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The first impressions are so often the wrong ones…
It was actually with some apprehension that I entered Sanwa Brewery in the company of my good friend Takahiro Nagashima. The only times I had been able to check beforehand the likes of Mssrs. Katsumasa Suzuki and Tomio Sugahara I had discovered extremely serious, almost severe faces. Photographs seldom do justice to people. In fact everyone in the brewery were extremely civil, smiling and welcoming.
The ice was quickly broken and conversation commenced in earnest with Mr. Suzuki and his emplyee in charge of the borrling, Mr. Hiroyuki Sano, who later took us on the grand tour of the premises.
Sanwa has a long and eventful history: founded in 1686 under the name of Oshikubai Brewery (Mr. Suzuki is the 19th-generation owner), it merged with two other local breweries 30 years ago.
The original Oshikubai Brewery building serves as office and bottling and storage sites with 7 staff.
The former Koizumi Honkei Brewery stretches at the foot of a very scenic mountain and comprises the brewery proper and private quarters, kitchen and dining room for the toji/master brewer and his 5 aides.
The third brewery, Shimizu Brewery can still be seen as a private household halfway along the main thoroughfare.
Sanwa Brewery is known for many brand names such as Shizugokoro, Hagoromo, Tesshu and Okitsukawa, but it achieved international fame of late after they created the Garyubai label four years ago.
The name itself means “Sleeping Dragon Plum Tree”, and was inspired by a local legend whose history is related in nearby Seiken Ji Temple, a small but grand scenic spot adorned with plum and cherry trees.
90% of Garyubai brand is junmai.
The total production amounts to 850.000 (1.8 l.) bottles, 25% of which consist of extravagant futsushu/regular sake (from rice milled down to 70 and even 65%!)
Sanwa utilizes a wide range of rice strands:
Yamada Nishiki (Hyogo Prefecture)
Gohyakumangoku (Toyama Prefecture)
Tankan Watari (Shiga Prefecture)
Bizen Omachi (Okayama Prefecture)
Aiyama (Hyogo Prefecture)
Miyama Nishiki (Shiga Prefecture)
Homare Fuji (ShizuokaPrefecture)
Water is gathered from the mountain standing at the back of the brewery.
Yeasts are No 10 and M310.
They also started last year to produce a very limited quantity of umeshu I cannot wait to get my hands on!
Visiting the brewery is like taking on a tour of old Japan. Most buildings date back to before WWII.
One can even discover and admire artifacts so important for their historical and cultural value:
Old pictures from the Meiji and Taisho eras showing the rebuilding of the premises, an impressive range of cups, bottles and even crystal glassware.
The toji, Mr. Tomio Sugahara is an impossibly gentle and affable craftsman hailing from Iwate Prefecture (Nanbu Guild) who never stops smiling. Mr. Sano confided me that he just cannot remember seeing him angry.
Interestingly enough, Mr. Sugawara is a gradener back home during the off season.
Equipment and structures are still very traditional with the necessary dose of automation to help reduce manual albor. You do have the impression of stepping inside Old Japan, especially when you consider that the no sign stands to indicate the brewery, which lays hidden in a very rural setting away from the bustling thoroughfare.
The large amount of kasu/white lees goes to local wasabizuke makers or sold to various gastonomic ventures. The collection of kasu is the only labour still done manually. It does take three days for the whole company staff to take it out of the vats and pack it away.
Apart of producing some sake for private labels in Shimizu and as far as Tokyo, Sanwa Brewery exports to New York, Singapore and Hong Kong, where their barnd name, Garyubai, is steadily acquiring a respected name, including the International Sake Challenge 2007 Grand Gold Prize.
Moreover, Sanwa Brewery is also very active in Promoting Shizuoka Jizake by holding an annual Dinner tasting Reception for 240 guests every third Friday of October at Elizabeth Hall near Shimizu JR Station in the company of three other breweries.
You can bet I’ll be there next October!
424-0038 Shizuoka City, Shimizu Ku, Nishikubo, 501-10
Tel.: 054-366-0839 (office)