Pure water, and rice grown using that water, established this remarkable brewing district.
Dozens of sake breweries once stood side-by-side in Oyama, but today there are just four breweries left. Even though a small number, all are located within walking distance, and Oyama still deserves being called one of the best places for sake throughout the country.
The city of Tsuruoka used to be the possession of the Sakai clan. On the other hand, Oyama was the domain of the Tokugawa Shogunate and given preferential treatment with regards to liquor tax. It was one-third less than the normal rate. This was one of the reasons how why Oyama developed as a sake-brewing district. But beyond that, after all, the benefits of the pure water and exceptional rice must be emphasized. As mentioned in the previous reports, Shonai benefits through water: abundant snowfall in the mountains, the snow becoming ground water, river water abundant with minerals once spring comes, and fields becoming filled with this nutrient rich water.
“I sometimes go to breweries nearby and ask for ‘mother water’,” a guy in his twenties from the city of Tsuruoka said. “For example, the brewery which brews high-quality sake, Takenotsuyu, sells a natural aseptic mineral water called, Tennenhadosui. In order to avoid the absorption of resins from the container and any odor, they are particular about the bottle. They use a glass bottle.” Needless to say, not only the water but also the locally produced rice, such as Sasanishiki, Yamadanishiki, and Dewanosato, are expressly used for sake brewing at each brewery. “The sake of Shonai” precisely means, “The Benefits of Shonai.”
In wintertime on the Shonai plain, a phenomenon called “Tawarayuki” (tawara = straw rice bag, yuki = snow) sometimes occurs when fresh snow is lifted up by strong winds and becomes columnar shaped. It rarely happens on sloping land, and is even more rare to occur on flat land, like here. It is quite unusual, even nationwide. People of Shonai appreciate it as a favorable sign of an abundant year. The Shonai winter covers the plain with heavy snow, and the violent winds are battering, so activities are limited. But even under these harsh natural circumstances, people are not limited to just waiting the winter out. Someone plots planting for the next spring, someone else discusses farm management with his fellows, and another restores his energy with sake. Meanwhile, each person spends time in their own way. The spring, when farmers should be preparing rice seeds is just around the corner. Then the snow that was a threat turns into blessed water.