The history of alcohol production in Chichibu dates back over 250 years, when the first sake breweries in the city were founded. Water quality is essential to brewing and is referred to as the “life” (inochi) of the alcohol. Chichibu’s water contains an ideal ratio of mineral content for alcohol production, and a wide variety of different alcohols are made there. The city proudly embraces its identity as a sakedokoro, or “brewing town.” As of 2019, Chichibu has four sake breweries, two wineries, one beer brewery, and one whisky distillery.
Chichibu’s four breweries—Yao Honten, Nagatorogura, Buko, and Chichibu Kikusui— were each built during the Edo period (1603–1867) and supplied sake to the miners and silkworm farmers that lived in the region. The subterranean rivers flowing within Mt. Buko were included in the list of “100 Famous Waters” (Meisui Hyakusen) compiled in 2008. This same water is used at Buko, makers of Masamune sake, considered to be the preeminent sake of Chichibu. The pure water used in their brewing can be freely taken from a spigot in front of the Buko brewery, and they also offer free tours. In 2004, the brewery and storefront were designated a national Tangible Cultural Property.
Another beloved local sake, Chichibu Nishiki. The name “Nishiki” is a reference to the fact that the sake is made with both Yamada Nishiki rice and Miyama Nishiki rice. These two varieties of rice are considered top-class within the sake world. Like Buko, Yao Honten offers regular tours of their brewing facility, which produces approximately 18,000 bottles of sake each year. The brewery’s second floor is the Sakezukuri no Mori, a museum of the brewery’s history that displays sake-making implements. At an attached storefront and tasting bar, visitors can sample Yao’s brands of sake and Danbe shochu, traditional distilled alcohol.
In recent years, Chichibu’s sole whisky distillery, Venture Whisky Ltd, has gained worldwide acclaim. Founded in 2004 by Akuto Ichiro (b. 1965), the distillery has captured both domestic and international praise for its unique take on Japanese whisky. Since its founding, Venture Whisky has taken numerous titles at the World Whiskies Awards, including multiple awards for “Japanese Whisky of the Year” and “World’s Best Blended Limited Release.”