Catalonia’s flourishing sake industry

In the Pyrenees and Ebre Delta region there are two breweries dedicated to the Japanese alcoholic beverage

Kensho, Mediterranean sake brewery in L'Ampolla, near the Ebre Delta (by Cillian Shields)
Kensho, Mediterranean sake brewery in L'Ampolla, near the Ebre Delta (by Cillian Shields) / Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | Barcelona

November 6, 2021 01:23 PM

It may be surprising at first to discover a sake brewery in Catalonia, and doubly surprising to hear of a second one, but in their own ways they make a certain amount of sense, and are contributing to a burgeoning sake industry on our shores. 

Kensho brewery, in the southern Ebre Delta region, and Seda Líquida, found in a mountain village in the Pyrenees to the north, have been producing the Japanese alcoholic beverage since 2015 and 2016 respectively, and were both born out of a love for the East Asian country and its culture. 

Sake is the national alcoholic beverage of Japan, where it is used in many different celebrations and events. Japan is, obviously, the main producer and consumer and only in countries like the United States, with high numbers of Japanese immigrants, is sake typically produced. 

There are fewer than 2,500 Japanese citizens living in Catalonia, according to the latest available statistics from the Catalan Statistics Institute (Idescat), but the people here have a special place for Japan in their hearts, and as such, two breweries have opened up in recent years to help spread the spirit. 

Sake is made from fermenting rice, so the Ebre Delta is a perfect location for a brewery as the area already produces huge quantities of high-quality rice. 

With its base in the town of L'Ampolla, Kensho get their ingredients straight from the nearby delta, even offering bike tours to view the natural scenery before returning to some refreshments. 

Kensho also make and serve various tapas made predominantly from fermented rice and soy paste to accompany a tasting of their different sakes, including different misos, vegan cheeses, and even chocolate.  

Meanwhile, Antoni Campins runs the Seda Líquida sake brewery in the Pyrenees. Located in the small village of Tuixent, the water available in the mountains is some of the purest and cleanest to be found, making for the perfect starter kit for a sake brewery. 

With the knowledge lent to him from some friends from breweries in Japan, Campins was able to launch his own sake from northern Catalonia, going from producing 1,000 bottles in 2016 to an expected 10,000 bottles in 2021. 

Campins' latest creation is Berumotto - the Japanese word for vermouth, and this drink perhaps symbolizes the fusion between the cultures of Japan and Catalonia better than anything else. 

Faced with numerous tanks of sake still undergoing the fermentation process, but with a staff suddenly put on temporary layoff when the Covid-19 pandemic blindsided the world, Campins had to get creative to avoid the tanks from spoiling. 

He needed to find a new way of conserving the beverage, so turned to some local herbs and essences that are used in fortifying vermouth, the apéritif so popular in Catalonia

Out of this highly experimental procedure, treating would-be sake with ingredients and conservation methods typical of vermouth, a brand new drink emerged: the world’s first sake-vermouth

Seda Líquida has provided sake to Japanese restaurants across the land, including some of the world’s finest, such as El Celler de Can Roca, Disfrutar, and Tickets.