Hamada Distillery: Tradition Meets Innovation

Hamada Distillery: Tradition Meets Innovation

Hamada Distillery is one of Kyushu's largest and produces dozens of brands between its three production facilities, each with its own personality. All three are situated in and around Ichikikushikino City on Kagoshima Prefecture's northwestern coast: Denbee Distillery is closest to Ichiki train station; Denzouingura Distillery is over on the flats between Mt. Kanmuri and the East China Sea; and Kinzangura Distillery is literally inside a mountain a little further inland.

Denbee Distillery: A More Hands-On Approach to Making Shochu
Denbee is the original Hamada Distillery, and it has stayed true to its handmade shochu traditions. First established in 1868, it is an excellent place for visitors to learn about how Japanese shochu has been made for centuries. They still use a traditional wooden koji room and fermentation takes place in large earthenware pots sunk up to their necks in the concrete distillery floor.

Denbee produces its "Den" and "Nanako" brands here, among several others. In addition to pot aging, it's not hard to find cask-aged shochu stacked up to the ceiling if you're nosy enough.

Denzouingura Distillery: State of the Art Automation
If Denbee represents shochu's past, then Denzouingura is its future. This is the largest distillery in Kagoshima Prefecture and dates from 2000. This is where the ubiquitous red-bottled "Kaido" brand is made, and the plant accounts for the lion's share of Hamada's annual sales. The multi-hectare facilities can literally distill 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with three selfcleaning 10 kiloliter stills controllable by computer in an adjacent room.

A four hour run through one of the pot stills creates three kiloliters of genshu which is pumped into primary fermentation tanks next door and then secondary fermentation tanks outside a little less than a week later. Each one of the secondary fermentation tanks is filled with 10 tons of fermented koji, 50 tons of sweet potato, and 40 tons of fresh water. Such a large operation naturally yields an impressive volume of shochu. At full capacity, Denzouingura is capable of bottling tens of thousands of liters of shochu per day.

Kinzangura Distillery: Liquid Gold Created Deep Within a Mountain
Kinzan was once Japan's biggest source of gold and for generations fueled the Satsuma Domain's influence and power. But since 2005, the 120 km of subterranean railway tunnels have hosted Hamada Distillery's newest shochu distillery. The small batch distillery is tucked in the belly of the mountain, nearly one kilometer from the entrance and a beautiful wood-floored shop and café.

Visitors are welcome to hop on the old train that escorts the distillery staff in and out of the mountain every day with the journey taking roughly 10 minutes each way. The female master distillers spend their entire day underground, and they stay busy with the seven earthenware pots used for fermentation while also keeping a watchful eye on the aging shochu lining the many jagged stone corridors excavated over hundreds of years.

150th Anniversary of the Meiji Restoration
2018 should be an exciting year in the shochu industry as many Kyushu distilleries will reveal new products to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the end of feudal rule in Japan. But the anniversary is extra special for Hamada Distillery as the firm will officially turn 150 years old next year. To celebrate, the company has some new products in the pipeline. First and foremost is "Segodon no Yume," an ode to Kagoshima's native son, Saigo Takamori, an instrumental former samurai during the Meiji Restoration who is about to be the featured character in an upcoming serial drama on NHK. "Segodon no Yume" is brewed using wine yeast and should prove to be an exciting new avenue for Hamada Distillery.

Hamada has innovated in other ways as well. The Denbee Distillery has a small craft brewery tucked inside of it, and Denbee Beer is served at Hamada-sponsored parties throughout the summer. Kinzangura hosts Kagoshima Prefecture's only nihonshu production facility. Although it's not situated inside the old mine shafts, the sake has been rewarded at the national tasting competition.

Hamada Distillery continues to find delicious ways to combine the best of the past with the possibilities of the future. We're sure that Saigo Takamori would drink to that.

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Master Distiller Goki Ishigami slowly stirs a pot of aging shochu at Denbee Distillery.

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Eisaku Ozono, Production Chief at Denzouingura Distillery, hoists a bottle of Hamada's best-selling product, "Kaido."

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Natsuki Nomoto, Master Distiller at Kinzangura Distillery, displays the pride of the tunnels in front of large pots of aging shochu.

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Steamed sweet potatoes cooling on a wide snail-paced conveyor.

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4-1, Minatomachi, Ichikikushikino-shi, Kagoshima