Greetings Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.
Outside of the special designation category, there are a plethora of different styles to discover. One of these is taruzake, sake with the aromas and flavors of wood. Sadly, the taruzake that travels overseas is often bandied about as a cheap novelty item, and yet nothing could be further from the truth. In this article, we lift the lid on taruzake, its meaning, history, its characteristics and how it is made.
What is Taruzake?
Taruzake is sake which has been stored or aged in a wooden barrel or cask called a taru. It does not actually have to be sold in the taru itself—although it can be—as long as it has spent some time in it before bottling.
The traditional unit of measurement of a taru is ‘to’, equal to 18L. There are three main sizes: the smallest, 1-to (‘to’ is the traditional unit of volume) measures about 40cm in diameter and can hold up about 18 liters, the next biggest, 2-to is about 50cm and can hold up to 36 liters; while the largest 4-to, which is the size used for the kagamibiraki ceremony, can measure around 65cm and hold up to 72 litres. 4-to provides an Olympic opening ceremony scale volume of sake, while 1-to will still easily provide enough sake for 60-140 people!
Just How Special is Taruzake
While the liquor laws in Japan do not specify an official definition for taruzake, a minimum period of storage in taru is required so that the flavors and aromas develop enough to be recognized as a product of intentional taru storage and not as a result of accidental contact with wooden equipment. However, the length of time is not specified and ultimately varies depending on what extent the brewer wants to blend the taru’s character into the final sake.
Nowadays, sake is brewed and stored in stainless steel tanks, because: they are easy to clean and sterilize at the end of the brewing season; they impart little undesired aromas or flavors; they last, rarely need repairing and are safe and are fireproof. But what were breweries using before steel tanks came around?
The answer is taru. Sake wasn’t just fermented and stored in taru, it was transported in it, in particular in the Edo period. In other words, there was nothing special about putting sake in a taru back then. No, quite the opposite. The sake rarely left the taru. Back in the Edo period, wood was a way of life: the houses were made from it, cooking equipment was made from it. In an age without air fresheners, people’s lives were scented with wood. In Japan, wood is often associated with relaxation, as something which brings you closer to nature, as exemplified by the popular practice of forest bathing or shinrinyoku. Back then the relationship between sake and wood was a very natural one. Historically, there was nothing special about taruzake, but in today’s steel-dominated age of brewing, perhaps there is.
Characteristics of Taruzake
The majority of taru are made with either cedar or pine. Intertwined with the inherent aromas of the sake, these wood types impart a distinct freshness into the sake. Left for longer in the barrel, the sake matures and mellows.
Recommended Types of Taruzake
Yoshino Sugi no Taruzake
Yoshino Sugi is a special type of cedar which grows in the forests of Nara prefecture and sake stored in taru made from it is widely considered to be the pinnacle of taruzake. The taru is made with the inner-core of the cedar, sometimes as much as 80 years old.
If you want to experience something different from the cheap novelty taruzake sold overseas, Yoshino Sugi Taruzake is a great place to start.
The number of cedar production areas in Japan is actually relatively limited. Perhaps the second biggest is Oita prefecture. The cedar grown here is called Hida Sugi. It is common to use the largest 4-to taru which brings the sake into contact with more of the wood. It doesn’t get any more luxurious than Hida sugi taruzake.
Beyond the traditional types of taruzake, some breweries have begun to make premium styles of sake in a taruzake style, infusing just a hint of cedar into the background. It is tricky to add a woody scent into sake without it completely overpowering all the other subtle aromas, so when breweries do achieve that balance, it is something very special. Perhaps breweries will find new ways to use taru in the future and impart
Although not strictly taru, kioke are old cedar barrels that were once used to brew sake. After years gathering dust, some breweries bring them out of retirement to create a special type of sake called kioke jikomi. Yeast and other microbes trapped in the nooks and crannies often make their way into the end product during the fermentation imparting unique flavor and aroma characteristics.
The best time to taste taruzake at KURAND is at new year. You can enjoy sake straight out of the taru itself as very kindly provided by one of our partner breweries.
With branches all over Tokyo, each stocking over 100 types to taste to your heart’s content with no time limits, all for one flat fee, there is no better place to discover sake. We look forward to welcoming you soon.