A Sake Brewery Like No Other: Yoikana Shuzo (善哉酒造) in Matsumoto City, Nagano

In November of 2020 we took a short one-night trip to Matsumoto City, a castle town in Nagano Prefecture. It takes a little less than three hours from Tokyo Station on the Chuo Line Express Train called Azusa to get there. The city is famous for its castle, which is one of the few original castles still in existence. The city is also famous for its soba noodles and basashi (馬刺し), horsemeat sashimi.

Basashi (馬刺し)

Besides the castle, there is frankly relatively little to see, but it is worth strolling around the area surrounding it for about half a day, as it has numerous gift shops, coffee shops, and restaurants, as well as a number of museums. As luck would have it, though, we came across a quaint family-run sake brewery (website here) just a twenty-minute walk from Matsumoto Station. When we arrived, the owner’s wife, who also runs the shop, greeted us and asked whether we wanted to do a tasting. Even though it was just a little after 10 a.m., we emphatically answered “yes.” It felt like we were visiting someone’s home: it was more than just a typical kura (蔵), or sake brewery! We were allowed to pour and taste whatever we wanted. She took the time to explain each sake we tasted and handed us some sembei, rice crackers, and mikan, mandarin oranges, to accompany our tasting. I am not entirely sure about the pairing of mikan and sake, but the mikan was very much appreciated.

The entrance of the Official Sake Brewery Shop
The sign says “The Environmental Ministry designates this as one of the Heisei Era’s 100 best water sources.” Neighbors were filling up tanks with this water to drink at home. The water goes into making the sake at this brewery.
It was truly a unique tasting experience. The proprietor handed us kikichoko (きき猪口), sake tasting cups, and allowed us carte blanche. She even gave us some snacks to munch on and some amazake for our 7-year old daughter! No worries – amazake does not contain alcohol (as we explained in a previous post), if made from koji, or sake mold. Amazake is a highly nutritious beverage.

One of the things we tasted was a Junmai Daiginjo sake called Metoba-no-Izumi (女鳥羽の泉), which was made from Sankeinishiki (山恵錦) rice, a new type of rice developed by the Nagano Prefecture Agricultural Laboratory in 2017. The rice was developed through the cross-breeding of two types of rice – Yamadanishiki (山田錦)and Yumenshinano (ゆめしなの)- to create a sake rice that can withstand the harsh winters of Nagano. The brewery used this rice for the first time for this bottling. We chose to purchase this sake and tasted it again in early January 2021.

Tasting notes: The fragrance is not strong. There are some hints of fresh cream and/or milk followed by vanilla. With a Nihonshudo (日本酒度)of -5, the flavor was slightly sweet but not overly so. The sweetness dissipated quickly and was followed by a slight bitterness, which may or may not have been intentional.

Recommendation level (out of five stars):

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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#drinkingjapan #drinkjapan #yoikanashuzo #metobanoizumi #junmaidaiginjo #sankeinishiki

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