Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bottle of White, Bottle of Red

No rest for the wicked-- or for bloggers. After a week of not quite getting enough time to blog the rest of last weekend, I'm at the end of my tether. So the Paul-Theroux wannabe travel writing will have to take a break for this update, and I'll try to tell a story in pictures.

Dateline, last Sunday, place Katagami, a town north of Akita on the nearby expressway, home to Kodama Brewing, a local sake factory-- makers of fine Japanese spirits, miso, and other related fermented goods.
Not exactly the traditional Japanese breakfast: We began the day with breakfast at a newly-opened 'patisserie'-- actually more like a light-fare restaurant with fantastic dessert.  Highlights on the table here included that mini gruyere mac n' cheese on the right, the salads on the top, the pickled fruits and veg next to the rice-balls, and especially the miso soup (see previous picture)-- made with Kodama Brewing's miso, which literally brought tears to my eyes. An auspicious sign.

They saved the best for last-- <イチゴケーキ>、'strawberry cake', an elaborated angel-food/short-cake hybrid that I think, if not unique to Japan, has at least become embedded in the culture as one of the great Archetypal Fancy Cakes around here. In literally every Japanese movie or TV show I've ever seen, if cake (especially birthday) is mentioned, it will be strawberry cake without fail. By the way, it was absurdly delicious. I didn't realize how much I'd been missing real whipped cream.
Here's where we ended up after breakfast: The Kodama family residence (and Ms. Kodama)-- built 1923 in hybrid Japanese-western style by the current owner's twice great-grandfather, the founder of the brewery, and now a National Important Cultural Property. The Kodama family once owned most of the town in their role as area landlords-- as well as the bank, telephone system, post office, and train station. Land reform came only after World War II. The garage blocks sight to the attached fireproof storehouse or kura, also preserved.
The main entry.

Fitting its purpose as a place to impress visitors, the house has a fantastic garden attached.

A few interior shots of the house-- here, the main hall.
One of several rooms intended for entertaining guests.

The dining room seats enough people for a good-sized banquet.

The house possesses a protected accessway to its own fireproof storage building, or kura. Note the immense safe-like door.

Inside the kura. A separate storehouse on the same property still stores grain for the brewery.
We walked back to the factory complex, a series of low buildings near the Kodama mansion. Since brewing season only runs from October to April, production wasn't going on-- but we did get a look at the storage tanks for the sake.

Here are the actual fermentation vats for sake, in the next shed over.
And the final result. This is Kodama's Taiheizan Tenko brand, an award-winning super-premium "Junmai Daiginjō" <純米大吟醸酒> type, and the sake that convinced me that I like sake, after tasting the stuff in the brewery's factory store. It's ice-clear, surprisingly dry yet fruity and tart (almost appley, maybe?), and reminds me faintly of a sharp, bubble-free champagne-- with none of the vile aftertaste that I usually associate with nihonshu. Most expensive bottle of alcohol I've yet purchased in my short drinking career, and totally worth it.  I'm not the only one who thinks this stuff is good, apparently-- in the States, if you can find it, it retails for about 2 1/2  times what I paid.

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