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Virtual shochu tours thrive during Covid in Japan

While Covid-19 is confining people at home, virtual tour taking visitors to experience sake and shochu production is booming in Japan, writes Mari Yasuda.

While Covid-19 is confining people to their homes, the number of wine producers who have introduced their wineries online is increasing in the world. In Japan, too, the number of sake or shochu producers who organize virtual tours is gradually increasing. Will these online tours  be a new trend? 

In Japan, an online sake/shochu brewery visit tends to be planned by a producer or in cooperation with a travel company. Online brewery visits are organized in a way that visitors would get a chance to pre-order the sake/shochu before each visit, which is often well received.

Kinzangura (Picture supplied by Hamada Syuzou)

Among various online sake/shochu brewery tours, I would like to pick up an example of Hamada Syuzou distillery. Hamada Syuzou is one of the top 10 shochu producers in terms of sales in Japan. Founded in 1868, it has more than 150 years of history. It is located in Ichikikushikino, Kagoshima prefecture, the southern end of the Japanese mainland and produces mainly Honkaku shochu. For your reference, Honkaku shochu refers to a distilled alcoholic beverage made by fermenting sweet potato, barley, rice or other cereals with koji (mold spores) and yeast, and distilling it in a pot still. 

“DAIYAME” which won the top prize in the shochu category at the 2019 International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC), one of the most prestigious spirits competitions worldwide, was created to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Hamada Syuzou. “DAIYAME” also got a “double-gold” prize in the shochu category at the 2020 International Spirits Challenge (ISC).   

Every year, Hamada Syuzou would organize a new shochu festival at their distillery; however, in November last year, they carried out the festival online for the first time. At that time, they released  a video of an online tour to Denzouingura, one of their three distilleries. As this video was well accepted, they released videos of online tours to two other distilleries on YouTube on January 18.

Regrettably, all narration is in Japanese only; however, these videos, created by film professionals, follow the manufacturing processes of shochu in detail,  creating excellent images. For this reason, perhaps non-native Japanese can also enjoy these videos.

Hamada Syuzou has three distilleries: Denbeegura, Denzouingura and Kinzangura.  In Denbeegura, shochu has been produced manually by a traditional method from the start of Hamada Syuzou; in contrast, in  Denzouingura, shochu is produced using the cutting-edge facilities. “DAIYAME” is produced there. Denzouingura  has FSSC22000, an international food safety standard.  Kinzangura is a unique distillery because it is located in the roadway of a goldmine and people can go around this distillery by trolley train. All videos are from 8 to 11 minutes long. 

Denbeegura

Denzouingura

Kinzangura

According to Hamada Syuzou, these videos are highly acclaimed. It seems that there were lots of problems at the time of shooting. “Koji (mold spores) and Moromi (fermenting mash) are living organisms; therefore, it was not possible to stop the production process for the shooting. For this reason, preparation and arrangements were very important,” the distillery explains.

Regarding future possibilities for videos, “we would like to continue to utilize videos after Covid-19 is settled. Even though customers come to our distilleries, the period they can see the production process is very limited because “Imo shochu”(Honkaku shochu made from sweet potatoes) can be produced just after the harvest of sweet potatoes. Using the videos, customers can see how Honkaku shochu is made and understand characteristics of production at our distillery whenever they visit us. Also, we hope that customers and shochu fans who cannot come to our distillery can find out the greatness of Honkaku shochu via these videos”.

An online distillery tour which was created due to Covid-19 may become an important marketing tool in the post Covid-19 era.

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