A Morning Sip of Sake at Hakutsura Brewery, Kobe

 There's sake, and there's good sake. It's brewed in a process somewhat similar to beer, though it isn't carbonated. Local differences in water, rice, methods, and other ingredients makes for a good variety of flavors and styles, similar to different styles of beer. 
 In the past two-plus years, I've developed a bit of a taste for sake, though like wine I can drink it only in small quantities at a time. I've only bought two bottles of sake: one during summer vacation in 2013, and one during Golden Week (spring break) in 2013. Both came after tours of sake breweries which have been turned into museums.
 Hakutsura Brewery is located in Kobe, a fairly unusual place to make sake. Apparently it requires cold temperatures to be fermented properly, something historically found in the hills of the Tohoku region, not central Japan. But conditions here are right and the sake from Hakutsura is my favorite to date. Not that I have a lot to go on.
 I arrived mid-morning to tour the traditional brewery, which as I mentioned is now a museum.
 Not only will you find equipment, but a few mannequins are shown interacting with the equipment to give you a better idea of how they were used.

 The downstairs area shows the first stages, while most of the upstairs is devoted to the finishing touches.

 There are lots of barrels for storage and aging here! The basic steps in brewing sake are as follows: first, polish the rice to remove unwanted flavors, then, wash, steep, and steam the rice essentially the same way it is cooked for food. This is when you make koji, shubo, and then moromi - via the fermentation process. The fermented sake is pressed and filtered, then stored in a cold place to mature and then be bottled.

 Sake traditionally was provided in casks like you see in the background of the two left-hand pictures. This style of packaging is still used for special occasion sake, though over time it's been packaged in jugs and now bottles similar to wine.
 Sake is traditionally served in square wooden boxes, though these days there are a variety of ways to drink it. You might be given sake in a shot glass, but I've been served sake in small glasses similar to whiskey glasses too.
After walking through the museum, you can taste several varieties for free, and of course buy a few bottles and some traditional snacks. Here, you can taste fresh, unpasteurized sake, and I think it can be purchased but you should plan on drinking it quickly.

Admission is free, and the brewery is open 9:30-16:30 (last admission 16:00, closed for New Years and summer holidays). It's about a five minute walk south from Hanshin Sumiyoshi Station, down some smaller side streets. The entrance is on the south side; look for the sign shown in my first picture. The modern brewery is located behind the original building that is now the museum, but it's off-limits. For a look at a somewhat modernized sake brewery, head to Aizu-Wakamatsu and visit the Sake Museum (which also lets you try sake for free).

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