Ama no Kura Sake Brewery in Yura Northern Kyoto (Photo: Orrin Heath)
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Ama no Kura Sake Brewery Kyoto

Taste celebrity-endorsed sake in the small town of Yura

In Amanohashidate, in the northern part of Kyoto prefecture, there is a famous vineyard where you can taste and buy locally-produced wine. Unfortunately, it’s terrible. I think countries should stick to what they do best, and, just like you wouldn’t expect much from Italian sushi, so you shouldn’t expect much from Japanese wine. Unless you like the taste of sweetened vinegar. Sweet, revolting vinegar.

Instead, if you’re in the mood for a drink (and in these days of recession, mass unemployment, global terrorism, and Justin Bieber, who isn’t?), you should go to a fantastic example of something Japan does do wonderfully well – the manufacture of sake.

In the 1967 film You Only Live Twice, James Bond (when he's not comparing Chinese girls to Peking Duck, the old charmer) says that the correct temperature to serve sake is 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit (37ºC). And at the time that Bond-san was posing as the epitome of urbane sophistication in Mr. Tanaka's study, this was true as many sake breweries were fortifying their sake with distilled alcohol due to wartime rice shortages. So it had to be heated up, otherwise it would end up tasting like a product from a certain winery…

It wasn't until the so-called 'Jizake Boom' (insert dirty joke here) of the following year, when smaller sake breweries were again able to craft purer, more elegant and refined sakes which are best drunk chilled at a perfect 58.2 degrees Fahrenheit (15ºC).

And it is such examples of refined, perfectly-chilled sake that you can find at ‘Ama no Kura’ in the small town of Yura, ten minutes from Miyazu. There are several varieties of sake to try – most notably the distillery’s famous ‘Hakurei’ brand, as well as the delicious ‘Shutendoji’ and ‘Kouden’ varieties. Both the distillery buildings and the vats in which the ‘Kouden’ variety is made date back to the Tenpō-era (mid-Nineteenth Century), though there is also a more modern production facility which is capable of producing up to 100,000 litres of sake.

If you ask, you can go on a tour around the distillery and see the factory in action. And then afterwards (which, let’s face it, is why I went, and why you will go too), you can taste many of the sakes available.

Also festooned on the wall behind the counter in the shop are many photos of various celebrities visiting the distillery, including Japanese soccer star Nakata Hidetoshi, which stands as a testament to the enduring popularity of ‘Ama no Kura’.

And then once you have tasted (and hopefully bought) various delicious sakes, you can go across the road to ‘Hakureisya’ – an affiliated café serving delicious cakes, sweets, teas and sake ice cream. Move over chocolate and pistachio, I have a new favorite flavor of ice cream, and it’s sake. Delicious Japanese sake. Not like that Japanese wine – dreadful stuff.

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Anonymous 9 years ago
Ha ha, what a great way to introduce sake, by comparing it to the terrible wine they serve in the same district. Certainly that introduction made me sit up and pay attention! Sake icecream? That's a new one on me. Guess I always thought the alcohol content would prevent it from forming properly. I guess where there is a will there is a way!
Robert Van Egghen Author 11 years ago
Hi Amy,

Yes as Bonson says they do conduct tours. When I went, I didn't book, but there were only 3 of us. So if you have a larger group, I would recommend booking
Bonson Lam 11 years ago
Hi Robert, great article. I think the best wines in Japan are actually exported! Some of the best wines I have tried was from Yamanashi prefecture, really delicately made, like sake. They serve it at Jonah's restaurant in Palm Beach and also at the five star Observatory Hotel, the former a favorite with film stars in times past.
Bonson Lam 11 years ago
Hi Amy, you have got a great plan to visit the brewery! I hope your wedding plans are going well. The telephone number for the brewery is 0772-26-0001, and their email is Hope it goes well! There is also another brewery just 10km south of Kyoto Station called Gekkeikan. They do conduct tours regularly, but you need to contact them on 81-(0)75-623-2056 for group bookings. Admission is 300 yen per adult, may be extra for the tour. All the best!
Amy Jones 11 years ago
Hi Robert,

Just wondering if you have a website or contact details for Ama no Kura Sake Brewery? I am getting married in Japan in June and wanted to organise a small group tour/experience here for some guests. I suppose my first questions should have been - do you know if they conduct tours here?


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