November 22, 2016
As we celebrate Scorpios this month in Sake Gumi, our sake club selections are centered around yamahai and kimoto-style sakes. One Sake Gumi offering is by Kitaya Brewery called Souden, an earthy, yogurty brew that is a current staff favorite. Yoko and I (along with Johnny, Anders, and TB) were fortunate to visit Kitaya on our latest trip to Japan. We headed to Kyushu, Japan’s southern most island, known for its tonkotsu ramen, onsen, and shochu. The trip was truly memorable and our tour of Kitaya Brewery was a highlight.
Located in Yame City in Fukuoka Prefecture, you can spot the brewery miles away, thanks to its giant chimney.
Here we are below it for scale:
Kitaya has been around for nearly two centuries and boasts perhaps the largest sugidama, a ball made of cedar that customarily hangs in front of sake breweries to signify the start of brewing season.
Kitaya sakes run the gamut in flavor profiles: fruity daiginjos, dry honjozos, bold yamahais. Kyushu is known for robust flavors in its cooking (a lot of pork, and horse is a delicacy here), so they try to make sakes that would complement this cuisine. Kitaya also distills shochu.
The kurabito (brewers) dining room:
Rice washing station:
We were lucky enough to get a tour from the president of Kitaya himself, Mr. Kotaro Kinoshita. Here he is with the sake mash, before fermentation:
Tasting out of the fermentation tanks:
Kitaya invests heavily in the newest sake technology and equipment. Here is a top-of-the-line koji-maker that Yoko and I had never seen at any other brewery. This controls the temperature of the environment so that the koji mold can develop evenly.
Before there were these high-tech koji cultivating machines, koji was made in these small rooms lined with planks of cedar. It was not sake-making season so we were able to go inside this room, which Kitaya still uses, despite the fact that they also have a fancy koji-cultivator.
Above is Mr. Shinichi Obata, a local sales rep for Kitaya. He was so kind.
More fancy equipment – we think this was the rice cooler:
A sake press by industry leader Yabuta:
Washed rice on drying racks:
Master brewer Nishio Kouhiro. He has been at the brewery for decades — he told us that he only meant to stay for a little while. We enjoyed Mr. Kouhiro greatly. Here he is with a freshly-made sake starter mash:
We tasted some of Kitaya’s newly released sakes and shochus. Note the spit buckets:
The bottling and packaging warehouse:
Thank you Kitaya for a lovely afternoon at your brewery! We enjoyed talking with the President and Master Brewer and getting to see first-hand how their sakes are made. Kyushu is a special place, and we can’t wait to go back!
Photos by Johnny Lopes