Sugihara Sake Brewery, the smallest brewery in Japan

Sugihara Sake Brewery, the smallest brewery in Japan

Sugihara Sake Brewery, the smallest sake brewery in Japan

The “smallest sake brewery in Japan” is located in Ibi-gun, Gifu Prefecture. The company was founded in 1892 and produced only 80 koku in fiscal year 2021, which translates to only 8,000 bottles. In fiscal year 2021, the company produced a mere 80 koku, or 8,000 bottles per day. The sake produced here, “Ibi,” has become a rare and difficult-to-find sake, partly due to the absolute small amount that is distributed. The brewery is headed by Keiki Sugihara, the fifth-generation head brewer and toji (master brewer) of the brewery. In fact, until just 15 years ago, he was a complete amateur, not even knowing what sake rice was.

Why don’t you make sake when your family is a sake brewer? He was a member of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) at the time. These words from a colleague of Mr. Sugihara, who was working overseas as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) at the time, have stuck in the back of his mind for a long time. From a young age, he saw his parents struggling to keep their sake brewery afloat, and he did not want to take over the brewery, but when it was finally on the brink of bankruptcy, he decided to protect this traditional Japanese industry. However, he had no knowledge of the difference between regular rice and sake rice, and had no experience in sake brewing. And, of course, he failed. Still, he had no choice but to sell his sake, so he made a determined attempt to sell it by going door-to-door in Tokyo and Osaka, but none of the sake shops would take him up on his offer.

However, one liquor store told him, “It doesn’t taste good yet and it won’t sell, but when we make good sake, we will surely buy all of it. So don’t tell me you’re quitting.” This encouraged him. Mr. Sugihara wanted to make something special if he was going to do it anyway, so he set his sights on creating “true local sake” by focusing on locally grown ingredients. He also wanted to produce rice that suited the local area, so he looked around for people who would help him grow rice. It was not easy for a small sake brewery to grow its own rice, but local volunteers who recognized Mr. Sugihara’s enthusiasm for sake brewing offered to help. Together with a master rice breeder, who is said to be the leading rice breeder in Gifu, and rice farmers who were willing to help him grow the rice, they focused on brewing sake with rice suited to the local climate, and repeatedly crossbred and established the best sake rice, “Yamada-Nishiki,” and “Wakamizu” suited to the local climate. Six years after Mr. Sugihara returned to the brewery, the first “Imi” was finally born. The sake rice was named “Ibi no Homare” and was certified as Gifu Prefecture’s sake rice for brewing in 2021. This was 10 years after the start of development.

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The characteristics of “Imi” are its floral aroma and mellow sweetness. And it continues to evolve in response to marketability. Ibi-no-Honor” is an ongoing process of breeding, and sake brewing is updated according to the year’s sake rice crop, climatic conditions, and food trends. I didn’t know anything about it, so I had no fixed ideas and was able to honestly adopt what I thought was good. It is truly sake brewed by everyone,” says Sugihara. His goal for the future is to become a model case for small sake breweries. This is because there are many advantages unique to small business. For example, because the production volume is small, there is no need for sales and advertising, and the company can concentrate on brewing sake. And they can control quality within their reach. If we can set a good example of how to achieve what we want by deciding what not to do, it will encourage other small sake breweries to do the same. We can do this because we don’t have fixed concepts. We can take on challenges because we are small.

The road to not pandering to the currents of the world is a steep one, and it is not an easy one. But if you don’t give up, you will be rewarded. Mr. Sugihara, who smiles and says, “I am the type of person who grows when I am praised,” has started distributing sake to liquor stores that have given him encouragement and encouragement.


Sugihara Sake Brewery Co.
1 Shimoiso, Ono-cho, Ibi-gun, Gifu-ken
TEL 0585-35-2508