Oct 7, 2009

Study Tour to Tamura Syuzoujou Sake Brewery

Located in Fussa, a city in the far-flung west of Tokyo, Tamura Syuzoujou sake brewery has been making sake for nearly 190 years since its establishment in 1822. This time, my friends and I visited this brewery and saw facilities in this brewery to learn how they are making sake. Sales Manager, Mr. Hirahara, showed us their brewery. It was a fruitful study to receive explanation about sake making process while actually seeing samples of different sake rice varieties, sake making facilities, bubbling fermenting mash, etc.

After leaving the west exit of JR Fussa Station, go westward along the main street for about 10 minutes, and you will reach the intersection on Okutama Kaido street. Take the right here. Okutama Kaido street around here runs alongside Tamagawajosui Water Supply Channel. Walk toward the upper stream for a while to reach a pedestrian overpass, and you will find a small bridge over the channel. Walk across this bridge, and you will see a red brick chimney ahead on your left. Farther proceed on your way ahead, and you will be walking along the black wall long extending along the road. On the premises behind the wall, whitewashed buildings with massive tiled roofs stand orderly in a line. Huge trees stand high and extend boughs as if they were guarding these buildings, and you hear birds chirping. Now, you are in front of the main gate of Tamura Syuzoujou.

When we walked through the gate, we found a big cedar leaf ball hanging under the eaves of the building on your left. The ball was brownish, but it was soon to be replaced with a new green one when they would start the shipment of new brew. Placed on the right in front of the entrance of the building were three sake casks wrapped with rush mats with the brand name of "Kasen" on them.

When we walked under the cedar ball and went into the building, we found on the right the base of the red brick chimney that we had seen from a distance.

Having the shape of an octagonal column, this chimney was built in the middle of the Meiji period (1868-1912) and once damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake. Later it was restored but it is not used currently. Mr. Hirahara said that, according to an architecture specialist, they should preserve this chimney even if they would not use it because the bricks used in this chimney were laid in a distinctive way.

On the opposite side of the chimney was a rice-steaming room. Before entering the room, we were shown samples of sake rice varieties. Rice grains that had been milled down and had become whiter were packed in plastic bags, on each of which the name of rice and rice milling rate are indicated on a label.

There were Yamadanishiki, Nihonbare, Ginginga, Miyamanishiki, and Yamasake No. 4. I have ever heard of Yamasake No. 4. If I remember right, this rice has been developed in an agricultural high school in Yamagata prefecture. Tamura Syuzoujou experimentally used this rice and succeeded in making quite good sake in the last season. So, they decided to use this rice in full-fledged production. Now, we can anticipate seeing a new type of sake from Tamura Syuzouhou on shelves in this season.

Well, we then moved to the rice-steaming room. Shiny stainless-steel rice soaking tanks, also shiny horizontal continuous rice steamer, rice cooling device, and other facilities were in the room. Beside the rice steamer was an old caldron for steaming rice that was not used currently.

Facilities of this brewery are relatively new and buildings are well constructed. We were shown fermentation tanks, which are hermetically sealed types and have the capacity of 10,000 litters for each. The upper floor from which they stir the mash with stirring rods are decently planked and looked to have been waxed. Such floors of old sake breweries are often humble and sometimes they creak when you walk on them. The floor of this brewery is steady and never creaks. The stirring rods, which are as long as five meters, are made of glass fiber.

In one of the fermentation tanks, ivory-white thick mash was bubbling. Enchanting sweet aroma like that of soda pop was rising up from the inside of the tank.

Although the facilities look latest or relatively new, the buildings in which these facilities are placed are old. The building in which fermentation tanks are placed was actually built in 1918. The roof of this building is tiled with hongawara (roof tiles usually used for shrines, temples, and other high-class architectures) and was built by miyadaiku (skillful carpenters specializing in shrine and temple buildings). This is a gorgeous building!

We were also shown the garden that is owned by the Tamura family. According to the book "Tokyo no Jizake" (Tokyo sake) written by Hiroyuki Koda. The Tamura family has a history of over 300 years, and family leaders were the headman of Fussa village. The garden is so old and a huge tree standing there is estimated to be as old as about 1,000 years. This tree is worth seeing. It is said that the boughs of the tree provided a good shade for brewery buildings in olden days keeping the building cool.

At the end of the study tour, we of course had sake sampling time happily. We tasted Tokubetu Honjozo Maboroshi-no-sake Kasen, Junmai Ginjo Namachozoshu, and a sample version of Junmai Ginjo Tamura. I specially liked Maboroshi-no-sake Kasen, which has richness and is modest in pomposity. According to Mr. Hirahara, a real sake lover tends to finally become to prefer honjoso type sake to ginjo type sake.

When we were walking inside the brewery, we saw the toji master brewer and other brewery workers working busily. As autumn gets far advanced toward winter now, new fermenting mash will be prepared one after another and they will get busier. I thank Mr. Hirahara for sparing time for us in this busy time.

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