You are currently viewing Tosa Sake Fair and Ryoma Sakamoto’s legacy

Tosa Sake Fair and Ryoma Sakamoto’s legacy

Ryoma Sakamoto
Ryoma Sakamoto’s iconic photo

Born in Tosa province in 1836 and assassinated in Kyoto in 1867, Ryoma Sakamoto was one of the most inspiring and romantic revolutionary figures in Japan during the final years of the Tokugawa shogunate.

He was a real visionary and one of his greatest achievements was Eight Proposals While Shipboard, a plan to reform Japan in order to turn it into a modern country. Incidentally, it’s also a name of a Tosa sake, which I tasted this week.

The Tosa Sake Fair took place at Japan Centre and ICHIBA in London at the end of October. Tosa is an old name for Kochi prefecture. The prefecture lies in the southern part of the Shikoku island. I actually was at the Tosa sake tasting last year at the Embassy of Japan. But that time I hadn’t started my blog yet. I also wrote about two breweries from Kochi prefecture, Tosatsuru and Tosa Brewing Company (Keigetsu), in this post.

Tosa Sake Fair
Chikako Yamamoto and Akihiko Takemura

The Tosa Sake Fair was organised by the Kochi Prefectural Government and the Trade Association and besides the two breweries I have already mentioned featured another three from the region: Arimitsu, Tsukasabotan and Mutemuka. Ms. Chikako Yamamoto, Director of Kochi Prefecture’s Trade Promotion Division, was also at the event.

Tosatsuru Brewery

Tosatsuru presented their two premium sake: Junmai Daiginjo and Daiginjo Genshu Tenpyo. I really like the design of Tosatsuru bottles. Each of them conveys a very good image of the sake it contains. I’ve written about the beautiful modern and clean design of the “azure” bottle and beautiful calligraphy and old-fashioned shape of the Tenpyo bottle before.

Yukiko, Tosatsuru
Yukiko is always passionate about the sake her family brews in Kochi (but here she’s talking about Keigetsu sake)

While the Tosatsuru Junmai Daiginjo bottle is more traditional I liked the way how the black ink calligraphy juxtaposed with the white background of the label. Again, it delivers a feel of crispiness and freshness of the sake.

Tosatsuru Junmai Daiginjo’s polishing ratio is around 40%. It’s a dry, light and fragrant sake with a fruity aroma full of peach and melon notes, very common for junmai daiginjo sake. What really strikes you when you try Tosatsuru Junmai Daiginjo is the pepperiness in the taste, which immediately gives a fresh kick to your senses. It’s a very pleasant and refreshing sake.

Daiginjo Genshu Tenpyo is not as fragrant as the Junmai Daiginjo. It’s a full-bodied lavish sake with some sweetness of the rice in the taste. You can read, watch and listen about Daiginjo Genshu Tenpyo in my previous post.

Arimitsu Brewery

Arimitsu, Akitora sake
Akitora sake: Tiger on Ice

You can always recognise Arimitsu’s Akitora brand by the tiger on the label. It could be loosely translated as a tiger from Aki-city and refers to a feudal lord who resided in the castle nearby in the 16th century. Arimitsu is a small brewery. It makes a slightly different sake from what usually associated with the Tosa province due to a softer water from the Akana river used for brewing.

While the brewery’s representative was at ICHIBA that time, I was lucky to have Takeuchi san, a sake advisor at Japan Centre, serving the Tosa sake. He was most helpful and really knowledgeable about the product. We discussed all the sake I tried in details. He even brought a bigger glass for better assessment of each sake’s aroma. Takeuchi san also helped me to break the language barrier and to speak to other breweries’ representatives.

Arimitsu brewery presented three sake this time. The first sake was Akitora Seimai Junmai. Its polishing ratio was unusually low for a junmai sake, only 80%. As a result, the sake was quite acidic, full-bodied, rich in flavours and very intense in taste. It gave you a feel of an old-fashioned sake, which people probably drank before premium sake became much more common. I guess this sake would be great with seafood or chicken.

