|Horan Shuzo K.K.|
One reason is because many sake breweries open their doors to the public around this time. Another reason is because you get to try a lot of young sake which tend to embody the taste of spring; young and fruity. February is the coldest time of year in Japan, and it is also the most exciting time to be here. Why? Seafood and Japanese sake is why. Unlike other blogs, I am not going to list up all the different and more exotic seafoods to try; it would be too time consuming and as a result less informative; I do not expect you to memorize every single dish. I recommend sticking with domestic fatty tuna, slightly at room temperature and good nihonshu.
February is not winter in Japan, it is spring. It feels like winter though, it even snows. The other day I was invited to attend a sake tour by one of my good friends and drinking buddies "Isa." All throughout February and March I am busy making my rounds to as many sake houses as possible. I love trying new sake, especially with a tour bus full of older Japanese folks who love nothing better than to drink good, eat good, and soak in gorgeous hot spas in the pristine mountains of Tohoku. That in my opinion is the only way to enjoy sake, not being at some stuffy little party where people geek out over each others love of nihonshu. Sorry if I stepped on a toe or two. Welcome to my world.
The bus ride up from Tokyo was epic. We had clear views of Mount Fujii from the Tohoku Expressway and all the way up. The salon bus was packed to capacity with beer and sake! For breakfast there was onigiri. There were also dozens of delicious snacks and chips all over the bus table. We drank for two hours from Tokyo to Tochigi non-stop! We drank at the brewery. We drank after the brewery. We drank at lunch. We drank on our way to the hot spa. We drank after the hot spa. We drank all the way back to Tokyo. Amazing good good fun. Bottom line, we were wasted.
The name of the sake house we visited is called Horan Shuzo K.K. A small and relatively old sake brewery. How old the brewery is is not important, only for the geeks it is. What matters is how delicious the sake tastes, smells, and flows. One unique point about this brewer is that they make sake, wine, and liqueurs. And they make them all very well. The reason for visiting this particular brewer, however, is because it's relatively unknown amongst famed sake houses in Tohoku. Yet the sake here is wonderful. I expect to see them really take off someday.
The wine leaves much to be desired, but to each his/her own. Where Horan really nails it is with their liqueurs and one or two really good junmai-ginjos. Look for the gold and white labels, their signature sakes. Also, hot sake was wonderful, well, not hot but nuru-kan which means just tepid, or slightly under hot at around 95 degrees fahrenheit. The two main liqueurs that really impressed all of us were the chestnut and the yoghurt concoctions.
I immediately snapped up two each and have them in my fridge. Everybody on the tour purchased several bottles of sake and liqueurs.
The tour itself was very nice. In the above picture you see these huge machines that are used for milling sake rice. They use Yamada-nishiki rice, a premium sake rice, for brewing their nihonshu. We were also shown around the facilities where they make wine and liqueurs. The picture below you can see seeds from oranges mixed in with tangerine pulp. This liqueur will be used for making their fruity mikan sake. The smell of this stuff was divine.
We were also shown to the daigenjo room and was given a chance to sample cold freshly fermented sake.
Notice the quick action of the human hand as it tries to ready its cup to receive sake. The finished product was excellent.
It was wonderful and then at the end we had a sake tasting and left to have a gorgeous lunch with more sake at a luxury hotel. After finishing up there we headed to the onsen / hot spa for respite. We had to detox our livers and soak our feet from all the walking we did. The hot spa was Eeexcellent! Nasu Yama Onsen has an amazing outdoor hinoki bath with great water.
My final thoughts are this. You must enjoy sake the Japanese way because this is the best way. Any other way, simply doesn't exist. Of course you disagree with me.