Ichinoseki - sake and beer

<< 2012-10-28 10:11 >>

Street scene, Ichinoseki

Basho passed through Ichinoseki on his journey, but failed to mention it, focusing instead on Hiraizumi. Today Ichinoseki is much the bigger of the two towns, even if Hiraizumi is culturally more important. To us, however, Ichinoseki held an important attraction: the Sekinoichi Shuzo sake brewery, which also makes the Iwate Kura beers.

The names, by the way, are interesting. Ichinoseki literally means "first gate", and this is thought to derive from its position as a town on the border against the wild and untamed north. It's likely that there was a guarded barrier here a millennium ago. The name of the brewery is a pun (anagram, almost) on that name, but means "the first (or best)". Even the beer brand name has a meaning: Iwate is the prefecture, "Kura" is an ancient type of fireproof storehouse.

Sake fermentation tanks, in the museum

And indeed the brewery is a whole compound of buildings, one of which is a kura. There is also a museum to sake brewing, a museum to literature from the region, a brewery shop, a cafe, a restaurant, a banquet hall, and the beer brewery itself. Somewhere in the compound the sake brewery must be, too, but somehow I overlooked it.

Sake bottles in the shop

The shop was a pleasant surprise. I knew Iwate Kura mostly for their vintage barley wine (sold draft in Popeye), but it turned out they brewed a whole range of interesting beers. For example, I'm pretty sure they're the only brewer on earth to have made a persimmon lambic. And it was good, too, intensely fruity in an orangey tropical fruity sort of way, with a dry acidity running all the way through it. It was surprisingly mild, too, for a lambic. In fact, the acid was rather subtle for a lambic. One of the brewers, whom we met in the shop, swore that it was a real lambic, however. The fruity flavour might be persimmon, but I can't tell, having never tasted any.

Sekinoichi barley wine

Another find was their barley wine, 2010 vintage, in a boxed bottle. 14% alcohol seemed a bit over the top, but while sharp it was very harmonic, dominated by sweet-dry roasty cocos, toffee, and roasty chocolate, with hints of soy sauce. Really a lovely beer. Apparently they do an oak-aged version, too, which I would have loved to try, but couldn't find.

In the shop were also various craft products (like dried seaweed) from coastal communities, sold for charity to help people on the coast rebuild after the tsunami. There were also some photos of damage to the shop building, but no indication of the cause of the damage. Via Google I found a UN report saying that the Iwate Kura cultural heritage had been damaged by the earthquake, but is now repaired.


The restaurant was divided into several parts. One was a traditional restaurant space, but further in was what looked like an izakaya, where people took off their shoes to sit at the bar. We chose the restaurant, and chose Japanese fondue. An interesting dish, but perhaps not something I would eat very often.

Overall, I found Sekinoichi (or Iwate Kura) an interesting place, well worth a visit. The town itself is also a pleasant, sleepy sort of place.


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