Shunan city, which is just a short drive or train ride from me here, is home to a surprising number of sakagura. The local tourist association has decided to capitalize on that by setting up what they call Takushu: a taxi tour of the three kura closest to Tokuyama station. (The name is a pun on the Japanese pronunciation of taxi, takushii, and a reading of the character for alcohol, 酒, shu).
I’ve been wanting to go for quite a while, but I can’t do it alone and apparently no one I know is that big a fan of sake. Enter a couple of friends from Hiroshima *Massimo and *Suzu (names changed to protect the intoxicated).
With their accompaniment, I made reservations for last Saturday, and we were off!
The tour leaves from the Machi no Port tourist information center just outside of Tokuyama station (which is also where you can make reservations).
From there, it was about a 10 minute ride to the first brewery, Nakajimaya Shuzo. But! That 10 minute ride is no need to be bored in the cab! Because there’s booze in the car!
It was a fun, fast ride and then we arrived at the kura.
This is a very traditional brewery, meaning old and dirty. It was established in 1823, and most of the buildings date back to that period. The equipment inside has been replaced and (kind of updated) but it still feels like a 150+ year old place.
Nakajimaya is a well respected local brewery, but is still fairly small. They only produce 250 koku (450 kiloliters) a year.
At the end of the tour, we were taken to the office (which has swallow nests in it?!) for a taste testing.
In the course of conversation, one of my friends asked about aging sake, and this sparked a discussion of koshu…which resulted in our guide bringing out a bottle of junmai daiginjo that had been aged 7 years in their storeroom. It was amazing! It had a full, complex flavor that didn’t cloy and a smoothness that I’d not found in any other koshu.
Nakajimaya, thank you!
We’d killed too much time at this one for our driver’s comfort, so we had to hurry on to the next tour: Yamagata honten.
Now, since we’d already killed a bottle in the car, and gone through several tastings at Nakasjimaya, I did not document Yamagata as thoroughly as I could have. Suffice to say, it is much more new and high-tech than the last time I was here.
The guides at Yamagata were the owner’s wife and daughter, and it was actually a lot of fun. They were super chatty, had happi for us to try on, and were happy to take pictures of us. A really great tour, if a bit rushed by our driver.
One interesting thing is, both Nakajima and Yamagata still do winter-only brewing, so there was nothing in the tanks on our visit. Yamagata was getting ready to brew some shochu, so they were sorting potatoes, but otherwise these were breweries between brews. They said they’d be working on rice milling and washing from late September into October, and real brewing would start in full from November.
However, Hatsumomiji follows the shikijozo year-round brewing style, so that was a very different experience.
Tune in next time for that one!