Saturday, December 20, 2008

11/5/08: Day 6 in Japan Part II - Water and Rice of Také No Tsuyu

This entry will focus on the water and rice of Také No Tsuyu Brewery.



What do carp in a pond has to do with the water? Actually, a lot. Také No Tsuyu has been using city water sourced from Mt. Gassan, which was ideal for brewing sakés.

Unfortunately, the city changed source of water to the detriment of the brewery about 7 years ago. Right around this time, an developer was digging a deep well in the adjoinig property to find onsen hot spring to open up a spa.

Tapping well water can be risky. Depending on the water pressure, the water could slowly reach the surface, or aggressively gush out like a geyser. In this case, the latter took place. Unfortunately for Aisawa-san, he quickly found out that carp were not as fond of the concept of hot spring as us.

Rather than seeking compensation for the now extinct fleet of carp, Aisawa-san asked for the soil data from excavation.




When the water runs through the ground, the different sediment layers behave like a filter. Therefore, understanding how these sediments are layered can help predict the quality of the water. Aisawa-san prefers to use soft water, and he eyed depth of 300m (984').

The photograph is of this water inside the holding tank. Aisawa-san estimates that the water has been resting inside Mt. Gassan for 5,000 years. The inner wall of the holding tank is white, and the aqua color of the water seems unreal. (Color of the photo has not been altered in any way.)

This refreshing yet soft and delicious water is the basis of Také No Tsuyu sakés since 2002.





Také No Tsuyu uses local rice for their sakés. They include, among others, Dewa No Yuki, Miyamanishiki, Kairyo Shinko, Kyo No Hana, Yamadanishiki harvested in Tsuruoka, Dewasansan, and Kamé No O. Aisawa-san studies the protein content of the rice every year, and determine appropriate polishing ratio for each rice. Lack of adequate milling means poor water absorption, making it difficult for koji mold to access protein. On the other hand, polishing too much results in extremely mushy conditions. If rice distintegrates to a point it coats other bits of rice, then koji mold will feast on the outer coat and not reach the protein.

Before polishing, there is a process to unify size. This process is handled by a machine called grader, which acts like a coarse mesh filter. Due to fine harvest, Aisawa-san is using Dewasansan rice that is at least 2.10mm instead of the usual 2.00 mm.

From this point on, I'll explain the late night work. The timing of my visit coincided with cultivation of koji for daiginjo. This is the daiginjo koji resting.

Every one hour and half, brewers mix the koji rice to balance out the temperature and moisture. The box is tapped twice on the left, right, top, then bottom before the rice is spread out evenly. According to Aisawa-san, the one-and-half hour shift coincides with the human sleep cycle. Each shift lasts 2 weeks.

I gave this a try, but it was more difficult than it seemed. Aisawa-san's advice was to imagine "Karesansui," which is a formation of the Zen rock garden.


Does this remind you of the rock garden?

At Také No Tsuyu, saké is brewed in a clean environment by brewers dedicated to their craft. In a way, I got to witness the old Japanese spirit in the form of their careful craftmanship and determination. As a Japanese, nothing makes me more proud than to see the old Japanese spirit and tradition kept alive by these craftsmen.

Anytime I enjoy Také No Tsuyu sakés, I can fully appreciate the water, rice, and people (Japanese spirit) of Yamagata. What more can I ask?



Sunday, December 14, 2008

11/5/08: Day 6 in Japan Part I - Visiting Také No Tsuyu Brewery

After a nice morning dip in the onsen hot spring, I was on my way to Akita Station to board Shinkansen. On my agenda today is visiting Také No Tsuyu Brewery, located in Haguro Village in the city of Tsuruoka in Yamagata Prefecture. Welcoming me at Tsuruoka Station was Aisawa-san.


First thing we did after arriving at the brewery was to go out for lunch. Aisawa-san chose a local restaurant located amidst rice paddies, known for their hand-made soba. "Yama No Sobaya" specializes in thick and coarse "inaka-style" soba. We ordered the hot version, with its generous topping of roast pork and fried tofu. The combination of flavorful soup and firm texture of the soba was simply out of this world.

Mr. and Mrs. Aisawa in front of the entrance to the brewery.

My first impression about Také No Tsuyu is extremely clean. That is not to say that other breweries are filthy, but at Také No Tsuyu, nothing seemed out of place.

The first place Aisawa-san showed me was the tank where they keep well water. (The next entry will be dedicated to the water and rice of Také No Tsuyu.) Needless to say, Aisawa-san takes great pride in his water.

This machine steams then cools the rice.

Tank for the yeast starter. The aroma is quite something.

Nestled in the back of the brewery are fermentation tanks.

Right outside this room is a bamboo forest that inspired the name of the brewery (loosely translated as, "Bamboo Dew.") The shade offered by bamboo forest and cool draft descending Mt. Gassan provide ideal environment for aging and storing saké, even over the summer.

This machine manages cultivation of koji mold. Their data management is very meticulous.

Daiginjo-grade koji mold is manually managed by brewers in koji room in the 2nd floor.

After the tour, I went to onsen hot spring, then Aisawa-san took us for sushi dinner. Také No Tsuyu sakés went exceptionally well with the finely prepared sashimi by the sushi master of Happo Sushi. As we came straight from the hot springs, we don't have pictures for obvious reasons. After returning to brewery, we prepared for some evening work. Of course, preparation involved indulging in Hakuro Suishu sakés...