[Visiting a sake brewery in Shiga ①] [Hirai Shoten] / Otsu
Shiga has a plain centered on Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, and the subsoil water from the surrounding mountains still serves as the brewing water for many sake breweries. We will focus on sake breweries with rich individuality and their passion for sake brewing. For the 9th issue, we visited Yasui Sake Brewery in Mizuguchi, Koka City, which brews sake with water, rice, and people nurtured by the mountains.
Tsuchiyama-cho, Koka City, is a town of tea plantations. Yasui Sake Brewery, located along the old Tokaido Highway, has been brewing sake here since its establishment in 1884.
A pendulum clock on a pillar quietly ticks away the time. The space is full of history, and the aroma of mellow sake fills the air. It must be old. All we have is well water, an old Sase-style machine, and a chimney," smiles Toshiharu Yasui, the fifth-generation brewer and chief brewer.
The well mentioned in Toshiharu's words is located in the center of the brewery. The water from this well is said to be the reason why the first generation started brewing sake here. Originally, there was a doctor's house here, but the story goes that the founder moved here because of the good water and started brewing sake.
［The brewing of sake at Yasui Sake Brewery begins in the fall with a "well change," in which the well is washed and cleaned. The public is invited to participate, and the bottom stones of the well are pulled out and scrubbed with a scrubbing brush. The brewers feel the joy of brewing sake and clean the wells to express their gratitude.
They say sake is made with water and rice, but our sake is made with water and rice. Water comes first. This well water is the lifeblood of our sake," says Riharu. The well water from the Suzuka mountain range is soft and mellow. ［It is the key to the flavor of Hatsuzakura, Yasui Sake Brewery's representative brand. Of course, the rice is also important. In addition to Yamadanishiki, rice such as Nipponbare and Mizukagami from Tsuchiyama is also used. The water, the rice, and the people are all made in Tsuchiyama," he says, overflowing with his love for his hometown. This sake is a true taste of Tsuchiyama.
Currently, Toshiharu serves as toji (master brewer), and his wife Megumi, son Taro, and nearby tea farmers also participate in the brewing process.
After training at a sake brewery in Tokyo, Toshiharu returned to his parents' home about 30 years ago at the age of 23. At that time, Yasui Sake Brewery was loved by people as a "local brewery.
Until about 20 years ago, that was the way business was done. But times have changed, and we can no longer survive on that basis alone. We had to sell our products widely through liquor stores," he recalls.
Furthermore, the chief brewer, Mr. Noto, who had been taking care of the brewery, became ill, and Mr. Toshiharu took on the role of chief brewer as well. He was unable to come to the brewery, so I had to report back to him by fax and learn how to make sake while he was teaching me. He told me, 'Brewing sake is easy. If you do it the same way, you can do it" (laughs). At first, I just worked very hard. But gradually, I wanted to learn how to make better sake. That's why sake brewing is so interesting. It gets more interesting every year," says Toshiharu.
Taro, the sixth generation, began participating in sake brewing three years ago.
We have good water, which is one of our strong points. We started growing our own rice two years ago. This land is full of important things," he says.
And then there are new challenges. Taro-san's own series of sake brewed by Ikuhashi Taro has also made its debut. The label, which he designed himself as New Hatsusakura, is also well received.
Young people are leaving Tsuchiyama. ［If the Yasui Sake Brewery can sell sake and grow even a little, and if we can increase the number of people working locally, I think it will be more exciting. That is my ultimate goal," Taro says of his contribution to the community.
Toshiharu also says, "We are not trying to expand so drastically, but it would be nice if our sake could be served throughout the country.
But it is through people. Another key feature is that they do not sell their sake online. We have a relationship with sake dealers who think our sake is good, and if we can spread the word in that way," he said. It's good to do business with people you can see face to face. After all, you want to meet people, don't you?
Yasui Sake Brewery's catchphrase is "good sake with a big smile. While sharing sake, people get to know Tsuchiyama, the birthplace of this sake, and their faces light up with joy. Yasui's wish is to create many such scenes.
■ Shiga Prefecture
［Ogawa Sake Shop] 077-524-2203/1-31, Hamaotsu 2-chome, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture
［077-522-4546 / 13-1 Kinoshita-cho, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture
［077-552-8070 / 3 Kitanakakoji, Ritto City, Shiga Prefecture
［077-562-0007 / 700-24 Oiwake, Kusatsu City, Shiga Prefecture
［0748-27-0014/447 Yamagami-cho, Higashiomi-shi, Shiga
［0748-33-3311 / 5 Tameshinmachi, Omihachiman City, Shiga Prefecture
［077-581-0322 / 2-11-18 Imajuku, Moriyama City, Shiga Prefecture
［Sazanami Sake Shop] 0749-22-1201/11-9 Sawa-cho, Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture
［0749-22-0575 / 5-10 Funamachi, Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture
［Hinoya Sake Shop] 0748-66-0092/2192-1 Kitaduchiyama, Tsuchiyama-cho, Koka-shi, Shiga
［Marufuku Sake Shop] 0748-86-2116 / 2200 Fukagawa, Konan-cho, Koka City, Shiga Prefecture
■ Kyoto Prefecture
［Nishimoto Sake Shop] 075-221-0452/480 Miyaki-cho, Nishinotoin Nishiiru, Anekoji-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
［Ueda Sake Shop] 075-781-5265/7 Yamabatakawahara-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto