Japan Trip 2010: Tenju Sake Brewery

With the Ohi Brothers at Tenju

Another stop on my whirlwind tour of Japan was the magnificent Tenju Sake Brewery. I was greeted at the brewery entrance by Mr. Takeshi Ohi, the brewery President, and his younger brother Mr. Hitoshi Ohi, the brewery’s Managing Director.

Tenju is a sake brewery situated at the foot of Mount Chokai, one of the prominent mountains in this region of Akita prefecture and also the name sake of their famous sake brand “Chokaisan“. It’s the soft, pure water from the snows of Mount Chokai that gives their sake is silky body and very light minerality.

The Ohi brothers welcomed me into the Brewery and we started off by sitting down and enjoying a delicious lunch together along with some equally delicious Tenju sake. After a great conversation about the sake industry, sake consumers in the U.S., and a good dash of humor thrown in for fun, we headed out the the adjacent brewery facility for a tour.

The Rolls Royce of Sake Tanks

As we toured their facility, I saw repeated examples of this brewery’s respect for tradition, but also their love of learning and innovation. Founded in 1874 and operating for 6 generations, Tenju has a lot of tradition to build upon, but in their love of research and education, they are also pushing the envelope to improve their sake.

Along the brewery tour, I saw a number of cutting edge machines that assist and improve sake production process such as one contraption that aids in quickly drying rice that has just been soaked, or these specially designed tanks that aid in moisture absorption of newly milled rice. They also had a tank in their Junmai Daiginjo brewing area that must be what I would call the “rolls royce” of sake brewing tanks… it’s a gorgeous, climate controlled, water insulated, stainless steel tank that has a rounded bottom and internal blades for automated stirring. A thing of beauty!

Delicious, Glorious Chokaisan

In addition to technology, Tenju also innovates with research. Examples of this include the Tenju Research Group, which is a consortium of rice farmers lead by the brewery that meet regularly to work together and share their data to improve their rice crops from year to year. I also learned about the special flower yeasts that Tenju has cultivated over the years. These yeasts give a flowery fresh and really delicious taste to Tenju sakes.

Tenju Brewery is currently importing two sakes into the USA. Their award winning and bestselling flagship product is the well loved Tenju Chokaisan Junami Daiginjo. This is an elegant, aromatic and balanced gem of a junmai daiginjo. Those flower yeasts mentioned earlier really come to bare in the brew. Accessible, delicious and oh-so-easy to enjoy, Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo is a scrumptious sake that always pleases. The new Chokaisan on the block is their Tenju Chokaisan Junmai Ginjo Nigori. This nigori is all about texture and mouth-feel. With the signature wonderful balance of their other sakes, I predict this entry will be a hit with U.S. consumers, too.

My sincere thanks to Takeishi and Hitoshi Ohi and their lovely wives for making me feel so welcome and at home at their beautiful and historic brewery. Even though the rain and fog didn’t allow me to see the summit of Mount Chokai during this trip, I know now, I only have to reach for a bottle of Chokaisan sake if I want to taste the pure essence of this beautiful part of Akita!