Kumamoto’s traditional Akazake and refined sake
“continuing to take on new challenges and preserve the culture of sake brewing”
Akazake・Refined sake / ZUIYO
In Kumamoto, people drink “Akazake” as a new year’s special kind of rice wine. ZUIYO was one of the first refined sake breweries in Kumamoto to start producing refined sake as well as continuing to make Akazake. We interviewed Mr.Kentaro Yoshimura, Director.
Kentaro Yoshimura Director of ZUIYO Corporation. Born in Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture in 1972. After graduating from university, he worked for a company before joining ZUIYO Corporation, where he was assigned to the Tokyo branch of ZUIYO Akazake. After studying brewing at National Research Institute of Brewing, he became involved in the brewing of ZUIYO at the head office.
Kumamoto’s traditional “Akazake”
The Kawashiri area in the southern part of Kumamoto City was a prosperous area in the Edo period (1603-1868) with a boat landing. The building with white walls is the brewery of ZUIYO.
― What is “Akazake”?
Akazake is a kind of sweet sake called “Akumochizake,” which is traditional in Kumamoto. Akazake was already being drunk in the Edo period (1603-1868). In Kumamoto during the Edo period, the production of sake other than Akazake was forbidden.
In the Meiji era (1868-1912), with the introduction of sake from outside the prefecture, Akazake gradually became less popular and its production was temporarily suspended. When we resumed production, it was used as a cooking sake by professional chefs and spread throughout Japan. In Kumamoto, we are busy shipping Akazake when the end of the year approaches, as it is used for making New Year’s sake.
―How is it made?
It is made in a similar way to refined sake, but using a process called “Akumochi,” in which wood ashes are added to the “moromi,” (made by fermenting rice and rice malt). The wood ashes are added to the mash to enhance its shelf life.
※Refined sake is made by fermenting and straining, rice,rice malt, and water as the main ingredients.
The first to try sake brewing in Kumamoto
In Kumamoto, where akazake has traditionally been made, Zuiyo was quick to start making refined sake.
―Please tell us about the beginning of Zuiyo.
The company was founded in 1867. Tahachi Yoshimura, the founder, is my great-great-grandfather. In 1889, about 20 years after he started brewing sake, Tahachi opened the door of the brewery on the morning of January 1st and saw a hawk flying into the brewery. He was so happy to see a hawk on New Year’s Day that he named Zuiyo is the name of the sake. (The “yo” in Zuiyo means hawk.)
―How did you start brewing sake?
In 1887, a chief brewer at a sake brewery in Hyogo, Japan was invited to learn the basics of sake brewing, and in 1903, Kinichi Nojiro was assigned to Kumamoto as a government official, and many Kumamoto sake breweries began to follow Nojiro’s guidance and started to create their own sake breweries to suit the climate of Kumamoto. In 1952, the Kumamoto Sake Brewery Research Institute was established.
In 1952, Kumamoto yeast was born at the Kumamoto Sake Brewery Research Institute, and this yeast is also used by our company.
―Please tell us the characteristics of Zuiyo’s sake.
Kumamoto is a region with abundant groundwater and good water quality. We try to brew well-balanced sake using Kumamoto water, rice, and Kumamoto yeast. It is a well-balanced sake with a refined aroma and a crisp flavor.
He likes the culture of sake brewing
Mr. Yoshimura used to work as a company employee in Tokyo. After leaving his hometown, he became more interested in sake brewing.
―Did you have a desire to eventually make sake brewing your career?
I am the fifth generation from the founder, and I didn’t really have any desire to take over the family business. But when I was working in Tokyo and went out drinking, I became interested in various kinds of sake, and not just Japanese sake. After I left Kumamoto, I became fascinated with sake brewing. I like the culture of sake brewing.
After getting to know the successors of sake breweries of my generation, I wanted to try my hand at sake brewing.
Keeping tradition and evolving
Zuiyo was severely damaged by the Kumamoto earthquake in 2016, but resumed production within the year. While maintaining the tradition of sake brewing, they are also working on new products.
―The production was interrupted due to the damage caused by the Kumamoto Earthquake.
Kumamoto, where our company is located, had a major earthquake in 2016. Thanks to everyone’s support, we were able to preserve the sake breweries. So, I want to make the kind of sake people want as a way of repaying them.
―What do you think about the tradition of sake brewing?
The theme of ZUIYO sake brewing is “tradition and innovation”.Our strength is that we have been brewing sake for a long time, but in order to preserve our tradition, we have to adopt new things and evolve to keep tradition.
―For the future
For sake in the future, it is more important to preserve its tradition than to produce large quantities.
I would like to make sake with the local community, for example by working with farmers to produce the rice for our ingredients.
We are not only making sake and having people drink it, but we are also thinking about how we can make use of the culture behind the sake and the characteristics of the region in our sake.
※The contents of this website are current as of November 2021.
※Some of the images in the video are provided by Zuiyo Corporation.
Mr. Yoshimura is full of passion for sake brewing. I was impressed by the way he continues to challenge new things while preserving the tradition. I look forward to seeing what kind of sake he will produce in the future.
■ ZUIYO co.,ltd. Established in 1867. They are brewing sake rooted in the climate of Kumamoto, they produce a variety of products traditional akazake(a one of traditional sake in Kumamoto) and sake, shochu (distilled liquor) and liqueurs. Location：4-6-67,kawashiri,miami-ku,Kumamoto City URL ：https://www.zuiyo.co.jp/