As luck would have it Saura Sake Brewery, located in Shiogama town is only a 20 min drive from the ship’s pier, actually much closer than downtown Sendai itself!
As I climbed down off the gangway, Saura-san was there to meet me on the pier and I was so happy to see him again and of course looking forward to seeing the home of delicious Urakasumi Sake!
The Saura Sake Brewery is nestled in the middle of Shiogama and is a picturesque place. After some tea, Saura-san began the tour of his beautiful brewery.
First, I saw his newly built office building that had an entrance way that was made from a reclaimed section of a temple that would have otherwise been lost. It’s absolutely stunning and I think this demonstrates something I saw time and again at this Kura – Saura-san is someone who, however far away his sake travels in the world, cares deeply about his local community and home town. Beautiful! I think this caring and focus on community come across in the honest and pure flavors of Saura-san’s delicious sake.We started the tour with a few of the room where rice is soaked and steamed. The set up was designed and fabrication directed by the previous Toji (master Brewer) and was an ingenious system.
Next onto the koji room which at Saura Brewery is lined with Japanese Cedar (sugi). The area where the sake yeast starter (moto) is made, introduced me to a new contraption that is plunged into the moto to chill it – it looks like a star shaped ninja sputnik radiator. Very cool, Mr. Moto!
In the brewing room, I was able to see Kurabito (brewery workers) stirring in additions of freshly steamed rice into the big brewing vats. Saura-san also introduced me to the sake pressing area where sake and lees part ways. This brewery had a beautiful old wooden fune and a stunning giant wooden lever as big as a tree that was once used to press the sake by hanging a large stone from the far end.
Saura-san then let me taste 3 of his fantastic sakes that were really stunning. He was kind enough to provide a spittoon, but I declined to make use of it as I wanted to really drink & experience all of them!
- Urakasumi Hiyaoroshi: The Fall Nama hiyaoroshi was plump and delicious with hints of plumy fruits and really delicious.
- Urakasumi Junmai Daiginjo Koshu: Ding, Ding, Ding! We have a winner!! OMG, this sake knocked my socks off. It’s a limited production run of a delicious Junmai Daiginjo that is then aged at a very cold temperature for at least 3 years. The flavors literally danced on my palate – complex, smoooooth, elegant and deep: I’m in love.
- Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo: This sake is the Urakasumi brand flagship and understandably so. It has wonderful structure and balance. Accessible with hints of rice, it’s a wonderful sake for beginners and serious sake sippers alike. It’s hard not to like this brew.
Saura-san then took me to see Shiogama Shrine which is one of the largest in the area and is a big attraction for this area. One way to enter the shrine is up 200 stone steps that lead directly to the main building. Luckily for me, in interest of my need to get back to the ship before sailing time, Saura-san drove us to the shrine.
This shrine is stunning and one of the oldest in northern Japan. It has beautiful views of the city and bay and it even has a special area near the parking lot where you can get your new car blessed! I was lucky enough to see this ceremony in action. I also bought an “omamori” or Shinto amulet (good for one year) from Shiogama which will ward off bad luck and which I will carry with me in my bag until it’s time to get a new one next year!
After such a wonderful afternoon, it was time to say goodbye and Saura-san wisked me by car past the most beautiful Miyagi views on the way back to the ship. My most sincere thanks to Mr. Saura for his wonderful hospitality and for welcoming me to his Brewery.
Samurai on the High Seas
When I was back on the boat and we were sailing for Tokyo, it was time for a special onboard event. I was asked to present sake at a special Japan-themed cocktail party aboard the Mariner. At this pre-dinner event for select guests, I gave a short speech to introduce myself to those I hadn’t met in the seminars, explain a bit about sake and explain my fancy kimono getup!
Daniela is the Mariner’s delightful Head Sommelier. Dedicated, hard working and also a big sake fan, Daniela help tremendously in encouraging the guests to enjoy some super premium sake. I think everyone did! Thank you Daniela!
I had a lot of questions from the guests about my kimono. ( I dressed myself – how’d I do Hiro-sensei?!!) Many people asked me about my “haori himo” or puffy white pompom string closure for the haori coat.
All in all, this was a day was very memorable. Hey, it’s not every day you tour a world class sake brewery then find yourself on a luxury cruise ship, sailing through the night to Tokyo, sipping premium sake, and dressed head to toe in formal men’s kimono… but when you do, how about a picture:
ON TO TOKYO!