It is June and Summer has arrived in Japan - sticky, humid and just incredibly hot. Not much brewing anymore (although there still are some breweries that are making sake all year long), but plenty of events and time to explore parts of Japan I have not been to, so an exciting month to look back on, especially as my time in Tochigi has come to an end and my move to Kyoto is in full swing (at least until the end of the year)...
More From the Utsunomiya Cocktail Club!
As already mentioned last month (read all about it here), as I am moving to Kansai for an undecided amount of time, I decided to take up the Utsunomiya Cocktail Club Challenge. This means I will try to visit as many of these amazing bars as I can until I leave Utsunomiya and as it stands I have managed to sample some of the best Cocktails this town has to offer from 7 bars (to be continued...).
So to pay a little tribute to each of them, as every single one did an amazing job hosting and mastering their craft, here is a super small introduction to the bar, a drink that I loved, or the barman who made it for me. If you are planning to come to Utsunomiya, make sure to pay some of these gentlemen and gentlewomen a visit.
Utsunomiya Coktail Club #2: Paipu no Kemuri Ikegami Honten
“Paipu no Kemuri Ikegami Honten” is said to be the bar that started it all and therefore had to be on my list of cocktail bars to visit here in Utsunomiya. Located on the main street on the 5th floor the big outdoor sign makes it easy to find. A spacious bar that aside from cocktails also offers bar snacks and some food. There are tables but to get the real experience I do recommend sitting at the bar counter.
It is pretty quite early on, but has a great vibe especially on weekends. My favorite Cocktail here was their "sea star".
Utsunomiya Coktail Club #3: Bar Juice
Loved Bar Juice! Small cocktail bar with about 8 bar counter seats, high sealing, and a small comfy lounge with sofa's on the 1st floor where you can watch the cocktails being made from a unique angle. However, counter seats are definitely where you want to be. The beautiful bar and the built-in lights make your cocktail glow once they are ready (it really is a photographer's dream!).
We came for one cocktail and stayed for 3: Kamikaze, Daiquiri, and Singapore Sling were all delicious, and chatting with Hiroyuki Ebihara, who was behind the bar was fun and educational.
Highly recommend visiting if you are in Utsunomiya!
Utsunomiya Coktail Club #4: Hiro:z
Hiro:z is a cozy cocktail bar just a few minutes off the main street in Utsunomiya. Counter seats only and maybe a little surprisingly - no menu. Which even if you are a cocktail novice is no problem, as the barman easily navigates and with a few expert questions gets to what you might like and then conjures up delicious cocktails according to it.
Huge bonus for the light setup, that magically illuminates your drinks just before they are served. Just one thing, if you are looking for Utsunomiya's signature fruit cocktails then you have to move on, as you will not find any of these here...
Utsunomiya Coktail Club #5: Kikyo
This brings us to "Kikyo", which is literally next door to Hiro:z and this is one of the beautiful things about Utusunomiya and its cocktail bars, they are all located within a 1km stretch, easily walkable and perfect to get your cocktail game on.
This bar was on my list but was also recommended by the last barman to get that fruit cocktail we were looking for. Another cozy cocktail bar, with a little younger vibe, having a stormtrooper comfortably lounging between bottles in a corner.
We ordered the recommended cherry-based cocktails and were not disappointed at all. Although I do have to say, I am not particularly fond of fruity drinks - but when in Utsunomiya...
Yet, a great way to finish the night and my cocktail journey for now. More to come in the future...
Nishiyama Sake Brewery - Master of Sake
Recently the Sake Sommelier Academy launched a brand new program that teaches its participants the art of sake brewing up close in a 2-month sake brewing program and I had the chance to visit the first participant, Carl Callewaert from Sake and Tasty Bites as he was halfway through the program at Nishiyama Brewery in Hyogo prefecture.
This might be to date the most comprehensive sake-making experience as participants do not just work along the Toji and Kurabito, but every step is explained in real time and participants take over tasks including lab work and calculations. What an amazing experience for anyone who really wants to get insights into sake brewing and an unprecedented look behind the scenes of a sake brewery!
If you are curious to see just how it was, then make sure to follow Carl's Instagram as he has painstakingly taken videos of all parts for us to follow him on his journey making sake!
JSS Fair and Tasting
What a day at the Japanese Sake Fair 2023 in Tokyo!
Part of the event is a public tasting of "the Annual Japan Sake Awards", sponsored by the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association and the National Research Institute of Brewing. It features over 390 award-winning Ginjo sake out of 818 sake that were sent in for evaluation.
Spoiler alert, I did not manage to taste all of them, but had a chance to try most of the winners from Yamagata, Tohoku, Hokkaido, and Kyushu along with trying many great sake from all around Japan at the second part of the event, which had breweries come out and sample their sake on their respective booths. Great to see so many familiar faces, both on the brewer's side and on the visitors too.
