Okuhida Sake Brewery

Kanayama is the home of the famed Okuhida sake. Okuhida Brewery has been making fine sake for going on 300 years (bottom middle). It is located in the center of Kanayama town, housed in a 200-year-old building with a stone floor. Out front hangs a traditional sugitama ball of sugi. When freshly hung, the sugitama is bright green. The ball we see has already turned brown (bottom right), for it was hung in December and now it is May. Sake is brewed in the early winter, from October through March. When the new shin-sake is ready, the green sugitama announces it to those who have been eagerly awaiting it. They say that there is nothing as good as shin-sake.

Mrs. Takagi greets us warmly when we arrive at the tasting room/ museum/ shop (right). She takes us on a tour of the brewery in the back. A pleasant aroma wafts out the door. We first encounter a worker cleaning the large screens which filter the sake. Right after that, we enter a room with huge green vats on the right, and white vats half that size on the left (bottom middle). The green vats contain 10,291 liters of sake. The white vats are for premium sake.

We climb the metal stairs to the bottling room. Bottles are on a kind of conveyor belt, being filled and capped automatically (bottom left). They pass in front of a human worker viewing them with a light box to check for clarity and soundness of the glass bottles. The machinery is able to handle several sizes of bottles. There is even an arm that can pick up six 1.5 liter bottles at a time and crate them.

We enjoy tasting a number of sake. All differ in flavor, some robust, some clear, some fruity, and all are excellent. (I wonder how sake made from rice can be fruity, but it is possible.) The natsu summer wine seems especially refreshing. Okuhida offers pasteurized and nama sake, filtered and nigori sake. They also produce shochu and rice vodka.

Fine sake depends critically on rice and water, among other essentials. Okuhida premium sake is made from premier sake rice Yamada Nishiki from Hyogo-ken. Its other sake are made from Hida Homare, the best sake rice grown in Gifu-ken (Hida). Water comes from the nearby special confluence of the Hida and Maze rivers which are known for their purity (top left). The brewery pumps its water from a 50-meter well and filters it before starting the brewing process.

You can learn more about sake-making at the website of the Japan Sake Brewers Association, http://www.japansake.or.jp/sake/english/. Okuhida’s website is http://okuhida.co.jp/.

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Sake brewing is a sacred process of nature, kami and man. The presence of kami is honored and blessings are invoked. So when we sip sake, let’s remember that we are connecting with kami and with nature.

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