One of the main ingredients that is required to make excellent sake is fresh and clean water. Unfortunately, this resource is difficult to find within a city and therefore, we had to venture out to Sawai in Ome city which is by a river enveloped by mountains.
Ozawa Sake Brewery (Ozawa Shuzo Co., Ltd.) has stood in the same location since 1702, a time when Japan was still governed by samurai. Although nihonshu is referred to as “fermented rice wine,” the fermentation process is actually closer similar to that of beer than wine.
From Shinjuku, take the Ome Line up to Sawai Station and the brewery is just a five-min walk from this quaint little station.
The tours of the brewery are offered for free! However, please make sure to book in advance.
Curious to know more? Then read on.
First things first
You will be welcomed by the staff at the back of the family home which is quite grand and instantly transports you to bygone days.
You start by learning about the Sakabayashi or sugidama. A ball made of Japanese cedar (sugi) needles which is hung in front of the brewery to signal that fresh nihonshu production is on its way. The Sakabayashi changes its color over time from a fresh green to a brown indicating that nihonshu is now ready for consumption! At Ozawa Sake Brewery, sake is brewed from September to mid-May. Every year, a new Sakabayashi is hung in autumn.
Inside the Genroku-kura
When you enter the brewery, you will probably be surprised by how dark it is inside. In order to maintain the temperature inside, the structure is such that it prevents any intrusion of light. But despite the darkness, it’s easy to be awestruck by the magnitude of this wooden structure called “Genroku-kura” and the massive metal tanks.
Each tank has a number indicating how much sake it holds. Can you guess how many years it would take to finish a tank that has 8109 liters? According to our guide, if you drank one cup day by day from this tank, it would take you 120 years to finish it.
Polishing the rice
Next, we move further into the brewery to learn about polishing rice, the first step of the brewing process. The grain is polished to varied degrees to create different varieties of sake. Here, the best sake is made by polishing off 65 percent of the grain and is called “Daigingo Koh.”
Now you might be wondering “What a waste of rice!” but the nuka or rice bran is not disposed of and is actually used to ferment vegetables for pickles.
This is where sake from certain years has been preserved. The year 2000 marked the millennium and therefore, you see many of these. Usually sake is consumed within a year or two of production. So seeing these shelves is quite a novelty.
This is the entrance to the well that is the source of the brewery’s clear water, which contains very little iron or manganese. The well is actually a tunnel that is dug 140 meters going all the way into the depths of the hill behind the brewery. Since water is the most important element for making good sake, you see the entrance adorned with “shide” which is used in Shinto rituals (for blessings).
Finally, what you’ve been waiting for. The final step of the tour is tasting the sake. All participants are provided with one cup for free. After that you can move to the sake bar across the road by the river. You can try about 12 varieties and the price ranges from 200-500 yen.
There is also a restaurant serving simple meals like udon and soba as well as a shop selling sake along with other Japanese snacks. Sake is a wonderful souvenir so you can even pick something out for friends or family.
The best time to visit is undoubtedly autumn. You can take a stroll by the river surrounded by the warmth of autumn colors after enjoying a couple of drinks.
So how about spending a quiet day in the countryside with sake and the sound of a river for company?
Ozawa Sake Brewery (澤乃井-小澤酒造株式会社)
Address: 2-770 Sawai, Ome-shi, Tokyo
Opening Hour: 8:00 am – 5: 00 pm
Closed: Monday (except for National Holidays on Monday, in which case closed on Tuesday)
For tour bookings: http://www.sawanoi-sake.com/en/about#tour
Sake Tour: 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm (except during brewing season when it held only once a day)
Duration: about 20-30 min