This blog focuses on two things, mostly: Jizake in general (i.e. small local sake breweries), and Yamaguchi in particular. Today’s post, however, has nothing to do with either. A colleague on a recent business trip invited me to visit his neighborhood of Nada in Kobe to visit some sake breweries, and how could I say no?
Nada is often considered the heart of modern sake brewing. While sake’s origins lie far back in history, the existence of sake as a large production popular drink is rooted right there in Kobe. There are a number of factors that led to this: the famous water, the perfect Yamadanishiki growing climate, and the convenient location. The result is that there is a huge cluster of some of the biggest names in sake brewing in one compact area.
My trip through the area really opened my eyes to the differences in this industry. Not only were the production facilities on an entirely different scale to anything I’d seen in Yamaguchi, the breweries had a totally different attitude toward their relationship with the public. In short, the Nada breweries overall (not universally) embrace the idea of sakagura tourism. Many breweries have museums and spacious shops selling not only their sake but also drinkware, snacks, and more. One even had a full restaurant with dishes to match their sake! It’s a wonderful place to visit, if you have a driver.
We started our trip at Hakutsuru, which boasts of being Japan’s #1 selling brand. It has a production of about 61,100,000 liters a year, which is, frankly, enormous. Dassai, Yamaguchi’s largest producer, put out 4,690,000 liters (as of 2016). I would posit that this isn’t a brewery, it’s a factory. But it’s hard to say, though, since I didn’t see anything except the museum they’ve made from the old kura.
It was a slick production, complete with projection mapping theater and recreations of an old wooden kura–which looks just like the typical Yamaguchi kura.
At the end of the museum tour is a room where cups of two Hakutsuru sake versions sat waiting. One, “Kurazake,” was a dry, somewhat coarse junmai, and next to it was a Fukurotsuri Junmai Daiginjo.
This one was quite nice, of course. It’s hard to make a fukurotsuri that’s not lovely. But something was missing from this tour. And that thing was people.
I did not set eyes on a single member of Hakutsuru’s staff. No one to answer questions, no one to talk about the kura’s standards or values. It was cold. Sterile. And, frankly, pretty much what I expected from Hakutsuru. It’s a massive place, automated and efficient, and not at all what I want when I go to a sakagura.
Luckily, this was only one of 4 visits we made that day, and the others were much more enjoyable. I’ll go over them in my next post!