Tokyo Jizake Strolling (Sake Brewed during the Coronavirus Pandemic)

By Ryuji Takahashi
At the time this article was being written, over half of the Japanese population had received the second COVID-19 shot. As the number of cases started to decline, the state of emergency declaration was soon to be lifted in various areas. Restaurants and liquor shops were looking forward to serving alcoholic beverages soon. The state of emergency declaration being lifted does not mean the number of customers returning will go back to pre-pandemic levels. The corporate year-end parties will not be as large-scale compared to the past. Therefore, liquor shop sales will not easily return to pre-pandemic levels either. However, customers can soon gather openly to enjoy sake together in small groups, perhaps even celebrate Sake Day on October 1. The “Hiya-oroshi, Autumn Edition of Draft Sake” should be delicious right now.
In addition to the summertime when Japanese sake does not typically sell much, the coronavirus further hindered Japanese sake sales. More than a few sake breweries had said they would not release limited summer edition sake in magnum bottles for this season. However, the limited fall edition sake “Hiya-oroshi” already released by various breweries were bottled in 720 ml and 1,800 ml (magnum) bottles. General consumers, liquor shops, and sake manufacturers are each feeling the impact from the coronavirus pandemic. In this issue, we introduce the sake “Kanemasu Red Label Draft Sake: Two Summers Over, Limited Autumn Edition Release,” gradually deepening in umami flavor over the last two years while awaiting release in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In this series, we’ve written several times about “Kanemasu Brewery” in Niigata prefecture, characteristic for their expertise in aging sake deliciously. Their representative brand, Kanemasu Red Label, is brewed using the Hashira Shochu Brewing Method from the Edo Period (1603-1867). This shochu brewing method stipulates pouring rice shochu into sake to ensure the sake will not spoil over the ten or more days required for transportation from Kansai to Edo. The Hashira Shochu Brewing Method was officially invented when this practice was discovered to age the sake just right upon arrival in Edo. This is the first shochu brewing method that adds alcohol to sake, like Honjozo. Originally, Kanemasu Brewery distilled whiskey following World War II. Therefore, the pot still distiller in the brewery is still used today to distill rice and sweet potato shochu.
This shochu brewing method was used to add shochu and complete the Japanese sake Red Label. Even the regular sake is aged for a year before shipping. “Two Summers Over, Limited Autumn Edition” is released once very two years. The undiluted sake aged for nearly two years is thoroughly aged with a smooth aftertaste. Industries associated with the sake industry suffered greatly during the last two years. Unfortunately, some restaurants and liquor shops closed their doors and businesses. I look forward to enjoying this sake aged in the brewery during the coronavirus pandemic over the last two years, as I pray for the beginning of a new era for the sake industry and for my sake industry colleagues to resume their businesses.


この記事を書いている時は、日本は2回のワクチン接種完了者が国民の半数を超え、感染者数が下がり始め、各地の緊急事態宣言解除が目前となり、飲食店や酒販店は、間もなく訪れる酒類提供の時を今か今かと待ちわびている最中である。もし解除になっても全ての飲食店の客数が元に戻るわけではない。年末の忘年会も今まで見たいな大規模なものは行われないだろう。それに伴い、酒販店も簡単には売り上げは元に戻らないだろう。しかし、少人数なら堂々と飲食店で日本酒が飲めるようになり、10月1日の日本酒の日を迎えることが出来るかもしれない。そして、今最高にうまい酒は「ひやおろし」だろう。夏はただでさえ日本酒が売れない時期に加えコロナで、一層日本酒が売れなかった。今期の夏酒に関し一升瓶は出しませんという酒蔵も少なくなかった。しかし、既に各蔵で発売が始まっている秋の季節酒「ひやおろし」は皆、通常通りの4合瓶と1升瓶を発売している。一般消費者も酒販店もメーカーもコロナ禍の終了を感じているのである。今回は、この2年続いたコロナ禍の中、密かに旨味を蓄えながら発売を待っていた酒「金升 朱(あか)ラベル 二夏越え ひやおろし」を紹介したい。何度か、この場で紹介させていただいた新潟県の酒蔵「金升酒造」。この蔵の特徴は熟成の上手さであり、代表銘柄の金升朱ラベルは、江戸時代の製法である柱焼酎仕込みで造られている。柱焼酎仕込みとは、酒を腐らせない為に、日本酒の中に米焼酎を入れ関西から江戸に十数日かけ酒を運んだ際、江戸に到着したら程良く熟成し非常に美味しい酒に変化していたことをきっかけに生まれた製法である。いわゆる、本醸造の様なアルコール添加酒の最初の製法だ。元々、戦後ウイスキーも造っていた酒蔵なので、蔵内にポットスチルという蒸留器があり、上手い米焼酎や芋焼酎を現在も造っている。この焼酎醸造技術を生かし完成したのが、米焼酎添加の日本酒、朱ラベルである。この酒は、通常商品でも1年は熟成させてから出荷する。そして2年に一度、「二夏越え ひやおろし」が発売される。二年近く寝かした原酒は、しっかり熟成感が有り、まろやかで後味がスッキリしている。この2年で酒関係業界は非常に苦しんだ。残念ながら店を閉めた飲食店や酒販店もあった。廃業や休業に追い込まれた酒蔵もあった。コロナ禍の2年間を酒蔵で見続けてきたこの酒を新たな酒の時代の幕開けと沢山の酒関係の仲間の再起を祈り、この秋は飲みたいと私は思う。