Tajime Brewery was one of the many stops on the Yardbird crew’s 2017 trip to Hyogo, Japan. This brewery produces our favorite Chikusen sake and is a 10-time winner of the Annual Japan Sake Awards: Gold Award. Tajime Brewery is located in Asago-city in the Northern part of the Hyogo Prefecture, and one of the first things we noticed is how large it is for a small-batch brewery. Owner and current head, Hirotaka Tajime, took our crew on a tour of the facilities and explained why they have so much space when their annual output is 108,000 liters.
Tajime Brewery was founded in 1702, which means they have 19 generations and over 300 years of sake brewing under their belt. Their facilities allow them to produce up to ten times their current volume, and at one point in time, they did produce much larger volumes of sake. But the current generation at Tajime Brewery believes that, sometimes, less is more. While the rest of the world is using technology to try to improve just about everything, Tajime Brewery took away a lot of their automated machines, opting for more traditional methods of sake-making. The brewery decided to limit its production in order to better control the quality of sake they were making.
It is important to note, however, that the removal of automation doesn’t mean that the Tajime team have romantic illusions or nostalgia for the past. They are a seriously dedicated group of brewers who are not rejecting technology just for the sake of doing so. While a lot of modern technology was removed from production, they bought new high-tech equipment to wash their rice that is able to better protect the grains. Tajime Brewery is driven by their desire to make top quality sake and have chosen the best methods to achieve that goal, both traditional and modern.
Aside from their “less-is-more” approach to producing sake, there are two other important factors that go into Tajime’s philosophy of sake-making. The first is cleanliness. While the brewery produces a range of sake and umeshu, they specialize in namazake (unpasteurized sake) and aged sake. The former spoils easily and the latter needs to be kept for a long time by sake standards, which means things can go wrong when cleanliness is not a top priority. The second factor is using local ingredients. Tajime-san told us that while great rice is produced all over Hyogo, they try to use hyperlocal rice grown in Asago-city whenever possible. This encourages local business and provides opportunities for young people in the sake industry. The brewery even tries to use local ume (Japanese apricots) for their umeshu.
The next time you peruse a sake list, look out for Chikusen, knowing these craft brewers have sacrificed quantity for quality to produce excellent sake with a sense of terroir.