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Amid the increasing popularity of amazake, a traditional sweet non- or low-alcohol sake made from fermented rice, breweries and retailers in the Tokai region are boosting production and sales ahead of winter, when demand surges.

Touted for its health and beauty benefits, amazake has seen sales rise this summer, prompting stores to produce their own product instead of entrusting production to breweries.

“(Amazake) sold really well this summer, probably because (people were trying to cope with) the heat wave,” said Yoshitaka Kato, president of Kojiya, an established manufacturer of rice malt based in Tsushima, Aichi Prefecture.

In August, more than 1,000 packs of Kojiya’s concentrated amazake, priced at ¥570 per 500 gram pack, were sold at the company’s store and supermarkets in the city, twice the amount sold a year before.

Supermarkets that found themselves running low asked the company to increase production.

Rich in vitamin B, amino acids and other nutrients, amazake helps ward off fatigue and is sometimes dubbed the “drinkable IV.”

The latest round of hype is being driven by the fad with fermented food and coverage of its health benefits.

“With the increase in health awareness, it’s becoming more common to drink amazake in the summer,” said Kato. In the Edo Period, it was common to drink amazake during the summer.

Now more people are buying packed rice malt to brew their own amazake at home.

The gourmet store Kuze Fuku & Co., which is in Mozo Wondercity, a giant retailer in Nagoya, sells 10 different types of amazake ranging in price from ¥200 to over ¥1,000.

To satisfy demand, the store expanded its lineup of four varieties last year by adding new flavors that include brown rice and soba (buckwheat noodles). It sells 400 to 500 bottles a month on average.

“We have many regular female customers. Sales usually grow in the winter, but it’s been going well in summer, too. For some products, stock could barely keep up,” a store official said.

Kuze Fuku is a retail chain of 50 stores run by St. Cousair, a manufacturer of jam and wine based in Izuna, Nagano Prefecture. The chain saw its nationwide amazake sales double between June and August from the same period last year.

Betting against the odds of a short-lived boom, Watanabe Sake Brewery in Hida, Gifu Prefecture, plans to shift to in-house production over the next two years after having allowed other breweries to produce amazake using its own recipe.

It usually sells about 3,000 bottles a year in the city, but since sales have spiked in the past two years, it is predicting sales will break 6,000 bottles this year. Each 900-ml bottle costs ¥972.

Shipment delays and shortages caused by the overwhelmed subcontractor led the company to build a new amazake brewery and set a production goal of 30,000 bottles a year.

Amazake contains little or no alcohol, which means it is not subject to liquor tax and has a high profit margin. Makers are also getting more requests from sake buyers.

Even though domestic consumption of sake has been declining for years, Watanabe Sake’s managing director, Takashi Watanabe, says he believes amazake is a good way to familiarize people with its more potent parent and hopes its popularity will have a ripple effect on sake sales. He said there are also plans to export amazake in the future.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Oct. 5.

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