Ozawa Brewery: Learn Sake Making
Looking for an easy day trip? A 90-minute train ride to Sawai Station in Ome City is a must—and you’ll still be in Tokyo. The scenery will not be tall buildings and crowded streets, but serene nature and one amazing sake brewery. Founded in 1702, Ozawa Brewery—which makes the famous Sawanoi brand—is the oldest in Tokyo and run by the 23rd generation of its founding family.
Since moving to Japan more than six years ago, I have had the pleasure to visit some 15 sake breweries, and, honestly speaking, I only paid partial attention to the tours while anticipating the taste testing at the end.
It wasn’t until 2018 that I actually learned enough about sake to make a half-decent decision on which is good, and which doesn’t meet my preferences. There are 1,400 sake breweries in Japan nine in the Tokyo city limits—so there are plenty of chances to improve your knowledge firsthand.
Water and rice are the most important, as sake is 80% water and fine rice determines the taste.
Before the workers at Ozawa enter the brewery, they stop at the overhead shrine and pray for a good day. The prayers are to the gods of nearby Mt. Mitake, and sake-making.
The Sakagura Experience
When you take the tour, you will enter a 300-year-old building with clay walls that allow the temperature to be kept between 5 and 25 degrees Celsius without heating or air conditioning. During my tour, it was 21 degrees. With more than 200 tanks, the building is mainly used for sake storage. It takes six months to a year before it is ready for consumption.
Originally, the Ozawas used wooden barrels, but changed to porcelain tanks about 70 years ago. Recently, they began making the wooden barrels again using cedar trees from their property. The barrels will be used for 50 years and then be given to miso makers.
Koji is the name of a special kind of yeast used in Japanese sake brewing. At Ozawa, their best koji yeast comes right from the grounds of the property and is used for their top brands, while the rice comes from Hyogo Prefecture, which produces Yamada Nishiki, known as the “king of sake rice.”
How much you polish the rice determines the quality. For their Koh sake, Ozawa polishes the rice to 35%.
Raw rice and 35% polished rice
Water is the next ingredient that sets Ozawa brewery apart. They dug out a well right next to their storage building 170 years ago and, upon testing the water, found it had little to no iron and far fewer minerals than regular spring water.
With high-quality ingredients, you need a top brew master. When asked about Ozawa’s brewmaster, or sakatoji, our guide said, “Our brew master is the best of the best.” He has brought back the old-style process of brewing and combined it with a proper mix of today’s technology.
Once the tour is completed, you will head over to the tasting room. You can choose a generous sample from 12 types of sake. The first is free during the tour, with additional samples available for a reasonable price in the tasting room. Your tasting cup is a souvenir and, if you reuse it, you can get ¥100 discount on other samples.
A welcoming smile in the “kikisakedokoro” tasting room
There is much more to this tour, but I don’t want to spoil your fun by sharing it. You will have to make the trip to learn all about this special brewery.
There are two restaurants on the property—Mameraku and Mamagotoya—and both serve tasty tofu dishes. There is also a café called Sawanoi Seiryu Garden with a beautiful garden and plenty of seating, and takeout is available so you can enjoy your meal and sake while viewing the Kaede-bashi walking bridge overlooking the Tama River.
Lunch at Mameraku Restaurant
Included in your English tour brochure are some very interesting pages. The first explains the purpose of the sakabayashi, the distinctive hanging ball which you will see up under the eaves prior to entering the brewery. This ball made of cedar leaves is dedicated to the god of sake-making. It is replaced once a year, in autumn, when the first sake brewing is finished, to let you know that the new sake is ready for consumption.
The tours are free and conducted in Japanese. However, six times a month, you can book an English tour. Reservations are required.
Ozawa Brewery is closed on Mondays. Check their web page for additional information. Open 10:00 to 17:00 (16:30 March–November).
This article was written by Rey Waters