweries take turns opening their facilities to visitors one week at a time. This is an unique opportunity. The schedules are posted on Visit Hida Takayama’s Official Facebook page. Below are the schedule for 2015:

Thu 15 January  – Wed 28 February:
Open: 10:00 – 12:00 13:00 – 16:00

1) 15-21 Jan / Funasaka Brewery (Miyamagiku)
2) 22-28 Jan / Hirata Brewery (Yamanohikari)
3) 29 Jan – 4 Feb / Harada Brewery (Sansya)
4) 5-12 Feb / Kawashiri Brewery (Hidahomasamune)
5) 12-18 Feb / Niki Brewery (Tamanoi)
6) 19-28 Feb / Hirase Brewey (Kusudama)

Niki brewery was giving tours during the time of our visit. It has 300 years of history and the present family is the 16th generation. Their specialty is ginjo sake for which highly polished rice (at least 60%) is used and fermented at colder temperatures for longer periods of time. They offer all their sake at best condition, for example, fresh namazake and daiginjo “Tama no i”which is bottled in its best season. The building is a traditional town house, called “machiya”, by local craftsmen featuring a large dirt floored space with solid beams and a sake storehouse with plastered walls. The architecture is based on the plan from 1695 when the shop first opened. The structure lets wind into a courtyard and humidity in the house is the same as it used to be despite parts of the original building burnt down 120 years ago. It was once used as a set for the filming of a TV program.

The tour begins……

According to our brochure, there are twelves steps to make sake:

  1. 玄米:Brown rice
  2. 精米:Seimai (Rice milling) – The rice is first polished to remove the protein and oils from the exterior of the rice grains, leaving behind starch.
  3. 洗米:Senmai (Washing)
  4. 浸漬:Shinseki (Soaking) – The rice is washed clean of the rice powder produced during milling and then steeped in water. The length of time depends on the degree to which the rice was polished, ranging from several hours or even overnight for an ordinary milling to just minutes for highly polished rice.
  5. 蒸米:Steaming – After soaking, the rice is steamed on a conveyor belt. The degree of cooking must be carefully controlled.
  6. 冷卻:Cooling – The steamed rice is cooled and divided into portions.
  7. 制麴:Seikiku (Making koji) – Sprinkle yeast into steamed rice and keep in a room with steady temperature at 30 degrees Celsius for two days.
  8.  酒母:Making Shubo (the Fermentation starter) – Shubo is made by mixing steamed rice, water, koji, and yeast and allow it to develop in a large wooden barrel for a week.
  9. 仕込み:  Shikomi – On the first day, koji, steamed rice, and water are added to the yeast starter. The mixture is left to stand the following day to allow the yeast to slowly multiply. On the third day, the second batch of koji, steamed rice, and water is added to the mixture. Then finally on the fourth day, the third batch is added to the mixture to complete the three-part process. From this point, the koji will convert the starch in the rice into glucose, which the yeast will then use to create alcohol and carbon dioxide. The conversion of starch to sugar and sugar to alcohol takes place in parallel all in the same tank. This is known as “multiple parallel fermentation,” and it is a process that is entirely unique to sake. Still with me?
  10. 上糟:Shibori (Pressing) – The process to separate sake and sake lees. Here, the 16th generation owner of the brewery is inspecting the pressing machine
  11. 火入:Hiire (Pasteurization)
  12. 濾過: Roka (Filtration)

The pasteurized and filtered sake is stored and aged in the tank, before final bottling.

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The tour ends with a free sampling of two sakes:

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And if you are like my friends, you pay to taste the rest 🙂

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Then move on to the next brewery 

And taste some more

Hirata brewery has a wide range of sake products including daiginjo, junmai nigori and honjozo. Its special sweet sake “Suiou”, a long term fermented old sake of more than ten years, won the first prize at the national sake brewery contest for three consecutive years since 2007.
They originally sold hair oil and candles when the shop opened in 1769, then they started sake making in 1895 which is quite new as a local brewery. Their business philosophy is sake making is not just manufacturing but caring, emphasizing the importance of hand made. They also run the Hirata Museum to exhibit utensils and materials from the late 18th century.

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