The sake brewing season is drawing to a close. Except for the handful of large breweries that brew year-round in climate controlled factories, most kura will be finishing up their brewing sometime this month. Naturally, there will be ceremonies tied in to significant activities within the kura. One such activity and ceremony is known as koshiki taoshi.
The large vat used to steam the rice in sake brewing is called a koshiki. In traditional breweries, the koshiki is made of wood (cryptomeria, or Japanese Cedar) and sits on top of a large iron pot of water called a kama that tapers a bit at the top. (If you have ever had kama-meshi, rice, vegetables and meat steamed in a small iron single-serving pot, the kama for this is very similar in shape.) Beneath the floor, this kama is heated (long ago by coal, wood or oil) to produce the steam for steaming the rice.
When the final batch of rice for the season has been steamed – usually sometime in April – the koshiki is removed from on top of the kama and knocked over (taoshi) on to its side for a thorough cleaning. This is what “koshiki taoshi” refers to: knocking over the rice-steaing vat. In other words, the last of the year’s rice has finally been steamed.
But more takes place than simply knocking over the vat. It symbolizes the beginning of the end of a long season of brewing, and as such a party is in order. A big announcement is made. The kuramoto (brewery owner) and all of the kurabito (brewery workers) have a celebratory meal. Also, a bit of newly-made sake is offered to the gods in thanks for the blessings of the brewing season.
Note that just because the last batch of rice has been steamed does not mean there is no work left to be done. There are still several tanks fermenting away, and it can be as much as another month before these will be finished and pressed. Completely finishing the final batch of the year is referred to as kaizou. And after kaizou, there is naught to do but clean up and go home for the summer. But the koshiki-taoshi is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.
Today, things have changed a bit. Rare is the wooden koshiki sitting upon the coal-fired kama. Infinitely more common is a stainless steel koshiki with steam pumped in by hoses from a natural gas fired boiler. Often these are equipped in such a way that they can be turned sideways to make it easier to scoop out the rice. Kinda makes knocking them over a bit anticlimactic.
Large brewers sometimes have “renzoku jomaiki” (continuous rice steamers), huge contraptions that steam rice and pump it out onto a conveyor belt on a continuous basis. Some even use rice liquefying machines in place of steamers. Some concessions to modern times must be made, even in this feudally traditional industry. But nonetheless, the significance of steaming the last of the season’s rice is huge, and a ceremony and small party are held to acknowledge the significance of the last steaming of the season.
Also, the breweries that brew year round often shut down in July or so for yearly thorough equipment maintenance. This is the time when such breweries will celebrate their koshiki-taoshi.
After a cold winter of long days of grueling labor, a glimmer of the quiet half of the year to come must certainly be welcomed.
Sake Professional Course – June 1 -3 – Las Vegas, Nevada
The next Sake Professional Course will take place Monday June 1 to Wednesday June 3, at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is, quite simply, the most thorough sake education available today. “No sake stone remains left unturned.” Learn more here .
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