Is there any meaning behind the colour of the sake bottle?

Greetings sake lovers,

There comes a time when in between sips of sake, all sake lovers come to ponder the same question. And that is: why is the sake bottle this colour? .

The same brewery may use a multitude of different coloured bottles to bottle their sake. But is this purely for aesthetic reasons? or would there be another explanation. We decided to ask some of our partner brewers.

How many bottle colour variations are there and which is the most common?

First of all, we picked one of our branches at random and analysed its fridge contents: approx 100 bottles, to find out just which bottle colour was the most common. Here are the results, ranked from most to least common.

Bottle Colour

1st Brown (40 btls)
2nd Green (30 btls)
Joint 3rd Blue (10 btls)
Joint 3rd White (10 btls)
Joint 3rd Other (10 btls)

Lots of green and browns; a few blues and whites as well.

Upon further analysis, we learned that the choice of colours is simply endless: even pink and black bottles exist. It’s worth nothing that the same bottle colour also comes in different shades, but for the purpose of this analysis we counted  them all collectively.

*The results would vary depending on the contents of the ‘daily special’ and ‘manager’s special’ corners.

What’s the meaning behind the colours?

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First of all, why so much brown!?

In among the plethora of different coloured bottles, brown was by far the most common. But why do brewers use this colour so much? Actually, generally speaking, in the past, all 1.8L sake bottles were brown by default. This was to block out sunlight to prevent the flavour of the sake inside from degrading — in effect to act as a sort of sunscreen. When sake comes into contact with sunlight it releases a rather unpleasant stench aptly referred to as the “sunlight-struck smell” or Nikkoshu in Japanese. The next most common colour green is used for pretty much the same reasons. And that’s undoubtedly why we found so many brown and green bottles in our store’s selection.

Is it okay to use white and blue?

Which, by the law of natural selection, leads us to the question of whether any other colour is acceptable. Have no fear! As long as the sake is stored away from direct sunlight, in the fridge, it will be fine. That is to say that because of its colour these sakes cannot be stored any other way. You can limit the effect of sunlight by wrapping the bottle in a thin cloth or sunlight-cutting plastic film. Oh, and if you have neither of those to hand, newspaper works wonders too.

At KURAND SAKE MARKET, we take the upkeep of our products very seriously!

And so, to get the real answer to our question we interviewed a few of our partner breweries.

We decided to focus on the breweries with the most colourful portfolios.

Takara Shuzo – seasonality and simplicity

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Takarayama Brewery is a small brewery that began life in 1885 as regional sake to Iwamuro Onsen,a well-known 300 year old inner parlour in Niigata. In the frozen lands of Echigo, with “harmony among people” as their motto, a team of three including the master cherish every single drop of the brewing process. In a little plot at the back of the brewery the staff grow the variety of sake rice that was developed in Niigata: Echigo Tanrei. From this year, master brewer Watanabe Keita who completed his training in a brewery outside the prefecture joins the team and takes over the reins from 78 year old master Mr. Aoyagi. A new wind is blowing at this brewery.

Q. Are there any specific reasons why you use so many different-coloured bottles?
[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/wakamatsuavatar.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] For some of them yes, to make those products more self-explanatory. For summer sake, we use a blue colour, for nigori sake we use colourless. Sometimes, it’s a product design choice. Having said that, our signature products are normally bottled in brown and green bottles. [/taidan]

So colour is used to emphasise the sake’s traits, interesting! Actually, when you think about it, putting nigori sake in a colourless bottle to make its white colour more vivid makes a lot of sense.

Kanbai Shuzo – a clever use of colour

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Established in 1821, Kanbai Brewery is located almost dead centre of the Kanto plains in Kuki which is a good location for both water and rice. The brand name Kanbai comes from the line in a famous Chinese poem: “the bloom of winter just before spring”. The owner of the brewer has now taken over the role of master brewer as well and focuses all his attention on a small production that it is as attentive as possible and leaves nothing to chance. With the ethos “to provide delicious and fun moments” he strives for sake brewing with personality that attacks the task head on with sincerity.

