In June 2010, a remarkable bar called Sake Dining Sagakura opened in the Tenijn/Nakasu area. Although shochu, local beer, and other drinks are available, Sagakura’s main focus is on nihonshu (Japanese rice liquor, often known simply as”sake” in other countries). As anyone who has visited the area knows, people in Kyushu know how to drink, and their love for tasty alcohol can be seen in the wide variety of top-class nihonshu produced locally.
But Sagakura is no typical business. Conceived of and supported by the Saga Prefecture Brewery Cooperative Association (佐賀県酒造協同組合), the main purpose of this establishment is to promote sake produced locally in Saga Prefecture (which neighbors Fukuoka to the west). Sagakura regularly carries over 50 varieties of nihonshu, and because the purpose of the bar is promotion rather than profit, prices are half or less what other places bars charge–this means high-quality sake starting at 250 yen per glass!
Having moved to Fukuoka from Osaka only several months ago, I am only starting to learn about the enticing range of nihonshu available in Kyushu, thanks mainly to my two generous, sake-loving friends Mic and Daisuke. The wide variety of nihonshu in Japan (and in Kyushu in particular) makes sampling of different brands a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, nihonshu has declined in popularity in recent times, and the number of people who enjoy this unique beverage is not nearly as large as it should be.
I feel strongly that anyone who enjoys drinking owes it to themselves to give nihonshu (no, I don’t mean the cheap stuff in the convenience store) a chance–Sagakura is a great place to start, even if you’re a beginner, because the low prices mean you can to try many different varieties without emptying your wallet, and the knowledgeable and friendly staff make good recommendations and follow those up with explanations of each sake while pouring your drink. Furthermore, the menus have easy-to-understand number codes for each sake, indicating each type’s sweetness or dryness using a precise numbering system, so you can find the nihonshu that’s right for you. Finally, while Sagakura doesn’t offer full-out meals, they do have to munch on while you drink.
Unfortunately, like all beautiful things, Sagakura may not be around forever. The Saga Prefecture Brewery Cooperative Association originally set it up as a promotional enterprise, not as a permanent business, and while they are still considering what to do in the future, there is a chance that this revolutionary little bar may disappear as early as March 2012. So do yourself a favor and pop in to Sagakura for a drink or ten. You won’t regret it, and Saga will thank you.
Sagakura is located in Haruyoshi, where Nakasu and Tenjiin meet (on the second floor in the back part of the building indicated in the link), and their phone number is 092-715-3201. They open at 6:00 pm and close around midnight on weekdays, and around 1:00 or 2:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays (closed on Sundays, holidays and the first Monday of the month). Information and a list of nihonshu regularly stocked at Sagakura can be found here on the Saga Appellation Control site (Japanese only), and you can also follow them on Twitter in Japanese.