The history of Japanese sake in Tochigi Prefecture

The history of Japanese sake in Tochigi Prefecture, a region known for its lush natural resources and favorable climate, is rich with tradition and innovation, particularly exemplified by notable breweries such as Senkin and Tentaka.

Senkin Brewery: Founded in 1806, Senkin Brewery, located in Sakura City, Tochigi, is one of the oldest family-owned sake breweries in Japan. This brewery is renowned for its distinctive approach known as the "Domaine Method," a concept inspired by French winemaking. This method emphasises the importance of terroir and involves using rice and water sourced exclusively from the brewery's surroundings. Senkin specifically uses a local rice variety called "Kame no O," which was revived by the current owners, the Usui brothers. The brothers have adopted modern techniques while respecting traditional methods, contributing to the rich, complex flavour profiles of their sake, which is often compared to fine wine. They are also experimental with a method which is against the trend for increased rice polishing by actually reducing the rice polish rate to bring out new and complex flavours. This is known as the 'Senkin Natural' series, currently a 'standard', a nigori and a kijoshu variation. 

Senkin's sake stands out for its unique fermentation process, often employing a higher acidity and residual sugar content that aligns more with wine than typical sake. This innovative approach has garnered international acclaim, making Senkin a beacon of modern sake brewing on the world stage.

Tentaka Brewery: Established in 1914 in Otawara City, Tochigi, Tentaka is another influential player in the region’s sake scene. Tentaka has carved out a niche for itself by specialising in organic sake production, a pioneering effort in the Japanese sake industry. It was certified organic in Japan in 2000, and later in the U.S. and EU, leading the charge towards sustainable sake brewing practices.

Tentaka’s commitment to organic production extends beyond just avoiding pesticides and fertilisers; it encompasses a holistic environmental awareness, including using solar energy and other eco-friendly practices in their brewing process. Their sake is celebrated for its purity, quality, and the embodiment of "Shizen to jujitsu," meaning "nature and sincerity," which captures the essence of their brewing philosophy.

Future Plans: Looking ahead, both Senkin and Tentaka are poised to continue their innovative legacies. Senkin plans to further explore and refine their Domaine Method, potentially experimenting with new rice varieties and fermentation techniques to expand their product range and international presence. They aim to challenge the conventional perceptions of sake and promote its pairing with global cuisines.

Tentaka, on the other hand, is focused on expanding its reach in the organic market while continuing to uphold its environmental values. Future plans likely include enhancing their sustainability measures and possibly increasing their use of renewable resources to further reduce their carbon footprint. The brewery is also likely to engage in more educational and promotional activities to raise awareness about the benefits of organic sake, both domestically and internationally.

Together, these breweries contribute significantly to the reputation and evolution of Tochigi's sake, marking the region as a vital and dynamic center of traditional craftsmanship and forward-thinking innovation in the sake industry.

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