The Ozawa Shuzo brewery, also known by the brand name Sawanoi, was founded in 1702 in beautiful Okutama, just outside of the Tokyo metropolitan area. Okutama itself is worth the jaunt out that way, but a visit to the Ozawa brewery, nestled on the hillside beside the Tamagawa river is a must see. Ozawa Shuzo has been loved by locals for more than 300 years and is said to be the oldest sake brewery in the region of Tokyo. It takes about 90 minutes to get to the brewery from Shinjuku by train however all of your worries will disappear as tall Tokyo buildings are replaced by green luscious mountains.
I have both visited the Ozawa brewery and had the opportunity to enjoy a virtual tasting. I highly recommend visiting the beautiful facility and it’s riverside garden where you can enjoy a tasting while taking in all of the scenery. Ozawa brewery is open to visitors, offering their brewery tours in both Japanese and English, with a beautiful area for sake tasting and a restaurant. It’s truly a sight to see! (As of today, Ozawa brewery has not resumed their brewery tours yet but hopefully soon!)
Characteristics of the sake
One of the most notable characteristics of Ozawa’s sake is that it is brewed with clear, clean water directly from the Okutama river and the mountainside. Having visited Okutama many times myself to camp beside the river, I can attest to how clean and refreshing the water tastes.
Depending on which selection of sake you drink, it is brewed using either medium-hard spring water from the Brewery Well which is on site at the brewery, or using the soft water from the Mountain Well. Both bodies of water are low in impurities such as iron, making it very fresh to create a high quality and clean tasting sake.
Sake I tasted through online tasting session
This is a Junmai ginjo sake, which means that it is made up of water, koji mold, yeast and rice milled to at least 60%. In fact, this particular junmai ginjo was made using Niigata prefecture cultivated rice milled to 55%. If you are new to drinking sake, I highly recommend starting with a junmai ginjo like Tokyo Kurabito. While it is a full-body sake, it is also incredibly smooth with only moderate acidity. When smelling the sake before drinking, I can pick up hints of plum, apple spice and other fruits. I highly recommend pairing this sake with cheese – or if you’re having it with dinner, try it with chicken yakitori.
This was another Junmai ginjo sake, it is a clear, mild and refreshing sake that pairs well with rice, fish and tofu. This sake smelled of sweet flowers and had a fruity, but also dry, taste. This Souten Nama sake is unpasteurized, which means it can best be described as raw and fresh sn. It was very enjoyable to drink chilled. Because it is unpasteurized, this sake should be stored in the fridge to maintain its freshness, and drunk up to 1 week after opening, which won’t be a problem – trust me.
Tokubetsu means “special" in Japanese. Each brewery has their own Tokubetsu that they proudly prepare. I was so happy to try the Tobuketsu from Ozawa because it means that this sake was purposely highlighted as one that is special. This sake was actually my most favourite out of the set, with a very rich and subtly sweet flavour. It’s best described as having an umami flavour; so it is sort of savory, kind of subtle and definitely delicious. I enjoy pairing this sake with seaweed, cheese and even kimchi to compliment the umami.
Junmai Super Dry
If you enjoy drinking dry wine, I highly recommend trying the Junmai Super Dry! Because it is more on the dry side, I would pair this sake with something that has a bold flavour, perhaps chicken teriyaki or a beef dish. This sake may be a bit more difficult for those who do not enjoy the taste of alcohol to drink, therefore I recommend you serve it chilled for the best experience. You will love this sake if you enjoy a super dry flavor!