Enjoy some truly local Hokkaido sake.
Updated: Jul 2
Japan's national drink gets a lighter, drier interpretation in Hokkaido.
Sake is made at over 1000 sake Kura (breweries) throughout Japan; included amongst these are several Hokkaido breweries.
Made principally from rice, rice malt and water, sake is brewed over winter after the annual rice crop is harvested in late Nov.
Rice for sake making, known as 'brewer's rice', has specific qualities, and was not grown in Hokkaido until the late 1990s.
The use of Hokkaido-grown brewer’s rice means that Hokkaido-made sake can now be deemed ‘local sake’.
Hokkaido's cooler climate and pristine waters result in Hokkaido sake being lighter, dryer and clearer in style than other Japanese sake.
Sake is one of two designated ‘national alcoholic drinks’ in Japan; the other being sochu. Sake is synonymous with Japan, just as wine is with France, and beer is with Germany.
Sake making is an ancient Japanese tradition, with a history that dates back over 2,000 years. Sake consumption is integral to Japanese culture and its many rituals and seasonal festivals. These days, however, sake is not just paired with ‘washoku’ or Japanese cuisine; sake and its ‘umami’, or flavour, is considered to enhance the taste of a wide range of international foods and has become recognised and appreciated around the globe.
In the Furano region, our closest sake breweries are found in nearby Asahikawa. Notable amongst these is the Otokoyama Brewery. Thanks to aggressive marketing both at home and overseas, this brewery is well recognised worldwide. Named after the Otokoyama Hachimangu Shrine in Kyoto, the brand's history dates back over 350 years to the Edo period. Whilst the present-day Asahikawa-based brewery is housed in a relatively modern building, the techniques used still emphasise tradition, even to the extent that the brewery continues to produce the ‘Gomeshu’ sake that it first made for the Edo shogunate in the 1800s.
Also located in Asahikawa is this region's (not Hokkaido's) oldest functioning brewery: the Takasago Brewery. Founded in 1909, this brewery is also the northern-most sake brewery in Japan. Its famous label is ‘Kokushi Muso’, which follows the typical light, crisp, dry "Hokkaido" style. The brewery also features a wintertime ice-drip brewing technique, displayed in an igloo that can be visited and observed in operation.
At the other end of the age spectrum amongst local sake breweries, also located in Asahikawa, is the Taisetsu Sake Brewery, established in 2016 and opened in 2017. The brewery is Hokkaido's first new sake brewery in over 20 years and the company is the first new sake brewing company in Japan since the 1940s. The brewery's logo features a striking Ainu-inspired design. This brewery is too young to have established particularly renowned sakes, however, it is recognised for its production of special small-batch, local regional styles.
Worth mentioning too, in the context of local breweries, is the Kunimare Brewery in Mashike, a small coastal town 2 hours west of Furano. The Kunimare label, dating from the 1870s, is quite renowned nationally. True sake fanatics may enjoy visiting this brewery, which is housed in a historic 150-year-old building.
Nagayama 2 jo, 7 chome, Asahikawa City Tel：0166-48-1931
Hours: Everyday from 9:00am to 5:00pm - shop and garden only
Free Tasting: Yes, but small fees apply to some products.
Tours: Self Tour
Restaurant: No Languages Supported: Brochures in English, Korean, and Chinese. Some signs in English and some English speaking staff. Access: About 15 minutes by car or taxi from Asahikawa City centre, 105 mins by car or taxi from Furano, approximately 30 minutes by taxi from Asahikawa Airport.
Hours: Everyday 9:00am to 6:00pm
Free Tasting: No Shop: Yes Tours: Yes, 9:00~5:30, reservation necessary. Restaurant: No Languages Supported: General sake information in English. Access: Short walk from the JR Asahikawa Station, very short taxi ride, 90 minutes by car or taxi from Furano
TAISETSU SAKE BREWERY
25-1 Asahimachi, Kamikawa
Hours: 10:00am to 3:00pm Winter, 4:00pm Summer Thurs - Mon
(closed Tue & Wed)
Free Tasting: No
Tours: No, but observation through observation windows possible (note: snow in winter may restrict access).
Languages Supported: Mainly Japanese, some English signage.
Access: About 75 minutes by car or taxi from Asahikawa, 130 minutes from Furano.
KUNIMARE SAKE BREWERY
1-17 Inabacho, Mashike-cho, Mashike
Hours: 09:00am to 5:00pm (closed 31 Dec and 01 Jan)
Free Tasting: Yes
Tours: 09:00am - 4:30PM.
Languages Supported: English, Chinese, Korean.
Access: About 100 minutes by car or taxi from Asahikawa, 125 minutes from Furano.