Photo/Illutration Lagoon Brewery Inc. is sited within an old private home in Niigata’s Kita Ward on April 18. (Akifumi Nagahashi)

NIIGATA--A brewer in this renowned sake-producing area is trying out novel flavors for sake, such as pizza, in the hopes of tickling the taste buds of a much wider range of consumers.

Lagoon Brewery Inc. quietly stands near the Fukushimagata lagoon in Kita Ward.

Among items available under Lagoon Brewery’s Shoku line is an alcoholic drink characterized by its reddish hue known as Sake Margherita.

As its name suggests, Sake Margherita is brewed with locally produced tomatoes and basil as well as rice, creating a unique aroma resembling that of a Margherita pizza.

A bottle using Niigata Prefecture’s brand-name strawberry Echigohime as a side ingredient is alike envisioned for the line.

“I will reinvigorate the industry by showing brewing is a highly lucrative venture,” said Yosuke Tanaka, 43, head of the brewery.


Tanaka became captivated with traditional sake during his college days, when he frequented a liquor shop run by a friend’s parents. After graduation, he organized sake-themed events while working in an ad industry.

When he turned 30, Tanaka started considering switching jobs and learned that the parent company of Imayo Tsukasa Sake Brewery Co. in Niigata’s Chuo Ward was looking for a new president of the brewing firm.

Tanaka joined the company and became Imayo Tsukasa Sake Brewery’s head in 2014.

He took full advantage of his establishment’s easy access from Niigata Station to strengthen the brewery’s observation tour and direct sales. The products’ labeling was also changed to appeal to younger women.

The enterprise’s sales improved so dramatically that Tanaka was tapped to serve as chair of the Niigata Sake Brewers Association’s overseas strategy committee.

A turning point came again in 2021, when the central government started issuing licenses for new businesses that brew sake exclusively for export. The growing popularity of rice wine abroad led to the decision amid the recent global Japanese food boom.

Domestically, however, demand for sake has declined so dramatically that no breweries have been awarded new licenses for internal sales for more than 60 years to help prevent more makers from going under.


Tanaka found an old private house with a charming atmosphere around Fukushimagata as he often visited there at the time. He obtained a license to be an exporter that year and rolled out Lagoon Brewery.

The brewing staff of Echigo Denemon, another maker in Kita Ward that was then temporarily closed, was invited to work at Lagoon Brewery.

Tanaka also obtained a license to create alcoholic beverages that fall outside the category of ordinary sake so he can sell them alongside products for exports.

Mixing another material into sake’s ingredients of rice, “koji” mold and water can generate what is considered to be “other brews” under the liquor tax law, all the while maintaining a sake-like fragrance.

Such bottles, including the “doburoku” unrefined sake, are touted as “craft sake” and are available even for domestic consumers.

To promote such a tipple, Tanaka plays a leading role at the Japan Craft Sake Breweries Association, which was founded in 2022.

One objective is to revitalize the sake industry by winning over more fans. His ultimate goal is to have the government lift its ban on issuing new licenses for breweries for the domestic market.

A representative of the National Tax Agency’s Liquor Tax and Industry Division acknowledged that may be possible.

“We would be able to issue licenses if spending goes up,” said the official.

Tanaka said he believes in the potential of sake. He currently sees a stream of young people who want to manage their own breweries at some point show up asking for advice, and one such individual is working with Tanaka as an intern.