It's All In The Bottle -- The Shape of Sake
When I was in Japan 4 years ago I was speaking to an owner of a brewery about his bottles. We had a discussion about the color of bottles brown or dark green -- to keep sake from getting exposure to UV light. We also spoke about frosted versus non-frosted bottles -- also to diffract UV light. But what got my attention was when the topic of bottles turned to the shape of the bottle itself. Now we all know what a bottle looks like, at least our perception of a bottle. We know that they are fatter on the bottom and thin on top, presumable for sense of balance as much as for reducing the surface area for oxidation. We know that the tapered top is far more effective for pouring, and requires less material for a cap. But what else?
Sake made its first appearance in glass bottle form in 1878, but it wasn't until 1909 when Gekkeikan, from Fushimi, Kyoto, massed produced and sold sake using their proprietary bottles. Thus launching the sake on the go spirit. No longer did consumers need large ceramic jugs with corks, instead they could transport their sake in sleek bottles. Fast forward to today and see how some breweries import hand-blown bottles from Italy, whilst others use bottles more fit for Grappa. Function versus style right? Well in most cases at least. The bottles sometimes sell the sake, so appearances do have their place. But what else? There's got to be more right?
Let's go back to my conversation in Kobe 4 years ago. After our tour of the brewery was over we ventured into the kura's small little gift room to purchase some product. I picked out several items, and after paying the employee the owner of the brewery came and gave me a bottle of something special. It just looked special. The bottle was hand blown, brown with raised emblems and surfaces. But what caught my eye was the shape of the neck. And when I pointed to the long neck, the owner said that bottle poured with a beautiful sound, and it made him think of his wife. "Cool," I thought!
If you have ever been to one of my tastings you would know that I always try to get people to use all of their senses with sake. Eyes for color, taste etc. But most people forget to listen. Listening to sake is sublime. Firstly the sound of pouring -- other than making my mouth water like a bowl-parked hound -- is the welcoming notes of introduction. It is a way to hear sake greet you, and will set the mood for tasting. Secondly, you can tell the viscosity of a sake by the pour. Don't believe me? Ask my wife. She will pour two different sakes and I will tell which is which with my eyes closed. But back to the bottle. The pouring sound can create an elegance, like listening to a loved one. Or it can create a desire like the makers of Shutendouji's "Vulnerable Virgin," who use the long neck for sound and phallic appeal.
Recently I was speaking to Marcus Pakiser, who is the US sales manager for Momokawa sake out of Japan, about their sakes. During a small tasting of their product line I was really drawn to their Daiginjo for two reasons. One it's extremely tasty, and two it has a round bottle with a long neck. I asked Marcus to shine some light on why the shape was used, and after getting in touch with his "peeps" he sent me the following information about the choice of the bottle and its history. Rather than paraphrase I will just re-print his reply:
|"Beau your insight in our Daiginjo bottle was awesome! I have been using this information in my presentation of the Daiginjo - nice call! Kokichi Murai, the 3rd generation leader of Momokawa (my boss Kyota is the 5th - currently VP and his father Tohru Murai is the 4th generation -- current president) claimed he was the first person to market a Daiginjo to the general public. Until that time Daignijo was made only for competition, but Kokichi thought it was too good not to be shared with everyone.He believed Daiginjo or any sake for that matter must be enjoyed by 5 senses...(sounds like someone else I know). Daiginjo has a distinguished aroma and taste. Visually, he wanted the customer to feel an elegance and beauty from a unique bottle. He also listens to the sound of sake as it is poured from the bottle. This bottle provides an elegant sound as the Daiginjo is poured. So this bottle goes a long way to utilizing all 5 senses. The touch and feel of the bottle to your favorite sake vessel is all part of this special sake experience. Therefore this Momokawa Daiginjo will please all 5 senses and possibly a 6th sense for elegant expectations. Kokichi wanted our customers to truly enjoy Daiginjo - using the best of everything to create this Sake Experience.He put forth his passion for Sake in all aspects of this Daiginjo that still exists today.
As I write this, my mouth is watering......."
Mine too Marcus and thank you for providing us with that info. And yes it is all about the senses. So by all means on your next visit to True Sake check out our bottles with a new eye towards utilizing all of those senses. The pouring is not boring!