Sake that only we can brew
Sake brewing at a small brewery that is meticulous to an extent that no one else can imitate
A small sake brewery on the western side. Just using quality ingredients is not enough to compete with the big players.
So we continue to do what only we can do, in a way that only we can do it.
One last effort before closing down the brewery
Kiyama Town in Saga Prefecture is located in the middle of the Nagasaki Kaido, which connects Nagasaki, the only trading center in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868) when the country was closed to the outside world, and Kitakyushu, a key point connecting Kyushu and Honshu. Kiyama Shoten has been brewing sake here for more than 150 years since the second year of the Meiji era (1869).
About 10 years ago, however, the brewery faced serious financial difficulties. This is because the sake they are so proud of, which they have been brewing in the tradition from their Toji (sake master) at that time, no longer met the needs of the times. Unable to keep up with the fast-paced changes, sales continued to decline.
At that time, Tokyo had a large-scale sake tasting and business event. Mr Kenichiro Komori, the current managing director and chief Toji, was one of the Kurabito (brewery workers) at the time, and after tasting sake from other breweries at this event, he was convinced, that if they did nothing, the brewery would certainly go under. The sake from Kiyama Shoten was harsh and had a sharp edge compared to others.
Consequently, Kiyama Shoten was at a crossroads on whether to close the brewery or not. There was no prospect of rebuilding. They almost decided to put an end to it there.
However, words from Kenichiro's sister, Ayako (currently executive director), changed the direction of the brewery.
"I’d like to try one more thing before quitting. Why don't we make our own sake? If that doesn't work, let's end it,” said Ayako.
This was the moment of Mr Kenichiro Komori's birth as the chief Toji
Although their determination was firm and they were ready to go, their difficulties would not be so easily overcome. After about five years of trial and error, just when it seemed there was finally a glimmer of hope, the outbreak of COVID halted progress again. However, Kenichiro did not give up. He considered the three years of the COVID pandemic as a good opportunity to analyze current sake trends and tasted over 400 different sakes in total.
Such steady efforts and trial-and-error have gradually resulted in the establishment of the current Kiyama Shoten.
"The best feature of our sake is its freshness and softness that comes from the soft water of Kiyama. But the taste is not the only thing that matters. We want people to sense that we are taking very meticulous care in every step of our sake brewing process," said Kenichiro.
Something anyone can do but doesn't. Attention to detail that’s only possible due to being a small-scale business
They completely renewed their sake brewing process to achieve meticulous attention to detail. This didn't mean the introduction of state-of-the-art machinery or extensive renovations. As a small-scale sake brewery, Kiyama Shoten focused on the effort that anyone could put forth if they wanted, but which is laborious and time-consuming.
For example, washing rice. The machine used is small and not particularly unusual, but the amount of rice washed each time, the amount of time the rice is in the water, and the temperature on that day are all closely monitored and recorded. The conditions and sake are then analyzed, and the accumulated data is used for future sake brewing.
In addition, during Kenichiro's 16 years of sake brewing, the pressing and filtering machine used to squeeze Moromi (unrefined sake) has been thoroughly cleaned even on the outside to maintain its cleanliness. Furthermore, to prevent the formation of bacteria and mold, the filtration system is placed in a refrigerator at a temperature of 3~4℃. This level of thoroughness is rare among sake breweries in Japan.
In addition, Kenichiro's attention to detail and care extends to every detail of the entire process, from storage and cooling methods for the fermentation tanks to bottling and Hiire (heating after bottling).
They may all be little things, but any brewery could do such things if they wanted. However, Kiyama Shoten's strength lies in its thoroughness in all of these countless "little things”.
Even if they imitated the big breweries, used standardized methods, the best ingredients, and made full use of machinery, a small brewery would never surpass the big players. Therefore, they concentrated on what only a small brewery could do. Thanks to Kenichiro's diligence and hard-working nature, Kiyama Shoten, was revived, and came out of its shell, undergoing a major evolution.
Playing a part in regional development by uniting with the beloved hometown, Kiyama.
At one point, they lost confidence in their own sake and thought about closing the brewery. Despite such a past, Kiyama Shoten has developed its own style through trial and error and is now able to confidently recommend its prized sake to the public.
But the challenges do not end there. There are still things they want to focus on and improve.
"We want to add more originality to the label design, use more rice from Saga Prefecture to contribute to the local rice farmers... there are too many things to list. Above all, I’d like more people to know about the beauty of Kiyama Town," said Kenichiro.
Saga Prefecture is often considered one of the most inconvenient regions in Japan, but the town is located close to Fukuoka Prefecture, and Fukuoka Airport, which is the air gateway to Kyushu, is only 40 minutes by car. In addition to its convenient transport links, it is also blessed with abundant nature.
Taking into consideration not only the brewery but also the town, its farmers and financial institutions, Kiyama Shoten will continue to play its role unitedly with the local community.
Kiyama Shoten - 合資会社基山商店