Aged Sake Pairing Dinner at Awaji
I met the guys from "Inishie no Bishu" at the JSS Sake Fair a few weeks ago and they let me know about their aged sake pairing restaurant. So when I had a chance to visit Awaji Island, I was very excited to try their special Aged Sake and Food Pairing Dinner course!
"Koshu no Ya" is specialized in blended aged sake (along with other aged beverages like Umeshu), and aside from their shop, they have a stunning restaurant with a fantastic view ✨
My favorite from the tasting and a little bit surprising was the 2009 Maboroshi no Taki from Mikunihare Shuzo in Toyama - I probably should have bought a bottle, ah well 😅
Sennenichi Brewery in Awaji
As we were heading back to Osaka, we decided to pay a little surprise visit to Awaji's Sennenichi Brewery, as their homepage said they would offer tours and tastings. Now we did not have time to make reservations (which you can via their homepage) and pretty much just arrived unannounced, yet the staff friendly welcomed us, which was really amazing.
A little unusual but great was that in order to get to the tasting and shop area, you have to walk through half the brewery (no complaints there 笑) to get there. As we passed through an older Kurabito beckoned us aside to check out the freshly pasteurized bottles and touch them as they were still warm. Really amazing.
The tasting itself was simple and as we already had their sake the night before, there were no surprises. Really enjoyed the generosity of the setup and that aside from sake, visitors could also taste amazake and Umeshu, as well as eat the plums that were leftover from making it.
Kenzo Wine in Osaka
I had wines from Kenzo Estate Winery before, so when a delayed check-in had us wait for at least an hour and the prospect of one of their wine bars just around the corner, it seemed like a fitting solution to pop in while waiting for our rooms to get ready.
This is a great spot for any wine fan to have a glass and relax, even more so as they have an excellent bar menu, full of small dishes that pair perfectly with the wines on hand. A great place to spend an hour or two and definitely a great choice to wait at until check-in...
Tamba Wine in Hyogo
I really wanted to visit Tanba Wine - Kyoto's first winery, as a friend recommended it to me earlier this year, so I was super happy when we were in the area and had a chance for a quick visit!
They have a winery tour available for 1100Yen, in which you get to see the vineyard, factory, and then get a tasting of some of their wines, which by the way were fantastic!
Fun fact, they started making wine in 1979, but they first used a sake brewery, which they rented just a short drive from their current location and they used the same tanks and tried to adapt the equipment as well as they could.
I wish we had had more time because they also have a restaurant and a grill, where they use local and seasonal ingredients to create dishes that pair beautifully with their wines. It is definitely a place I would love to go back to and really highly recommend a visit if you are in the area, just make sure you can stay for lunch or dinner
Tamba Toji Museum in Sasayama
Did you know there is a “Tamba Toji Museum”?
Located in Sasayama it’s a nice spot to check out, especially since it is close to the local sake brewery.
It’s pretty cool and for 100 yen you get to see lots of historical tools and big wooden barrels along with videos and sign boards all about making sake (in English!). I even found Nishiyama Breweries Toji, which we just visited, although he was pretty hard to spot 😁
Houmei Sake Brewery Visit and Tasting
"Houmei Sake Brewery" is another gem we found when we traveled through Sasayams recently and is literally a stone's throw from the Tamba Toji Museum. In minutes, I would say less than 10min on foot.
It does not seem like much from the outside, but aside from a cozy shop and tasting area, the back stretches into a full-on museum with both historical pieces but also letting visitors see the tank in which their sake is aged listening to music! 🎶
I was quite surprised to see that Houmei Sake Brewery in Sasayama ages some of their sake with music too! In fact, a few breweries do this, I also saw the same at Miyoshikiku and Ohara Shuzo..
The idea behind this is that a device is attached to the tank that converts music into vibrations during the brewing process, which results in the sake becoming finer and milder. 🍶
However, here they do experiment with not just one song, but so far have three sake with three different songs: Mozart no 40, Beethoven no 6, and one sake exposed to a local folk song.
And yes, they do taste completely different 😁
SSA Sake Sommelier Course in Tokyo
Although I already hold plenty of sake qualifications, I have been really impressed with the Sake Sommelier Academy organizing a variety of programs over the last year, including "Sake Star" and "Master of Sake", so I decided to add the SSA Sommelier to my portfolio of qualifications. Especially as the qualification is thought by a very special educator, who also happens to be a seasonal kurabito which I felt would make the course extremely interesting.
And to be honest - it was and more!
Very happy I decided to do this course and if you are considering it too, make sure to get in touch with Giulia here and get your spot early, as she is incredibly busy.