The salt trade that built the wealth of the town had a hand in the development of a unique local sake, as well. The salt business fell by the wayside, but the smooth, complex ginjo sake brewed in Takehara is still appreciated by connoisseurs at home at and abroad. The defunct breweries preserved in the old town are a testament to the history of Takehara, and the operations that still bottle the local brew definitely deserve a visit.
Taketsuru Brewery has seen renewed fame since the broadcast of an NHK drama about the brewer and scientist Masataka Taketsuru, the local son that learned the secrets of distilling scotch while a student in Glasgow in the early-1900s. He married a Scottish lass and brought her, along with plenty of distilling knowledge, back to his hometown of Takehara. Taketsuru went on to found Nikka Whisky and bring a still-vibrant love of fine whiskey to his hometown, and Takehara still remembers the family legacy.
Nestled in an alley in the preserved historical district, the brewery has welcomed a steady procession of pilgrims. Although usually closed to visitors, the attached Ozasaya Sake Museum, is open briefly during the weekend, and there’s also a statue of Masataka Taketsuru located close by. Even if you’re not a fan of NHK dramas, this is a key piece in understanding the history of Takehara.
Sake became a fine way for merchants to store and flaunt their wealth, but it took a scientific advance to pave the way for the local brew: it was down the coast in Akitsu that Senzaburo Miura pioneered new methods to brew ginjo sake from the soft water found locally, which was nearly impossible up to then to make sake from. Rice was milled down beyond the husk and bran to leave only starchy translucent pearls that could be fermented without mineral-rich hard water. The crisp yet complex ginjo sake made at breweries like Takehara were born, first, out of necessity. Nakao is one of the breweries that keeps that tradition alive.
Founded in the 1870s, the brewery bottles some of the finest examples of the local sake. Although usually closed to visitors, connoisseurs are advised to pick up a bottle of the Seikyo-branded ginjo, a trapped-in-amber recreation of Nakao’s original brew, still made about the same way it was in 1871.
Fujii Sake Brewery
Fujii Sake Brewery in the preserved historical district is a different kind of operation than Nakao but it, too, operates much as it always has. The brewery’s range of ginjo and daiginjo (the premier cru of sake, using rice milled down to at least half its size) are truly special, representing the finest of the region’s liquor. And, unlike Nakao, the brewery is happy to welcome visitors to tour the brewery and warehouse.
Stop by the Sakagura Koryu Kan, the attached museum and cultural center, to sample the sake and see something of the history of the operation, still housed, for the most part, in a well-preserved historical building, and then visit the attached dining room where the specialty is handmade soba, the perfect accompaniment to pours of the brewery’s ginjo sake.