When winter sets in, sake offers a great way to stay warm. When many people think of Kyushu, they think shochu is king, but there are actually many long-standing sake breweries in Fukuoka. Winter is peak season for sake brewing. Some breweries offer tours and let you sample their products. From now until February or March is when breweries unveil their newest batches, so it’s the perfect time to pay them a visit.
Ayasugi, in Minami Ward, was established in 1793. Its eponymous Ayasugi brand derives its name from the ayasugi, a sacred cedar tree at Kashii-gu Shrine in Higashi Ward where the brewery owner’s ancestors were from. From its founding until 1958, the brewery was located in Tenjin, and the original site is now occupied by the brewery’s own Sake Gallery Ayasugi. The shop, which showcases local sake culture, offers typical Fukuoka-style kakuuchi (stand-and-drink) service on the weekends.
Ishikura Shuzo in Hakata Ward traces its history back to Ishikuraya, a merchant house that accompanied the Kuroda Clan when they moved to Fukuoka and began brewing sake in the late Edo period. The company’s Hakata Hyakunen-gura, which still stands today, was built in 1870. Featuring white walls and a brick chimney, this traditional style warehouse has been registered by the national government as a tangible cultural property. Inside there is also a restaurant, which is a popular venue Japanese wedding receptions.
Finally, Hamachi Shuzo, located in Nishi Ward, was founded in 1870 and is known for its Suginoya brand of sake. The characters used in the name refer to cedar trees (sugi) and Noh theater. It is said that the first generation owner was such a fan of the outdoor Noh performed on the grounds of Fukuoka Castle that he had some large sugi trees felled to make a Noh stage. In addition to sake, Hamachi Shuzo also serves craft beer as well as pizza and other foods made from sake lees and yeast. In winter, its Itoshima oysters are another popular menu item.