Sake Nation “Sake breweries since the coronavirus outbreak”

By Kosuke Kuji

Sake breweries in Japan incurred major damage from the coronavirus outbreak.

The greatest blow was from restaurants forced to cease operations due to the initial state of emergency declaration. Although more consumers started to consume sake at home, consumption levels at home did not compare to sake consumed in restaurants. Sake not consumed in restaurants dramatically reduced opportunities for sake consumption overall. 

In the Japanese sake industry, the dramatic drop in sales of sake sold in magnum bottles (1.8 litres) still has not recovered to pre-pandemic volumes. 

Most sake in magnum bottles are sold to restaurants, purchased to sell sake “by the cup.” Opportunities to consume sake in restaurants still haven’t fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Therefore, 720 ml sake bottles (smaller than magnum bottles) are sufficient to meet the needs of restaurants, evidenced in the significant increase in production volume of 720 ml bottles since the coronavirus outbreak.   

Restaurants may have seen magnum sake bottles as more “economical” than 720 ml bottles before the pandemic. However, more restaurants increased their inventory of 720 ml bottles in their refrigerators since the coronavirus pandemic to maintain sake quality and offer samples of various sake brands. 

Since this shift in size was noted since the coronavirus pandemic, the magnum bottle may quickly become obsolete in the future.  

The most common size to export sake overseas was 720 ml since the beginning. Therefore, Japanese sake breweries may start to focus on 720 ml bottles in the future.

Quality is more easily managed in a smaller bottle. Hopefully, this change since the coronavirus pandemic will inspire favorable change in both directions.  











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Consumption of Nada sake in Edo 

Consumption of Nada sake in Edo 

Nada ward first emerged in historical documentation as “Nadame, Ports of the Nada Region,” a supplier of sake to Edo (the capital, modern-day Tokyo) in the “Examination of the Records of Vendors Handling Sake to Edo City” from 1724. Afterwards, the vendors grew into an organization that shipped sake from twelve nearby regions to Edo by the late 18th century. After a law was promulgated to encourage the purchase of sake rice as a measure to ease the drop in the price of rice was promulgated in 1806, the vendors played an even greater role in the distribution of sake afterwards.      

The volume of sake transported to Edo reached 665,000 barrels by 1822. 

The top reason why “Nada sake” surpassed sake from Itami city and Ikeda city and dominated the Edo market due to the high quality of Nada sake. In addition, efforts focused on cold weather brewing to produce sake that suited the palate of Edo consumers was another reason, followed by consistent efforts made to improve sake brewing techniques.    

The discovery of Miyamizu 

Tazaemon Yamamura, founder of the distinguished sake brewery “Sakura-masamune,” said to be the mainstream (top sake brand) among sake produced in Nada ward in 1840, drew water from the “plum tree well” in Nishinomiya region. This water was transported to Uozaki Sake Breweries and used as brewing water. Due to the quality sake that resulted from this water, “miyamizu” - quality water suitable to brew sake - became highly valued among sake brewers of Nada ward, who competed against others to use miyamizu as brewing water. Miyamizu is high in phosphate and potassium, aids the growth of yeast and malt, and vigorous fermentation.          


江戸積酒産地として灘郷が登場したのは、享保9年(1724)の「江戸下り問屋調査」にある「灘目(なだめ)」が最初。以後18世紀後半には「江戸積摂泉十二郷」(えどづみせっせんじゅうにごう)の中心となるまでに発展し、文化3年(1806) の米価の下落を緩和する措置として酒造家に対して酒造米の買い上げを奨励した「勝手造り令」公布以降はさらに大きな飛躍をとげた。

文政5年(1822) には江戸入津(にゅうしん)量は、実に66万5千樽(230,000石)にも達した。



天保11年(1840) 灘の本流といわれる名門蔵「櫻正宗」の祖、山邑太左衛門(やまむらたざえもん)が、西宮の「梅の木井戸」の水を魚崎の蔵に運び仕込み水として用い,優秀な酒を醸造したことから「宮水」(みやみず)の評価が高まり、灘の酒造家は競って仕込水に「宮水」を使用した。宮水とは、酒造りに適した上質な水のこと。この宮水にはリン酸塩やカリウムが多く含まれており、酵母や麹の繁殖を助けて発酵を盛んにする働きがある。
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Tokyo Jizake Strolling (Wandering the Chugoku region) 

By Ryuji Takahashi

Since discovering the named Honshu-Ichi from Hiroshima prefecture last fall, I was moved by the flavor and wished to visit the brewery. I finally visited Umeda Shuzo-jo Brewery in Funakoshi town, Aki ward of Hiroshima prefecture. Founded in 1916, Umeda Shuzo-jo Brewery draws water flowing 60 meters underground from the Iwataki Mountain, used as mother water. Sake ingredients used are all produced in Hiroshima prefecture. Recently, Umeda Shuzo-jo Brewery has been garnering attention since winning a Japanese sake competition in Europe.  

