Sake is one of Japan’s most famous exports and this delicious alcoholic drink made from fermented rice has a unique flavour that can be enjoyed either hot or cold.
New to Japan Centre this week is a range of premium sake from Sudo Honke, a Japanese brewery based in Obara, Ibaraki Prefecture. Nicknamed ‘the brewery in the woods’, Sudo Honke is surrounded by lush 500-year-old zelkova trees which have played an important part in the company’s history and eco-friendly ethos.
“NEVER cut down the trees” My Grandfather used to say this when I was young. We have a family motto that has been passed down over 55 generations: “SAKE, RICE, SOIL, WATER, TREE”. These five interact with one another”.
Gennemon Sudo, 55th President of Sudo Honke
Image courtesy of JNTO
The Sudo Honke Journey
Founded in 1141, Sudo Honke is one of the oldest sake breweries in Japan and because of this, their history differs a little compared to other sake breweries. The family were originally samurai warriors who embarked on a mission to revitalise the economy by growing their sake brewing business. The head of the family was subsequently given 2 names; Gensayuemon as a samurai, and Gen-uemon as a brewer.
An appreciation and respect for nature has always been integral to the Sudo Honke family and continues to be passed down through the generations. Using rice from local fields, pure water sourced from on-site wells and brewing without distilled alcohol is just as important today as it was to their ancestors.
Throughout the years they’ve won numerous awards and gained international recognition including prizes at the International Wine Challenge in London and an incredible 91/100 rating from sake critic Robert Parker. Their Kakunko sake has even been served to distinguished guests at the Japanese Prime Minster’s official residence!
Sake is categorised by how much the rice has been polished and milled and whether or not distilled alcohol has been used. The more the rice has been polished down to remove the husk, the higher quality the sake.
Sudo Honke’s sake falls under the Junmai Daiginjo-shu line, the highest quality sake available, with rice polished to at least 50% and no distilled alcohol added.
If you’re new to the world of sake, then you may like to check out our Sake Guide for an introduction to the various different types available.
The Five Commitments
Over the past 900 years, an understanding and appreciation of nature has been essential to Sudo Honke’s sake journey. Their motto “Sake, Rice, Soil, Water, Tree” highlights just how important each element is in creating their top quality sake.
Sake: Sudo Honke’s premium Junmai Daiginjo-shu sake is unfiltered and distilled without alcohol to ensure that the natural balance of flavours always shines through.
Rice: Grown in the local fields of Kasama and used within 5 months of harvesting to ensure optimum freshness, their rice is carefully selected for its quality, size, weight and shape.
Soil: To create the best-growing environment for rice, soil needs to be healthy and nutrient rich. Sudo Honke’s soil has been cultivated over many decades with a mission to protect and maintain it for the next generation of sake brewers.
Water: Purity of water has a big impact on flavour and is essential for brewing the finest sake. If you’ve ever tasted a cup of tea or coffee with pure water then you’ll know how delicious it can taste! At Sudo Honke, water is sourced from underground wells that were built 800 years ago, ensuring a commitment to nature as well as sake that will delight your taste buds.
Trees: The Sudo Honke family motto is “never cut the trees” and for good reason! They play a vital part in protecting the eco-system and collect pure water for the wells.
Image courtesy of Enjoy My Japan
Which Sake to Sample?
If you’re new to sake then Sudo Honke’s Satonohomare is a great place to start your sake adventure! This has a clean, crisp well-balanced flavour that pairs well with everything from meat to seafood.
Why not try a full-bodied sake such as Sudo Honke’s Kazan with a meat dish such as ponzu beef donburi or slow-cooked pork belly. A lighter, fruity sake such as Yusura will pair nicely with any seafood or fish dish such as the unagi don grilled eel rice bowl or seared salmon with wasabi. The lighter sake also complement vegetarian and vegan dishes such as this tasty tofu katsu curry.
There are plenty of Sudo Honke sake options to explore at our flagship store on Panton Street. Head to our specialist sake room where our friendly team can assist you in selecting the most suitable options for your palette. With sake available in a range of sizes from 180ml to a full bottle, you can sample a few different varieties to find your perfect match.
If you’re feeling creative, check out our many delicious recipes to experiment with. Why not gather your nearest and dearest and host your own sake food pairing evening?