Japanese rice wine, or sake, has long been deeply involved in religious rituals since it has appeared in reference works from ancient times, which makes it a particularly special item not only enjoyed as a favorite alcoholic beverage, but also for its use during ceremonial occasions. The process of making sake by adding rice malt, steamed rice and water together in two phases was first established during the latter half of the 16th century and is considered the foundation for modern sake brewing. Many sake brews are made during the winter time when temperatures are lower and the fermentation process takes longer, but some distilleries also brew sake throughout the year regardless of season.
Visitors are encouraged to sample the many different tastes of Junmai, Honjozo, Ginjo, among others, produced based on the extent to which the rice is polished.
As of January 2015, there were 13 different sake distilleries in Hokkaido. Otaru City has a long history of distilleries because of its early growth as a center of trade and fishing and today three are located in the city. There are two distilleries located in Asahikawa City.
■Map / Main producing municipalities
Sapporo City, Otaru City, Kutchan Town, Shintotsukawa Town, Asahikawa City, Mashike Town, Kushiro City, Nemuro City
Japanese sake requires pristine water and brewer’s rice with a large white core and that contains a large amount of protein. Although Hokkaido is blessed with pristine waters throughout, for many years local rice had been considered unfit for sake brewing.
However, ever since a sake from Hokkaido using the Ginpu variety of rice won a gold medal at a national competition in 2003, people’s outlook of Hokkaido sake made from locally grown rice changed completely. Sake made from the new Suisei variety of rice has also won a number of awards at this same national competition, which has solidified Hokkaido’s status for producing high quality sake that is second to none in Japan.
Given this success, there has been a rise in the number of local distilleries producing sake made completely of ingredients sourced from Hokkaido.
Sake is made and distributed throughout the year, but you can also enjoy new sake vintages as they are released from January to March or seasonal favorites such as Hiyaoroshi, which is aged for about half a year until fall before its shipped.