Bartender turned brewer! 
A liqueur born in Iwate, rich in local colour. 
- Part 1 -


Bartender turned brewer!
A liqueur born in Iwate, rich in local colour.
- Part 1 -

#Pick up

Oikawa Kazuma/老川和磨 by「金ケ崎薬草酒造」

The craft liqueur scene is about to experience the next big wave after craft gin. This month, we feature the Kanegasaki Herb Brewery, established by a former bartender in the town of Kanegasaki, Iwate Prefecture! Introducing an herbal liqueur born in Iwate!

writer:Ryoko Kuraishi

Kanegasaki's climate is characterized by heavy snowfall in winter and solidly hot summers. The year-round temperature difference, clean subsoil water and clay soil allow herbs with a strong aroma to grow here. Berries such as mugwort and raspberries are particularly suited to this land" (Mr Oikawa).

Kanegasaki is located in south-west Iwate Prefecture, and at the end of 2021, the town's first and only sake brewery (excluding sake), Kanegasaki Yakuso Brewery, was established in Kanegasaki.

The brewery was founded by a former bartender from Kanegasaki, Mr Kazuma Oragawa. He obtained a licence to produce liqueurs at the end of November 2021, drawing on his knowledge and experience as a bartender.

'In Tokyo, I ran a bar for homemade herbal liquor.

I had always wanted to do my own manufacturing and have my own brewery, and Corona was the catalyst for me to open the 'Kanegasaki Herb Brewery' in my home town."

Production started the month after we obtained the licence, and the first release was the following spring.

The first product was Wafana, a liqueur made from Japanese herbs.

Wahana is a low-alcohol liqueur themed around the Japanese seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter, blended with herbs and fruits that are in season in each season.

During his bartending days, he also competed in cocktail competitions; he was a finalist in the 2019 DIAGEO WORLD CLASS and challenged the Japan finals as a finalist.

'Layers of aroma' are the key to taste

In addition to Wahana, the current line-up includes Wahana High Proof, a higher alcohol content version of Wahana; the Chashu series, which offers the aromas and flavours of traditional Japanese teas such as Japanese black tea, mulberry tea and mulberry hojicha; the Iwate Craft Liqueur series, which focuses on Iwate-grown ingredients such as sarunashi x chrysanthemum, ginger x shiso, black currant x aronia x mint. The 'Iwate Craft Liqueur' series, which focuses on ingredients, and the highly original 'KZ' series, which pursues Mr Oragawa's personal tastes.

What is consistent across all series is the use of Iwate or Japanese plants and herbs as key botanicals. Each recipe is structured to highlight the botanicals.

We use our own cultivated herbs and fruits, as well as locally grown non-standard agricultural products.

By doing everything from raw material procurement to production themselves, they are able to create products that solve the social problem of food loss.

The brewery reuses a barn that was used by his grandfather, who was a rice farmer. Unfortunately, the ceiling height was not high enough to install a distilling machine, so the first step was to put in only a tank for preparing herbal liqueurs.

In addition, the base spirits are also modified, with different periods of soaking and base alcohol content for each botanical.

For example, fruit and herbs are infused in the base sugar cane-based brewing alcohol.

The base spirit is infused with fruit and herb-derived aromas and a little sweetness before the botanicals are macerated, which gives the finished product depth.

'When several botanicals are infused at once, as in the case of gin, the characteristics of each botanical blend together, resulting in a complex aroma and aftertaste. This is how most gins are made.

We macerate three or four times so that the essence of each botanical can be felt. By macerating each botanical individually, layers of aroma are created, making it easier to feel the individuality of each botanical.

Currently, we are experimenting with brandy and sake lees shochu bases. By changing the base, the range of expression is likely to expand even further."

Botanicals collected for the production of Mountain Amaro.

The Mountain Amaro is a collection of ingredients from the mountains of Japan.

Mr Oikawa is currently working on a "Japanese amaro".

Amaro is made from spices and plant roots such as cinnamon, anise and nutmeg, and is characterised by its unique bitter taste and complex aroma.

These spices are not grown in Japan, and because of our insistence on using Japanese botanicals as the decisive botanicals, we have not been able to produce domestically produced amaro.

We wondered if we could reproduce the impact of gentian and quinine with what we could find in the mountains of Japan. Can't we somehow make amaro using only Japanese botanicals?

So, for the past year, he has been going into the neighbouring mountains and immersing himself in collecting mountain plants.

Yama no Amaro KZ ¥3,520, completed over a year, macerated with fukinoto, shishi-udo, hana-udo, tamushiba, kihada, sansho and gumi nuts. It is a made-in-Japan amaro with a complex aroma: the green aroma of udo, the sourness and spiciness from sansho and gumi nuts, and the sweet mouthfeel of yamaboshi reminiscent of custard cream. ......

Is there any herb that can replace the scent of anise ...... ?

'That's what we found in our local mountains [laughs].

We seek out plants that exude similar nuances and then complement the key botanicals with fruits and herbs that enhance those elements.

My knowledge and experience from my bartending days, and the fact that I now have more opportunities to work with unusual local ingredients as an OEM responsible for developing regional specialities, have also helped me in this process."

After the completion of Mountain Amaro, the company plans to release a liqueur that will undergo barrel ageing.

They are considering developing amaro and non-alcoholic wine using the bourbon and Merlot wine barrels used to age Mars Whisky Komagatake.

In the second part, we will introduce the reasons behind his transition from bartender to brewer, and the local and craft craft craftsmanship that opened Mr Laikawa's eyes in Vancouver.

Continued in Part 2.