Were you to take the evidence offered up by Japanese TV, you might be fooled into believing that the Japanese drink of choice was either humdrum lager or cans of whiskey highball. But you would be wrong.
There is no doubt that the national drink of Japan is sake, or to give it its proper title, ‘nihonshu’ (with ‘sake’ being a term to cover all alcoholic drinks). It is believed that nihonsnhu in its current form – made up of rice, water, and ‘kōji’ mold – dates from around the Nara period (710 to 794), and then later used for religious ceremonies, court festivals and drinking games.
Today it is enjoyed all over the country with many breweries, or ‘kura’, around the country involved in its production (in 2007 there were approximately 1700 kura making around 10,000 different types of sake).
If the festival has ignited a passion for tasting sake, why not try out one of these interesting sake bars around Nagoya.
The below postings are all recommendations from sake lovers that I know and trust, so are about personal taste. As such everything is for information only and Japan Info Swap does not endorse any of them.
Sake Bar Marutani is exactly what you might think of when the words ‘sake bar’ comes to mind. Once a rice granary during the Edo period and set on the Horikawa river, it is all hardwood and old world charm. They have a large range of sake and meals perfectly balanced to match what you drink. It is the ideal ambiance in which to sip nihonshu in a classical atmosphere. I have had many recommendations for this place – from both expats and Japanese – and it is of such a high quality that I plan on taking my brother-in-law – a sommelier by trade – to sample his first sake experience when he comes to visit.
Everyone needs a friend who is a sake expert and Torikko in Imaike is the recommendation of mine. Although he said that the best sake bar around is in his own home, unless you get an invite from him, he says that this is the next best thing. This is a bar in the traditional style, but the sake choices are top notch and the ‘master’ (the Japanese term for what we would probably call a landlord or bar owner back home) is as friendly and helpful as he is knowledgable about all things nihonshu.
This place should be on the list for its name alone – it translates to The God of Sake – but it is much more than a clever name. Osake No Kami Sama is a standing bar in the covered arcade of Endoji, and is my own recommendation, and somewhere you can find me most Friday evenings post-work. A majorly relaxed atmosphere, a knowledgeable master and a foreigner-friendly mixed clientele of salarymen, local folks and nihonshu aficionados make it a must visit bar; just as long as you have the legs to stand while you are drinking. They also have a great menu of Nagoya foods at unbeatable prices.
If you want to go further afield to sample nihonshu where it’s made, you can do worse than head to Takayama. The Gifu city has plenty of local breweries, and you can easily spend the day getting lost (and perhaps a little tipsy) trying out the brews. Some of them have been going for around 200 hundred years, so you can probably equate that longevity with consistent quality.
There are also many breweries in the Nagoya and Aichi areas. Some of these offer sampling tours, but only on specific days. Check out the ever-excellent kikuko-nagoya.com website for up-to-date details.