10 Premium Sake Breweries in Japan

The Alchemists of Rice: Best Premium Sake Breweries in Japan

Japan is a land of contrasts, where ancient traditions coexist with cutting-edge technology.

One tradition that has stood the test of time is the art of sake brewing. But not all sake is created equal. In a country that boasts thousands of breweries, a select few have elevated this rice-based beverage to an art form. These premium sake breweries are the epitome of craftsmanship, using age-old techniques and the finest ingredients to create sakes that are nothing short of extraordinary.

In this article, we’ll take you on a curated tour of Japan’s top 10 premium sake breweries in Japan, each a master of this ancient craft.

1. Takagi Sake Brewery (Yamagata)

Takagi Sake Brewery
© Murayama City

Located in Murayama City, Yamagata Prefecture, Takagi Sake Brewery Co., Ltd (高木酒造株式会社) is a brewery that has become synonymous with premium sake.

Founded over 400 years ago in 1615, the brewery made waves in the 1990s by introducing a new style of sake that was rich and fruity, contrasting the dry sakes that were popular at the time. The 15th Generation Takagi returned to the brewery in 1993 after working at Shinjuku Queen’s Isetan and launched the Juyondai brand the following year. The brewery has been a trendsetter, selling directly to select retailers and restaurants, ensuring quality control.

They are also known for developing unique sake rice strains like “Ryu no Otoshigo” (Dragon’s Offspring).

2. Kokuryu Sake Brewery (Fukui)

Kokuryu Sake Brewery

Situated in Eiheiji Town, Yoshida County, Fukui Prefecture, Kokuryu Sake Brewery Co., Ltd. (黒龍酒造株式会社) has a history dating back to 1804.

Founded by the first Ishidayajizaemon, the brewery named itself after the old name of the Kuzuryu River. Kokuryu was the first to market Daiginjo sake, launching it at the highest price for sake at the time, and it became legendary. The brewery is also known for its aged sake, which has been used as gifts for the Crown Prince’s wedding and served at the Nagano Olympics. They are part of a group called “Frontier Tojo 21,” focusing on using top-grade Yamada Nishiki rice from Hyogo Prefecture.

3. Sudo Honke (Ibaraki)

Sudo Honke Brewery

Nestled in Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Sudo Honke (須藤本家) is part of Sudo Honke Inc., the oldest recorded sake brewery in Japan, founded in 1141.

The brewery has always valued nature, surrounded by trees and following ancient teachings that restrict brewing to the harsh winter months. Their sake is unfiltered and they were the first to introduce “Hiyaoroshi” and “Nama-zake” to the market. Their most famous sake, Kakunkou, has been valued at around 700,000 yen per bottle and has even been served at official government functions.

4. Tatenokawa Brewery (Yamagata)

Tatenokawa Brewery

Tatenokawa Brewery (楯の川酒造) is a gem located in Sakata City, Yamagata Prefecture.

Founded in 1832, the brewery underwent a significant transformation in 2010 when it decided to focus solely on producing Junmai Daiginjo, the highest grade of sake. This bold move made it the first brewery in Yamagata to specialize in this premium category. Their renowned Junmai Daiginjo “Komyo” boasts an astonishing milling rate of 1%, a testament to their commitment to quality. Tatenokawa has also made its mark globally, exporting to countries like the United States and Europe, and gaining accolades in international sake competitions.

5. Niizawa Brewery (Miyagi)

Sake from Niizawa Brewery
© Niizawa Brewery Co.

Located in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, Niizawa Brewery (新澤醸造店), a family-owned establishment founded in 1873.

Originally known for its “Atago no Matsu” brand, the brewery took a groundbreaking step in 2001 by introducing Hakurakusei, a sake specifically designed to accompany meals. This was a revolutionary concept in a culture where sake was traditionally consumed either before or after meals. The brewery also showed resilience by recovering from the devastation caused by the 2011 East Japan earthquake, a testament to their enduring spirit.

