Kyoto is known for its many temples, bamboo forest’s, and the ever-elusive geisha. Thanks to the help of Magical Trip, on my recent return to Kyoto I discovered the city also makes some incredible sake. Read on for my time sake tasting in Kyoto and why I think a tour with Magical Trip should be on your Kyoto itinerary, sake lover or not.
Kyoto‘s south-east district of Fushimi is best known for its seemingly endless Torri gates up Inari Mountain. Little did I know, the runoff from that very mountain is the secret behind Kyoto’s sake brewing. The mineral-rich water that flows under Fushimi is some of the best in Japan and ideal for producing sake. As such, the area has flourished with sake breweries for centuries. Today it remains as one of Japan’s highest producing sake regions, second only to Nada in volume brewed. Despite this, Fushimi’s brewing district is compact and very walkable. It’s also easy to stumble around as I would later find.
Getting to Fushimi
Fushimi-Momoyama Station is a short 15-minute subway ride away from downtown Kyoto. You can take the orange Kintetsu-Kyoto Line or the JR Nara line.
Sake Tasting in Kyoto with Magical Trip
Our time sake tasting in Kyoto began out front of Fushimi-Momoyama Station where we met our group and Magical Trip super host, Yuki. Other guests on the tour were delighted Yuki was our host as he is “internet famous” from a youtube video. Spoiler, they weren’t wrong. Yuki is great and made our discovery of Kyoto’s sake soaked past a memorable one.Read what other travellers have to say about Magical Trip on TripAdvisor
Gekkeikan Okura Museum
After introductions, we made our way to the Gekkeikan Ōkura Sake Museum. There we were “educated before getting de-educated” as a new friend in our group so elegantly put it.
Housed in the old Gekkeikan Ōkura Sake brewery (1637), this museum is dedicated to the craft of making sake. The brewing process is on full display along with retired tools once used to make Japan’s favourite drink. Today the brewing process is made next-door in a modern facility.
After learning about the history and brewing process of sake, it was time to sample some for ourselves.
Some Like it Hot?
Japan loves them some sake. You can find it in tiny single-serving tetra packs and expensive bottles. After sampling Fushimi sake, it’s easy to see why. Sake here is smooth and refreshing. When asked about warm sake, Yuki let us know that it should never be served warm unless it is low-quality as it alters the taste.
The next stop on our Magical Trip tour tasting sake in Kyoto also highlights the areas up-and-coming craft beer scene. At Kizakura Kappa Country you will find a small sake brewery with a great outdoor patio. You will also find some of Kyoto’s surprisingly good craft beer. Lucky Chicken for the win. You can skip the matcha beer though…
Also inside Kizakura Kappa Country, you will find a museum dedicated to local legend Kappa. This mythical creature is odd, to say the least. Half man, half turtle, all quirky. The museum explains the folklore around the legend and why Fushimi has adopted it as the area’s mascot. Suddenly the odd cardboard cutouts throughout town make sense…
Sake + Sake + Sake = Karaoke Bar
Last up on this afternoon of sake tasting in Kyoto with Magical Trip is a visit to a local hangout. From the outside, the bar does not look like much however upon entering you will find a collection of endless bars with over 120 types of sake on tap. We settled into a private room deep in the bowels of this surprisingly packed maze of bars and ordered the much talked about sake sampler. This collection of 18 local sake is not for the lightweight but is a great way to cap off a day discovering Kyoto’s sake scene.
And what goes better with sake than a little karaoke? After our 18 sake sampler, we were loose enough for a karaoke party. Even better, our super host sent us into overtime with another 18 shot sampler. Kanpai!
As we waved goodbye to Yuki and stumbled our way to the metro station I realize how much of a gem Fushimi is. Several sake breweries and some craft beer mixed into a compact area. This tour quickly became my favourite activity while in Kyoto and I highly recommend it, sake fan or not. Much like the sake virgins on our tour, chances are you will be swayed on Sake after visiting Fushimi, or at least after a massive sampler!
About the Magical Trip Sake Tour
Magical Trip’s Kyoto Sake Brewery and Tasting Tour operates every day except Tuesdays. It makes for a great afternoon and gets you a locals insight into Japan’s love of sake and the culture that surrounds it. Again, I highly recommend!
Where to Stay in Kyoto
Looking to sleep off that afternoon of sake tasting in Kyoto? Here are my choice Kyoto hotels no matter your budget.
$$$ – Seikoro Inn
Traditional rooms for those that want the full experience. We’re talking screen doors, wood-panel walls, and a garden courtyard. Also a great location and only a 3-minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station.
If you request the new tower you will get a recently renovated room that is modern and comfy. The old tower offers great value however rooms are dated. The worn-out massage chair in your room is a good testament to that!