Kyōto prefecture is located close to the centre of Japan’s main island Honshū. The area is long and narrow from north to south and has the Tanba highlands positioned roughly at its centre, dividing the climate of the region into two varieties - the Japan Sea variety and the continental variety. Mukai Shuzō is located at the northern tip of Kyōto prefecture and is right on the coast of the Sea of Japan, in the picturesque fishing village of Ine. This small village, with a population of just over 3000, is built around the Ine Bay and is famous for the style of houses known as ‘funaya’ or ‘boathouses’. These houses have the first floor open to the water so that owners can moor their small fishing boats under their home. Mukai Shuzō is also built along the Bay and locals can even steer their boat up alongside to buy a crate of sake!
Mukai Shuzō is a tiny brewery with an exceptionally long history having been founded in 1754 and is still a family run business today. The current Tōji [Master Brewer] is Kuniko Mukai who is the eldest daughter of the Kuramoto [Brewery Owner] Yoshihisa Mukai. Kuniko left her hometown to study fermentation and brewing techniques at Tōkyō University of Agriculture and after graduation spent one year as a brewery worker before assuming the role of Tōji at her family's brewery in 1998. Kuniko was one of the first women Master Brewers in Japan at the young age of 22, and by becoming Tōji at Mukai kept alive the family-run tradition at their brewery that has now been brewing for 265 years. She is an exceptionally creative brewer who makes Sake that are unique to her style.
While studying fermentation and brewing techniques at Tokyo University, Kuniko met Professor Takeda who encouraged her to create a sake made from the red rice he knew grew locally in Kuniko's hometown area of Ine. Professor Takeda also emphasised that the most important thing in sake brewing is the balance of flavours, with sweetness and acidity in harmony. In May 2000 Kuniko launched her first ever red rice sake called ‘Ine Mankai’ or ‘Ine in full bloom’. Also that year Kuniko brewed another incredibly unique Sake called Natsu no Omoide. This Sake was created using an ancient strain of yeast given to her at Nodai University and is know as the ‘100 year yeast’. A strain of yeast that had been propagated for over a 100 years. Now 19 years old this Sake has developed into an incredible drink.
As the town of Ine is limited for space the tiny Mukai brewery consists of two small buildings one on the waters edge with the other separated by a small road. One building is where the rice is washed, soaked and steamed before spending time in the kōji room also housed in the building. All of the washing, soaking and steaming of the rice is done vertically as the space at the brewery is at such a premium. After the kōji [inoculated rice] is ready, it has to be carried across the road to the other brewery building that contains the tanks for fermentation.