In early summer, the off-season for sake brewing, breweries carry out shipping work such as bottling, as well as maintenance of machinery, cleaning of tools and general cleaning of the brewery. When I visit a brewery for interviews, I see the brewery workers themselves repairing tools, painting tanks and so on, which makes me realise that many brewery workers are very dexterous. Many of them like making things, so they seem to enjoy doing it.
During this period, which is not the brewing season, an important event takes place that determines the taste of the following season's sake. This is the 'drinking-out'.
I took two books from the 'Sake' shelf of the Honma Bunko Niigata Food Library, which opened safely on 15 June in Honmachi, Niigata City, thanks to your support, and looked up 'drinking out' again.
The Niigata Monoshiri Book (Niigata Nippo Jigyosha), supervised and edited by the Niigata Sake Master Certificate Association and the Niigata Sake Brewers Association, states that 'by understanding the different maturing conditions in each storage tank and blending them appropriately, it is possible to ship with stable quality', and 'drinking out' is performed to achieve this.
...... The process of removing sake from the tank and checking for the degree of maturity, bacterial contamination and abnormalities in flavour is called drinking out. The first drinking-out after fire-quenching is called 'first drinking-out'."
For an explanation of the other book, 'Sake Language Dictionary', click here.
The first thing the general public is concerned about is 'drinking' and 'drinking mouth'. Until I interviewed them, I too wondered "what is it like?" I was also curious about it until I interviewed him. This is what is described in the Sake Language Dictionary as 'the lid called the drinking mouth'.
The stored sake is taken out by attaching a 'drinking cutter' to the 'drinking spout' attached to the bottom of the tank.
Preparation for 'drinking out' is often done the day before, as sake is removed from each tank.
When we previously had the opportunity to cover the 'drinking cut' at the Kinshihaihai Brewery in Gosen City, we were very impressed to be shown the process from the previous day's 'drinking cut'. I was also impressed by the hard work involved in taking out the bottles one by one.
Sake taken from the tanks is individually numbered and labelled, and laid out along with the sake cups.
Colour is an important checkpoint, along with aroma.
Some breweries ask experts, such as a teacher from the Niigata Brewing Research Institute, to evaluate the sake, while others have their own managers, toji and others involved in production. Some breweries hold a feast after the drinking-out ceremony.
The 'drinking out' determines the taste of each drink in the following season.
In July 2015, Asahi Shuzo in Nagaoka City organised a '100 bottles of stored original sake tasting' event, where consumers could experience part of the 'drinking out' event.
The 100 bottles of original wine on display are a sight to behold.
To be able to taste these is a sake lover's dream come true.
The event, which ran until 2019, was cancelled last year due to the Corona disaster and will unfortunately be cancelled again this year.
We strongly hope that the event can be held next year.
This year, sake breweries in the prefecture will be 'drinking out' again, checking the taste of each tank and worrying about what kind of sake these will travel as.
We look forward to the day when we can taste one of the bottles that the brewery has confidently launched after all the hard work.