The Kametaya and EH-shuzou Sake Breweries
Sake has been enjoyed by the Japanese people for thousands of years and is the centre of many festivities. It can be said too that the brewing process itself is an integral part of traditional Japanese culture. To know something of sake and the origins of its making is to know a little more about the Japanese people. Say ‘Japan’ and one immediately thinks of beautiful natural forests, mist shrouded mountains, rice, clear waters and sake! So come to the Kametaya and EH-shuzou breweries and get a taste of all of these.
Set against the backdrop of the Japanese Alps, the sake breweries in the Nagano prefecture are in the perfect position for taking advantage of the pure mountain water which springs up naturally in the area. This, and only the highest quality rice is used, resulting in a high quality beverage which can be enjoyed hot or cold, on its own or with a wide variety of meals.
The Kametaya Sake Brewery
The Kametaya brewery is definitely worth a visit. Seeped in history, the brewery occupies one of the original farm houses of the area and if you are prepared to travel a little further, you will find it nestled in the foothills of the mountains and surrounded by trees. The long straight road leading up to the brewery is the original road used by the merchants of yesteryear. Visitors are shown in through the trade entrance where the horse and cart would have entered and can see the grooves from the original gate. Shoes off and up the stairs into the farmhouse. The rooms still contain much of the original furniture and the house itself makes for an interesting tour all on its own! If you are looking for traditional ceremonial sites you will find a small shrine (dousojin) too ..... which is painted every year as part of a ceremony connected to the harvesting of the rice and the melting of the snow.
After the tour visitors are invited to try some of the brewery’s sake, and are free to browse the little shop where visitors can purchase gift boxes of various blends to take home to relatives and friends.
|Access||A 5-minute walk from Matsumoto Railway Kamikochi line Shimonii station. You are looking for a tall brick chimney; off the platform, over the track & turn left. Follow this road around the fields, to the back of the brewery.
A 2-minute drive from Matsumoto IC (Google Map)
|Hours||9:00am (Sat & Sun 9:30) - 5pm (doors close 4:30pm)|
|Closed||3 days in mid-August (Obon), Dec 31 - Jan 3|
|Tel||0120-47-1320 (Needs reservation to see an old historical building)|
|The president speaks English.|
The EH-shuzou Sake Brewery
The tour offered by the EH-shuzou brewery makes for an interesting and enjoyable experience. You will be taken through the brewery as your guide explains the different stages of the brewing process to you. The commentary is insightful; the great vats and temperature-controlled rooms are impressive, as is the building with its clean and corporate feel.
After the tour, visitors are taken downstairs to the tasting area where they will find an interesting display of traditional Cypress storage vessels and earthenware. Visitors are offered a taste of the sake from the brewery and invited to view the collection of sake-related artefacts and ask any related questions. Watch out for the sugidama (cypress fir balls) which appear outside the brewery midwinter to announce the arrival of the annual brew.
|Access||A 10-minute walk from JR Ohito line Azusabashi station (1st stop after you go over a long bridge over the river). Walk away from the station to the busy main road. Cross the road & go straight on another 200 yards or so, turn right at the gas station; you’ll see “EH” on the next corner.
A 2-minute drive from Toyoshina IC (Google Map)
|Hours||10:00am - 4:00pm|
A bit about the brewing
Sake procession in Matsumoto
As I’m sure you probably know the two main ingredients which go into making sake are rice and water. What I’m sure you probably didn’t know is that the rice undergoes a dual saccarification and fermentation process, which makes it different from beer or wine. (Saccarification is a process whereby the starch in the rice is converted into sugar and fermentation is a process whereby the sugar is converted into alcohol)
First, the rice is ‘polished’ to remove the outer husks and then it is soaked in water to soften for anything up to nine days, depending on the prevailing weather conditions to be decided by the master brewer. Then it is steamed and washed further removing any impurities so what we are left with is pure rice starch. To this is added rice koji (a micro-organism which kicks off the saccarification process), yeast and pure spring water. It is then left to natural processes. After approximately three months the mixture is high in alcoholic content and ready to be pressed and filtered. The solids go into forming pressed sake cake and the liquid is blended for consistency, and bottled without further ado. As all ingredients are organic and the process is completely natural, the finished product is rendered completely natural and organic.
The sake which is produced in each and every brewery has its own unique flavor and it is this which makes a tour of the breweries so exciting.
So come and join us for a tour of the breweries and a taste of traditional Japanese culture. “Kampai!”
See also our "What's New" blog article.