Sometimes volunteering has its perks! Akira misunderstood “Sake Tour” – as in, ‘can we encourage local breweries to get their act together & co-ordinate a regular tour for visitors to our neck of the woods’ – for “Sake tour!” – as in, ‘let’s all go get plastered for free’.
Anyway, I’ve lived here for donkeys and never been able to figure out if sake tours actually existed…well, gentle readers, they do! You know how you have to act a bit posh on a wine tour, pretend you’re interested & know a bit about tasting? No problems here! Just guzzle – not too much snobbery attached to this, and helping yourself quite acceptable! If you really want to know what is going on – how they make it, etc….do some homework first, because there’s precious little information in ‘foreign’ on location: Japan Sake Brewers Association has all the basics you’ll need to act like a pro.
Production season starts late October, when you’ll be more likely to see these places in action.
We visited two breweries off-season, but still open for drop-in visitors. You can get there by local train from Matsumoto. We were pretty wrecked after a hard day’s investigations, Rico particularly looking the worse for wear, gimping along with a knackered boot!
1. ExcelHuman is an unfortunate makeover, a large construction co. that bought up the local small scale breweries a while back & absorbed them into one modern premises that looks more like a wedding location. Nevertheless, their very friendly staff give you a quick tour of the production plant (squeaky clean & shiny metal surfaces) and a few photos from yesteryear on the walls reflecting how it used to be done. Fancy tasting room has an expensive array of souvenir bottles, and a number of freebies will be plonked on the table for you to sample – don’t be shy, as they will top you up/let you help yourself.
http://www.eh-shuzo.com tel 0263-72-3011.
Get there on JR Oito line from Matsumoto, about 12 minutes ride to Azuzabashi – 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.
2. Kametaya is a much nicer, traditional set up, which is still in its original location, tucked away amongst older style houses, on the old “salt road”. There’s a ‘stone god’ outside (see photo) which shows a bride & groom sharing a cup of sake. A brief tour around the unassuming house, which housed the business since 1870, and from where they used to deliver “taru” (barrels). Check out the scratches on the entrance walls where the doors used to roll up. Interestingly, sake used to be taxed on how much was made – not sold – and you can see a lot of old accounting registers etc from days gone by.
Again, you’ll be relatively unhassled to sample their wares, and also have the opportunity to see what “goes with” sake – local pickles & the like. You’ll also see the spring that started it all off in the first place. Easy to get to by local train. 5 stops along the Kamikochi line (Y240) from Matsumoto. 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.
http://www.kametaya.co.jp tel 0263-47-1320
Enjoy yourselves – but please don’t drink & operate machinery?!
See also Sightseeing – The Kametaya and EH-shuzou Sake Breweries page.