The Last Place Was a Sake Brewery in Akita

The Last Place Was a Sake Brewery in Akita

[ May 2019 ] The last place we visited during our family holiday in Akita prefecture, Japan, was a sake brewery.

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The old sign of ‘Hideyoshi’

It was called Suzuki Sake Brewery, which makes Japanese sake called “Hideyoshi“.

We chose to go there because we had learned that they would let you try their sakes but, on top of that, when we were there, they invited us to join the tour of the brewery.

They started making sake in 1689, which was 330 years ago.

The building itself was already 150 years old.

The name “Hideyoshi” reminds everyone of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a liege lord of the 16th century, but it is nothing to do with him, apparently.

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Our guide in the brewery

In the middle of the 19th century, the then feudal lord, Satake, praised their sake, saying “Hiidete yoroshii (it’s so good and stands out)” and that made the name.

A young woman guided us and explained in a straightforward manner what sake is.

According to her, they steam the washed rice, add yeast fungus and stir it, put it into a bag and squeeze it.

The liquid from that is sake.

The remaining substance is sake lees, which is used for picked vegetables and so on.

The room for stirring the steamed rice with the yeast is very hot, about 35 degree centigrade, so in the past, half-naked men used to work there.

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Huge tanks in the warehouse

We saw a picture of it.

But now, they wear white coats, apparently.

In the warehouse, there were many huge tanks in a row.

Those tanks were made in dockyards after the Second World War, where they could not build ships anymore.

One tank contains about 8,000 litres.

In those days, they made up a tank and poured water to see how much they could contain, so each tank has a slightly different capacity.

The temperature of the warehouse is always about 10 degree centigrade, without any air conditioning.

But because it is not exactly constant, they keep more expensive sakes, like Daiginjo, the premium sake, in their fridge after bottling them.

They store them from 6 months to a 1 year, but no longer than 1 year.

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An unusual warrior’s helmet

As we had learned before, she explained that they work from November to March making sake and Sugidama, a ball made from sprigs of Japanese cedar, which hangs in front of the main entrance and is changed every year when the new sake is made.

This is a custom seen all over Japan.

This brewery makes as many as 60 kinds of sake, including the special editions and about 20 kinds of the regular ones.

Within those, 7 were there on the table for us to taste.

On top of the brewery itself, she took us to another warehouse, where the Suzuki family’s treasures are kept.

Among them, an interesting exhibit was a warrior’s helmet in the shape of a bowler hat.

Apparently, Satake, a feudal lord was given this helmet by Oda Nobunaga, the liege lord who was the predecessor of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who I mentioned earlier.

Towards the end of the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573) in Japan, it was popular to design the helmets in some peculiar styles and this one seemed to be one of them.

The Satakes put these treasures for sale at one point and the Suzuki family bought them.