Bhutan Brews: Japan to partner with Bhutan for Sake production

After a symposium in Thimphu which was presented by a Japanese Sake manufacturing company called Tsuchida Sake Brewery, the company is keen on setting a production plant in Bhutan.

The Embassy of Japan in India held the “Japan-Bhutan Food Culture Exchange Symposium in Thimphu”. Ms. Kyoko HOKUGO, Economic Minister of the Embassy of Japan in India, and the Bhutanese government officials and people from the food, beverage, and hotel service industries in Thimphu participated in the symposium.

An official with the Embassy of Japan in India, which also covers Bhutan, stated his vision for Japanese sake to be produced in Bhutan, “In Bhutan, they drink a kind of distilled liquor called ‘ara,’ which is made from grains such as wheat or rice. In particular, the drink is indispensable for festivals in the country. In parts of the country, the people brew another drink from rice called ‘singchang’ for their own consumption. I sensed some overlap in our countries’ cultures, with the close connection between alcohol and festivals.”

The sake in this brewery is produced with the help of traditional ‘ kimito method ‘. Using water , Koji mold ( a mold used to ferment alcohol)and mostly unpolished rice, the sake is brewed through the activity of microorganisms that inhabit the brewery. The company’s sixth-generation owner, 46-year-old Yuji Tsuchida, said that he returned the company to using traditional techniques in 2017, because, modern brewing methods using lactic acid bacteria or yeast end up making all sake taste similar.

In 2021, the company used a variety of medium-to-long-grain Indica rice, which is cultivated in Bhutan, instead of the usual short-grain Japonica, to brew their experimental sake. The embassy further stated that In addition to the rice production, Bhutan also has a culture of producing “chang or chhaang”, a brewed rice liquor (like Japanese “Doburoku or unrefined sake”) for private consumption in some areas, which has a strong affinity with the Japanese culture, where sake is enjoyed throughout each of the four seasons while sake and rituals are closely related’. So, there is a strong similarity and the reason to believe why this collaboration could work out for the best.

According to the embassy, “Japanese brewing techniques could be a hint for Bhutan, which is poor in terms of foreign currency buying power, to make a processed agricultural product aimed at other countries.”

Tsuchida said, “I think it’s possible to produce Japanese liquor using local water, rice and fermenting microbes. We look forward to seeing what kinds of sake can be turned out. To that end, we will spare no efforts to collaborate.”

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