Japan Trip 2010: Ichishima Sake Brewery

Kenji Ichichima
photo © Ichishima Shuzo

My next stop in Japan was Ichishima Sake Brewery, located in Shibata City, Niigata. I’ve known the current brewery President, the young and dynamic Kenji Ichishima for several years now. Ichishima-san is the current leader of the Sake Brewer’s Association Junior Council / Sake Samurai organization where I first met him in 2007.

He is the descendant of a sake brewing family steeped in tradition that dates back over 200 years, but he has also spent considerable time abroad and in addition to speaking fluent English, he also understands the dynamic of western cultures. This all adds up to a very interesting Kuramoto-san who can speak equally well to his native Japanese and western customers.

Another point that makes Ichishima-san unique is the variety of sake he’s chosen to export to the States. Currently over 10 kinds of sake are exported from Futsushu to special award-winning Daiginjo, Ichishima Brewery selections allow you to taste a wide and diverse sampling of styles from their famous Kura. You can view the Ichishima Sake portfolio here.

Ichishima Tasting Room

When I arrived in Shibata, Ichishima-san greeted me at the train station which is just a short walk from his Brewery building. He was kind enough to give me a personal tour and we started in the interesting Ichishima Sake museum. The museum is comprised of several rooms that house artifacts from the Ichishima family from over 200 years in the sake brewing business. There were antique sake barrels and wooden sake making tools of every size and description. Other rooms had sake cups and porcelain along with family documents and kimonos – everything was beautiful and really gave me a taste of what life may have looked like at the brewery a few hundred years ago.

Ichishima Japanese Garden

Next I toured the brewery facility and Ichishima-san showed me the entire production process from rice steaming and washing to koji making and drying to brewing and storing. The brewery building takes a vertical approach with steaming and washing on the top floors and brewing on the lower floors so that sake can easily be transported down once steamed and processed. After the brewery tour, I visited the gorgeous store and tasting room which is housed in the original Edo Period brewing room with it’s majestic hand hewn beams. really stunning.

Equally stunning was the view from Ichishima’s home which looked out onto a fantastic japanese garden. Ichishima-san gave me a taste of their current hit sake, the Ichishima Umeshu or plum sake. It was lightly sweet and balanced and a perfect cap to the afternoon. My sincere thanks to Ichishima-san for taking the time to welcome me so graciously and with such generosity.