When in Kyoto there is really NO excuse not to visit Matsui Shuzo, or Matsui Brewery, as it is by far, one of the easiest sake breweries to visit in Kyoto (maybe in Japan?).
Located in heart of Kyoto towards the north, this small sake brewery has been well loved by locals for its sake and also for its well, which is accessible to the public, with many neighbors coming to take water from it.
How to Get to Matsui Brewery?
It is incredibly easy, just take the public transport (either local bus, subway or a combination of them) from Kyoto station and it will take you about 35min to get to the brewery. If you opt for the bus, a one-way ticket will set you back 230Yen. Or, if you are near to the imperial palace or Heian Shrine it is even closer, a mere 15-20min. As I said, there is really no excuse not to visit.
The Sake Brewery
Matsui Sake Brewery was actually founded in 1726, not in Kyoto, but in Kasumi, Kinosaki-gun, which would now be in Kazumi-Cho in Hyogo. It moved several times, changed its name, and even stopped brewing for an extended period of time (learn more about it here) and was revived in 2009 at its current location in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward. Where it has been open to the public with a small shop and tasting bar. However, you may just walk past it thinking this is just another shop, as it is located inside of an apartment building on the ground floor. And this is how it has been until very recently...
Because Matsui Brewery, and as a result of the pandemic, did the brave move to refurbish its showroom and more. They just reopened their store in May/June 2022, adding not just a couple of tanks but also a very elegant sake bar, high-end "wine" dispensers and of course, a food menu to match their sake (and likely make you stay for even longer).
The tasting bar used to face a live screen, transmitting what is happening inside the brewery and although this is not behind the bar anymore, you can still go check it out and see what part of the sake-making process the brewers are currently at. However, there is no reason to be sad to not have that view anymore, the new concept (including the view on the tanks) certainly makes up for it.
Talking to Jorge Navarrete, who has been brewing at Matsui Shuzo for the past years, he is extremely excited about the new changes. Being able to have more people enjoy their sake and for him to have more time to engage with visitors being just a few of them. Because aside from the visitor-facing changes, the new tanks added will also help them with their production of liquors that are already in their range of products, along with adding new ones. On top of that adding a distill will soon result in an array of other beverages added and word has it a Gin will be produced somewhere in the near future. So yes, extremely exciting!
Sake Tasting at Matsui Brewery
When previously, tastings were held with the staff (quite likely Jorge) pouring the sake for you, this has now been modernized. As you arrive at the sake Brewery, head to the back and purchase yourself a card, which can be loaded with the cash amount of your choice and then be used at the sake dispensers.
Once you got your card, the staff (for now, as this might change) will give you a glass and you are free to try any of the sake. Just insert the card into the dispenser and choose the size, with tastings available in 3 sizes. There is also a well-water fountain to rinse your glass in between tasting and of course, the food menu is there to showcase just how well the sake pairs (and maybe to make sure this won't be your last stop for the day).
As far as I know, the front fridge has their popular Kagura lineup, including seasonal sake and if you move to the back a second fridge holds their premium sake (so don't miss it). However, the idea is still to interact with the staff, who will guide you towards the sake you might like or a tasting course guiding you through their product range, so questions and conversations are highly encouraged.
Of course, if you like what you drink you can pick up a bottle to take home too!
Location: Goggle Maps