Friday, January 11, 2008

Sake Bottles & Cups

The above photos are a set of new Saké cups, Kutani pottery, I received as an Xmas present from a good friend. Kutani pottery extends back to the seventeen century and is charactized by its use of five distinctive colors: green, yello, red, purple and deep blue. There are various styles of Kutani, often specializing in certain of those colors.

Saké Bottles & Cups

A single serving of Saké is traditionally known as "ichigo" or just "go," and is equal to approximately 180 milliliters. This is about the amount of Saké that a masu held, a traditional square box used as a drinking vessel.

A "yongobin" is a Saké bottle holding 720 milliliters, or four "go." Thus, most of the imported Saké you will find in stores will hold 720ml rather than the usual 750ml found in wine bottles. You still will find some Saké though in 750ml bottles.

An "ishoobin" or just "shou" is a 1.8 liter bottle, which holds about 60 ounces as opposed to 48 ounces in a yongobin.

A tokkuri is a ceramic flask used to serve Saké. You most often see them in restaurants used with warmed Saké. You also see them as part of Saké cup sets. They seem rarely used for chilled Saké.

Masu, as mentioned previously, is a traditional wooden drinking cup that was made of sugi, Japanese cedar. It was shaped like a small box and holds about 180ml. Traditionally, a pinch of salt was placed on one corner of the masu as a palate cleanser. There are still restaurants that provide masu for your Saké. Other places may put your glass Saké glass into a masu as a bow to tradition.

Ochoko or choko are small Saké cups, the type of cups that are most common in restaurants. The cups are a bit broader at the top to better allow the odors to waft up. They can come in different shapes, colors and designs. My photos above show ochoko and you can see that they all are different. You can buy Saké with all the same cups, or different ones.

Of course Riedel has designed their own Saké glasses. They make a stemmed Vinum glass for Daiginjo Saké as well as an "O" glass for all types of Saké. Their "O" glass is similar to some of their white wine glass. I am not sure that their "O" glass would really be good for chilled Saké. Without a stem, your hands would soon warm the Saké. This is important especially as the O glass holds far more Saké than the traditional choko.

Why use a glass for your Saké? Why not something more exotic? Well, the Japanese do sometimes go to an exreme.

On occasion, the Japanese use various sea creatures as drinking vessels. The kegani, the hairy crab, may be sliced in half and not cleaned out. Then they pour Saké into the crab halves and drink. You definitely get a fishy flavor then. They might also use a dried squid or cuttlefish, as they are hollow. This is more often used for warmed Saké rather than chilled. The poisonous fugu, the blowfish, may also become a drinking vessel. Well, really only the fin, which is not poisonous, may be used as a cup. Saké may also be given to live abalone though it won't be used as a cup. Instead, the abalone actually drinks the sake, gets drunk, and then the Japanese will eat its meat which has a flavor of Saké.

I have never tried any of those seafood options, though I have had a fugu fin in a glass of Saké. It was nothing impressive, just something different.


Gabriella Opaz said...

I love these posts on sake Richard. I hope you drop a few in occasionally as they are incredibly informative. Plus, now I know to ask for a blow fish as my serving vessel ;-)

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks very much Gabriella. I have plenty more Sake posts for this month, and will also maintain occasional coverage the rest of the year as well.