The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura (with Fluent English Service)

“Welcome to the world of REAL SAKE!! Have you ever tasted fruity, rich flavored sake, unpasteurized sake, red sake, amber colored 20+ year old vintage sake? More than 50 kinds of sake is waiting for you… at Nihonshu Sake Bar Asakura”, reads the sign outside.

I’m in! How about you?

The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら

Fluent English Speaking Owner Yoshihito Asakura

The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら
The taste and quality of sake has changed enormously in the last 10 years or so yet the sake that most of us are acquainted with is probably not the good stuff, much of it can be quite vile. Low quality sake has lots of distilled alcohol (jozo arukoru) added to it, think fortified ‘bum’ wine, Night Train, etc. This brewing process came into being after WWII when Japan was defeated and poor. Somehow as Japan recovered, developed and prospered, sake languished. Consequently, to many Japanese, especially younger Japanese, the image of Japanese sake is something the produces a quick headache. However, as the sign outside Sake Bar Asakura reads; there is another world of bouquets and flavors and quality available from modern sake.

Sake Bar Asakura Owner Yoshihito Asakura
Asakura-san speaks English fluently, is very knowledgeable about Japanese sake culture and has a passion for introducing his patrons to a wide variety of fine and undiscovered sake. He is a nice, friendly guy as well.

Asakura-san opened Sake Bar Asakura in 2005. (Sake is properly called ‘nihonshu’ in Japanese and the Japanese name is Nihonshu Bar Asakura.) Before that he worked for a used and rare academic book dealer. He did marketing and sales mostly to university professors in Kyoto that were in need of out of print English language books. Before becoming a salaryman Asakura-san went to graduate school. With this background it is easy to see why Asakura-san is someone that is very informed and articulate about sake.

The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら

Fluent English Speaking Owner Yoshihito Asakura

The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら

Fresh Sake Lineup (opps, the one on the right isn't namazake)

Namazake 生酒
Fresh Sake: ‘Fresh’ sake usually means that it has not been pasteurized. Namazake is a brew that is literally still alive! The character 生 (nama) means alive or raw and 酒 (sake) means sake. That means that it needs to be refrigerated. When I drink sake it is now almost exclusively namazake, however there are other kinds of sake that are excellent that have been pasteurized. For example, the bottles of sake on the shelf in the photo below are all pasteurized. The bouquet and flavor profiles of some of the namazake that Asakura-san recommended on my last visit were; peach, watermelon, citrus, rice, leather, yeast and caramel. (This time I went with Marc from NoReceipes and Stephane from ZenCanCook, these guys are serious foodies from New York City and they said that the sake at Asakura was completely new to them.)

If you have had sake abroad, especially hot sake, and didn’t much care for it but you like the fruitiness of wine or microbrewery craft beer, I think you will like namazake very much. It is very expensive and difficult to obtain abroad, so when you are in Kyoto, stop by Asakura after dinner to meet fresh sake!

The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら

Fresh! The Art and Beauty of Fine Sake Bottles

The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら

Koshu Aged Sake Lineup

Koshu 古酒
Aged Sake: I have only had koshu a few times previous to discovering Sake Bar Asakura and it is a sake that few Japanese have had or heard of. It is quite rare. The character 古 (ko) means old and 酒 (sake) means sake. Asakura-san served us several varieties of koshu and they are a lot like sherry or light port. We tried several that were from 20 to 23 year old koshu and Asakura has a 30 year old variety in stock. One that I liked especially was made with unpolished brown rice, unheard of in modern sake brewing because it will product such an unrefined taste, but for aging I gather it is an excellent choice because it gives a great deal to the brew master to work with in aging. Generally, there are no vintages with sake but that is changing with koshu and koshu has apparently generated a great deal of interest abroad among sake enthusiasts.

The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら

Vintage 1990 Koshu Sake!

The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら

Bilingual Asakura Sign

The Menu: Sake, Cheese and Tsumami
Sake Bar Asakura offers a nice list of imported natural cheese and Japanese tsumami, literally a snack or side dish that goes well with alcoholic beverages. The sake list is varied and extensive with the average price of a cup of sake being about 850 yen.

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Access and Info
hours: 7:00 pm – 2:00 am (Closed Tuesday and ‘sometimes’ on Sunday and Monday. Call first to be sure.)

