Japanese Sake Series: Tamanohikari Sake Brewery
Tamanohikari is one of the only Japanese sake breweries making junmai sake, made without added alcohol or sugar. Learn about its history and key ingredients.
Tamanohikari sake brewery was founded in 1673.For over 340 years, they have continued to brew the finest sake, striving each year to make it better than the last. Their sake is made from just rice, water, and koji (sake starter). They take great care in selecting not only the type of rice they use, but also how it is planted. Tamanohikari also led the industry in reviving junmai, sake made without added alcohol or sugar.
History and background of the brewery
Tamanohikari’s clear sake
Junmai is a term for pure sake made only with rice and rice koji. For years, it was normal to add alcohol to sake to increase the overall volume. During World War II, it was done because of rice shortages. After the war, sake makers did it to increase profits. Today 80% of sake on the market has added alcohol.
In 1964, Tamanohikari revived junmai for the first time. Because junmai takes up to 1.8 times the amount of rice that added-alcohol sake requires, this practice was done at considerable cost to the brewery. However, it could not raise the price of its products in fear that sales would plummet. What is more, few people in those days had a true appreciation for junmai. For Tamanohikari, it was one hardship after another.
Still, they believe this centuries-long tradition of making sake only with rice is the way to achieve the true flavour of sake. That’s why to this day, Tamanohikari brews only junmai.
Tamanohikari’s essential ingredients
Kyoto’s superb water
High quality rice
Because Tamanohikari sake is made only with rice, water, and koji, they are very particular about their rice. Today, only 5% of the sake on the market in Japan is made using shuzo kotekimai, rice that is suitable for brewing sake. Tamanohikari uses bizen-omachi, a rare variety regarded as the best rice for making sake, and yamadanishiki, praised as the “yokozuna” (master) of sake rice, as well as premium-quality iwai sake rice from Kyoto.
Brewed with nature’s finest water
The Fushimi ward of Kyoto is blessed with excellent groundwater. At Tamanohikari, the water they use throughout the brewing process, from washing the sake rice to creating the moto yeast starter and the moromi mash, all comes from a source in Momoyama Hills. Centuries ago, legendary warrior Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) pumped the same water for his tea ceremonies.
Today, the water source is recognised by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment as one of the country’s 100 finest waters. Tamanohikari is adamant about selecting only the finest rice and koji. But when it comes to water, they simply give thanks to mother nature.
Koji is a living thing and is lovingly crafted by human hands. The sprinkling of koji mould to make koji rice is one of the most important processes in sake making. At Tamanohikari, this process is done entirely by hand. The way the koji mould is sprinkled on the steamed rice is determined by the many years of experience and intuition of the toji chief brewers.
Koji crafting process
Half a century has passed since Tamanohikari revived the tradition of junmai pure-rice sake. Now, more people appreciate the quality of junmai and ginjo pure sake. But still, you could look all over Japan and find only a handful of breweries dedicated to the making of junmai ginjo and junmai dai-ginjo. As one of Japan’s only junmai ginjo breweries, Tamanohikari continues to uphold sake traditions in Fushimi, Kyoto, and is committed to making the best possible sake.