Sunday, March 28, 2010

Saké in Bottles

We take it for granted that Saké now comes in bottles, but that was not always the case. In fact, it is a relatively new matter.

Though some wine had been sold in bottles since Roman times, it did not become the norm until the mid-1800s when mass produced, molded bottles became available. Prior to that time, bottles could vary significantly in size, so a consumer was never sure how much wine they were purchasing. Some regions even made it illegal to sell wine by the bottle because of that issue. Instead, consumers brought their own containers to the wine shop and could then buy a measured amount, pouring it into their own container.

Saké on the other hand did not adopt glass bottling until fairly recently. In fact, it is thought that the first Saké to be bottled was not until around 1878. By 1909, the brewery Gekkeikan would start mass producing Saké in their own proprietary bottles but that was not the norm. Even after 1930, when continuous bottling machines were invented, Japanese breweries still did not openly embrace bottling. As of 1940, only 40% of all Saké was being bottled. It would not be until 1949 that nearly all Saké would finally be bottled.

Instead of glass bottles, Saké was sold in a similar fashion to wine before bottles were mass produced. It was shipped to Saké shops in taru, wooden casks, and customers would go to the shops with their own ceramic containers to get them filled. Often, the Saké in these taru was genshu, undiluted Saké, which the shops were then expected to dilute on their own.

Unfortunately, some less reputable shop owners would significantly dilute their Saké. This watered-down brew was sometimes referred to as kingyo-saké, or "gold fish Saké." It received this name because it was said that there was so much water in the brew that a gold fish could safely live in it.

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