First, I headed to Hiroshima Station on a shinkansen (bullet train), transferred to the Sanyo Main Line, and reached the Kaitaichi Station. From there, I drove approximately five minutes north along the river and arrived at the Umeda Shuzo-jo Brewery. Hiyama-san, the second son of this family-owned brewery who works as a brewery worker, led me on a tour of the brewery. Hiyama-san returned home to the brewery two years ago to produce sake during the winter, and sell sake in the Kanto region and surrounding areas during the summer. Umeda Shuzo-jo Brewery preserves the traditional sake flavor while introducing sake with notable aroma as main products for consumers from other prefectures and overseas.     

Currently, brand recognition is low outside of Hiroshima along with the low production volume. However, I’m convinced this sake brewery will one day captivate the attention of a sake connoisseur and become a popular brand. Their product concept, attentive sake production, and the character of each brewery worker are each reasons that prompt encouragement for the brewery’s success. I look forward to seeing this brewery grow into a global brand. While visiting the Chugoku region, I decided to revisit Ichinomiya Sake Brewing Company in Oda city, Shimane prefecture; for the first time in seven years. 

I headed north from my parents’ home in Fukuyama city, Hiroshima prefecture to Oda city, Shimane prefecture. The halfway point is the Chugoku Mountains, with the possibility of snow. I frequently checked the weather report as I continued north, but eventually encountered snowfall. Luckily, snow did not accumulate, and I arrived safely in Shimane prefecture.  

The weather was sunny in Shimane prefecture. I drove along the scenic coast, taking in the beautiful and vast Sea of Japan until I arrived at the Ichinomiya Sake Brewing Company. The Master sake brewer and his wife were as healthy as ever. I enjoyed a lengthy discussion with them about new ideas and strategies to sell their current inventory of sake and create an exciting future for their sake brewery. Their passionate thoughts and efforts recharged my own motivation as well. I toured the brewery for the first time in seven years. The interior was considerably remodeled and cleaner since my last visit.  

Both Umeda Shuzo-jo Brewery in Hiroshima prefecture and Ichinomiya Sake Brewing Company in Shimane prefecture cherish tradition, reconsider customs that pose a negative effect, hire young workers to brew sake, and continue to evolve their passion and efforts to pass on their respective sake brands onto the next generation. Motivated from my visit to two breweries in the Chugoku region during my brief stay of two nights and a wake-up, I concluded my trip by gazing at the 400-year-old Fukuyama Castle from the bullet train on my way home.  


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Organizing sake seminars

By Yuji Matsumoto

Conventional sake seminars (for the general public and businesses) were often about the brewing process, ingredients, and the sake categories. With this seminar, however, I skipped all of them and talked about how to recognize the taste characteristics of sake, food pairing, how to choose sake that suit your restaurant, and how to add a twist to the menu. The seminar was geared toward professionals working in the restaurant business and purchasing.

Key points:

1. Understand what is offered and/or is the best-seller at one’s own restaurant, then select matching sake

2. How to set prices, including the relationship between the average customer expense and the pricing of alcohol sold 

3. Whether or not to offer popular sake brands

4. Types and brands you should focus on

5. How to create the menu; do not categorize the sake by category but by food pairing and taste, to make it easier for customers to choose

6. How to utilize and select sake samplers

7. How to utilize cocktails, and popular cocktails

8.  Important items for employee training; know the taste, know how to sell by type of food ordered, do a short sales talk, know the type of rice, Sake Meter Value (SMV), and area the sake comes from

9. Differences between distilled liquor and fermented liquor, which is often not well-understood

10. Product management and its methodology

11. Way of the promotion and build relationship with businesses

I would like to recommend those in the business to revise what is being discussed so it is not too much about brewing methods and categories, and consider focusing more on content useful in helping customers to enjoy shopping for sake.





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