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Sake Things - The Sake Stopper!

True Sake I like opening 1.8L bottles of sake. You know, the really big bottles that put magnums to shame. These monster bottles don't have sake's regular twist off caps. They have their own special and extremely creative "plugs." And for years they were all pretty much the same, but there are more and more versions coming on-line today, and me thinks it has to do with the economics of cost cutting.

The 1.8L top is a nipple-like plug with a metal round surface on the top of the plug. The brewery usually puts its name on the top. Underneath is where the action takes place. The nipple or plug itself is plastic and wedges into the bottleneck to create an airtight seal. The metal rounded surface top is almost like a muffin-top where the edge hangs a little bit over the bottleneck. It is slightly wider than the actual plug. This is where you get the leverage to pop the plug out of the bottle by either wiggling it back and forth or pushing directly up with two-thumb action (my favorite way to open an isshobin 1.8L bottle).

True Sake Now for you readers paying attention or actually reading this you noticed that I said a plastic plug goes into the bottleneck to create the airtight seal. But wait! Haven't I always told you that sake makers hate - simply loath - anything touching their sake? They do! Trust me. And they really don't like plastic! So for decades the bottle top makers have been placing a thin layer of pounded gold leaf over the plastic plug so that the inert gold would be touching the precious sake. Smart heh? I always loved popping the plug and seeing the gold foil. Pretty cool. But isn't gold expensive? Yes indeed it is so the plugs have been changing of late.

I once asked a brewery owner friend how much the plug tops cost per unit. Plastic plug, metal cover that is branded, gold foil, and the removable metal covering that safety seals the top in for guaranteed first use sounds pretty pricey. He put the cost at about 50 cents per top. And now I know why the gold foil plugs are seeing some modern partners of the less pricey varietal.

Today I have seen what appears to pounded silver replacing the gold. And there are a lot of plastic plugs that have a thin coating seal covering the plastic, which presumably is not made of plastic but it's not metal that are now on market. And of course there are just simple plastic plugs that have no coating or seal or metal. I think these guys are the new cheapos!

True Sake Many folks find it hard to pull out or wiggle out the plug and I noticed for the first time a new plug that has an attached plastic pull tab that makes it easier to just yank the plug out. Pretty smart, but not as romantic!

I was once at a sake-centric izakaya in Osaka and was enjoying multiple brews with the owner. He popped an isshobin's plug out and poured the last remains of the bottle into our cups. But instead of putting the plug back into the empty bottle he stood up and tossed it above his head into an overhanging plexiglass box which I had not noticed that filled with 1,000's of 1.8L plugs. Wow! There were so many and I asked him how long it had taken him to fill the bin. "Oh," he said, "This is just this year's collection." No way! Way!! It was amazing, but it also opened my eyes to the fact that you can save the plugs as wine drinkers covet their corks!

True Sake Speaking of corks, the 1.8L plugs are also far more effective than corks found in the wine world as they are not permeable and they do not let oxygen in over the long haul. That said there are some cork plugs in the 720ml category for the sake industry, but these few cork models definitely have a sealant that keeps the cork from touching the sake.

So, if you have never experienced opening an isshobin then perhaps it is time. (For those who do not want to buy a monster bottle, which is actually only 60oz, they can partake in the plug experience by purchasing a sake called Dassai. More information »)

Don't stop 'til you have popped a top!
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