“Japan’s Best” Place for Sake: Aizu
For four years in a row, sakes from Fukushima Prefecture have ranked No. 1 in the nation in terms of the number of breweries winning top prizes at the Zenkoku Shinshu Kanpyokai (National Bureau's Research Institute of Brewing), an annual contest for superior sakes from around Japan.
More than half of those breweries are located in the Aizu region. It is no exaggeration to say that “Aizu sake is No. 1 in Japan.
Taste derived from a complex and subtle process
Proteins and other constituents are polished off the rice’s surface, and the rice is steamed. Then the rice’s saccharification is promoted by encouraging the growth of “koji mold” in the mixture.
A line of tanks in a sake brewery. In each tank, moromi mash at a different stage of the fermenting process quietly awaits the time it will be ready.
Sake is a brewed alcoholic beverage made with rice and water that is a product of Japan’s unique fermentation culture. Although beer and wine are also made by fermenting ingredients, sake’s flavor is distinctive because it comes from a process of complexity and subtlety that are rarely seen elsewhere.
The “proper” way to drink sake is not in large gulps. Instead, like wine, its rich aroma should be savored. Particularly when drinking sakes made with carefully selected rice varieties and yeast, it should be possible to sense the florid aroma of apples, melons, or bananas; the mild aroma of nuts or grains; the refreshing aroma of herbs or citrus; or the complex aroma of dried fruit or spices.
Surrounded by steep mountains, Aizu is a land of plentiful water—a requirement for the production of superbly delicious rice. But what is more, Aizu’s rainwater does not stay in the ground for long. This means that it is “soft,” as it contains few of the minerals that come from the earth. The quality of Aizu’s water improves the flavor of Japanese cuisine made with dashi soup stock and makes it perfect for sake brewing. Drinking this delicious water as a chaser to “reset” the tongue after each sip could be described as the traditional way of enjoying sake. Doing so makes it possible to appreciate the sake’s depth by exploring changes in its aroma and flavor with all five senses.
Enjoy Aizu sake where it was made—in Aizu!
Even as sake becomes easier to get with its growing international popularity, some rare sakes can only be purchased locally. This makes a visit to a local liquor store worthwhile.
Enjoying a glass in a local pub while on the road—a pleasure shared by travelers worldwide. We invite you to try seasonal sakes served with local Aizu cuisine.
With the increasing popularity of Japanese cuisine and sake, it is now possible to get famous sakes even overseas. However, it is still difficult to purchase shiboritate (freshly pressed) sakes that are sensitive to changes in temperature, sakes that have not been pasteurized to stop fermentation, and seasonal sakes that are produced in only limited quantities.
Nearly 30 sake breweries are scattered throughout the Aizu region. Each has its own unique method of sake-making. Some will welcome visitors wishing to tour their storehouses so long as it is not during the busy season, which lasts between late autumn and early spring. Take some time to walk through several breweries and experience firsthand how sake is made. Sakes can be purchased on-site, so take the opportunity to find something really rare.
Of course, one of the best ways to get acquainted with Aizu sake is at a local izakaya (Japanese-style pub). There you can encounter a diverse range of sakes. Make it a point to experience how well Aizu sake goes with the local cuisine. However, remember that sake has a relatively high alcohol content, so it’s best not to have too much. If you don’t have time to visit an izakaya, stop by a liquor store in town that specializes in local sakes. It is the partnership between the “maker” and the “seller” that makes Aizu sake truly shine.