6. Katoukichibee Shoten Brewery (Fukui)

Sake from Katoukichibee Shoten Brewery
© Katoukichibee Shouten

Situated in Sabae City, Fukui Prefecture, Katoukichibee Shoten Brewery (加藤吉平商店) is a brewery with a rich history since its establishment in 1860.

Known for its “Koshi no I” brand in the post-WWII era, the brewery gained imperial recognition when its sake was used in ceremonies during the early Showa period. The Born brand was trademarked in 1966 and has since been served at prestigious international events, including the Cannes Film Festival. It was also the first official in-flight sake for the Japanese government’s aircraft. With numerous international awards under its belt, Born has solidified the reputation of Katoukichibee Shoten as producer of world-class sake.

7. Isojiman Brewery (Shizuoka)

Isojiman Brewery
© 2015 Isojiman Premium-Sake Brewing Co., Ltd.

Isojiman Brewery (磯自慢酒造), located in Yaizu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, is a name that resonates with sake connoisseurs. Founded in 1830 as a side business by a village headman, the brewery shifted its focus to sake production after World War II.

Known for its commitment to quality, Isojiman has set up a rigorous quality assurance system that has made it a benchmark in the industry. The brewery uses top-quality Yamada Nishiki rice from the Tojo district in Hyogo Prefecture. It gained international fame when its “Isojiman Nakadori Junmai Daiginjo 35” was served at the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit in 2008. The brewery has also won multiple gold medals at the International Wine Challenge.

8. Shimizu Seizaburo Shoten (Mie)

Shimizu Seizaburo Shoten
© 1996 Sanoya kurabisyu inc.

Shimizu Seizaburo Shoten (清水清三郎商店) is located in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, a region historically known as “Umasake Suzuka no Kuni,” or “Suzuka, the land of good sake.”

Founded in 1869, the brewery has been in operation for over 150 years. The natural environment of Suzuka, with its cool, clear water from the Suzuka Mountains and high-quality rice from the Ise Plain, provides ideal conditions for sake brewing. The brewery’s approach to sake-making is meticulous, focusing on handcrafted techniques and attention to detail. Their master brewer, Tomohiro Uchiyama, has been recognized both nationally and internationally for his exceptional skills.

9. Kikuhime Brewery (Ishikawa)

Sake from Kikuhime Brewery
© Kikuhime Co., Ltd.

Situated in Hakusan City, Ishikawa Prefecture, Kikuhime Brewery (菊姫合資会社) has a rich history dating back to the Sengoku period. Originally founded under the name “Oyanagiya,” the brewery has been a representative of Hakusan Kiku sake.

Kikuhime has been recognized as the first sake to receive a Geographical Indication (GI) in 2005. The brewery uses underground water from the sacred Mount Hakusan and contracts rice cultivation in Hyogo Prefecture. It was also the first to introduce the Sake Meister system, balancing innovation and tradition. Kikuhime has been served at the Imperial Household Agency and won the first champion sake at the International Wine Challenge.

10. Tsukasabotan Brewery (Kochi)

Tsukasabotan Brewery
© 2015 司牡丹酒造株式会社

Located in Kochi Prefecture, Tsukasabotan Brewery (司牡丹酒造) is a venerable institution with roots tracing back to the Edo period.

The brewery has garnered numerous accolades, including the highest gold awards in national new sake appraisal competitions. While it offers a diverse range of products, from Junmai Daiginjo to liqueurs and seasonal limited editions, Tsukasabotan is more than just a sake producer. It’s a legacy that has been meticulously crafted over centuries, embodying a strong commitment to quality and innovation. The brewery’s long-standing history and achievements make it a standout in Japan’s sake landscape.

In the world of sake, these breweries stand as pillars of tradition, innovation, and craftsmanship. Each offers a unique narrative, blending ancient techniques with modern sensibilities to create sake that transcends time.

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Written by

Photographer, journalist, and avid urban cyclist, making sense of Japan since 2017. I was born in Caracas and lived for 14 years in Barcelona before moving to Tokyo. Currently working towards my goal of visiting every prefecture in Japan, I hope to share with readers the everlasting joy of discovery and the neverending urge to keep exploring.