The deep love for this sake intoxicates the hearts of its drinkers.
Dainagawa is a sake brewery located in Omori-cho, Yokote City, Akita Prefecture. Its sake is famous for its sweet and clear taste and is loved not only by locals but also by people all over the country. The brewery has four brands: "Dainagawa", "Tenka", "Omori", and "Sannai Toji." Led by Mr Yoshinao Sato, who has 27 years of experience as a Toji (chief brewer), all the brewers have taken on the challenge of sake brewing.
It was the passion for sake brewing that reignited the lamp that had almost burned out
Dainagawa, a sake brewery located in Omori-cho, Yokote City, Akita Prefecture, has been deeply loved by the locals since its establishment in 1914.
Located in the northwestern part of the Yokote Basin, one of the heaviest snowfall areas in Akita, it is blessed with snowmelt water flowing from Mt. Horowa and along the Daina River, which passes right by the brewery. Their Shikomi-mizu (brewing water) is pure soft water, low in minerals, and suitable for long-term, low-temperature fermentation. The taste of their sake, brewed with this water using Sannai Toji's traditional Akita cold brewing method, is sweet, clear, and refined, making it a superb product.
The brewery has repeatedly been renovated, but still retains the atmosphere of the time when it was first established. I cannot help but feel the preciousness of the traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation at this location. Its Kuratsuki-kobo (house yeast), a gift from heaven, is also the result of the historic building's unique characteristics.
Everyone at this brewery participates in the brewing process, including the office staff, sales staff, and even the president of the brewery. Brewing sake has nothing to do with one's position in the brewery. Sometimes, the president is willing to drive to fetch water himself.
Dainagawa is the result of the love and pride of all these Kurabito (brewery workers).
A light that was about to go out, revived by the brewers' love and determination
Dainagawa is now thriving, but a few years ago, it faced a business crisis as its sales slumped. At that time, there were only four Kurabito and production had dropped to 150 koku (approx. 27,000 liters). Everyone felt the need to be prepared to close the brewery down.
“We didn't want to put out the lights."
So, in order to fulfil the wishes of the locals and the Kurabito, Mr Bungo Tanaka, who had just started managing a sake brewing group at the time, was selected to be the savior of the brewery's business restructuring.
However, when Mr Tanaka saw the brewery, he was speechless at the devastation, which was beyond his expectations.
The brewery was dirty, poorly equipped, and the business was in a worse state than he had imagined. At first, he says, he considered refusing the offer.
However, Kurabito's love for Dainagawa was so strong and deep that it overcame the circumstances. The confidence of Mr Sato, the chief Toji, and his straightforward desire to continue brewing sake especially moved Mr Tanaka. Above all, what made Mr Tanaka decide to take the company in a new direction was his love for the taste of Dainagawa.
It's not that it didn't sell. They just weren't selling it right
In 2018, Dainagawa underwent a remarkable transformation after its rebirth.
The product lineup, which had previously consisted mainly of Honjozo (indigenous and traditional sake) and Futsu-shu (standard sake), was switched entirely to Junmai-shu (sake made using only rice, kome-koji and water).
Their previously disorganized brands were narrowed down to four, "Dainagawa", "Tenka", "Omori", and "Sannai Toji", and the target market was specified.
The text on each label was eliminated and replaced with one-point illustrations featuring each sake so that the sake can be enjoyed from the moment the bottle is picked up. The comments made by the Kurabito aiming for "sake with visible contents" were also enticing.
Although the burden from capital investment and increased processes were unavoidable, the brewery appeals to consumers by fully emphasizing its commitment to sake brewing and love for the brewery. Combined with their high level of sake brewing skills, the sales began to show signs of a steady recovery.
As the brewery came back to life, only the Kurabito's passion for sake remained constant. Mr Sato, the Toji who leads the sake brewing process, explains his commitment to the brewery:
“The sake I am aiming for is sweet and sharp, with the full flavor of rice. The water in Akita Prefecture is often soft, and Omori, located in the Dewa Hills region, is no exception. Soft water contains fewer minerals and has little influence on Kobo yeast. In other words, soft water is suitable for long-term, low-temperature fermentation, which results in sake with a clear flavor and no cloying taste."
Sweet and sharp tastes seem to be opposites. However, Mr Sato said, “If it's too sweet, the sweetness stays on the palate for a long time, while sharp sake has a refreshing aftertaste. The sake I am aiming for allows you to enjoy the flavor of the rice while also having a refreshing and crisp aftertaste. I want its flavor to make people want to drink it more and more And I want people to enjoy the excitement of the first sip for a long time. Many visitors to our brewery are surprised when they first taste our sake and they say, ‘It’s so delicious!’ I want them to enjoy that moment for as long as possible. For this reason, we need to pay attention not only to the process of brewing sake but also to the speed of bottling and shipping."
Recently, the brewery has also developed low-alcohol products for consumers who have low tolerance. The fermentation process for low-alcohol sake is said to be extremely difficult to maintain quality, but Dainagawa has already launched products with 8% alcohol by volume, which have been well received by people over a wide age group.
Mr Sato says he will continue to preserve the traditions handed down from generation to generation while adopting new styles that reflect the needs of the times.
He has devoted himself to sake brewing for 27 years.
Mr Sato's gentle but uncompromising nature is reflected in Dainagawa. Its sweet yet sharp taste will continue to intoxicate our hearts.