Asakura only seats 11 people, so you might want to call about seating too.

website: http://ameblo.jp/sakebar/ (no English)
tel: 075-212-4417
address: Kyoto-shi, Nakagyo-ku, Kiyamachi Oike-sagaru, Hitosujime Higashi-iru, Daikyu Building 2F (京都市中京区木屋町御池下がる一筋目東入る大久ビル2F)

Nihonshu Bar Asakura is located on Kiyamachi Street just south of Oike Street. From the Sanjo-Kiyamachi intersection walk north about 2 to 3 minutes.

Enter the first narrow alley south of Oike Street on the east side of Kiyamachi Street. Just in the alley, on the left you will see a huge wooden red tokkuri sake flask. This is NOT Asakura, but a good landmark. A bit past the red tokkuri and on the right side you will see a stairway. Asakura is on the second floor at the top of the stairway. It is hard to miss because usually a Michael Jackson poster next to the door. Asakura-san is a huge Michael Jackson fan.

The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら

Go in this little alley and then up to the second floor.

The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら

Landmark: Red Tokkuri Sake Flask (NOT Asakura)

The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura 日本酒 BAR あさくら

Nihonshu Bar Asakura Sign

Map to Sake Bar Asakura

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11 Responses to “The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura (with Fluent English Service)”

  1. Rosa says:

    Wonderful post! Sake tastes so good…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. [OK] Michael says:

    Hello Rosa, This is correct, especially if you have the real sake like they serve at Asakura!

  3. […] the last night Zenchef and Norecipes were in town we went to Sake Bar Asakura to taste some real […]

  4. What a wonderful place this would be to visit. I hope, someday, I will get back to Kyoto!

  5. […] estupendas fotos y datos acerca del sake las conseguí de http://openkyoto.com/dining/sake-bar-asakura.html Gracias […]

  6. Rafa Orozco says:

    Hello Michael, I write here to thanks you about this information. I´m planning my own travel for next summer and I will visit this Sake Bar. I’m posting my planning in my blog (http://www.destinojapon.com) so I used this post.

    Thank you again!!!

  7. […] tel 075-212-4417 hours: 7pm – 2am (open some weekend afternoons from 3 pm) closed Tues address: Kyoto, Nakagyo, Kamiosaka-cho 518-2 Daikyu Bldg 2F website: http://www.ameblo.jp/sakebar/ (Japanese only) OpenKyoto article: The Taste of Real Sake in Kyoto: Sake Bar Asakura (with Fluent English Service) […]

  8. […] each other for a very long time we promptly went for a drink together. Michael introduced me to Sake Bar Asakura and a very pleasant evening of sake tasting ensued. Here is the owner, Asakura-san, a friendly and […]

  9. Yokaze says:

    Wow, lover your review. So much so that I took an important client here tonight while on biz in Kyoto. Great dinner, then off to this place. Entered and gave the customary greetings in Japanese, sat down, ordered in Japanese and was given the cold shoulder. Two cups of 大吟醸 and 4,300 yen later, felt deflated. Yes, the sake is ok, but no the reception is not.

  10. Adrian says:

    Top, top, top

  11. Stephen Miller says:

    Hi,

    Upon reading your review my spouse and I stopped by Asakura Saké Bar last night. I love saké, so I was looking forward to going there. (About 3 hours before we went at 11:30 PM, we tried to get in when it was four of us, but were turned away. We were told that the four empty seats at the bar were reserved.) I speak Japanese so I asked the master, who was clearly not welcoming to us, whether he could recommend something I’d never had before. His unsmiling reply was, “I’m not you so I don’t know what you’ve had.” Of course, on the surface that’s true, but any master worth his weight in saké would have used my question to open a conversation about kinds of saké etc. He didn’t. He just stood there glumly. We finally ordered something that I liked a lot–a chokko of saké each along with an alarmingly small tsukidashi. The price was over 3,000 yen. When we left right after that, the master did not say a word to us. I told his wait staff on the way out that I thought his way of dealing with customers was horrible and she, of course, apologized. I’m not a complainer, but I’ve lived in Kyoto off and on for a long time and this was way over the top in terms of rudeness. I do hope you’ll warn other foreign customers about the possibility of unwelcome treatment.

    Best wishes,
    Stephen

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