Satsuma Shunzo's Meijigura

Good to Know Before You Visit! Basic Knowledge on Kyushu Brewery Tours

Kyushu is home to many small and medium-sized breweries, and from January through early May each year, those breweries hold the kurabiraki (first opening of warehouse after the New Year) event in celebration of their creation of sake. Try to ask for nouveau sake (shinshu) then.

What Are The Largest Kurabiraki Events in Kyushu?

There are two major kurabiraki events held in Kyushu – the Jojima Sakagura Biraki in Fukuoka and the Kashima Sakagura Tourism (R) in Saga. Jojima Sakagura Biraki is the biggest sake event in Kyushu that draws in 110,000 visitors, and it is held for two days around February 11th (public holiday) every year. Guests can go around the breweries to taste nouveau sake through the free shuttle bus and enjoy drinking and comparing Jojima sakes, the kanzake (warmed sake) corner, performance of the Chikugo sakezukuri uta (Chikugo sake brewing song), and stalls for shin/genki nabe (a type of hot pot) and local food in the main venue.
*In 2018, it will be held in Jojima Town of Kurume City on February 17 (Sat) and 18 (Sun).

Meanwhile, the Kashima Sakagura Tourism (R) event is held for two days – Saturday and Sunday – in late March. Kashima has been enjoying a lot of attention from people inside and outside the prefecture as the “birthplace of the world’s best sake” since the Nabeshima Daiginjo of Fukuchiyo-shuzo won the Champion Sake award at the International Wine Challenge.

Satsuma Shuzo's Meijigura

Sachihime Shuzou (brewery of the sacred sake that's served at Yutoku Inari Shrine in Kashima City, Saga Prefecture)

What Are the Four Tips for Enjoying Kurabiraki in Kyushu?

1. Enjoy furumaizake (nouveau sake). Furumaizake refers to sake that is offered to you.
Depending on the brewery, if you buy a choko (sake cup), you can drink a variety of nouveau sake, so try it!

2. Buy limited edition sake from the kurabiraki
Limited edition sake is precious sake that you can only buy at the brewery. If there is genshu (with alcohol content of around 18%), which is nouveau sake that is not diluted in water, then it will be a better deal.

3. Eat dishes from local stalls
Local dining establishments sometimes take part in kurabiraki. So, eat local dishes that match local sake.

4. Have a great time with new drinking buddies
Sake is a drink that brings people together. Strangely enough, there will be a lot of opportunities to meet new drinking buddies during kurabiraki.

Amabuki Shuzo

Kuncho Shuzo (brewery of refined sake (seishu))

What Are the Seven Rules for Kyushu Brewery Tours?

Follow what the guide says and take care not to get in the way of the sake brewer at work. Also, mind your manners and have a pleasant time touring the breweries.

1. Do not get dead drunk! Bring yawaragi mizu.
In Japan, there is a saying that goes "Sake, and sometimes yawaragi mizu." yawaragi mizu refers to the act of gulping water while you drink sake. Drinking water will help you break down the alcohol in your liver, so drink water that is more than the amount of the sake you consume. Depending on the brewery, some places offer shikomi mizu, (water used for brewing sake), as yawaragi mizu. Enjoy the shikomi mizu before it becomes Japanese sake, along with the before and after Japanese sake made from that water.

2. Strong scent is the enemy! Natto and perfume are prohibited!
The kojikin (koji mold) that is used to saccharify the steamed rice necessary for brewing sake is delicate bacteria. It is overpowered by the strong bacteria in natto and other foods. In light of this, they say that sake brewers do not eat natto during sake brewing season. Aside from that, refrain from eating yogurt, mikan (orange) or pickles and wearing perfume on the day of the brewery tour.

3. Wear mountain climbing getup!
During sake tasting, you will oftentimes hold sake bottle and snacks on your right hand and the choko cup on your left hand, so it would be ideal to wear something that will let your hands move freely. There are also many wet areas inside breweries, so it would be best to wear low heels and non-slip shoes. Further, it is surprisingly cold inside breweries, so a hat, a hand warmer and other precautions for the cold will prove handy. It would also be a great idea to have a strong bag or backpack for carrying home the sake that you buy.

4. Safety first during brewery tours
There are places inside breweries where you can fall, such as hoses, wet floors and steel scaffoldings to the brewing tanks. In particular, some people may have the urge to “swim in Japanese sake” when they see the brewing tanks that are in the process of fermentation. Note, though, that the sake tanks are quite deep at 2m high, so if you fall inside, you might suffocate due to the carbon dioxide. Further, if something drops in the tank, the entire batch of sake inside the tank will become useless. So, if you peek inside the tank in order to see the aroma and fermentation state, be very careful.

5. Do not drink on an empty stomach!
If you drink alcohol on an empty stomach, your body will absorb the alcohol first and get you intoxicated easily. And if you drink from noon, your body has still not produced the enzymes for breaking down the alcohol, so you will get drunk faster. Make sure to eat something first before you drink.

6. Use public transportation.
When going on a brewery tour or kurabiraki event, people driving their cars are asked to sign and stick a designated driver sticker, as this sticker will be strictly checked. For those who are drinking sake, make sure to commute using public transportation in order to avoid drunk driving.

7. Team up with a drinking buddy for more fun until you go home.
Even if you go on a brewery tour, the memory of it will not be fun unless you get home safely. Feeling intoxicated will also spoil the fun. So, team up with a drinking buddy and go home without losing anything, going beyond your destination when you ride a train, or something like that.
Your drinking buddy will be a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. He or she will become a (lifelong) drinking companion with whom you shared a drink.

Hamada Shuzo (Kinzangura)

Access the Kyushu Sake Brewery Tourism website ("Kampai" at Kyushu) through here!

Comment from the Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization

Kyushu is home to pristine nature, rich history, and a wide array of delicious dishes and alcohol. A major feature of this region is its onsen culture that can only be found in Japan. So, please enjoy the charms of Kyushu Island.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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