Fukushima, Aizu Wakamatsu – Brewer: Yoshimasa Sakai – Founded 1794
Tsurunoe Brewery (brand name: Aizu Chujo) was established in the city of Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima prefecture in 1794. The brewery was named after the famous Tsurugajo Castle and Inawashiro Lake, both of which are honored symbols of the area. The brand name Aizu Chujo was established in 1977, and named after the Lieutenant General Masayuki Hoshina, the first clan leader that defended the area.
The city of Aizu Wakamatsu has drastic weather patterns, creating distinctive and polar seasonal changes that allow the farmers to grow high quality rice. The requirements of heavy rainfall, cool winters, and hot, humid summers marked by large temperature swings from day to night are all present in the area. In winter, persistent snowfall cleans the atmosphere, and provides the cool climate for natural temperature control—an ideal sake brewing environment. In addition to having clean well-water as a source, they are able to utilize the great quality rice grown locally, including the Hattannishiki used for their Daiginjo and Junmai Daiginjo bottlings.
Tsurunoe is a very traditional sakagura, and visiting is like a trip back in time. There are no modern machines used in the brewery—instead, you’ll find large metal pots for steaming rice, ropes and pulleys to transport ingredients and sake in various stages of fermentation throughout the brewery, wooden platforms for accessing tanks, and wheelbarrows for movement of larger items. All brewing processes are done by hand in small batches—imbuing lots of care (and labor!) into each sake. The Toji (or brewmaster), believes that doing everything by hand allows a
positive spirit to be present in the resulting sake. The style of sakes produced are at once pretty and delicate, while also being rich in flavor, with a long and lingering impression on the palate that beautifully fades away.
As old-school as the methods in the brewery are, there is one thing that is distinctive and modern in the brewery: the presence of female kurabito (those that work in the brewery). Yuri Hayashi continues her family’s brewing traditions as the Toji, while her husband, Yoshimasa Mukai, is the General Manager. The pair met in college and eventually ended up working at her family’s brewery together. As they tell it, they realized they were always fighting—so naturally, decided to get married. Yuri and her mother, Keiko, are also making and bottling sake under her own ‘Yuri’ label—a truly progressive step, and one the family is proud of.