Sake Breweries Aim to Promote Red Vinegar as Saga Pref. Specialty; Hoping to Attract More Local Breweries in Future

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Red vinegar products made by five sake breweries under the Saga Akasu Project

SAGA — Five sake breweries and other entities began selling red vinegar made from sake lees in January to promote the product as a local specialty in Saga Prefecture, where sake is a major industry.

To further promote the ingredient, an event featuring dishes using the vinegar was held in February. More local sake breweries are expected to take part in the project in the future.

People involved in the project aim to brand the products as Saga Akasu.

Akasu, meaning red vinegar in Japanese, is made from sake lees and is said to have become popularized during the Edo period (1603-1867) as it was used for sushi rice. Red vinegar is characterized by its reddish-brown color, mild acidity and deep flavor. However, this type of vinegar requires a lengthy production process, as sake lees need to be aged for a long period of time. Currently, only about 10 companies produce red vinegar nationwide.

Tomoko Motoyama, 45, a representative of Saga City-based Honzan, a company that plans and develops locally sourced products, came up with the initiative to develop red vinegar as a specialty for the prefecture. Motoyama learned about red vinegar around summer 2019 when she spoke with local business owners. She learned that brewers generally view sake lees, which are generated during the brewing process, as an annoyance.

But Motoyama thought that Saga Prefecture had the potential to become a production center for red vinegar, so she contacted people in the sake brewing industry.

Saga Vinegar, a long-established vinegar producer in Saga City, developed the first product under the project using sake lees from Azumatsuru sake brewery based in Taku in the prefecture and began selling it in February 2020. However, it sold less than expected as the company’s promotional efforts were restricted during the pandemic.

In April 2022, an executive committee was put together, with Honzan playing a central role, to increase the number of breweries taking part in the project.

In addition to Azumatsuru, four other sake breweries in the prefecture — Amabuki Brewery in Miyaki, Tenzan Sake Brewery in Ogi, Koimari Sake Brewery in Imari and Mitsutake Co. in Kashima — joined the project and began making their own red vinegar products. Using sake lees that have been aged for more than a year, the companies spent six months fermenting and maturing their products. Each company then put out their own product under their own label.

The companies’ red vinegars were finally unveiled at an event, where representatives from the breweries and others promoted their products, in Saga City on Jan. 15.

“If red vinegar becomes more commonly used, restaurants can increase their menu items and promote sake as well,” said Yasunari Nonaka, 44, president of Azumatsuru sake brewery.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Representatives of participating sake breweries unveil their red vinegar products in Saga City on Jan. 15.

The prefectural sake brewers’ association has more than 20 members. The executive committee plans to double the number of breweries involved in the project within three years to develop more products.

“Sake lees reflect the brewery’s commitment,” Motoyama said. “Even people who can’t drink alcohol can enjoy each brewery’s unique flavor.”

The red vinegar products cost ¥700 for a 72-milliliter bottle and ¥1,500 for a 300-milliliter bottle, excluding tax, and can be purchased at various shops, including those run by the five breweries and Saga Vinegar.