Hakubotan is a bit of a strange brewery in Saijo. It appears to be a bigger brewery but it also seems really small. It is located just across from Saijotsuru and they have a very interesting façade. The front of the building is similar to most of the other buildings in the area but there is also a nice well with free water and a very small garden. The garden is about the size of a single tatami mat. This makes Hakubotan stand out compared to the other breweries in the area but they don’t appear to want to have a bigger presence in Saijo.
When I visited Hakubotan, the only open area was a very small room. There was a display case showing all of their sake as well as a small counter showing their recommend sake. No one was present in the show room and the first time I visited no one came out to help me. It may not be very inviting at first but I didn’t feel afraid to just look around. I decided to check out the other breweries before returning later in the day. When I returned, I decided to push the intercom button to see what would happen. There is a sign on the intercom that said that tastings were not allowed and the intercom was only for sales. I decided to give it a try anyways and to just ask about the sake.
A nice woman came out in her full office uniform. You can’t define an OL (office lady) any clearer. She wore a white blouse, black vest, black skirt, and black pumps. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about the sake and when we checked to see that tastings were not allowed, she told us to wait a minute and surprised us. She ran to the office and came back with a tray of 6 sake bottles. This tray didn’t have a lot of sake but it had a nice variety of drinks.
We started with the Hiroshima Sake Genshu. Genshu means that no water or alcohol is added to cut the alcohol content. This is done to almost all sake. I’m not sure what this “Hiroshima Sake” is, to be honest. We then had a junmaiginjo before going to the daiginjo. It was a nice treat to try all of them and I believe they are only available at Hakubotan. I couldn’t find it at their webshop. We finished with the umeshu and amazake. I will admit that the umeshu and amazake were pretty good but I wasn’t particularly impressed by the regular sake. When comparing the other brands in Saijo, it is difficult to have such high quality sake. Hakubotan may not be as high as the best brands in Saijo but they are better than a lot of other brands in Japan.
The only problem with visiting Hakubotan on the date that I visited was that there wasn’t anyone there. During special events, they open up the main shop. There is a room behind the tasting counter that is pretty big and they have special events there from time to time. Unfortunately when I visited there wasn’t an event so I had to talk with a regular OL. She was nice enough to give us some sake to try but she didn’t seem as knowledgeable about sake. She kept recommending the umeshu and amazake and the cheap Hiroshima Sake Genshu. I can’t be angry at her but I feel the company can do a lot to improve their image at the brewery itself.
I think Hakubotan is probably better than what I really think. If you choose to visit Hakubotan, try to go during one of their events. The big festival in October is probably the best time to visit Hakubotan. They probably close for obon and the New Year holidays. The other good time to visit would be during Golden Week or other holidays. If you feel adventurous, just press the intercom button and see if they will give you a tasting anyways. You never know; if they are having a quiet day and willing to help you a little you might be able to try some of their sake.
Note: All links are official Hakubotan links and only in Japanese