We left Sendai city early in the morning to take a bus to across a mountain range to visit Take no Tsuyu Brewery in Tsuruoka city, Yamagata. Sendai didn't have any accumulation of snow, but the scene began to change as we climbed higher in elevation. As the snow fell harder and harder, the scenery became whiter and whiter, and the limited visibility made us more than a little nervous about being in a bus on a winding mountain road in a blinding snow storm. We saw a snow plow ahead of us trying to clear the highway. Despite the threatening conditions, our driver maintained a deliberate, steady pace, without skidding which bolstered our confidence and made us realize that he'd done this many times before.
Aisawa-san from Take no Tsuyu Brewery had told us in advance where to get off the bus. When our stop was announced, we looked out the window expecting to see the bus stop, but the only structure that we could see was what appeared to be only a small hut that certainly didn't look like a bus stop to us. Despite our doubts, we got off anyway. Was this really a bus stop? Were we supposed to meet Aisawa-san here? How could he come to pick us up in all this snow? We no saw no sign of other cars or for that matter, anyone at all.
Finally after 20 minutes or so, Aisawa san showed up in his 4-wheel drive SUV. We couldn't believe how much snow there was and that he was driving as if it was no big deal.
Barely visible in the tundra-like setting, Take no Tsuyu Brewery sat in a grove of trees situated in the middle of a field. The brewery is a relatively old building, and when we arrived, the kurabito were taking a break after steaming the rice for a tank of Junmai Ginjo. As we were helping with the next steps of the brewing for the day, we were interviewed by three newspaper reporters from a variety of local media. Aisawa-san showed us the proper method for stirring the mix of water, yeast, koji, and rice using a wooden paddle while newspaper men took pictures of us performing various tasks at the brewery.
After lunch, we visited Kamenoi Brewery known for its Kudoki Jozu brand of sake which is also in Tsuruoka. Imai-san, son of the president (and former NYC student/resident) greeted us and showed us around the brewery. Kamenoi Brewery has a newly renovated kura with new thermal tanks and all the latest equipment and technology. Imai-san offered us a variety of freshly brewed sake to taste including some of the still fermenting moromi directly from the tank. It had a very distinctive banana aroma and creamy alcohol taste.
We will always fondly remember our time in snowy Tsuruoka, where we had a wonderful snow country experience!