Hinomaru Brewery was established in 1689. Hinomaru is the Japanese word for “rising sun,” and the name is said to be derived from the Stake family’s coat of arms, which included an uchiwa (Japanese fan) with a rising sun in the middle. One of Hinomaru Brewery’s first steps to becoming one of the most prominent saké breweries in the Tohoku Region occurred in 1909, when it was awarded first place at a saké-brand voting competition organized by the Tohoku Kôron Publishing Company. During the Taishô era (1912–1926), its annual production volume reached 5,000 koku (approx. 900 kiloliters). In 1913, it won a gold medal at the Japan-British Exhibition. In 1925, Hinomaru Brewery was reorganized into a stock company. However, due to the 1943 Industrial Reform Act, it was forced to relinquish its business. In January 1948, then-President Mitsuo Satô regained the brewery’s manufacturing rights by obtaining a grant that allowed the company to brew a basic production line worth 300 koku. The once-lost 300 years of brewing history was revived, and today, this small brewery produces 1,500 koku a year.
Masuda is the name of the town located in the southeast Yokote Basin. Surrounded by the beautiful natural scenery of mountains and rivers, this area is well known for a granary that produces high-quality rice suitable for saké brewing. Snow covers the land for most of the year, and in this cold environment, the company brews its products. The rich, cold, clear waters used for the saké come from the Ou Mountains in the Kurikoma Mountain Range, which stands on the borders of Akita, Iwaté, and Miyagi Prefectures. This groundwater is one of the best in the prefecture, and it serves as the base for the brewing process. The saké rice is harvested locally, and it is carefully grounded so 38% of the grain is left behind. While most breweries have outside sources that perform this part of the job, Hinomaru Brewery polishes its rice within the company.
At Hinomaru Brewery, ginjôshu and daiginjô are poured directly into the bottles and kept at low temperatures. By doing so, a rich, elegant taste is achieved. This unique method, which the company takes pride in, is carried out at the low-temperature storage facility, which can preserve up to 120,000 bottles at a time. Another special facility they own is the yukimuro, a natural refrigerator in which the saké is preserved in a storage container buried in the snow. Most of the ginjôshu is kept in such storage. Other sakés, such as junmaishu (pure rice saké) and futsûshu (standard saké), are also kept in thermal tanks that maintain specific cold temperatures. From these steps, it is apparent that Hinomaru Brewery places a particular emphasis on low-temperature brewing. Heating the saké, which regular breweries tend to do twice, is only performed once. This technique is called namazume (“raw bottling”), and it is applied to many of the brewery’s sakés. Every month, different types of namazume sakés are sold from the company as seasonal products. At many other breweries, such saké can only be available between the winter and spring. They are a seasonal luxury that are called hiyaoroshi in Japan. However, Hinomaru Brewery provides this namazume saké with the same quality as hiyaoroshi almost all year. Today, modern technology has allowed further improvements to brewing methods and facilities. Hinomaru Brewery took advantage of such advancements and decided to make hiyaoroshi available in every month of the year. This was the beginning of the company’s focus on low-temperature preservation. From then on, the company’s ambition was to increase the number of low-temperature preservation facilities and ultimately brew all its products with this namazume method.
Mansakuno Hana (“Witch Hazel Flower”) is the company’s number-one brand. It was named after a 1981 NHK (Japan’s national television broadcasting station) morning television series based in Yokote. The label is written in ink using calligraphy; today, such designs have become standard in the saké industry. However, when Mansakuno Hana was first released, it was quite an innovation.
The brewery uses the mild, soft water that emerges after a long period of melting in the mountains. The rice comes from the local contract farms, while milling is conducted at the brewery. Brewing is achieved using the Akita style of brewing saké under low temperatures over a long period of fermentation. The traditional sô-shibori technique is employed in which the saké is filtered using a wooden tank, which takes more time and effort compared to the usual process. Preservation and aging is performed one bottle at a time. Hinomaru Brewery prioritizes the improvement of quality over efficiency. The brewery has maintained the best parts of the traditional techniques, which can be tasted in its products.