Sake Brewing Tanks – What are they made of?

 

Old brewing tank from Showa 33 (1958)

Sake is no longer brewed in wooden tanks. In fact, they began to be phased out about 70 years ago and have pretty much been non-existent since just after the war. They were replaced by what is almost exclusively used today, ceramic-lined stainless steel, or sometimes, bare stainless steel.

Why were they phased out? A number of reasons. One, for the most part, brewers do not want to impart the woodiness into their sake (taru-zake is one exception). The line between character and idiosyncrasy is not just crossed, it is shattered with woody sake.

 Next, the wood absorbs some of the sake during fermentation, so yields are a bit reduced – so much so that in days of olde brewers were given a break on taxes for sake absorbed by the wood. And the grain of the wood is very hard to clean thoroughly, and provides a hotbed for bacteria. With the ceramic lined tanks, brewers can just hose’em off when done.

Interestingly, long ago, when wood was used, they did not at that time either want to make their sake overly woody. So when a tank was made by the coopers that were such an indispensible part of the brewing team, it was not used to make sake right away. Rather, it sat around for a few years to air out, and/or was used to store water or rice. It did not earn the right to have anything ferment in it until the woody essences had slowly evaporated.

As always in the sake world, there are exceptions. There are a handful of brewers that do make sake in wooden tanks. But really, it is maybe 30 out of 1300, and they make perhaps one to three batches a year in wood. It is by no means a trend or movement, just an anomaly.

Which is not to diss the sake that comes from those tanks! It can be quite interesting, and perceptibly different. Surely just a bit of wood gets imparted, but often the flavors end up quite integrated and fine-grained.

Sake brewed in wooden tanks, what little of it there exists, is called ki-oke jikomi. While not very common, if you come across the term, now you know.

Everything you wanted to know about Yeast Number 9

Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the discovery of perhaps the most important sake-brewing yeast strain of all, the Kumamoto yeast, also known as Yeast Number Nine.

While the yeast itself, its qualities, and its various aliases are worth knowing about, the history and culture surrounding all this is interesting as well. It all took place down south in Kumamoto Prefecture, thanks to the efforts of a man named Professor Kin’ichi Nojiro.

Back in the Edo period, when samurai clans still ruled the various provinces, before the Meiji Restoration in 1868 when power was returned to the Emperor and modern government was installed, there was no sake as we know it in Kumamoto. Instead, the ruling clan had dictated that a red type of sake, known as “akazake,” was the only type of sake to be brewed. It was likely an economical decision, an effort to make Kumamoto the capital of this curious brew. (The color comes from an ash put in the sake to preserve it. It is still available today; it all comes from Kumamoto and is used only in cooking.)

While that worked for a while, it put Kumamoto a bit behind the rest of the country in real sake brewing technology. In order to address this, Kumamoto Prefecture put a lot of research effort into brewing good sake, forming a company that functioned as a brewery and research center. It is still around today, and the wonderful sake brewed there is called Koro. One of the main forces in the research center devoted to that effort was Professor Nojiro.

Among other advances in brewing techniques, he discovered a yeast strain in 1953 that soon propelled Kumamoto sake to the top of the sake-brewing world. Initially, it was known as the Kumamoto Kobo (yeast). Soon, a very similar yeast was isolated, and thereafter the two came to be known as KA-1 and KA-4.

Eventually, an organization called the Nihon Jozo Kyoukai, or Brewing Society of Japan, began to propagate and sell this yeast to brewers around the country. Henceforth, when supplied by this organization, it came to be known as Association Yeast Number Nine.

So, to clarify, for those that are interested, if the label says Yeast #9, it came from The Brewing Society of Japan, who got it a few months before that from the company that makes Koro in Kumamoto. If it says KA-1 or KA-4, you know that brewer has a connection and was able to snag some directly from Koro, without going through any other organization.

It is very difficult to keep yeast strains like this pure over the generations and generations of reproduction required to use them in large quantities year after year. Those doing that work must test carefully to be sure that the qualities of the yeast do not change. The folks at the Kumamoto research center work hard to create consistent KA-1 and KA-4 each year, and the Japan Brewers’ Association gets fresh stuff from Kumamoto each year, ensuring their strains are pure as well.

