Kaetsu Sake Brewery is located in Tsugawa-machi in Niigata Prefecture, at the juncture of the Agano and Tokonami Rivers, with the Sea
of Japan to the immediate west. This area has long been celebrated for its superb natural scenery. It is also abundantly blessed with pure water, for the clear mountain streams of
the Oku-Aizu and Echigo ranges empty here. During the Edo Period (1600-1868 AD), Tsugawa-machi was already recognized as a key sake-brewing region, and its brewers were
granted brewing concessions by the Aizu Han (feudal clan ruling the area) that were almost monopolistic.
Our brewery was founded in 1880. With cold winters and plenty of clean water and fresh air, the
Niigata environment perfectly suits the requirements of rice growing and sake production. Misty mountain weather also suits the creation of folklore, for the nearby mountain of Kirin-zan (Kirin
Mountain) is the origin of a nationally famous legend called Kitsune-bi (Fox Lights) and of nationwide festivals that feature the "Fox Bride Procession" (Kitsune no Yome-iri). For more on the fox legend, click here (outside link).
Our main brand of sake is called KIRIN. This name was inspired not only by nearby Mt. Kirin, but also by Chinese legends of a mythical and magical creature named Kirin.
The Kirin is a symbol of serenity and prosperity, the herald of auspicious events. According to legend, it appears only rarely, and only to mark the beginning of a new era -- the birth of a virtuous ruler or sage, for
example. Just like the mythical Kirin, our "Kirin" brand signifies happiness, serenity, and goodness. In addition, in 2004, we released a new sake product named KANBARA. Kanbara is the name of a
nearby district that traces its origins back very far in our local history. Our Kanbara sake is now available in most major locations in the United States. We offer two products in the USA --
Bride of the Fox and Wings of Fortune. Both are Junmai Ginjo grade, with the former made with Gohyakumangoku rice and the latter with Yamada Nishiki rice.
Using highly polished select rice and clear water, our master brewer (hailing from the Echigo guild) uses his special techniques to brew superior sake, both rich in aroma and clean in taste. Niigata is famous
for its rice, and in collaboration with another local brewer, we have formed a sake-rice cultivation group with nearby farmers that aims to further
improve the quality of our rice. Also, for our best sake, we use water that has been chosen as one of the top 100 water sources in Niigata Prefecture -- the water is obtained from a nearby location known as
"Yakushi Shimizu." The fruits of our efforts have manifested themselves in our winning gold medals in the National New Sake Tasting Contest in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004.
(L) Kaetsu Sake Brewery in Summer and (R) in Winter
Rice paddy in scenic Niigata
One notable aspect of our brewery is that the current president, Shunichi Sato, and the chairman, his
father Heihachi Sato, are both renowned technical sake-brewing specialists. Both have been official government sake tasters, and both apply their knowledge to every aspect of their sake-brewing
activities. Their combined technical know-how, together with the experience of their master brewer (toji), has resulted in some of the highest quality sake in the country. There are about 100 sake
breweries here in Niigata, and many of them are blessed with good water, rice and skilled toji. The style of sake from most of these breweries is Tanrei Karakuchi (light and dry). Our sake
generally fits the description of light and dry, but lately consumers have begun to demand not only light sake but also sake with impact. As such, we continue to change with the times, and we are now brewing sake
that is still basically light but with a fuller presence as well.
Size and Characteristics
We brew 3,600 "koku" (traditional Japanese unit of
volume) each year, which is equivalent to about 650 kiloliters annually. In terms of scale, we are certainly not a large brewer, but we cannot be counted as a small brewer either -- rather, we are most fairly
represented as a midsize brewery. Our current size allows our customers to give feedback and express their opinions to our brewers, who can then learn from that. Our scale of production also allows our brewers
to know the joys and flavors of handmade sake, and convey that to the customers.
Niigata-born professor Kinichiro Sakaguchi, an authority on fermentation, says in his book Nihon no Sake: "We should promote the wonderful
sake of Japan to many people around the world."
As a sake brewery operating in the professor's home prefecture of Niigata, we treat those words with great
importance. In terms of cuisine, irrespective of country, there is much more variety now than there was long ago, and rather than considering whether food is Japanese, Western or Chinese, it has become more useful to
look at the ingredients and what has been used in preparation of a given dish. Fusion cuisine, like creative sushi, may be some of the best matching food for sake. Food and sake should be enjoyed together, and
next to delicious cuisine should be delicious sake, and we hope that very soon Nihonshu (sake) will sit on tables throughout the world.
The Toji (Master Brewer)
and Kurabito (Brewing Assistants)
Our toji hails from the Echigo guild and has 58 years of brewing experience.
He, together with 13 brewers, works hard and brilliantly to combine traditional techniques and modern equipment to make high quality sake. Starting this year, our second in command -- the young Mr. Masatoshi
Ito -- will slowly take the reigns for the future. Although the toji may change over the generations, we continue to embrace the day-to-day challenge of maintaining the basics of our sake,
and in that light the stance of maintaining harmony among our brewing personnel will not change.
Kaetsu Sake Brewery Co. Ltd.
3644 Tsugawa, Aga-machi, Higashikanbara-gun
Niigata Prefecture, Japan 959-4402
WEB: www4.ocn.ne.jp/~kirin/ (J & E)
Scene near Kaetsu Sake Brewery, Niigata
Agano River near Kaetsu Sake Brewery