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Dojima: the first Japanese-owned sake brewery in the UK

12th July 2018

Dojima: the first Japanese-owned sake brewery in the UK

The first Japanese-owned sake brewery in the UK is on the cusp of opening. Dojima’s purpose-built facility on the grounds of the Fordham Abbey estate in Cambridgeshire promises to be a 'taste of Japan in the heart of the English countryside'.

It’s been nearly 200 years in the making. The Hashimoto family behind Dojima first started brewing sake at Kotobuki Shuzo in Tonda, Osaka prefecture in 1822. The area once abounded with over 20 sake breweries, as Tony Mitchell, Dojima’s head brewer explained to me; now just two remain, including Kotobuki Shuzo.

20 years ago Yoshihide Hashimoto saw the opportunities in craft beer, and formed a sister company focusing on craft beer and consulting in breweries across Asia: that company is Dojima. 

Despite branching off, Mr Hashimoto and his wife always had a plan to return sake. Many of their children (they have six!) went to schools and Universities in the UK, which is how they developed a special attachment to England. When they saw Fordham Abbey – a Grade II listed Georgian estate with 200 acres of parkland – they fell in love with the site, and so a plan to open a sake brewery in the UK began to crystallise into this extraordinary venture.

The jichinsai or ground-breaking ceremony at Dojima, conducted by a shinto priest

 

Dojima’s brewery building was completed in spring this year – the only facility of its kind in the UK, featuring a special koji room, dedicated to making the magic mould which underlies sake, miso and soy sauce. A pottery workshop, traditional tearoom, restaurant and even a shrine are also in the works, with the manor house available as an event space. 

“They just fell in love with the house and the grounds,” Tony explains, “and could see the potential immediately. We think it will become like a living Japan expo!”

Tony’s own route to becoming Dojima's head brewer is an extraordinary story in itself. The Brit explained:

“My wife’s distant relatives own a 319 year old brewery [Wakatakeya] in Fukuoka. Out drinking one night with the kuramoto [brewery owner] he offered me the chance to work for him brewing sake for the winter season. Much to my wife’s dismay and disapproval I accepted and lived in the brewery for nearly 4 months, barely seeing the light of day.

Tony looking remarkably cheerful even though it's 3am

 

“She made me promise to get a proper job afterwards so I started working at the British embassy in Tokyo which I did for nearly 4 years. I always knew I wanted to get back to sake though and it was through an embassy event that I met the Hashimotos. You could call it fate I guess!”

While difficulties from the hardness of the water to construction times to finding people willing to work nights and weekends have slowed the process down, Dojima’s first commercial sake was bottled at the beginning of July.

Tony is confident that people will enjoy the product: “As soon as people realise how good [sake] is and get rid of their preconceptions, I think it will explode!” In addition to classic junmai styles, Dojima will produce unpasteurised ‘nama’ varieties that have a shorter shelf life and a fresher, livelier aroma and flavour. 

As well as being an expansion market the UK offers another attractive factor for brewers of Japan’s national drink. The temperate climate means it is theoretically possible to brew all year round, which it is not in Japan. Although, Tony cautions that the good weather in summer 2018 has shown this will probably be limited to smaller batches. 

The magic moment of bottling

 

“It is a challenge to brew in a heatwave but we are managing it just!” he says. On the cusp of making the product available to the general public, he describes himself as exhausted but happy. 

“We should be open for tours from mid-September by appointment and that’s also when we should be starting to sell our sake.”

Sign up to Dojima’s mailing list now to stay updated on how to get your hands on a bottle, and maybe even land a tour: dojimabrewery.com

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