Sample and Purchase Delicious Sake as Souvenirs at Gekkeikan in Fushimi, Kyoto
Though Kyoto has recently been producing more wines and craft beers, it is still more commonly known in Japan for its sake. Local university students paid a visit to Gekkeikan, a famous brewery with a sake museum, to get all the information for this article. Read it and dive into the world of Kyoto sake!
Feb 22 2019 (Sep 09 2020)
Fushimi, Kyoto, is well known as the place where the famous shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha, is at. The city has also been known for sake (Japanese rice wine) since long ago, and it still has a fair number of sake breweries. Gekkeikan, one of Japan's biggest sake manufacturers, was founded in Fushimi in 1637. Its name means "laurel wreath" in Japanese.
With a history of 380 years, Gekkeikan was the first to incorporate science and technology into sake brewery, and has been leading the sake industry in Japan ever since. Starting with bottled sake that didn't have preservatives in 1911, in 1928, they introduced brown bottles to maintain freshness, and started sales of unpasteurized sake (available for distribution at normal temperature) in 1984. They have always been manufacturing sake of the highest quality with the latest technology. For example, recently in 2008, they introduced carb-free refined sake!
What's Popular? What's Recommended for Foreigners?
Horin Junmai Daiginjo 720mL (2,478 yen (plus tax))
Horin is incredibly popular worldwide and among the best junmai sake that Gekkeikan has ever produced. It has a fruity aroma and a smooth taste.
"Junmai" refers to sake made only from water, rice malt, and rice. Horin is a "junmai daiginjo" - sake made in a unique way, which only uses the very best part of the rice kernel. Thus it is an ultra-premium sake.
Daiginjo 720mL (1,100 yen (plus tax))
Daiginjo is another local Kyoto sake made from Kyo no Kagayaki, a local rice brand, and the clean water of Fushimi. It has fruity aroma and an exquisite, clear taste, which is best enjoyed chilled or at room temperature.
Ochoko-tsuki Daiginjo 180mL (250 yen (plus tax)) / Ochoko-tsuki Junmai 180mL (218 yen (plus tax))
These are Gekkeikan's recent products which came out in August 2017. The left is Daiginjo with a smooth and refreshing taste, and the right is Junmai with a clear taste. Both come with an ochoko (small sake cup) as a cap so that you can enjoy them even when you don’t have cups with you.
Densho Gekkeikan Daiginjo 1.8L (7,000 yen (plus tax)) / Densho Gekkeikan Junmai Ginjo 1.8L (3,000 yen (plus tax))
These are sake that devoted sake brewery masters made with carefully-selected ingredients, with the goal of preserving the real greatness of sake for future generations. The left is Daiginjo with a smooth yet dry taste, which would be suitable as aperitifs or during a meal. The right is Junmai Ginjo with a clean aftertaste and fruity aroma, which is a good match for Japanese cuisine. Both are aimed at bars and restaurants (also sold on the Gekkeikan online shop).
Tour the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum
This museum is housed inside a renovated brewery that was originally built in 1909. It is a popular tourist spot visited by around 160,000 people a year.
The descriptions for each exhibition at the museum are written in Japanese, English, Simplified Chinese, and Korean so that tourists from overseas can enjoy the place as well (pamphlets in foreign languages are also available).
What the Museum Is Actually Like
When you enter the museum, you will be greeted by a replica of an old sake store on your left. Tools like ryogae tenbin (exchange scales) are on display here, helping you to imagine what an old sake store was like.
These are the traditional tools used for sake brewing, and they are all registered as Tangible Folk Cultural Properties of Kyoto City. They are displayed in the order they'd be used in actual sake brewing, so as to help teach visitors about the process and history of sake brewing with the aid of the descriptions on the panels.
In the museum, old products, promotional goods, and antiques are also exhibited. Along with documents on sake and Gekkeikan, there are also documents about the history of Fushimi, Kyoto.
Samplers and Souvenirs
After the tour, you can try sampling sake for free! There are 3 different kinds of sake to try:
To the right is Gekkeikan Retro Bottle Ginjo which is characterized by a rich flavor. It replicates the unique shape of the bottles that sake sold at train stations back in 1910 came in. In the middle is Tama no Sen Daiginjo with a clear and refreshing taste. To the left is Plum Wine, which is extremely popular as aperitifs and as a drink during a meal.
At the museum, you can also get a bottle of refined sake (Junmai Ginjo) for free as a souvenir. There is no better place to be for sake lovers!
*For underaged children, they will hand out Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum original postcards.
Tour the Brewery!
Touring the brewery and watching the process of sake brewing is one of the great things about this place (advanced reservations only). You can see the fermentation of unrefined sake through the glass, as there is a mini-plant for sake brewing inside the main brewery, right next to the museum.
Don't Forget to Get Souvenirs!
There also are a lot of souvenirs at Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum! Starting with those 3 kinds of sake you get to sample, they also have a range of other sake, snacks, pickled foods, and much more.
The picture above is the Guinomi Set (1,030 yen), which consists of 5 sake cups, each with unique views of Kyoto printed on them. This is a popular choice of souvenir for tourists from overseas. Another recommended option is the Maekake Apron (1,500 yen) with Gekkeikan’s logo on it.
Gekkeikan not only produces great sake but also provides you with quality time for learning more about the sake itself. If you are interested, visit the museum and give the historic sake there a try!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.