This family of yeast is very suited to making aromatic yet clean ginjo-shu. And today, more of that kind of fine sake is being produced then ever before. This leads to great demand for the #9 strains. So what some prefectures do (most notably Yamagata, but other places as well) to make it more accessible is to buy some Kumamoto Kobo from the source, then propagate it at home, and distribute it amongst those that want it in that prefecture. This is significant only because amongst Yamagata sake, one can find a yeast called Yamagata KA, which is Yamagata home-grown Kumamoto Kobo.

So at the end of the day, KA-1 and KA-4, Kumamoto Kobo, #9, and Yamagata KA are more or less the same yeast. Consider it “family number nine” or maybe “Kumamoto lineage.” Naturally, there are those who insist the original pure strains from Kumamoto are better. But what is important to remember is that this line of yeasts is the most widely used yeast in ginjo sake brewing, and has stood the test of 50 years’ time without being dethroned, and without significantly mutating. 

So what is so special about it? In brewing, it ferments thoroughly and slowly at low temperatures, allowing brewers to control the fermentation closely. This all leads to wonderfully smooth and fine-grained flavors, good aromatic acid content, and lovely fruity aromas reminiscent of delicious apples and perhaps melon. Clean and bright sake with wonderful balance is the trademark of this line of yeasts. Indeed, there is nothing quite like classic #9 flavors and aromas in a sake.

Indeed, these days especially, there are many other great yeasts. Whether or not they will still be great in 50 years is yet to be seen. And it is certainly possible to enjoy your sake without giving a hoot about the yeast used. But often, the more one tastes, the more one wants to know why certain sake have the aromas and flavors they do, to know what makes a sake the way it is. Should your interest get to that level, remember ole’ Number Nine.

The company that makes Koro is still alive and well, and ownership of it is shared amongst all the other brewers in Kumamoto. The president-ship rotates amongst the presidents of the other Kumamoto brewery owners.

Koro is truly a lovely sake in all of its manifestations. Then name itself means “fragrant

Koro Junmai Ginjo

dew.”  I like to refer to it as the Pilsener Urquell of sake. It really is the quintessential manifestation of ole Number Nine. Melon, a light spritzy acidity, and incredible balance from beginning to end. Just ever so slightly restrained and understated, it is a tad different from the aromas of much modern ginjo sake. It is very limited in its availability in the US. And that is just the junmai ginjo. They make a daiginjo as well that is hard to get anywhere.

Warm Sake in the Waning Summer: Junmai Kan

Odd as it might sound, I am sure that the best way to get over the heat of the summer is a night of warm sake. While I might not have thought this just a scant few days ago, a call from Sato-san, brewer of Koikawa in Yamagata, convinced me otherwise.  All it took was one look at the list of who is attending.

On Sunday, August 26 from 5pm to 7pm at the Rihga Royal Hotel in Takadanobaba (say that after three glasses of warm sake!), this year’s Junmai Kan Natsu-no-en event will take place. The cost is a mere 9500 yen for a buffet of “Wa Yo,” i.e. western and Japanese food.

Much more significantly, there are 24 outrageously great brewers there, all making junmai sake suited to warming. While I am neither a junmai fanatic nor a warm sake fanatic, I do enjoy both, and will surely *enjoy* Sunday.

So, like, who are the brewers about which I am excited that will be present? Try these on for size:

Tabito (Akita), Wataya (Miyagi), Hiwada (Miyagi), Koikawa (Yamagata), Sato no Homare (!) (?) (Ibaragi), Tsukinoi (Ibaraki), the venerable Shinkame (!!!) (Saitama), Hourai (Kanagawa), Ryu (Kanagawa), Kikuyoi (!!!!) (Shizuoka), Tenyurin (Mie), Akishika (Osaka), Suwaizumi (!!!) (Tottori), Asahi Juji (Shimane), Asahigiku (!!!!) (Fukuoka) Chochin (Aichi)
…and more.

Sign up and reserve online here:
http://www.rihga.co.jp/tokyo/event/detail/sake.html

Will warm sake really make me feel cooler in the summer heat? The first answer is, I don’t know. And the second answer is, I don’t care. I love warm sake, the older I get (!!!) the more I like it, and this is a collection of some of the finest, not to be missed.

Hope to see you there!

 

Non-Junmai is Sake Too! Justification From On High

A while back, I participated in an event in Osaka in which I was 
 
privileged enough to be a part of a panel discussion with perhaps the most famous toji (master brewer) in existence. Actually, from just last year he took on the title “honorary toji,” and in his place at that particular brewery is another gent that is the de facto toji. Those are some big-ass shoes to fill!
 
