In Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture, a project to age sake for half a year at the bottom of the ocean began on Nov. 30, with 15 sake breweries from all over the country trying this new method of aging their products beneath the waves with expectations that the rocking of ocean currents will produce a finely aged product. Experts are trying to rekindle the culture of aging sake – one of Japan’s world famous drinks – that was lost because of the demand for profits.
At the end of November this year, around 3,200 bottles of sake were sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and are set to be recovered in May next year. The project was planned by Nobuhiro Ueno, 52, manager of “Shusaron,” a bar serving old sake located in Tokyo’s Takanawa district. He hopes to spread the love of aged sake, as a parallel for grape wines and whiskey. Historical records show that through the Edo Period in Japan, sake aged for seven or nine years was traded at three times the price of newly made batches. “The Meiji government imposed a liquor tax at the production level, and breweries began selling off all their stock every year in a rush to get income, destroying the aged sake culture,” says Ueno.
He chose the ocean as the place to age the sake both out of anticipation that the slight oscillation of ocean currents will bring out a better taste, and in order to grab public interest. The waters off Minamiizu where the bottles were stored are clear and popular with divers. The bottles were fitted with special resin caps rather than metal ones to avoid rusting. Aging alcohol in the ocean has been done widely for around the past five or six years with awamori liquor in Okinawa Prefecture, according to the Okinawa Distillery Cooperative Association. “We don’t understand well the underlying mechanisms of sea aging, but it makes a mellower taste than storing the liquor in tanks or bottles,” said an association representative.