What on Earth is the High Class Sake Soboshu?

This is a revision of an earlier article.


This time we bring you a little sake history lesson.

This article teaches you all about Soboshu, a sake that was brewed by the temples in ancient times.

Soboshu (LIT: monk’s sake) is the generic name given to a type of sake that was produced by large temples from the Heian Period (794 to 1185) through to the Edo Period (1603–1867). Up until the early Heian Period, sake was brewed inside the imperial court, but as civilians began to take up the craft it was the large temples all over Japan that played a central role. And thus, Soboshu was born.

You might be thinking to yourself “a bunch of celibate monks making sake?!”, but they found a way around this technicality by referring to sake using the slang ‘Hanyato’ which happens to be the name for an alcoholic drink thought to attain the supreme wisdom of Buddism — and even made the fact they were brewing public.

Were the monks the masters of their craft?


When it comes to Soboshu — even looked at from a global perspective — the monks were at the top of their game as far as their brewing skills were concerned. The large temples had early access to knowledge that had been imported into Japan by intellectuals such as the Japanese envoys to the Sui dynasty of China and visiting monks from overseas, which included farming and fermentation skills, allowing them to brew with the most cutting edge skills in the world.

Each large temple soon became very competent Soboshu producers and by the early Muromachi Era they had entered a golden age of brewing. However, in the Sengoku Period, military commanders lead by the warlord Oda Nobunaga feared such rights and power as a form of opposition, and thus began a period of complete oppression that brought the curtain down on Soboshu.


正暦寺 - Shouryaku-ji // 2010.11.25 - 08

One of the most famous temples that ever made Soboshu is the Shoryakuji temple in Nara
;Nara itself is considered to be one of the many birthplaces of sake.
This temple is where one of the most famous types of Soboshu hails from: Bodaimoto.

What on earth is Bodaimoto? you ask.
Don’t worry, I am getting to that.

The Bodaimoto Style


The Bodaimoto is a sophisticated natural fermentation style that is believed to contain the origins of many other more recent types of fermentation methods such as the kimoto and yahamai styles — even the ultra modern Sokujo method, in a sense. (more information here)

How is it made?


As the diagram above shows, similar to the Kimoto style, the lactic acid that is needed to drive all the unwanted wild bacteria out and create the right environment to propagate a healthy sake yeast is produced naturally by converting the Lactic Acid bacteria naturally existing in the air. However, where the two methods differ is in the way that the bacteria is propagated. In the Bodaimoto method, the bacteria is propagated in water. In a sense, the end product is a lactic acid solution similar to that used in the modern Sokujo method.

Returning to present day, as well as being remembered throughout literature, a portion of breweries have begun to inherit the skills required to make Soboshu. We are proud to be able to introduce one of them here at KURAND SAKE MARKET.

I give you —Imanishi Brewery in Nara Prefecture.

Imanishi Brewery


Imanishi Brewery specialises in the Bodaimoto style.
As well as being one of the oldest sake breweries in Japan (established in 1660), Imanishi Brewery sits at the entrance of one of the holy lands of sake, Miwa, the dwelling of one of the sake gods Oomiwa (there are many sake gods and not all breweries worship the same one), making this a brewery wrapped in religious significance.


Miwa itself also comes with the added bonus of being the birthplace of the sugidama, the small cedar ball that adorns every brewery entrance, and continues to take orders still to this day.


Standing at the helm and brushing of the dust from all that history is a 32 year old brewer, the 20th generation to take on the task and one of a new crop of young brewers that are taking the industry by storm. I don’t know about you but it feels only fitting that someone of his age is protecting such an ancient sake brewing technique.


Well, that about wraps up our little sermon on Soboshu. The sake-brewing skills of old Japan were quite something; skills that remain unchanged to this day and are revered on a global scale.