Naramachi was established in the 8th century. Since then, the town has changed little by little, reflecting each age. Luckily it was not damaged during World War II so still preserves the atmosphere of its ancient heritage. Twelfth century Yagyu Kaidō (Yagyu Road) connects Naramachi and Yagyu-cho, famous for Kenjutsu martial arts.
The founder of Yagi sake brewery was a rice trader. He bought an existing sake brewery on the Yagyu Road in 1877 and renamed it the Yagi sake brewery. This sake brewery is one of the two sake breweries which produces sasa [bamboo leaf] zake [sake]” using a bamboo container.
Sasazake has been called “cancer-protection sake” since the 8th century, when Prince Shirakabe went into a bamboo forest behind Taianji Temple. He poured sake into a bamboo container and drank it. He became Emperor at the age of 26 and lived to age 73, an exceptionally long life at that time. Sasazake was born and since then has been seen as a “sake of longevity ”or “sake of cancer protection” to acknowledge his good luck of longer life.
For all of their sake (including sasazake) Yagi sake brewery uses water running from 100m below the floor of the virgin forest spreading behind Kasugataisha Shrine. Both the shrine and forest are registered as world heritage sites and the forest is in a sacred area, so no one has been allowed to enter since ancient time, ensuring the water is exceptionally pure.
In addition to traditional sakes, mirin and plum liquor, Yagi sake brewery started producing the now-popular 1.8L in order to provide an economical option for quality sake at an affordable price, attracting many new consumers. This innovation has been copied by many of the sake giants.
Yagi sake brewery is one of only 8 sake breweries which produces Bodai-moto in Nara. In the 1980s, 4 sake breweries including Yagi sake brewery tried to revive “Bodai-moto”. Of these, only Yasukawa sake brewery managed to produce Bodai-moto. A revival project (the Bodai-moto research group) was organized in 1996 and 15 sake breweries have joined. The CEO of Yagi sake brewery is now also chairman of the Bodai-moto research group.
Sake using Bodai-moto is diverse in terms of flavors because all sake breweries use different water, koji, yeast and rice. Additionally a sake brewery may manufacture using the four-stage-addition method, which brings sweet-rich taste. At the beginning of revival of Bodai-moto, there was an unwritten rule that Bodai-moto sake should be sweet-rich to reflect the ideal taste 500 years ago. Now, however, this rule has been replaced and sake using Bodai-moto can only be sold after approval of the Bodai-moto reserach group’s official tasting. In the 2016 brewing year, approximately 975L of Bodai-moto was produced, which in turn was used to create 15,800L of 8 different types of sake ranging in taste from sweet to dry.
When we interviewed Mr Yagi, President of Yagi sake brewery, he spoke about his approach to sake brewing. “A product based on fermentation is a living creature. Honestly I would love to grow them as they want. If yeasts are strong, the sake becomes dry. If they are not strong enough, the sake becomes sweet. It is a matter of nature.” However, despite his personal desire to give sake its “freedom”, customers like a predictable experience. Therefore Yagi brewery takes meticulous care when controlling the moromi temperature, to provide a uniform taste across the sake range, in accordance with the preference of the market.
The taste of Yagi sake is very expressive, especially sake using Bodai-moto, which has complexity and well-balanced acidity and sweetness. Those flavors spread in the mouth for a pleasant length of time.
Yagi sake brewery will keep attracting consumers through their unique historical approach and extremely limited edition sake using Bodai-moto, showing their pride as a birthplace of modern sake.