On The Road – Nada pt. 2

In my last post, I talked about visiting the Nada area of Kobe and the Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Museum. This continuation will look at some (slightly) lesser known kura, which were much more fun.

Directly after Hakutsuru, we went to visit SawanoTsuru. This brewery was founded 300 years ago, and it uses the distinctive “rice mark” ※ on its label to show its dedication to the prime ingredient of sake. Just like Hakutsuru, Sawanotsuru has made their old kura into a museum housing old equipment, including very old ruins of the very first kura on this sight that were exposed during rebuilding after the great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.

While much less flashy than Hakutsuru, this brewery museum is both more interesting (because of the detailed explanations and greater variety of items on display) and more fun, because There were actually staff of the kura there to talk about the place! It was amazing how that human touch made the experience so much more pleasant.

The rice mark.
Ornately wrapped koshiki steaming vat. The wrapping helped prevent burns, as well.

After touring the museum, the staff member who’d talked to us about the building and exhibits joined us in the museum shop where he helped pour samples and explain the sake. Again, this direct interaction with kura staff made this feel much more like a Yamaguchi-prefecture kura tour than the sterile museum at Hakutsuru.

The sake was also great. They had a junmai genshu to sample from a museum shop-only bottle (which I took home for the insane price of 1,000 yen tax included!) and an umeshu plum liquor that was the best I’ve ever had. I really can’t recommend this tour enough. The museum is nice, the staff is nice, and the sake! Oh, the sake!

We then headed to lunch at, you guessed it, another sake brewery! This time we headed to Fukuju, which has what I can only call a complex of traditional buildings that felt like entering temple grounds in Kyoto. There was a wide open internal garden surrounded by white walls and old fashioned buildings. The complex has a small gallery, a shop, a restaurant and more.

Fukuju cask

The restaurant was a very nice Japanese-style place with an emphasis on soba and sashimi, traditionally accompanied by sake, and of course they had a full range available to try. There were two different sake flights, and I tried the Junmai set to go with my Sake Soba–a cold zarusoba dish with a small choko of sake to pour over the noodles for a touch of aroma.

Sake soba, heavy on the sake.

After lunch, we hit the shop where there was not only a wide array of sake and drinkware, but a lot of local foodstuffs and souvenirs. There was also a sampling counter manned by a young Italian woman who spoke incredible English and Japanese, and poured a whole bunch of fantastic sake for us.

Again, this place is well worth a visit.

Hamafukutsuru. Yes, they have ice cream!

And finally, we wavered back to our driver and headed to the last stop, and my favorite. Hamafukutsuru Ginjo Kobo. If this place had a museum, we skipped it and headed right for the shop. The samples on offer here are incredible. There are probably 60 or 70 bottles lined up, with not only your normal ginjos and junmais, but fortified sake aged in brandy or sherry barrels, aged koshu, and more.

Fortified, aged sake and umeshu

I loved this place. The sake variety was huge, the staff friendly, and the prices reasonable. I understand that you can go see some displays, but I can see why my host wanted to head right for the big show. So. Many. Samples.

So yes, I went to Nada and enjoyed a whole lot of great sake. It’s a really important place in the history of this drink, and if you’re interested in learning about it you could do much worse than getting someone to drive you around these huge, historic kura.

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