Tomohiro Tanaka was barely out of elementary school when people started calling him “Mr. Brewery,” a reference to the century-old sake business he was destined to inherit.

“I wasn’t able to become anything else,” Tanaka says. “Now, I’m the seventh generation of my family to run this place. ... Nihonshu (sake) is my life.”

Tanaka runs Kiminoi Shuzo, a revered brewery in the small town of Arai in Niigata Prefecture’s southern reaches. Arai lies at the bottom of a glacial valley, surrounded by rice paddies and, beyond those, mountains. During an average winter, these mountains receive over 20 meters of snow, which melts into the town’s paddies in spring. This snowmelt is crystal clear and nutrient-rich — ideal for making the delicate sake Niigata breweries are known for.