And just like that, the year has come to an end, and what a year it has been! Thinking December would be a quiet month, a few last-minute surprises came up and made this the busiest month of the year yet, hopping from prefecture to prefecture visiting breweries, and drinking some of the best sake the country has to offer with a final visit to Kyoto for the years end...
Mashiko Monitor Tour
The month started with a monitor tour to Mashiko, introducing a tour operator to the area and connecting local businesses including Tonoike Shuzoten in order to create new products aimed at sake curious tourists.
There was plenty of pottery, history and of course, delicious sake and food, and the feedback has been phenomenal, so watch out for sake tours coming your way very very soon 😉
Nasu Karasuyama Monitor Tour - Aged Sake
Another monitor tour and this time introducing the idyllic Nasu-Karasuyama and of course its highlight Shimazaki Brewery. A sake brewery that is well known for its aged sake and its caves filled with said beverage.
The highlight was certainly the tasting inside the cave as well as the chance to make our own sake labels and bring our personalized bottle of sake home with us! This too will likely be turned into a tour that will be available very soon, so stay tuned.
Private Brewery Tour Nikko
With Katayama-san just about to start brewing (as he only starts mid-December) it was great to see how he prepares for it. Then moving on to Watanabesahei and experiencing a brewery in the process of making sake.
From trying the Koji to stirring the Moromi and of course, finishing with a special sake tasting in the Kurabito's break room, nicely tucked under the Kotatsu while drinking sake and pairing it with some local yuba, cheese, and pickles.
Otowa Restaurant in Tochigi
As part of a special tour, we went and experienced a unique sake pairing dinner at Otowa Restaurant, which is said to be the best restaurant in all of Tochigi and I dare say I believe it ✨
Treated to an 8-course dinner - French cuisine paired with local sake (all from Tochigi prefecture, including Senkin, Tonokike, Watanabesahei, Shimazaki, and Katayama), we all will be raving about this for a very long time!
From their signature Mushroom Cappuccino to the perfectly prepared local beef, and not to forget the deliciously paired local sake, we left the restaurant with full bellies, happy faces, and an experience we will not forget for a long time!
Visiting Asahi Shuzo in Niigata
In a very last-minute operation, I made a little surprise visit to Asahi Shuzo, makers of Kubota 🍶
Although we knew we would not see much of the brewery itself (as this is their busiest period), the main building with its impressive architecture was almost worth the trip by itself! If you look at the pillars you can see they are shaped like rice with the grains on top, spread out like sun rays and as an added bonus, the top is also shaped like a sake cup…
It is an incredibly beautiful space and so it comes as no surprise that they hold many events here too. So if you are planning a trip to Niigata and are thinking about stopping by make sure to check cause you might be in for a treat 😉
Of course, we got a small tour/presentation which included tasting some Koji before heading to the shop and tasting some (or all) of their products before heading off (and yes, I forgot to take a picture of all the sake we had) .
Visiting in Nagano
My first time visiting Lake Suwa and what a great place to come to, especially if you love sake. With many breweries lined up on each side of the road and welcoming visitors, my only regret was that we did not have enough time to visit them all.
Because the main attraction, and for good reason, was visiting Miyasaka Brewing Co. the makers of "Masumi" and what a treat! Having a private guided tour by no other than the wonderful Keith Norum (you can listen to his interview on Sake On Air here) this was one of the most insightful trips I made so far. Why? Because of his local knowledge, passions, and expertise that he is so willing and generous in sharing!
Among many many things, one part certainly stood out, which was the unwrapping of a very special bottle of aged sake from 1974. Not sure who was more excited, us or the Toji, but I guess it does not happen very often that they sell a 48-year-old bottle of aged sake (and no, I did not buy it) 😆
A Trip to Visit Funasaka Brewery in Takayama
Coming back to Takayama for the first time in two years was really a highlight! For any sake lover who dares to step off the golden route, Takayama is an amazing place to check out.
With breweries lining both sides of its famous Sanmachi area, the heart of Takayama city and famous with photographers, I was really excited to catch up with Cody who is working for Funasaka Sake Brewery, one of the best known in the area.
Although not usually open to the public we got a quided tour of this very compact brewery and again, listening to Cody really helped me understand some processes - the puzzle is slowly coming together (笑).
What tourists can expect, is a fantastic tasting room, including hot sake and the brewery also operates a restaurant and bar, which make this the perfect spot if you are looking for somewhere to eat/drink while in town.
Sano Monitor Tour and Visit to Daiichi Brewery
It was great to visit Sano, famous for its Ramen, and to find a brewery visit to Daiichi Sake Brewery as part of our itinerary!
This will be a great brewery tour, once it is fully completed. Where visitors will be able to learn more about rice milling, such an important part and something you almost never get to see at a sake brewery (because most of them do not have a milling machine). And their tasting room was really fun as well.
They are still adding some English information, but already have a QR Code system in place, that does explain most of the areas. I thought it was already pretty amazing, so once the final touches are made, this will be a great place to visit.
Brewery Tour and Tasting at Matsui Shuzo
It is always a pleasure to visit Matsui Shuzo in Kyoto, so whenever I have visitors or guests, I am trying to bring them here. And I was excited to see that they have resumed their brewery tours, in which visitors get to walk into the actual brewery space (which is tiny - but so well planned out) and get to hear more about the history, the sake, and of course, some stories from the life of a Kurabito, as Jorge has so many to share.
As with their recent renovations over the summer, it was also great to see their new menu and try some of the dishes, which of course were excellent pairings for their sake. A great way to not just get a feel for their sake but also for what to pair it with. Something other tasting rooms often lack.
I Became a Doburoku Ambassador
I am so excited to have been appointed a “Doburoku Ambassador”!!! ✨🍶🤍
It’s such an honor to join the group behind the Doburoku Lovers, which includes incredible people that I look up to, mentors and friends (@chikako_ohkoshi, @onjakukai1, @viva.nonno, @sarika.sake, @just_in_japan_potts, Toshiaki Yamada and Sake Comedian Duo @asayan64 & @kazuaki_kitai) and I am excited to help promote Doburoku and of course, drink a lot more of it in 2023!!! 🎊
There is already a lot of great information about my favorite beverage, and we regularly share more, as well as upcoming events where you can learn more about it and most importantly taste Doburoku! So make sure to follow @doburokulovers to not miss it 😉
Happy New Year!
What an incredible year and my last stop of the year - Kyoto. Time to wind down and celebrate "Oshogatsu", the end of the new year by eating Soba (one of the traditional New Years dishes) as well as staying up all night and visiting temples and shrines drinking the first sake of the year at Matsunoo Taisha (a famous sake shrine in Arashiyama) and getting my fortune and good luck charm for the next year.
Happy 2023 and Kanpai!!!
The Month Ahead
January, possibly one of the busiest periods for brewers I will be looking forward to tying up a few loose ends, returning back to Kanto, and then heading up to Hokkaido towards the end of the month, but I am sure there will be plenty of unexpected things in between...