While breweries around Japan are closing their door, it seems the opposite for Hokkaido, with Kamikawa Taisetsu having opened brewery after brewery over the last couple of years, including "Hekiun-Gura" in 2020 in Obihiro.
It is one of three (soon to be four) breweries by Kamikawa Taisetsu and what is fascinating about this one, is the fact, that the brewery is located on the campus of Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine. With Wakayama Toji also acting as a guest lecturer at the University and students having the opportunity to try brewing sake at the brewery as part of their studies.
It is great to see how they are trying to revitalize the region through sake with a very modern philosophy on brewing without losing the traditional side and creating exceptional sake in the process.
About Kamikawa Taisetsu Hekiun-Gura Sake Brewery
There are currently 3 Kamikawa Taisetsu sake breweries in Hokkaido, with each having a unique appeal and style. Hekiun-Gura, was apparently named after a historical student dormitory of Obihiro University and the university is well known for graduates joining breweries around the country.
It is interesting to know that the brewery uses medium hard water, which comes from the Satsunai River, originating in the Hidaka Mountains. This river is said to be one of the clearest streams in Japan. As for the rice, they are using three types of sake rice: Suisei, Ginpu, and Kita Shizuku working with farmers to create a sustainable environment.
Another unusual aspect of Kamikawa Taisetsu is that there is one master brewer that oversees all three breweries leading a team of Tojis. Here in Obihiro the Toji responsible for Hekiun-Gura is Kenichiro Wakayama.
Born in 1971 in Fukuoka Prefecture Wakayama-san worked in a variety of breweries all around Japan including Suigei Sake Brewery (Kochi), Taketsuru Sake Brewery (Hiroshima) or Dewazuru Sake Brewery (Akita). In addition, he also spend some time abroad where he gained experience at Les Larmes de Levant, a French sake brewery. He joined Kamikawa Taisetsu's Hekiungura in Tokachi, Hokkaido in 2020.
The Brewery Tour
As with many other breweries, Kamikawa Taisetsu Hekiun-Gura does not offer an actual brewery tour due to hygiene reasons, but they have created an observatory that visitors can freely access during shop opening hours.
As you can see from the small video below, it is strategically placed so visitors can see the rice steaming, into the room where the Moromi is bubbling away as well as get a view of their bottling station.
If you do plan to visit, make it during brewing season as otherwise, you will not be able to see any of the action. And my other advice is to come early in the morning. The shop usually opens at 10 am and this might let you get a glimpse of the rice steaming or subsequently the emptying of the "Koshiki", the rice steamer.
I had the chance to meet with Toji Wakayama-san and get a little more insight into the brewery, so for a deeper look at what the brewery looks like beyond what visitors normally get access to check out some of my impressions:
So far the brewery does not offer sake tastings, but I was told they are looking into opening a cafe space later this year, where this could be possible.
I love visiting sake breweries and I am always aware that the experience can widely vary in terms of what you get to see/get access to. What I loved about Kamikawa Taisetsu's Hekiun-Gura is, that although visitors cannot enter the actual brewing space, they can see inside and get a good feeling for how a sake brewery works.
I am also excited to see their tasting space opening up hopefully later this year, cause I think it will really round off the experience. It is definitely worth a visit, especially if you are looking to buy a few bottles or some of their other goods, as the beautiful showroom has a great selection of their sake, including some limited bottles only available here.
There are many other sake breweries that are open to visit, so if you are in Hokkaido make sure to also check out some of the others, you can find out more about sake brewery visits in Hokkaido.
Webpage: Kamikawa Taisetsu Hekiun-Gura
Address: Google Maps