The famous toji in question is one Mr. Naohiko Noguchi. Most of his career was spent brewing a sake called Kikuhime, but in his later years he “retired” and then came out of “retirement” a few hours later down the road making a sake called Jokigen. Both of these kura are in Ishikawa Prefecture, from whence Mr. Noguchi hails. This is, of course, also where the guild of toji to which Noguchi-san is affiliated, the Noto Toji guild, is centered. He has been referred to as one of the “Noto Toji no Shiten-oh,” or one of the “Four guardians of heaven of the Noto Toji guild.”

He is known as much for his sharp mind as he is for his brewing skill, and indeed, on that day he was as sharp as anybody in the room, if not sharper than all. And as we had lunch with a couple other folks before the event began, he wasted no time in asking me about sake overseas, and how it was received. He bore down on me with intense, hazel eyes tempered only by a genuine and warm smile.

“How do people overseas feel about junmai versus added-alcohol sake?” he asked. One could sense he had a well-formed opinion just waiting to be expressed.

“Well,” I began as politely as I could, “not much aru-ten gets over there. Most of it is junmai.” Aru-ten is verbal shorthand for added alcohol sake, i.e. anything not of one of the junmai varieties.

“However,” I continued, I do not think there are very strong opinions either way, yet.”

At which point he let fly with that well-formed opinion, albeit from a purely technical standpoint.

“They both have their place, you know. Sure, even I drink mostly junmai,but ya can’t go dismissing anything not junmai just for silly reasons like purity. It’s just another method, adding alcohol is, and it leads to a different kind of sake. Which of the two is better depends on what you are trying to make, and when you plan to drink it.”

I would have asked him to continue if given the chance. Warm smile intact, he spared me the trouble and just kept talking.

“If you are going to drink it relatively soon, sure, junmai is by and large a better way to make it. But if you want to lay it down to let the flavors consolidate, you are better off making it with a bit of added alcohol. And if you expect it to sit on a shelf for a while, same deal. Junmai, ya know, it gets a bit darui (heavy, sloppy, slow) when it matures.”

While I have of course experienced that non-junmai stands up to time in the bottle better than junmai, somehow hearing it from this uber toji made it so much more valid in my mind. And it was the first time I heard a brewer himself explaining that just when he expected a sake to be drunk would affect his decision on whether or not to add alcohol. Fascinating! With card-carrying members of the junmai jihad seemingly on the increase, having a master brewer of Noguchi-san’s stature acknowledge the fact that aru-ten too is proper sake was both reassuring and satisfying.  (Dare I say vindicating?)

As more and more sake becomes available in many countries around the world, I encourage you to seek and find your preferences. And in so doing, at least consider the idea that all brewing methods have their reasons and legitimacy. Drink the sake, not the label. This is especially applicable to aru-ten and junmai styles.

Sake Swag

I am not a big collector of souvenirs, autographs or the like. But 
 
aftermeeting Noguchi-san, I later sent him a simple postcard acknowledging what an honor it had been to hang out with him for a day. I expected no response, but a scant few days later I did receive a postcard in return, in beautiful if barely readable cursive characters.

 Now this is cool, I thought. This is not something one comes upon every day! I keep it in a special file-cabinet folder called “Sake Swag,” that I admit I  created just for this postcard. (So far, it’s the only thing in there.) The balance of his calligraphy belies the balance of his sake, I thought.

The Changing of the Sake Guard – Sake’s Younger Generation Making Their Presence Felt

Last month, I gave a presentation in Boston and then Chicago on trends and changes of late in teh sake world. In preparing and delivering that presentation, I realized and was otherwise told a few things about the state of the industry that are very worth observing.

Over the past decade or so, a very clear changing of the guard has taken
place, in that the past generation of brewers has handed the baton off to the next generation, seemingly en masse. It really does seem to me that everywhere in the industry, 60-year olds have just handed the operations of the company to their 30 to 40 year old sons (or daughters, in some cases).

Of course, 1300 companies could not be in generational sync like that. But it sure seems to me that a whole lot of them are. When I first got involved in the industry about 18 years ago, I was by far the youngest of any group I ran with. Now, I am almost without exception the oldest. ‘Course, I put on 18 years during these past 18 years, so that has to be factored in too! But still, the sweeping and clear-cut change in generation seems very apparent to me. 
 
