Pop Culture and Japan

Walking On The Wild Side Of Sake With The Miyoshikiku Brewery

The world of sake is made up of interesting folks who’ve dedicated themselves to keeping the rich history of Japan’s native drink alive. Folks who’re leaving their own unique mark and something very special is going on at the Miyoshikiku brewery in Tokushima Prefecture.

Meet Mamiya Ryōichirō, the 5th generation head of the Miyoshikiku brewery. A born RocknRolla with a taste for out of the box sake and a man I had the pleasure of interviewing alongside Kyoko Nagano.

Keeping the family tradition alive

Even over a video screen, Mamiya-san has the presence of a rocker. Long black hair, a shine in his eyes, a Nirvana t-shirt and a banner behind him that proudly reads you cannot kill me.

I ask him about his interest in music and he gives me a wide selection of rock and punk, which includes Lou Reed, The Sex Pistols, The Who, The Kinks, Nirvana and more. This affinity for hardcore music inspired the tagline for his sake. Take A Walk On The Wild Side, a song from Lou Reed, is felt in every aspect of the production process.

Having worked in a record shop in his 20s, Mamiya-San never expected to come back to the family brewery until his mother reached out. The brewery was on its last legs, and she feared the family business would have to be shut down. So, Mamiya-san rolled up his sleeves and returned to help where he could.

He tells me it was hard in the early days. He didn’t know how to make sake and studied under a toji (head brewer) for three years. At the age of 30, he decided he wanted to improve his knowledge and went to a sake brewing school in Hiroshima for ten months.

I’m glad he kept the brewery going. Launched in 1891, Miyoshikiku has plenty of history that needs to be preserved and Mamiya-san has done an amazing job alongside his three daughters, who help with the sake production.

Not your mum and dad’s sake

From the beginning, Mamiya-san was adamant about brewing sake that goes against everything traditional in the industry. He lives and dies by the slogan of making sake for people who don’t like sake.

I ask him what this means and he smiles in a way that reminds me of a frontman warming up the crowd for an awesome solo or sick guitar riff.

Miyoshikiku sake is targeted at a younger generation and breaks the mould of nihonshu only being able to be enjoyed by older generations in Japan. In other interviews, he’s spoken about how his sake has a flowery aroma and a sweet and sour taste that makes it accessible.

The difference is clear with the gnarly labels Miyama-san holds up to the screen. There are fierce rocker girls, bright tigers and anime designs that speak to my inner pop culture geek.

Miyama-san shares an interesting story of the girl and the guitar being one of his favourite labels because it was inspired by a band one of his daughters was playing in during high school. The image was of the guitarist in the band and his friend drew the label, which has now become iconic for the brewery.

Looking ahead to the future, Miyama-san is keen to expand on the yeast varietals the brewery uses for upcoming products. One makes his sake taste like white grape and the way he describes it sounds delicious.

By the end of our conversation, I’ve fallen deeper down the sake rabbit hole thanks to Miyama-san’s passion for his work and Kyoko’s exceptional translating. It’s time well spent with people who’re devoted to furthering a great cause and I’ll kanpai to some great nihonshu knowledge.

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