Translated by Allie
Free Sake Brewery Tour At Imayotsukasa Sake Brewery, Niigata
Niigata is known as the home of Japanese sake. It has more than 90 different breweries! Today we'll learn about Imayotsukasa Sake Brewery, where you can take a tour of the brewery, guided in English, and even enjoy sake for free!
Written by Ruriko Isokawa
Niigata Prefecture is well-known as one of the best places for sake brewing. The reason for this is that Niigata not only produces very high-quality rice but also is blessed with many clear and pure springs thanks to the heavy snowfall it receives every year. There are about 90 different sake breweries located in Niigata, and today we would like to introduce Imayotsukasa Sake Brewery, which was founded in 1767.
The Japanese sake label KOI, made by Imayotsukasa, gathered a lot of attention from countries around the world such as England, Germany and the US and has won design awards because of its unique and fresh design.
Imayotsukasa Sake brewery offers a free sake brewery tour throughout the year which can be booked on their official website or by phone. You can join this tour even you are traveling alone. In the tour not only can you learn more about the history of sake and the brewery, not to mention Niigata prefecture, but you can also taste their sake at the end - which makes it a popular tour for travelers and sake fans.
Let's take a look at what the sake brewery tour is like.
Learn the History of Niigata and Sake Brewing
First of all, you will need to change into a pair of slippers which are provided at the entranceway, before you pass under the noren decorated with the kamon (*1) of the family.
*1 Kamon: a Japanese family crest.
English Guided Tour
The guide that took us on our tour when we visited was Mr. Jerome Reed, who is a great fan of Japanese sake. He can speak both English and Japanese. When you are booking your tour, please mention that you would like an English guide in your message if you’d like to hear the explanations in English.
The tool he is holding in the above picture is called a ‘kai’, and is used to mix ‘moromi’ (*2).
*2 Moromi: the main fermenting mash used to produce sake, made from the mixture of yeast, malted rice, steamed rice, and spring water.
Your tour guide will tell you all about the process of sake brewing during the tour, and you can ask any questions that you may have as well.
The large ball that you see suspended in the above photo is called a ‘sugidama’, and is made from cedar branches. Sake brewers hang up a fresh sugidama when they start the yearly sake brewing process in October. It is said that once a sugidama turns brown, the sake brewing process is finished and it is ready to drink.
The barrel in the picture above is made from cedar and bamboo. Those two materials were used in sake breweries until World War II, but had to be replaced every seven years as the barrels would eventually begin to rot away from holding the sake for too long.
This is why iron storage tanks are used these days as, no matter how long they are used for, they will not rot.
Let's go upstairs!
We are now up above the storage tanks. Every morning, and using the tool that we introduced earlier, the kai, the contents of these containers is thoroughly mixed up - which we learned is a really hard job.
After learning about how sake is brewed, now let’s take a look at some of the items related to sake.
These are 'kikichoko', small cups that professionals use to check the fragrance and quality of the sake once brewed.
The bottles in this photo show the ‘seimai-buai’ or rice polishing ratio. The one on the right has brown rice which has not been milled and polished yet in it. The rice polishing ratio has a great impact on the taste of sake.
The barrel in this photo was used to store sake back before sake was bottled in glass. Don’t the characters for the brewery’s name look so strong and dynamic here?
Once the tour has been completed you can have a taste of some chilled Japanese sake made at the brewery. You are sure to be tempted by all of them, but the most popular with visitors from overseas is the 6 year old 21BY, which is a vintage sake.
Purchase Some Souvenirs in their Store
You can purchase their products on-site in their brewery shop, so if you have found your favorite sake or want to get your own award-winning bottle of KOI, then please check this store out. Mr. Jerome Reed, our guide, really enjoys Japanese sake and was able to make this tour very fun and informative, so if you’d like to know more about sake, please take part in this exciting free tour!
Imayotsukasa Sake Brewery
Address: Niigata, Niigata city Chuo, Kagamigaoka 1-1
Hours: 09:00 - 17:00 *The Sake Brewery tour is held every hour, last tour starts at 16:00; lunch break is 12:00-13:00
Closed: December 31 - January 3
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, JCB, AMEX, UnionPay, Diners Club
Languages: Japanese and English
Nearest Station: JR Niigata Station
Access: 15 minutes walk from JR Niigata Station, 10 minutes bus ride (Get off at Nuttari shirayama bus stop)
Price Range: Free Sake brewery tours (30 minutes tour + 10 minute tasting time)
Website: Imayotsukasa Sake Brewery