The History of Sake in Kumamoto

From Akazake to Sake

 Akazake (meaning “red sake”) is a kind of alcohol unique to Kumamoto, a region with both hot summers and cold winters. Akazake is a kind of akumochizake, a style of alcohol to which ash has been added in order to make it slightly alkaline and prevent spoilage. For hundreds of years, akazake was the only alcohol allowed in Kumamoto and sake could neither be produced here nor brought in from outside. Great changes in Japanese society in the second half of the 19th century, like the Meiji Restoration and the Satsuma Rebellion, led to legalization of alcohols other than akazake, and brewers in Kumamoto began experimenting with sake.

Unification of Sake Brewers and the Coming of the God of Sake

 As technology progressed, brewers switched from preserving sake by adding ash over to pasteurization. Such a big change in brewing techniques led to the breweries of Kumamoto banding together to study and improve the quality of their sake, resulting in the founding of the Kumamoto Prefecture Shuzonin Kumiai in 1879. By around 1885, the prefecture was working on improving sake and creating opportunities to study and improve sake brewing methods. Then, in 1903, a man named Nojiro Kinichi was assigned to work in the Kumamoto Tax Office. Nojiro would go on to be called the “God of Sake” through his work in instructing the breweries throughout the prefecture on brewing techniques and offering advice on improving the quality of sake. Nojiro also helped the breweries work even more closely together, leading to the start of the Kumamoto Prefecture Sake Institute in 1909 and its incorporation in 1918 by the breweries of Kumamoto. The following year, Nojiro became the founding chief engineer at the institute, where he went on to develop the Nojiro Ceiling Aperture, the Double Oke Method, and other sake brewing techniques and improvements.

Left/A bust of Nojiro Kinichi on display at the Kumamoto Prefecture Sake Institute. Nojiro’s achievements earned him adulation as the “God of Sake.”
Right/The Kumamoto Prefecture Sake Institute, founded in 1908 in a corner of the modern-day Zuiyo Brewery

History of Sake in Kumamoto Prefecture

1879 Kumamoto Prefecture Shuzonin Kumiai founded
1885 Kumamoto Prefecture Tax Office begins instructing Kumamoto brewers on how to make sake
1888 Kumamoto Prefecture Association Competition for the purpose of improving the quality of sake from Kumamoto brewers
1903 August: Nojiro Kinichi assigned to Kumamoto Tax Office
1908 Start of Kumamoto Prefecture Sake Institute
1918 August: Founding of Kumamoto Prefecture Sake Institute Co., Ltd.
1919 Nojiro Kinichi acts as founding chief engineer for Kumamoto Prefecture Sake Institute
1922 Kumamoto Prefecture Sake Institute moves to current location
1944 Alcohol taxation converted from taxation on amount produced to amount shipped
1953 Kumamoto Yeast isolated and cultivated at Kumamoto Prefecture Sake Institute
1968 Kumamoto Yeast named as Kyokai Yeast #9 by Brewing Society of Japan and distributed to brewers throughout the country
2010 March: Unveiling of joint Sayuru brand developed together with Kumamoto Prefecture
2014 November: Release of Hananishiki, Kumamoto Prefecture’s first original sake rice
2015 Start of Hananishiki rice planting
2015 October: Start of brewing with Hananishiki rice
2016 October: Sale of sake made with Hananishiki rice

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