Kobe is world-renowned for its succulent cuts of A5 steak. But one of the truly underrated parts of this seaside escape are the dozens upon dozens of sake breweries that you can tour. Oh, and did we mention the tastings are free?
The city of Kobe holds a certain mystique for travellers and carnivores around the globe. Its namesake beef (actually a strain of Wagyu beef that is prized for its unique tenderness), is world-famous for its marbled fat that simply melts upon hitting your tongue. But if you were to only visit Kobe for its sizzling steaks, you’d be missing out on its sumptuous sake. One of the true hidden treasures of Kobe is in the neighbourhood of Nada, where you can discover dozens of sake breweries that offer cheap or free tastings along with history lessons on their unique rice wine region. So, if you’re ready to walk off that belly full of beef, lace up your trainers, and get prepped for the ultimate sake brewery bar crawl.
First things first. Download this incredibly helpful map because by the fifth or sixth stop, you might not be seeing straight. You can also follow the route on Google Maps. Then, starting from the Oishi train station, walk south to the Sawanotsuru Sake Museum, which takes you on a history lesson of sake through its small gallery. After learning about Edo-period sake brewing methods, you can get a taste of the unpasteurised Namazake while contemplating which bottle to buy from their expansive shop. The best part of this experience? It’s all free.
Home of Fukuju premium sake, the Kobe Shushinkan is about a 20-minute walk to the east of Sawanotsuru and well worth the hike. The Fukuju name comes from Fukurokuju, one of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japanese mythology, which represents happiness, wealth, and longevity. Here you’ll get a tour of the brewery and a tasting of their best sake blend. All of this is free as well, but you need to make an appointment at least two days in advance. There’s also a traditional restaurant on site, so you might want to fill up before the rest of the sake tasting day ahead.
One of the smallest sake breweries in the region, Izumi Syuzou has a history that dates to 1756, but like many of the breweries in the area, was destroyed in the 1995 Kobe earthquake. Rebuilt stronger than ever, the Izumi Sake Brewery now sells their branded Sensuke and Kosen high-quality sakes, and you can try them both for free before deciding to purchase any for the road. This small spot only makes 40,000 bottles a year, so get it while it lasts.
Part-brewery, part-museum, the Hakutsuru brewery is the biggest sake factory in Japan and showcases the classic style of making sake through life-sized mannequins and original equipment strewn through the warehouse. After peering at the interactive displays, you’ll get a chance to try both pasteurised and unpasteurised sakes for free and you’ll quickly understand why this is the best-selling brand of sake in Japan. Selfies with the sake-making mannequins are encouraged.
This ancient brewer has been refining their rice wine since 1659 and is still run by the same family who started things more than 350 years ago. Inside there’s a museum that retells the family history and how they’ve made sake throughout the centuries. Along with free tastings, the gift shop here has an impressive collection of sake cups for sale as well as snacks like Narazuke pickles and Sakamanju (sake-flavored sweet buns) that utilise Junmai Ginjo sake for their unique flavour.
At Hamafukutsuru, you can actually witness sake being made through large windows on the second floor. There’s also a self-guided tour where you can once again, learn the history and process of sake making (if you weren’t so buzzed, you would be an expert by now!). This award-winning spot is known for its Ginjo sake and after the tour, you’ll get a chance to sample a few different kinds for free. As this is the last stop on this sake crawl, you should also pay for the Kisake corner where you can try many other kinds of sake.
This sake crawl covers 4.5 kilometres (2.8 miles) and will easily last half a day or more. You might want to consider renting bikes as there are dozens of other sake factories along this route. Bring a backpack, bring some snacks, and be prepared for the best sake crawl of your life.
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