Tokyo Jizake Strolling (Sake Breweries Face a New Challenge)

By Ryuji Takahashi

Nakatani Brewing Co., Ltd. is a long-established sake brewery operating since the Edo period (1603-1867). Located in Yamato-koriyama city, Nara prefecture, the brewery’s sake product Mikka-odori garnered attention. Upon release, master sake brewers from other sake breweries visited my sake shop to purchase the Mikka-odori and study the flavor of this breakthrough sake product. The Mikka-odori was not entered into the Annual Japan Sake Awards as sake produced from sake rice, but as sake produced from regular rice instead. Still, the brewery’s extremely advanced brewing skills helped the Mikka-odori garner the Gold Prize.
Yamato-koriyama city, home to Nakatani brewery, was designated as a special zone to experience sake production based on the Structural Reform Special Area Act in December 2020. Following this designation, the Nakatani brewery decided to establish Yanagimachi Brewery in a separate location from their current brewery for tourists to experience sake production firsthand and to take a new step forward as the “first Japanese sake micro brewery & sake bar in Japan to offer firsthand experience in sake production.”
The current brewery is located in an area difficult to access by car, one reason sampling events typically offered during sake brewery tours cannot be organized here. On the other hand, the Yanagimachi brewery is close to the Kintetsu Koriyama station, easily accessible by train. After the sake production experience, tourists can walk into the adjoining sake bar and enjoy sake to their heart’s content before heading home safely by train. Although meals are not served at the sake bar, food can be brought in or delivered from the Jyokamachi Shopping District, revitalizing business for the shopping district as well.
Tourists visiting the brewery can produce very low volumes of sake in only several dozen gallons. Also, tourists can sample fresh sake squeezed daily, still containing carbon dioxide. Of course, not every aspect of this new business direction is pleasant. As concerns are raised over recent consumers growing distant from Japanese sake and alcohol, customers may gather when the product first garners attention, but maintaining the initial momentum in ways that generate long-term sales will require serious effort. Since the Kintetsu Koriyama Station area is not a lively area to begin with, the brewery must be feeling anxious. Also, the current brewery will temporarily halt sake production, meaning their classic sake products like Mikka-odori and Banjo will not be available, very disappointing news. However, we support the brewery’s new business direction regardless.
Nakatani brewery is crowdfunding to establish this new brewery. Past sake is named the last sake, while future sake is referred to as the first sake to be delivered to supporters. One tank of original sake can also be produced. Purchases have already started among many supporters. I also made a purchase to support the brand. I would also like to visit Japan’s first sake microbrewery in this area where Japanese sake originated. As a Japanese sake enthusiast, I would also love to see Nakatani Brewing Co., Ltd. pass on their high sake-brewing skills to future generations.