You Can’t Drink Awamori Without Thanking This Distillery
Photo: Kim Choong

You Can’t Drink Awamori Without Thanking This Distillery

In my last trip to Okinawa, I embarked on a journey to visit numerous awamori distilleries across the main island, delving into the rich history of this integral spirit of the prefecture. During my digging into the history of Ryuku Kingdom and the development of the production process, one particular incident stood out: the near-loss of the kurokoji (black koji mold or Aspergillus luchuensis) during WWII.

Okinawa, being very far south of Japan fell under the control of the US army during the war, resulting in a widespread devastation of the area. Many distilleries laid in ruins, leaving little to salvage, and even the prized black koji strain essential to defining awamori was not spared. That brought us to this awamori family who saved one of the crucial ingredients in traditional beverage from the brink of being lost.

Sakimoto Awamori Distillery Kurokoji
[Photo: Kurokoji, the black koji mold unique to creating the uniqueness of awamori]

One cannot discuss modern-day Awamori history without mentioning Sakimoto Awamori Distillery. In a remarkable turn of events, Seiryou Sakumoto, the second generation of Sakimoto Awamori Distillery, discovered remnants of kurokoji while excavating the old distillery site in Shuri. Buried beneath rice straw amidst the ruins, the fungus was salvaged, cultivated, and multiplied. In a spirit of cultural revival, the distillery freely distributed the fungus to anyone interested in producing awamori, thus playing a pivotal role in preserving this vital aspect of Okinawan culture.

Background and History

The story of Sakimoto Awamori Distillery dates back to 1902 when the visionary Sakumoto family established the distillery with a singular mission: to honour the cultural heritage of Okinawa through the art of awamori production.

The distillery was originally founded in Shuri as Sakumoto (instead of "Sakimoto") Awamori Distillery and transferred its production operations in 2020 to Ryukyu Mura in Onna, a recreated traditional Okinawan village. The move marks a new chapter for the distillery in its mission to preserve and promote the Okinawan culture.

Ryukumura house
[Photo: A display of an old household in Ryuku Kingdom, and jars of awamori.]

Extracted from Sakimoto Awamori Distillery’s promotional introductory booklet:

             During the Ryukyu Kingdom period, Awamori was called “ Saki ” . Also, liquors in general are called “ Saki ” in Okinawan dialect. We were founded as Sakumoto Shuzojo (Sakumoto Awamori Distillery), and the name was then changed to Sakimoto in 1961 when Seiryou Sakumoto, our second generation owner, incorporated the company. With the name "Sakimoto", we have the desire to produce Awamori which represents Okinawa and to bring smiles to the faces of those who drink it.

For generations, the Sakumoto family has upheld this proud tradition, passing down their expertise and passion from one generation to the next. Today, Sakimoto Awamori Distillery stands as a testament to their enduring legacy, blending time-honoured techniques with modern innovations to create spirits for traditional and modern drinkers.

The Production Process

At the heart of Sakimoto Awamori Distillery’s operation lies the production process passed down through generations that begins with the careful selection of long-grain Thai Indica rice. This premium rice serves as the foundation for the distillery’s Awamori, imparting a distinct flavour and aroma to the finished product. The rice undergoes koji fermentation, a crucial step that transforms the starches into fermentable sugars, before being distilled in traditional clay pots known as "kame."

Kume in Sakimoto Awamori Distillery
[Photo: Some of 20 kame gifted to Sakimoto Awamori Distillery]

Clay pots play a pivotal role in shaping the character of Sakimoto’s awamori, allowing for a slow and precise distillation process that captures the essence of Okinawa's terroir. At Ryukyu Mura, visitors can marvel at the display of 20 kame, traditional earthen jars, generously gifted to Sakimoto Awamori Distillery by Masahiro Shuzo instead of disposing of them. These majestic vessels, standing at an impressive height of 6 feet, are not merely ornamental but serve as repositories for aging authentic awamori. Crafted by hand, each jar symbolises the profound bond between Okinawa and Thailand, underscoring the enduring spirit of friendship shared between the two cultures.

The Awamori

Sakimoto Awamori Distillery boasts a diverse array of Awamori expressions, each crafted to highlight the region's unique characteristics. At the forefront is the esteemed "Sakimoto Awamori Distillery" label, renowned for its velvety texture and sophisticated flavour profile at 25%, 30%, 43% and 60%. The 60% awamori called Hanazaki is only allowed to be produced on Yonaguni Island. In line with their dedication to innovation, Sakimoto Awamori Distillery also introduces limited-edition releases and exclusive collaborations, showcasing their innovative spirit in pushing the boundaries of awamori craftsmanship.