And as I took the time to look around and think about it, I realized that the generation of kuramoto (brewery owners) currently in charge lives, brews and sells in a totally different world than their fathers. The market is different. The economy is different. The brewing landscape too, is different. What worked before, just a scant couple of decades previous, will not work now.

I recall a few years ago visiting one of the largest ten brewers in the country. The president told me that back in the day, like the mid-70’s to mid-80’s, the phone would ring in the office.

“Don’t answer it,” said someone across the room. “It’s probably an order; we can’t fill it anyways.” In other words, sake was flying off the shelves faster than they could make it. Those were the days. But alas, they are long gone, ne’er to return.

And as such, philosophies, ways of doing business, and sensibilities all have changed for the better. How has this manifested itself? Partly in design. Labels are flashier, sexier, more attractive and infinitely more informative than in the past, methinks. (This does not necessarily mean they are easier to decipher to those that do not know much about sake, but one step at a time!)

Marketing methods and sales channels have expanded as well. Many brewers bypass the middleman these days, much more than in the past. Direct sales to consumers too, via mailers and the internet, are far more common as well. And brewers are much more visible at tastings, gathered in groups of one demographic or another – region, age group, philosophy and hair color are just a few groupings we see.

And finally, the sake itself has been changing. Perhaps not that much in terms of how they drink, but what the average brewer offers has expanded significantly, it seems. Many brewers experiment with more varieties of rice, various degrees of milling, myriad yeast types, and subtly different brewing methods, tweaked a bit here and there, than what we would have seen from their predecessors. It’s all very interesting, actually.

Everything from milling rates to new machines, from myriad permutations of variations on pasteurization to new rice types and combinations of the same – it is all enjoyably difficult to keep up with!

Undoubtedly, the younger generation now is technically more adept then the previous one. There is just so much more information readily available for those that want to learn. And many more owner-inherits are embracing brewing technology and know-how rather than just sales. And this gets them much more involved, leading to more variation.

One brewer yanked me aside after one presentation, and augmented the information I had just presented. He was, actually, one of the “hold-outs,” i.e. one of the older generation that had not handed off the reins yet. And he explained a nuance I had not considered before.

“Just 20 or 30 years ago,” he began,” we kuramoto had little say in what came out of our kura. Sure, we could decide how many tanks and for the most part what grades. But the selection of rice, yeast, and methods therein were pretty much left up to the toji. In some cases, it was entirely left up to the toji.

“And what we got at the end of the season was what we got. We just had to go and sell it.” He almost seemed envious of what the current young’ns could do.

“Now, these guys can get in there, get their hands dirty, and even if they are leaving it up to the toji, they can have their say. They can dictate what rice is used, what yeasts are used, and what tricks-of-the-trade are used.” Very often, these “tricks” recommendations from friends and classmates at other breweries. It’s technology exchange in a modern format.

 While this may not seem like a big deal, in the sake world, little things make big differences.

 As a couple of concrete examples, I was told by one brewer in Shimane that they had never used a great rice called Omachi because it did not suit the way that the koji mold is propagated on rice by the local guild of toji. “Omachi does not like the heavier, slightly wetter koji that the Izumo guild uses.” So until this guy came along and took over, no Omachi. And no questions about it. Do not question the toji. Do not pass go; do not collect 200 yen.

 But the young buck, just back from brewing school, knew how it could be done. And he made it happen, so now we have a wonderful Omachi sake from Rihaku.

Another example from up north was a young brewer that wanted to make a sake with no added yeast; in other words, just let it drop in from the ambient environment. Where did he get this cockamamie idea? One of his buddies in another part of the country has been making sake that way for decades. 

 “Please,” began his journeyman toji, “don’t ask me to do that!” But ask he did. And it ended up not only fine, but very interesting, and also gained a fantastic sales point along the way. Yet another fresh idea that never would have happened just a generation ago.

 As such, we have a ton of very interesting new facets of sake to pay attention to and learn about these days, thanks in large part to a changing of the guard. Be sure to engage any brewer you might encounter on the sake trail along which you tread. You’re sure to be enlightened at least a bit.

 

Hasegawa Saketen “Sake Competition” results: Surprisingly Not Surprising

This past Sunday, the well-known sake uber distributor Hasagawa Saketen held their yearly “Kuramoto wo Kakomu-kai,” or “Hanging out with Sake Brewers” evening. Loose translations notwithstanding, it is a party that follows a tasting contest.

