Tokyobling's Blog

Sawanoi Sake Brewery

Posted in Nature, Places, Shops by tokyobling on December 1, 2013

Most adults visiting Japan try it at least once – sake (or nihonshu as it is called in Japan these days), a Japanese fermented rice alcoholic beverage made from rice. Even though it is more similar to beer it is often likened to wince, but the manufacturing process is quite different. As you can imagine from something as traditional and steeped in culture as Japanese sake, the manufacturing process is tremendously complicated, it would be impossible to describe it here. In order to understand sake better I took a guided tour at one of the few Tokyo breweries, the Sawanoi Sake Brewery in western Tokyo’s Ome City, Sawai. Since the process involves mostly fermentation of highly polished rice, there is not much to see inside the factory itself, and I can think of few things as un-photogenic as a sake factory, especially since in order not to disturb the sake they prefer to keep it as dark as possible. These photos are actually much brighter than it was in real life, it was very very dark inside the brewery. In the old days the sake was fermented in large wooden barrels but these days metal vats are used. It is said that a big sake drinker who lives to a ripe old age might be able to finish one of these huge vats by himself before he dies. Sake is usually not labelled by the year like wine, but this factory did label their bottles, the oldest I could find in their stores were from 1999.

The brewery was founded in the 15th year of Genroku, under the reign of emperor Higashiyama (1702 A.D.) and started giving guided tours in 1971. Our guide was one of those natural speakers and gave us a fun quick tour of the factory as well as a rather complicated brief on the chemistry behind the fermentation process. Most of us were scratching their head at that part! The end of the tour was the most popular though – the sake sampling! We were told to pour our own glasses, which most of us did, to the brims. I could see on the sad faces of some participants that they had arrived by car!

You might have seen the round balls made of cedar tree boughs hanging outside traditional Japanese restaurants. They are called sugidama or sakabayashi. They are traditionally made and hung up by the sake breweries as a sign that this year’s fresh sake is ready for drinking. When hung up they are green, but over the summer and into autumn they gradually turn brown and you can tell by the color how fresh the sake is. Sake doesn’t really get old, if store properly, so a brown sugidama is not a bad thing! Quite a few restaurants that have sugidama use the same one year after year, but sometimes you will see a fresh one that is actually green! One thing that surprises some people when they buy their first traditional sake is that what looks like a screw cork is actually not resealable: you basically have to finish a bottle within a few hours of opening it if you want to drink it at its best!

The quality of the water used in sake brewery is tremendously important and we got to see the old well used by the factory, from a cave deep inside the mountain, behind the brewery. Below the cave and the factory there was another outlet for the spring water where anyone is welcome to try it and it tasted fantastic!

The factory is easily accessible from Sawai Station on the Ome line, but the tours are usually sold out on weekends, so it pays to book well in advance.


















5 Responses

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  1. yoshizen said, on December 1, 2013 at 6:25 am

    I found the atmosphere is somewhat similar to the western winery — basically they do the same
    = store the material liquid in a big vat and after natural fermentation, squeeze and bottle it.
    (I took the photo of Romane Conti, Chatau Rafit etc and Distillery in the Spay River etc but
    never seen Sake-brewery) So, very interesting and enjoyed your report !
    And now I know what was “Reson de etre” of Sawai. 🙂


    • tokyobling said, on December 16, 2013 at 8:06 am

      Thank you Yoshizen! Yes, it is very similar. It is very hard to photography. I have visited a few Japanese wineries where I actually had to give up getting anything worthwhile with my camera… (^-^;)


  2. amadl said, on December 2, 2013 at 6:12 am

    The photos of the interiors and the weLL feeL somewhat mythicaL.. I’d be spooked if I have to waLk through the factory aLone >___<
    UnfortunateLy, I didn't get the chance to try sake when I went to Japan.. I guess that couLd be another reason to go again :p


    • tokyobling said, on December 16, 2013 at 8:07 am

      Sake is a huge new world and if you get into it you might have found a new hobby for life! (^-^)


  3. comprar curtida no instagram said, on January 13, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Muy bueno!


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