Q. Are there any specific reasons why you use the different coloured bottles that you do?
[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/suzukiavatar.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] In the past, I expect it was mainly a case of keeping the sunlight out, but these days a better storage environment removes the need for such countermeasures, so it’s now more about the presentation of the sake, about creating an aesthetic that makes the customer want to pick-out your product over others. That in my opinion, takes precedence. That’s certainly the case for my company’s products anyway. [/taidan]

1. Junmai Ginjo Sake Musashi: black
[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/suzukiavatar.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] For this product, a black bottle was chosen to make the label of gold writing on a white background — an image that screams well-balanced premium sake — stand out more, to add an air of elegance and give it a more superior feel. Without the label it wouldn’t work though, because black doesn’t present the same premium feel on its own. In this case the bottle colour and label are intertwined.  [/taidan]

2. Nama Genshu: green / blue
[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/suzukiavatar.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] Each of these unpasteurised types offers up a fresher flavour, so we wanted to convey this using the colour of the bottle. Hence we chose green. For the summer sakes which tend to err more on the dry side, we chose blue. Sometimes the sake’s character influences the decision over colour.  [/taidan]

3. Junmai, Futsushu:brown 
[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/suzukiavatar.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] For the Junmai series, while the equilibrium between bottle and label was also important, we actually chose brown because we wanted to imbue the drinker with a provincial feel; that alcoholic-beverage-made-from-rice sort of look. Furthermore, the local people are used to seeing Futsushu in brown bottles. In the past, green and brown were the only colours available, green being the more expensive of the two.  [/taidan]

4. Koshu (aged sake):White(colourless)
[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/suzukiavatar.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] This sake’s colour is a bit special and we wanted to show if off, so we chose a colourless bottle.      [/taidan]

So there you have it. This brewery put’s a lot of thought into the design process, thinking out how the bottle and label will work together, using different coloured bottles to communicate the personality  of the sake.

Miyoshikiku Shuzo – a focus on blue

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Miyosiku Brewery’s brewing is open minded and does not fit into a conventional mould. The brewery location of Shikoku Awaikeda is situated upstream of the Yoshino River, one of the three biggest in Japan, with Asan’s Yamanami to the North, embracing the Kenzan mountain range to the South, and provides a perfect cold place for brewing. Tokushima Prefecture is where the pinnacle of sake rice Yamada Nishiki is grown. The brewery uses mainly this and other varieties of locally grown sake rice to make each and every bottle by hand. An acidity locks in a fruity aroma and unfolding sweetness. The Miyosikiku World Trinity continue to breed new sake fans.

Q. Is there a reason why you always use blue bottles?

[taidan img=”http://kurand.jp/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/mamiyaavatar.png” alt=”なとみ様” width=”300″ height=”300″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13704″] 10 years ago when we first launched this brand of Miyoshikiku, we received quite a lot of complaints from people preferring the so-called drier sakes that this sake with its acidity and sweetness was too unconventional. Our sake was a bit ahead of the times you see. Wondering whether it might not be better suited to those people who knew little about sake, who weren’t so interested in it, we tried blue bottles.

As predicted, the complaints almost all but stopped and we’ve been using blue ever since.

[/taidan]

Wow, so that’s how it all started. They continue to realise their motto: “to brew contemporary sake” and have a big fan base that includes female drinkers and beginners etc. The fact that they didn’t bow to those complaints and just make ordinary sake is quite admirable.

Conclusion

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In conclusion, some brewers employ a particular focus behind choice of bottle colour; whereas for others it’s more a question of fate. Before asking the brewers, the best scenario we could come up with was the one where a brewer uses blue bottles to convey a refreshing summer image. We never imagined there would be so many other different reasons: “to make sake more accessible for the unseasoned drinker”; “to show off its unique traits”; “to communicate the design and flavours of it”.

More than anything else,  it’s clear that a lot of thought and effort goes into this one decision — to deliver a satisfactory product to the customer.

Why not come and ponder the question in more detail over an Ochoko or two of sake at KURAND.