The Kono family, which founded Sohomare, has roots in the brewing industry in Shiga Prefecture from the Edo Period (1603-1867). However, at the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the family was among many that moved east from Shiga to the Kanto area around Tokyo, and eventually settled in the Haga District of Tochigi Prefecture. There, they established the Sohomare Brewery, and for the past 140 years have continued making local sake that appeals to local tastes.
The fourth generation, current chairman Soemon Kono, brought in the highest quality sake rice variety Yamada Nishiki and shifted the brewery’s focus toward highly polished ginjo premium sake. The fifth generation, current president Jun Kono, revived the old kimoto brewing method to increase the savory depth of their products. The master brewer at the time, a Nanbu brewing guild master named Takao Abe, expertly managed the transition to the more complex kimoto method, and then passed his knowledge on to the current young master brewer, Toru Akita.
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck north-eastern Japan heavily damaged the brewery’s facilities, but only four years later the brewery was not just rebuilt but reborn, with new offices, new brewing space, and a stone-lined tasting salon.
- Annual Japan Sake Awards 2016: Gold medal, sixth year in a row (fifteenth straight year of receiving either gold or silver awards)
- 2008 & 2013 Eastern Japan Tax Region Sake Competition: Top Prize
Sohomare is located in the small town of Ichikai, in the Haga district of Tochigi Prefecture. From Tokyo Station, it is one hour north on the bullet train to Utsunomiya Station, then 40 minutes by car. The area is mostly a quiet patchwork of rice fields and small villages, but it does have some claims to fame, such as Mashikoyaki pottery, the Moka steam engine railway, and the Twin Ring Motegi raceway. Sohomare’s soft and clear water comes from its own well, which is fed by the Kinugawa and Nakagawa Rivers that flow from the slopes of Nikko Nantai Mountain.
Ichikai is a typically charming mountain village. Wildflowers bloom along its roadways in the spring, and the Kinugawa River and its tributaries teem with fish that beckon sky-blue kingfishers to gather along the banks. The village has taken as its symbol a species of small hawk called sashiba that nests in the surrounding mountains.
During the winter brewing season, morning temperatures hover between minus 5C and 10C, ground frost spikes the landscape, and ice forms along the river banks. It is a dry cold with only light snows and a freezing wind that scours the air to perfect transparency. On many days, the only clouds in the winter sky are the white billows rising from our rice steamer.
We use A-grade Yamada Nishiki sake rice from Hyogo Prefecture not just for ginjo premium sake, but for nearly everything we make. We polish the rice ourselves using techniques that preserve the original oval shape of the rice grains. We aim for perfection in washing and steaming the rice, and make all our koji rice malt by hand. For the kimoto yeast starter, nine brewers pound the rice into a paste. For all our daiginjo super-premium sake, we filter by dripping the mash through cloth bags hung inside a tank. No task is too mundane for the master brewer, who even shows up for sediment drainings in the storage tanks. Through countless small efforts we aim to make sake that draws a smile of delight from our customers.
Each our brewing staff takes personal responsibility for critical brewing tasks. This can add an air of tension to the brewery, but that is soon dissipated by the constant teamwork guided by the calm manner and warm voice of the master brewer.
We aim to make sake that is tasty on its own, but also enhances the enjoyment of food. Until recently, our best-seller was a product called “Karakuchi Tokuzo Shu,” which has found a regular place at many a local dinner table. Now, we intend to take this approach to the next level and develop sake that is light on the pallet yet also complex and deep.
Sake is the kind of drink that makes you want to take its basic good character to a new level. It is that tendency that led Sohomare to bring back the old kimoto method while also insisting on the very best rice and the finest brewing techniques possible. This combination brings us modern-style sake that is complex yet easy to drink, deep yet elegant. Sake we are proud to show to the world.