A Guide to Japan For the Sake Obsessed

IMG_1179 | © hslo / Flickr
Lucy Dayman

The world of sake can be an exciting one, but a little daunting too. Language barriers, ancient brewing techniques and the sheer abundance of different varieties, can prevent many newbies and potential sake lovers from really embracing this fascinating rice-based brew. However, if you find yourself in Japan and are feeling a little partial to a tipple, check out these breweries schools and bars for a little guidance.

1. Sake Tasting at Aburacho, Kyoto

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The best way to really learn about sake is to dive into the world of it headfirst. Aburacho, located in the booze-soaked sake hub of Kyoto’s Fushimi, is a store dedicated to sake collected from around the area. You can browse the bottles, ask for tips from the friendly staff and taste some local brews yourself. They have around 80 different types of sake in total, and a tasting will give you the chance to sample around three or so.

2. Tokyo Sake Academy

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If you want to be a little more formal about your sake experience, you can always sign up for a few classes at Tokyo’s ‘sake academy’. Organised by the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association, it’s a bit more of an academic approach to sake sampling, but it’ll equip you with plenty of advanced insight into the world of rice wine brews. There are a variety of one- and two-day sessions that offer tastings, seminars and a hands-on brewing experience.

3. Sake Sake Nippon, Osaka

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If you’re in Osaka, one of the best English-based sakes schools for you is Sake Sake Nippon, a laid-back class that offers hour-long sake master classes. Hosted by a sake sommelier, the sessions will give you a run down on booze culture in Japan, what goes into making the perfect brew and of course an opportunity to sample the goods. It’s also hosted inside Hana Sake Bar, so if you want to hang around after class and do a little ‘extra research’, you’re more than welcome to!

4. Kitashoji Sake Brewery

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Conveniently located near the Kansai Airport, this one is great for those who don’t want to waste any time getting into the world of sake. The brewery here crafts a classic dry sake with a mild flavour making it ideal for beginners. If you want to take a tour of the place, you’re more than welcome, but be prepared, reservations must be made a week prior to the day of the tour.

5. Kobe Shushinkan Brewery

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A great place to visit if you’re in the area and are looking to spend the afternoon over a long boozy lunch, Kobe Shushinkan Brewery is home to an impressive sake list, one that’s perfectly paired with a large selection of delicious meal options. If you’re chasing something very classically Japanese it’s recommended you try the monthly kaiseki-ryouri, a selection of locally sourced organic produce, expertly cooked to create unforgettable traditional Japanese dishes.

6. Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum

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One spot for the history buff who doesn’t mind a tipple, the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum is home to one of Japan’s preeminent sake companies. The museum opened in the 1980s, but the building in which it’s housed reaches back to the early 1900s. Inside, you’ll find around 400 pieces of sake production paraphernalia and displays tracing the history of sake production in the area. At the end of the tour through the museum you’ll be able to learn by doing, by that we mean sample some of the sake offerings available.

7. Matsui Sake Brewery

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This brewery has been in the Matsui family for over 15 generations now. Established in 1726, it’s fair to say it’s one of Kyoto’s major sake destinations. Inside the store, you’ll find a broad selection of different sake offerings, including the rather rare nama-zake (a pure form of sake that has been neither filtered nor pasteurised), it’s said that because it wasn’t affected by the heat it has an almost ‘fresher’ flavour compared to other types of sake. Very English friendly, it’s a wonderfully historic place to explore and pick up a few bottles of hard-to-find brews.

8. Saijo Sake Town

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If one brewery isn’t enough to quench your sake thirst, then just maybe it’s worth considering a trip to Saijo, Hiroshima’s mini-town dedicated to sake. It’s here you’ll find a cluster of some of the area’s oldest and most popular sake breweries. The best way to explore the area is to take a train to JR Saijo Station; once you leave the station, you’ll find information on the most comprehensive way to weave through the area, stopping off at different areas to try brewing, tasting and taking in all things sake.

9. Sake Stand Shibuya

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If you’re a little more of the casual sake enthusiast but still want to sample the goods, then head to the heart of Shibuya in Tokyo to this cozy, standing-only bar tucked down a hidden corner of Dogenzaka. The bar serves a rotating selection of brews sourced from around the nation. Each serve is presented in a wine glass with a neat little tag attached, so you can learn as you drink. Cheers to that!

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