Founded in 1880, the family-run Katayama sake brewery has been making absurdly delicious, artisanal sake over six generations.
Every batch of sake at Katayama begins with water drawn from an underground mountain spring. Flowing from the Nikkō Mountains, it was this water that the brewery’s founder sought as he traveled from Kashiwazaki, more than 120 miles away.
After allowing the rice to ferment, brewers strain liquid from the mash using a centuries-old shibori (pressing) technique. While most sake producers use an automated press, in this fading traditional approach, brewers stuff the mash into cloth bags, then stack them in a wooden crate. Weights on top of the crate, coupled with gravity and the added weight of the bags on top of one another, helps slowly and gently extract the liquids. It’s a far less efficient process, but is said to yield a purer sake.
The brewery specializes in genshu sake, a form of undiluted sake that hovers around 16 to 20 percent alcohol. Those who visit in the winter can observe (and smell) the brewing in action. In off months, Katayama-san is still happy to provide tours (in fairly good English) and explain the production process, as well as sell bottles of sake and sake-soaked cakes.
Know Before You Go
The Katayama brewery can be fully experienced in less than an hour. If possible, phone ahead to ensure that Katayama-san will be available to give the full tour.
You can find the brewery within walking distance from Kami-imaichi Station, which is about a 5-minute train ride from Tōbu-Nikkō Station.