February 2008

Ask Beau - "Does the color of the bottle mean anything?"

Posted by admin in 2008, Ask Beau, February, Newsletter

Mark D from the Bay Area writes:

"I do have a question for you. Does the color, of the bottle that the sake is placed in, have any clue for the consumer, as to what temperature, that the sake should be consumed? (Brown for room temp? blue for cold? white for chilled?) Curious minds would like to know."

Beau TimkenCool and intriguing question that could very well become a "reality" in some form or another. The short answer is NO! The long answer is "We don't have the space in this Newsletter Issue." And the just right answer is filled with generalizations that could very well leave me open to some harrumphs and guffaws. The bottom-line is that the bottle color could be seen as an indicator but that is a stretch. Let's start with the easy ones! Clear glass bottles usually mean Nama or fresh sake in some capacity, and as such it is not recommended to heat Nama sake. So ding! This one counts. Clear bottle means drink cold!

Next you mentioned blue bottles. When you see a blue bottle - in general - this represents a little pricier of a bottle to begin with. Blue glass is more expensive than brown or green or clear glass. So that leads one to believe that if a brewer spends money on a fancier bottle then the product will be pretty fancy as well. For example I can count a handful of cobalt blue bottles that are Dai Ginjos, but I cannot think of one Junmai or Honjozo in a fancy cobalt blue bottle. So in theory let's say the fancier the bottle - the bluer the bottle - the more premium the brew. So Ding Ding you win again as one should not usually heat up one's premium Dai Ginjo sake. So blue means drink chilled - in theory!

Then you said brown for room temperature, and I again must say that you are on to something. As I have been told brown glass is the cheapest form of bottle glass. So it is safe to assume that a brewery would place its lower-end premium brews in a less pricey bottle - in theory! Thus one would say the Junmai or Honjozo grade sakes would usually find their ways into brown bottles and yes typically Junmai or perhaps Honjozo sake should or could be served room temperature and warmed in many cases. That said I can name at least 10 over $60 Dai Ginjos in my store that come in Brown bottles. But on the whole Ding Ding Ding I will concede that in general one could say brown bottle means room temperature - in theory.

You didn't ask about green bottles! Typically for me I see a lot of Ginjo grade sakes in green bottles. Is it all those green elements that are found in Ginjo sake? Who knows, but it is a very visual separation from those "lesser" brown bottles. And typically one would say that Ginjo grade sakes should be served chilled. So Ding Ding Ding Ding I too can be - in general - convinced that green bottles should be served chilled.

The bottom-line is that if we look for an absolute you will not find it. (I do know of one example from a brewery called Takara Shuzo from Fushimi that makes a line of brews called Shirakabe Gura that come in white bottles - white plastic film around the bottle - and then use or let's say have different colors on the bottom of the white bottles. The Dai Ginjo offering has a blue band around the bottom and the Yamahai and the Kimoto have red bands and the Kioke has an orange band. Red for heat and orange for room temp and blue for chilled me thinks? - I have always speculated this to be the case!) But let's remember the real reason for the colored glass, and that is to obscure UV light. Brown glass could be the most effective and preserves the lesser grades (which move more in a bottle over time) more than other colored glass. I will say this, the more lightly colored the bottle, the quicker they want you to drink that brew! Maybe this is all bunk and I am wearing my rose-colored glasses - rose-colored in theory!

Please send your sake specific questions to askbeau2 @ truesake.com. (This address is not for general questions and I only review the questions once per month. All other correspondence should use info @ truesake.com.)


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