Saito Sake Brewery: Standing Out From The Crowd


Sake Experience Japan had an interview with Toru Saito, chairman of Saito Sake Brewery, about their current focus and activities.  

#1.Sake using local Kyoto sake specific rice ”Iwai


Iwai is a variety of sake rice developed in Kyoto in 1933. It fell out of favour and all but disappeared when farmers stopped production. However Kyoto prefecture decided to revive it and Saito Sake Brewery jumped at the opportunity to produce sake using this variety of rice after so long. After the test production, they conducted tasting for farmers and people in sake industry. Unusually, they also disclosed to other brewers all of their learnings and information about Iwai-based sake production.

For sake brewers, locality is key. They use local water, local rice and local starter whenever possible, to differentiate their products from competitors across the country. As a sake rice originating from Kyoto, Iwai would only be used by Kyoto brewers. Saito therefore considered Iwai vulnerable to another almost-extinction, so they felt it was important to provide full disclosure on their use of Iwai to other breweries. Their plan paid off: breweries were able to use Iwai without hesitation and there is no disappearance on the horizon. 

In 1992, a sake bearing the name “Ihei (firstname of the 1st – 8th generation chairmen) Izutsuya (Saito family’s first business)” was launched. This premium brand only uses Iwai even though the majority of competitors use Yamadanishiki rice for their flagship or premium sake lines. Nevertheless, the volume of Iwai used by Saito is the highest in Kyoto. 


#2.Sake using specific yeast for “warmed sake”

sake-specific yeast,called “Kyo-no-haku” was developed by head of research department of Kyoto Municipal Institute of Industrial Technology and Culture( KMIITC), Dr Kiyō Hirōka. This yeast produces a higher-than-usual amount of succinic acid. The umami of warmed sake is derived from succinic acid so the taste improves even further when the sake is warmed.

 Toru Saito decided to develop a sake using this yeast, to create a truly “Kyoto” sake (using a Kyoto yeast) which reflects the deep philosophy of  temperature difference within sake culture. This new line will be launched in autumn 2017.

Mr Saito said that “To enjoy sake at different temperatures is a true pleasure. Japanese people have had the sensitivity to enjoy sake by 5 increments from 5-55. In fact there are specific terms describing each of these 10 temperature segments. For example 5i s called Yuki (snow) hie (chilled) and 10 is called Hana (flower) hie (chilled). Only the 15-30 temperature range does not have a specific term. What is this? This is the temperature of today. We can enjoy sake when we make it hot or cold by artificial means, but to enjoy sake at “the temperature of today” is another way to understand the philosophy of sakesake is produced by the power of nature.” 


He never discusses his brewery’s sake-making technique, because as chairman he believes that telling the “fascinating aspects of sake” and “the attractive characteristics of Kyoto sake” is more important than explaining precise processes.

In the Fushimi area, Saito Sake Brewery sits among giants such as Gekkeikan, Kizakura and Takara, in an original, unique position to surprise and delight tens of thousands of people. Thanks to the pristine environment of the area, Saito Sake Brewery produces excellent sake within their tradition of having a clear view for changes in fashions.


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