Even among the Japanese, Kochi is known as being "saké country", and has been a gathering place for saké lovers for a long time. There are 18 breweries in Kochi, all with long histories.
Here we will introduce the characteristics of Kochi saké, the foods that it pairs with, and the strong saké culture of this region.
What is Kochi saké?
The flavor and characteristics of Japanese saké vary depending on the region it's made in. It's said that the climate of the region and local food culture are a major factor in this.
Actually, as making saké involves using microorganisms, producing saké in Kochi is quite difficult due to the climate here being quite warm and wet. For that very reason, the breweries in this region of Japan have had to polish their techniques and have been able to create saké that overflows with originality.
In Kochi, red-flesh fish (the most popular being bonito) and white-flesh fish like mackerel are abundant and a staple in local cuisine, so naturally a crisp, dry saké was favored as it doesn't clash with the strong flavor of these staples. Recently, saké-based liquors have become popular in Japan, and flavors using Japanese citrus fruits produced in Kochi like yuzu and naoshichi are particularly drawing attention.
The 18 Breweries of Kochi
From the town of Tano in the east to Sukumo City in the west, there are 18 saké breweries in Kochi Prefecture. The breweries here have access to some of the purest water in the country, like the Shimanto and Niyodo Rivers and desalinated deep ocean water that is abundant in minerals.
The rice needed to produce Kochi saké has been specially created and cultivated to suit the climate here adding another level of originality. Using these two necessities in saké production, each brewery also has their own special technique that has been passed down generations to produce top quality Japanse saké.
You can actually visit and look inside several of the breweries in Kochi. One of these being the Nishioka Brewery, the oldest in the Prefecture. *The grand interior of this more than 230 year old building overflows with historical charm. The exterior is also as it was back in the day. After touring the brewery, you can do a free saké tasting.
*Please be aware that there may be times, depending on season or certain circumstances, when touring inside is not possible.
Be sure to check out the traditional cuisine of Kochi that's also played a role in the distinct characteristics of the local saké.
Japanese love to snack while they drink and even have a word for certain snacks that you have while drinking, otsumami. Shuto is a typical otsumami in Kochi and is made from the innards of bonito. In Japanese it's written as 酒盗, 酒 meaning "saké" and 盗 meaning "to steal". Basically it means that it goes so well with saké, that your drink will be gone before you realise. The lord of Kochi Castle was said to have highly prized shuto.
Another must-try is a dish using dorome, a type of goby from the sardine family. It is eaten raw and dipped in vinegared miso etc, and pairs extremely well with crisp dry saké.
Finally, sawachi-ryori, a traditional serving method in Kochi, is a must for anyone visiting the region. Large servings of local sashimi, sushi, mixed vegetables and more are neatly piled onto large platters and generally served at banquets. Plentiful amounts of the foods you love coupled with plentiful amounts of incredibly good saké.
These are some of the local cuisines that have come about from this "saké country!"
The people of Kochi are proud of their fun drinking culture and still continue their drinking traditions.
■Kenpai / Henpai
The Kochi style of serving drinks. First, the junior member of the group takes their own cup to the senior member, then pours saké into the cup. The senior member then needs to drink the cup dry: this is kenpai. After drinking all the saké in the cup, the senior member then pours saké into the same cup and returns it to the giver to drink: this is henpai.
A drinking game involving a spinning top and elaborate drinking cups. Of the three different drinking cups, two have small holes in them that you have to block with your finger: all three have been designed so that you cannot put the cup down until all the saké has been drunk.
This is also a unique drinking game of Kochi. Opponents face one another, each holding 3 chopsticks behind their backs. Opponents then hold out one arm that's still hiding a certain number of chopsticks, before revealing how many they're both holding. The aim is to guess the total number of chopsticks played. Needless to say, the losing opponent has to drink the whole cup of saké. October 1st is Saké Day in Japan, and every year the Tosa Hashiken Tournament is held on this day.