One of my favorite Doburoku from the Craft Sake Brewery Association is "Happy Taro" in Shiga. With delicious products, a great design, and a charismatic maker, this is one Doburoku that I hope everyone gets to try, and no better place than their small brewery in the center of Nagahama.
Let's Rewind a Little
Happy Taro Brewery was opened in 2017 in Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture. Although not actually a "brewery" back then, at that time the focus was on fermented food, mainly making koji.
Then in December 2021, the brewery was moved into Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture, into the commercial and cultural facility “ Umi no Shole ”. While continuing to develop the koji side of the business, now having obtained a brewing license Happy Taro started brewing doburoku! But also still continued to make other fermented products such as miso.
Of course, none of this would have happened without the charismatic owner, brewer, and creator Kotaro Ikejima. With 12 years of sake brewing experience at various breweries including Nihonkai Sake Brewery (Shimane), Tomita Sake Brewery (Shiga), and Okamura Honke (Shiga). He was also engaged in agriculture and miso processing at Shimane's organic "Yasaka Cooperative Farm". Clearly, all this experience has led to what we now know as "Happy Taro" and the Doburoku made here is a result of that. With a simple concept, local rice, local water, Doburoku here is created in balance with the ecosystem surrounding the brewery.
Happy Taro - The Brewery
If you are imagining a traditional brewery, think again, as Happy Taro is located in a very new, sophisticated design space. In fact, I almost did not find it, as I would have not expected a brewery to be located inside a store (and yes, that also means brewing only happens during store opening hours, hence between 9 and 6 pm and that means Koji making had to be adapted to work during these limited working hours too).
It is an incredibly cool space, probably best described as a sustainable craft department store and highlight of the brewery inside the shop is that visitors get to both look into the brewery space, Koji room and take a seat to taste their Doburoku in a nice small tasting space.
The Doburoku Tasting
Happy Taro does not have an extensive product line and at the time I visited there were 4 Doburoku available:
-“Happy Doburoku” their standard
-“Huell Melon” a Hop Doburoku
-“Something Happy” Fresh Herb Tea (with mint and marigold)
-“Something Happy” made with Green Tea
Now the “Happy Doburoku” is their standard brew and available all year around while the other 3 were seasonal and often in collaboration with other regional artisans. Creating products that showcase both aspects of the makers in a meaningful and delicious way.
With time on my hands, and sure why not, I decided to try the lot. The tasting set of 4 landed at 700Yen that is certainly amazing value. I started with the standard “Happy Doburoku” and no crazy surprises there (as I had tasted this multiple times before). The hop Doburoku was nice, but I had similar products from Puku Puku and Heiwa Doburoku and I must say, it is not my favourite flavour profile. Moving on to the “Something Happy Doburoku" line, these were fabulous. Both the Green Tea and the Herb Tea (with mint and marigold) were insanely good and at a lower alcohol content, just 7% abv really perfect for the summer!
Only downside, these will be hard to come by as the production is limited and especially the seasonal releases will not make it very far. All the more reasons to come here. However, if that is too far, make sure if you do see these bottles, get them while you can...
Interesting Fact - Label Design
Since I first saw this Doburoku I loved the label - a simple paper cut of an animal black on white. Very recognizable and easy to remember. I did not realise it was designed by Hayakawa Teppei, a paper cut artist from Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, wo creates beautiful artwork based on animals and plants using paper cuts and to be honest quite fitting for the concept of the brewery and their story.
So it was interesting chatting to Kotaro Ikeshima after the tasting, as for one, I assumed the animal was a wolf, but indeed is a fox. Also looking closer at some of the labels it seemed that sometimes the fox was looking to the right side, while other times he would gaze to the left. This is indeed 200% intentional. With the label where he looks to the left being a pure rice Doburoku, whereas the other label will always be Doburoku that has an added ingredient, like the tea for example. Fun fact, if you are looking at the plant next to the fox, on the standard Doburoku you can see a rice ore, with all the others this has been replaced with a flower. Pretty smart design and a nice icebreaker.
Location: Goggle Maps