Celebrate the New Year with Taru Sake—Hidekazu Tanisawa and Choryo

Mitsue “Mimi” Islas-Hosokawa

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    |You might have seen images of sake in barrels, but have you tried it before? Choryo Brewing Company’s signature Yoshinosugi no Taru Sake is a bottled taru sake (Japanese cedar barrel-aged sake) which can be casually enjoyed at any occasion. In this spotlight, Hidekazu Tanisawa who is in-charge of sales and marketing at Choryo Brewing Company, shares their passion for traditional taru sake and how to enjoy it to the fullest.

    The traditional taru sake method and Choryo Brewing Company

    Mimi: It was mentioned on your website that all sake used to be taru sake. Could you tell us about taru sake?

    Hidekazu: Originally, all sake were made, stored and sold in cedar barrels. Why use cedar barrels? Because it’s known to have antibacterial effects. Plus, the sake soaked the aroma of cedar which added value to taru sake. Choryo is founded in Nara, which is where the Yoshinosugi is harvested, and is in close proximity to Nada, a port town in Kobe-City Hyogo Prefecture which to this day is famous for good-quality sake. Large volumes of sake made in Nada would be shipped in barrels to Edo (modern day Tokyo). By the time they arrive, the sake would take on the nice aroma of cedar.

    Although the taru sake method seems to be epochal, it was not suitable for mass production with consistent quality. At some point, bottles made of glass became a more common and economical choice for sake-making than cedar barrels.

    Mimi: Why did Choryo decide to stick particularly to the traditional taru sake method while many other breweries employed modern brewing methods?

    Hidekazu: Well, after WWII, Teiichi Iida, the founder of Choryo Brewing Company, found a great opportunity in taru sake as he sought for good quality sake, as the quality of many of sake out there at the time was very poor.

    Teiichi eventually arrived at Yoshino Cedar (Yoshinosugi) in Nara after searching for the best quality of cedar woods to make sake with. In cooperation with the local Yoshino cedar business, he passionately studied and experimented to create the best taru sake that can be enjoyed by many in their daily life. That’s how our taru sake started. Yoshinosugi no Taru sake is the first bottled taru sake, making it possible for people to enjoy the fresh sugi (cedar/cypress) aroma without the hassle of having it from a barrel! (Watch the video clip to learn more about Choryo and Yoshinosugi.)

    Yoshinosugi barrels

    Sake being matured in Yoshinosugi barrels. This is called Taru-zoe (樽添え) in Japanese. | Courtesy of Choryo Brewing Company.

    Mimi: That’s very interesting! Why did he choose Yoshino cedar in Nara?

    Hidekazu: While there are various taru sake out there, Choryo “Yoshinosugi no Taru Sake” can be expressed in two words: tranquility and serenity. Tranquility demonstrates the genuine and mild flavor and umami that the cedar barrel carries. Serenity shows the taste that makes you feel relaxed as if you are in the cedar forest. Our taru sake is perfectly balanced in aroma and flavor—and this cannot be attained without the Yoshino cedar barrels.

    To maintain and ensure the quality of taru sake, we have a special role called taruzoeshi (taru sake blender) whose skills and knowledge have been passed on from generation to generation.

    Best ways to enjoy taru sake

    Mimi: I heard that January 11th is Annual Taru Sake day! What is the significance of this day?

    Hidekazu: In Japan, January 11th is the day for kagami-biraki (a ceremonial event where people crack open sake in a barrel and/or cut out mochi that had been offered to gods for good fortune), so that is the day people crack open taru sake and drink to make a wish. Also, the number eleven could be read ii (11—良い) which means “good.” We thought January 11th is a perfect day to promote our taru sake.

    Mimi: That’s very cool! How should we celebrate?

    Hidekazu: We hope to enjoy taru sake and smile together on this day. Even though we have not been able to put any big events together, we invite local sake shops to our promotional events. We hope the customers of Tippsy also join us to drink taru sake on January 11th! We have an ongoing social media campaign for Taru Sake Day this year! Please share your taru sake experience with #tarusakeday2021 to be connected with the taru sake community all over the world!

    feel the calming scent of Yoshino cedar forests when drinking Choryo’s taru sake

    You can feel the calming scent of Yoshino cedar forests when drinking Choryo’s taru sake. | Courtesy of Choryo Brewing Company.

    Mimi: How exciting! I will join the campaign, too! Speaking of enjoying taru sake, do you have any recommendations on how to drink Choryo “Yoshinosugi no Taru Sake?”

    Hidekazu: Yes! I think many people would drink our taru sake chilled. However, I personally enjoy drinking it at room temperature or warm. When the sake is warmed, you can sense the cedar wood aroma better. It makes you feel as if you are soaking in the warm tub.

    Mimi: How about food pairing ideas?

    Hidekazu: Well, to be honest, it’s hard for me to pick just one food because our taru sake just goes well with pretty much everything! I would say that is one of the great characteristics of this sake. My personal favorite is yakitori (grilled chicken). You can also enjoy pairing with grilled meat and something with teriyaki sauce. This sake creates a great harmony with rich flavor.

    I would also like to recommend you to try adding a sliced lemon in a glass of chilled taru sake. I can drink this forever! As taru sake has 15% ABV, you might want to add crushed ice to dilute.

    Mimi: Lastly, what does sake mean to you?

    Hidekazu: There is a word I always use when it comes to sake—Shuen (酒縁—sake, fate/connection). Sake has brought countless encounters and connected me with people. Sake helps me make friends with people I just met. Simply, I think this is a wonderful thing. Sometimes you have arguments with someone, but having sake with that person helps transform the conflict into a smile. Being connected to people around the world through sake, this is what I call Shuen.

    I will thrive to share the joy of taru sake with more people by overcoming the language barrier with my passionate heart!

    Mitsue “Mimi” Islas-Hosokawa

    Mitsue “Mimi” Islas-Hosokawa

    Mimi was born and raised in Osaka, Japan. She grew up seeing her dad enjoying a cup of sake every night as his “ritual,” and she believes in the mystical powers of sake to make any ordinary day a special one. As a sake beginner, she is passionate to learn about sake with her fellow Tippsy Community members.

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