The Past - Part 4 - 1603 AD: "Locally brewed" Sake

An early brewery and kurabitos.

Certain regions in Japan became brewing centers during this next evolution in sake making history. This was complimented by the locally made sake boom—think “big and small.” Areas like Kyoto and Kobe exploded with large-scale production, due in large part to superb brewing water. Likewise, many small local breweries opened doors to dedicated drinking communities. The large brewing regions were now sending product to distant cities with increasing vigor, whilst the small local breweries that dotted the countryside made sake for locals.

Brewers who had been making sake in temples away from their families now wanted to go home. The famous Edo Period, 1603-1868, formed the bulk of sake’s brewing history; it was spearheaded by a return of the brewers to their  villages. This period saw the community aspect injected back into the sake making process as brewers went home and opened breweries throughout  Japan.

Many of the techniques and skills used in the micro-brewery boom are still in use today.  As a result of this new movement in sake brewing, the nickname for the sake industry came into being:  the “Industry of 10,000 methods.” 

The backbone of sake and community relations occurred during this period as the workforce for sake making (other than monks) came into being. Farmers, who harvested in the autumn and had nothing to do until the spring, became sake brewers in the winter. These kurabitos discovered that winter was the optimal time to make sake, mainly because the cold temperatures aided in the hot fermentation cycles and the reduction of airborne yeasts. Kan-zukuri became a rite of passage for sake.

During this period of time, the well known Kimoto method of producing a yeast starter likely came into being. Also out of this period came the use of distilled alcohol within the brewing process and the introduction of the waterwheel to reduce brown rice to white in a large scale. The delivery vehicle of sake changed during the Edo period as nearly each village had a kura that villagers frequently visited to fill their ceramic jugs with sake.  The ceramic jugs have became a symbol for the sake industry and replaced the ancient gourds that used to hang from warrior’s hips. The end of the Edo period was the first time sake was bought in a glass bottle.  The future of sake as we know it was in sight.