The distillery's core range encompasses both unaged and aged Awamori, ranging from 25% ABV to 43% ABV, alongside the potent Hanazake at 60% ABV. As a forward-thinking brand that adapts to evolving trends, Sakimoto Awamori Distillery introduces the 多幸山 Takoyama HAPPY MOUNTAIN series, catering to curious and experience-oriented audiences. This innovative line represents a notable endeavour to engage with consumers seeking new and adventurous drinking experiences.

Awamori in Sakimoto Awamori Distillery
[Photo: (Left) Sakimoto's awamori 30 degrees, aged 3 years; (Right) Happy Mountain 44 degrees created for mixed drinks, recommended to be served with tonic, on the rocks or pairing with meat and fish dishes. A version of the same spirit was sold at the Ryuku Mura shop accompanied with an oak piece for soaking to replicate and wood aged awamori taste.]

At Sakimoto Awamori Distillery, the concept of "Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future" serves as both a guiding principle and a rallying cry for the entire team. This philosophy reflects the distillery's dedication to preserving the rich cultural heritage of Okinawa while embracing modern techniques and technologies to push the boundaries of Awamori production. Sakimoto Awamori Distillery's operation is infused with a sense of reverence for tradition and a spirit of innovation. This ethos is embodied in every bottle of Awamori, each one a testament to the distillery's unwavering commitment to excellence.

Sakimoto Awamori Distillery
[Photo: (Left) Awamori vats; (Right) Master Distiller Hiroshi Sakimoto]

Led by Master Distiller Hiroshi Sakimoto, the production team at Sakimoto Awamori Ditstillery is a dedicated group of artisans and craftsmen who bring passion, skill, and expertise to every aspect of the production process. With years of experience and a deep understanding of the nuances of Awamori production, they work tirelessly to ensure that each bottle meets the highest standards of quality and authenticity. From fermentation to bottling, every step is executed with precision and care, resulting in spirits of unparalleled complexity and depth.

Opening market overseas

The primary market for Awamori is Okinawa, yet its consumption has seen a decline in recent years. Recognizing this trend, the Okinawa Awamori Association, led by individuals like Ryuma Tsuda, seeks to expand into new markets beyond Japan. Alongside promoting their brand domestically, Sakimoto Awamori Distillery actively collaborates with the Awamori Association in Okinawa to raise awareness of the spirit and promote tourism overseas. At events like BCB Singapore, we had the opportunity to meet Hirata Satoshi, Senior Managing Director of Sakimoto Awamori Distillery, alongside representatives from five other Awamori distilleries.

BCB Singapore Awamori Hirata and Ryuma
[Photo: Both in BCB Singapore in 2023 - (Left) Hirata Satoshi, Senior Managing Director of Sakimoto Awamori Distillery on the right; (Right) Ryuma Tsuda of Okinawa Awamori Association]

Beyond production, Sakimoto Awamori Distillery's brand team plays a pivotal role in sharing the distillery's narrative worldwide. Through various marketing initiatives, educational campaigns, and strategic partnerships, they aim to heighten awareness of Awamori and Okinawan culture globally. From captivating social media content to immersive brand experiences, their endeavours seek to cultivate a deeper appreciation for Sakimoto Awamori Distillery's heritage and craftsmanship among consumers and enthusiasts alike.

Awamori cocktails at home

Traditionally, Awamori is enjoyed neat; however, there is a growing trend among distilleries to market their products through cocktails and mixed drinks, particularly to appeal to younger and more adventurous drinkers. Master Distiller Hiroshi recently shared a simple yet enticing concoction that can be easily crafted at home, highlighting local ingredients: Awamori, soda, and shikuwasa, a citrus fruit indigenous to Okinawa.

With a legacy that spans over a century, Sakimoto Awamori Distillery continues to push the boundaries in their products that capture the essence of Okinawa's vibrant culture and heritage. As we raise our glasses to Sakimoto Awamori Distillery, we celebrate not only the spirits they produce but also the rich tapestry of history and tradition that they represent.

Sakimoto Awamori Distillery is located within Ryukumura, which can be reached taking Bus 120 from Naha Bus Terminal and stop at Ryukumura.

- T -


Subscribe To The Newsletter