The next sake, Akitora Junmai Ginjo, was completely opposite: light and crisp, pleasantly fragrant with grapefruit or citrus aroma, but not too intense. It was a dry sake, which could be good both chilled and slightly warmed. I also tried Akitora Junmai, a light and dry sake with mineral notes in both aroma and taste and slightly oily texture. It was a classic junmai sake, which would be great at any temperature. I think it’s muroka, a non-charcoal filtered sake. The recommendation for food pairing would be seafood.

Mutemuka Brewery

Mutemuka (無手無冠) is translated something like “We are not kings” or “Without a crown”.(Let me know if you have a better translation!) The name refers to the brewery’s philosophy to make simple local sake using local ingredients and resources. The brewery indeed makes only one junmai ginjo sake and no honjozo. Most of its range consists of simple junmai and nama sake.

Mutemuka Junmai Nama
Mutemuka Junmi Nama no Sake

Mutemuka offered only one sake for tasting this time, its signature Mutemuka Junmai Nama no Sake. It was unpasteurised and undiluted sake with an intense aroma dominated by cheese and yoghurt, but with some mineral notes. The brewery representative explained that the cheese aroma comes from the original yeast developed in the brewery about a 100 years ago.

Despite the intense aroma, the taste of Mutemuka sake was unexpectedly mild. It had a creamy texture and delicate acidity combined with some tartness. The sake was made using the rice grown by the local farmers without using any chemicals and non-organic fertilisers. Matemuka also presented a very nice yuzu liqueur made using a freshly squeezed local yuzu juice and shochu. 

Tsukasabotan Brewery

Tsukasabotan is an old brewery with the history going back for more than 400 years. The brewery makes classic Tosa sake: light and dry with clean and crisp finish. Tsukasabotan also developed very close relationship with local rice producers. The brewery oversees the rice growing process to make sure it receives the best rice for its sake.

Tsukasabotan was presenting its Junmai Senchu Hassaku sake. The name refers to Ryoma Sakamoto’s Eight Proposals While Shipboard mentioned the beginning of the post. It shows a very strong connection of the brewery to the local history and traditions.

Tsusabotan Senchu Hassaku
Tsusabotan Senchu Hassaku

Senchu Hassaku is a super dry junmai sake with green apple aroma, clean savoury finish, and some astringency in the taste. This sake will be great with fatty sashimi as it will cleanse the mouth from the oil. According to one restaurant, pairing this sake with sashimi increased the sales of both the sake and sashimi.

The sake is very subtle and doesn’t burst with a character. But this makes it perfect for food pairing. It also won the 2nd place at the warm sake competition. I spoke with the brewery’s president, Takemura san, and he recommended to warm it up to 30-35 degrees.

For Senchu Hassaku, Tsukasabotan Brewery uses premium Yamada Nishiki rice from Hyogo prefecture to make rice koji for and the rice from the local farm for the rest of the brewing. The brewery has been working with the farm for 30 years making sure that the rice they buy from it is exactly what they need for brewing its great sake.

Tsukasabotan Yuzu
Tsukasabotan’s President, Akihiko Takemura with its Yuzu liqueur

Tsukasabotan also makes a great yuzu liqueur based on junmai sake using fruit grown in the local mountains. The liqueur is pasteurised using only 65 degrees to keep the taste and aroma of yuzu intact. Another interesting fact about the yuzu liqueur is that the brewery removes oily yuzu bits from the bottle before closing it.

Tosa Brewing Company (Keigetsu)

Keigetsu was at the Fair with its current range of Keigetsu 45, John Sparkling Sake and the excellent yuzu sake, I’ve written about before here and here.

Tosa Sake Fair, Japan Centre

The Tosa Sake Fair is still on till the end of Sunday, October 28. So if you got  interested in any sake I mentioned here or would like to try something new, hurry, you still have time.  


Alex is a London-based sake blogger, podcaster, IWC Sake judge and sake advocate. He is a publisher of the Sugidama Blog website and a host of the Sugidama Podcast. Alex has an International Kikisake-shi (Sake Specialist) qualification from SSI (Sake Service Institute). He sees his mission as expanding the awareness of Japanese sake among as many people as possible and helping the growing community of sake lovers to bring together beautiful Japanese sake and non-Japanese food as a way to build a better understanding between our cultures.