Hasegawa-san is a distributor with perhaps a half-dozen retail shops selling an outstanding lineup of sake in the Tokyo area. Their stores are all in very well-trodden places: Tokyo Station, Omotesando, Roppongi, Palace Hotel, Tokyo Sky Tree – basically places with foot traffic that makes Times Square look like the Death Valley in terms of numbers of visitors. Every year, they have a tasting competition judged by a conglomeration of brewery owners, master brewers, industry professionals and (occasionally) dorks like me. In the past years in which I have participated, we would taste from like 8am to 2pm, then be expected to show up in the several-hundred-in-attendance party from six. The second half of that day is, to say the least, overwhelming.

After tasting so many sake, spitting of course, but absorbing through the tongue and aromas, I am way too hammered to think about setting foot in a party.

I have judged before in the one-day event, but this time only judged in the finals – along Sake Competition 2012with 200 sake brewers. Which is what makes this event so cool, in my opinion. (More about that later.) The prelims were held the day before, when the poor bastards that were judges on that day cut 790 sake down to the 420 we had to taste.

So, we had to taste and score 420 sake in one day. Nay, belay that: in four friggin’ hours. That’s why I was too hammered to think about setting foot in a party, or drinking more sake. But I digress.

To me, it was an outstanding tasting with cool results. There were 200 judges. All gave a 1 to a 5 – that is it. All were experienced. They make the stuff, for gad’s sake. It was totally blind: we had no idea what anything was that we were tasting. It was all done in white kikichoko and separated only by grade.

The group of judges was great, I think. Sure, international panels are great for getting sake to be more appreciated overseas. And pro judges are great for finding flaws. But a large group of mostly younger folks that make it and sell it to me is a great statement of reality about what is good these days.
So, I have taken a long time to get to the point here, but the results of this tasting were totally shocking. Why? Because the winners were sake that are massively popular these days. Maybe this is an indication of how little faith I have in the average consumer. But too often things sell on name alone. Consumers order a handful of brands cuz they have heard, over and over, that they are good. And those of us that like to think we are not slaves to marketing tend to flee from those brands at high speed, hoping to be immune from hype.

But all too often we forget that there is a reason famous brands are famous. There is a reason everyone loves the same few brands. They’re good. And those of us that avoid them because they are simply what everyone else professes to like, well, we may lose out…

And that is what blind tasting solves.

In any event, the winners of the four categories (junmai-shu, junmai ginjo, junmai daiginjo and yamahai/kimoto) were surprisingly unsurprising. They are all hyper famous, very well selling brands. And remember: the tasting was blind, and by 200 of their peers, i.e. dudes and dude-esses that make the stuff. You’d think these folks if anyone would have their own opinions about what is good and not side with the masses. And you’d be right: they do, and they don’t. Which is why to me, what is surprising about them is that it’s no surprise. The very famous brands of late are very famous because anyone – first time consumers and brewing world colleagues alike – think it tastes damn good.

Note this is NOT a license for you to not bother to develop your own tastes but just drink what is famous. No! Do develop your own preferences, for sure. And do so with confidence. But at the same time, do not flee from famous brands just cuz everyone else likes them!
A short list of the winners is below. In truth, they could not have been scripted better. I mean, look at it. Best junmai daiginjo? Juyondai. Best junmai ginjo? Isojiman. Best junmai? Hiroki.

However, the one thing I am not sure of is how many sake outside of the Hasegawa lineup were involved. Had I been there in the evening, I would know, but I could not hold out that long. Still, while it might have been heavy toward that distributor’s lineup, there were 790 the first day and 420 the second. So regardless, the winners have showed there mettle for sure.

The results can be seen (in Japanese) here: http://www.hasegawasaketen.com/news/

With no further ado:

Junmai Daiginjgo
1. Juyondai “Ryugetsu” (Yamagata)
2. Ugonotsuki (Hiroshima)
3. Ho-o Biden (Tochigi)
4. Juyondai (a different junmai daiginjo)
5. Ugonotsuki (a different junmai daiginjo)

Junmai Ginjo
1. Isojiman (Shizuoka)
2. Hiroki (Fukushima)
3. Isojiman (a different junmai ginjo) (Shizuoka)
4. Kyokko (Tochigi)
5. Zaku (Mie)

Junmai-shu
1. Hiroki (Fukushima)
2. Zaku (Mie)
3. Aramasa (Akita)
4. Sharaku (Fukushima)
5. Meikyoshisui (Nagano)

