At a glance:
Founded in 1902 in Ninohe city, Iwate in North East Japan
Multi-award winning brewery, International Wine Challenge headline winner 2017
Exclusive use of local rice, Ginotome
Deeply passionate about local area and community
Founded in 1902 in Ninohe city, Iwate, the original brewery, Kuji Shuzo, named after founding Juji famliy, originally produced soy sauce. In the 1950s the brewery joined the Nanbu Toji, a Master Brewers guild in Iwate prefecture, eventually employing Hajime Yamaguchi who had learned from brewing legend, Sagoro Hirano, who was said to be the best brewer in Japan.
In 1952 the brewery changed it’s name to Nanbu Bijin, stemming from it’s roots in the Edo period when the region running from Miyagi up to Aomori, in which Iwate is located, was named after the ruling Samurai family, Nanbu (南部 - meaning ‘Southern’, despite confusingly being located in the North East). Bijin (美人), meaning roughly ‘beautiful women’ is emblematic of the pursuit of clean, beautiful sake the brewers were constantly seeking to attain. Today, the name Nanbu Bijin is a fixture on the menus of Japanese restaurant menus and sake bars across the globe.
Over the following 50 or so years the brewery has diligently pursued this feminine sake ‘beauty’ within it’s products, while also operating with a deep respect for it’s local environment and community. For example, the Ginotome rice used in Nanbu Bijin’s award winning Tokubetsu Junmai, that is only grown in small volumes locally, is used and sustained by Nanbu Bijin alone.
Current president (kuramoto) Kuji Kousuke took the helm in 2013 and immediately embraced the adoption of new technology in the kura’s brewing processes, even introducing artificial intelligence to assist brewery workers find the best time to drain water in the steeping process. Today, Nanbu Bijin is arguably the finest example of a brewery balancing artisan craftmanship and intuition with new technology to deliver a first-class sustainable product.
In a further commitment to the ‘beauty’, of it’s sake all of Nanbu Biji’s overseas exports now carry vegan certification, the world’s first vegan-certified Japanese sake, and it’s Umeshu (plum sake) is one of the few in the category to be kosher certified.
Today the brewery has a total team of around 40 people, a quarter of whom work directly on the brewing, and all are employed from the local community.
The formidable Toji (head brewer) Junji Matsumori is a member of the founding Junji family and supervises the entire brewery operation, including the team and commercial responsibilities. Supported by the ‘Director of Product’, Makoto Tamura, the pair are responsible for the brewery’s ingredient choices, brewing techniques and overall quality of output. Both are certified members of the respected Nanbu Toji Guild.
Fun fact: a brewery insider tells us that Matsumori-san (somewhat against the conventional wisdom) only ever drinks the signature Tokubetsu Junmai at a toasty 45-50 degrees C, no matter if there’s Summer sunshine or Winter snow. What a legend.
"I want to brew sake that makes people smile like the sun shines." - Kosuke Kuji President (Kuramoto) and 5th generation owner of Nanbu Bijin sake brewery
The public face and shining star of the brewery is President (Kuramoto) and 5th generation owner, Kuji Kousuke. Born in 1972, Kuji-san studied the art of making sake and shochu at the prestigious Tokyo University of Agriculture. His joyful and enthusiastic promotion of the brewery, it’s community and heritage has helped establish Nanbu Bijin as one of the most recognised and loved sake brands across the globe.
Find out more about the Nanbu Bijin team.