Yamahai / Kimoto
1. Toyo Bijin Yamahai Junmai (Yamaguchi)
2. Yamagata Masamune Junmai Kimoto (Yamagata9
3. Hayaseura Yamahai Junmai (Fukui)
4. Ichinotani Yamahai Tokubetsu Junmai (Fukui)
5. Matsu no Tsukasa Kimoto Junmai (Shiga)

Hatsu-nomikiri: the First Tasting of the Season at any Brewery

The first taste of the previous season’s brew

Glasses like this will be used in hatsunomikiri
Kikizake-joko – Official Tasting Glasses

 

Sake breweries are usually fairly quiet in the summer. Except for the few large breweries where brewing continues all year, most places are dark and quiet and empty, as the brewers themselves have gone home for the summer. Traditionally, the kurabito (brewers) traveled great distances from their rural farmland homes to work at the kura (brewery), although today many places employ local people.

There is one yearly event, however, that livens the whole place up: hatsu-nomikiri. Held sometime between June and September, this is an event in which the condition of each tank of sake brewed the previous season is sampled and checked.

Until about 100 years ago, sake was brewed in cedar tanks with bamboo bindings. Gorgeous though they may be, such tanks are significantly less airtight than the solid stainless steel tanks used today, there was a greater possibility that the sake had “gone south.”

This might mean one of several types of contamination, with the most common being “hi-ochi,” a condition that can arise in unpasteurized sake. Sake suffering the dreaded hi-ochi becomes cloudy and yeasty, with the various flavors going haywire to the extreme.

And, so, each summer, most commonly just after the rainy season, the toji would trek back to the brewery. In front of a small gathering of insiders, the valve at the bottom of a tank would be opened, and a small stream of sake would be guided into a special tasting glass that allowed the fragrance to spread. This would first be offered to the owner of the brewery. After he gave the nod, the toji himself would sniff and assess. They would then proceed to the other tanks one by one, checking the condition of each in the kura.

This is precisely the situation, by the way, in which a traditional tasting cup, a 180 cc white porcelain tumbler with two blue concentric circles on the bottom, would be used. The blue circles on the white background allow one to easily assess the clarity of the sake.

Each tank brewed throughout the season will take on a short life of its own, and the way each matures in the tank over the several-month aging period will be slightly different. Some will seem more well-rounded and balanced, others more brash and immature. The flavor and fragrance will of course be slightly different for each as well.  So one other reason for tasting from each tank is to determine in which order the tanks will be bottled and shipped, with the more mature-tasting tanks going first.

These days, ceramic or glass-lined stainless steel tanks are the norm, so that the worries of the past are not as much of a concern today. Still, the event takes place, with the toji and owner being joined by perhaps a few important sake dealers, and several “kanteikan”(professional tasters) from the prefecture’s sake research center, or similar such organization. These sensei will record their opinions in detail, to be used by the brewery for internal reference only.

Things proceed much in the same way as the old days, with sake being drawn off from a valve at the bottom of the tank. The temperature is recorded, sometimes written in chalk on the ground or tank. The number of the tank is recorded, and the sake brought to another room for a formal tasting in a more official setting.

The results of this exercise will also help determine how the blending of the various tanks will proceed. For example, blending tank #4 with tank #21 may create precisely the type of sake aimed for, based on the tasting notes. Other information, such as whether or not a sake will benefit from pasteurization or extended aging, can also be inferred.

Naturally, things are vastly different from kura to kura. For example, most places have already completed their hatsu-nomikiri by the end of July. Many kura in Akita Prefecture, however, gear up for the event in September. Also, as this is the 塗atsu・(first) nomikiri, traditionally kura would then check the condition of the sake several times after that.

However, this is not something to be done haphazardly. When the tank is opened and sake drawn off like that, there is the risk that this act in itself will allow contaminating bacteria into the tank. It must be performed carefully, with clean implements.

Today, however, there is great diversity in the methods of each brewery. Many places age their sake in bottles, not in tanks. Also, some breweries age their sake a full year or two (usually at low temperatures) before even considering shipping it. Although the condition of such sake will also be assessed from occasionally, the actual hatsu-nomikiri might not take place for a while.

Although the timing and logistics of the hatsu-nomikiri have evolved and are adapted to each brewery’s needs, the event takes place everywhere, with at least a bit of fanfare.