A Japanese sake left to age for 20 years after its production at a brewery that suffered extensive damage in the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 is ready to go on the market.
Workers at sake brewing company Sawanotsuru in Kobe's Nada Ward produced the potable, named "Kimoto Junmai Koshu," in a storehouse that survived the earthquake, honoring the wishes of fellow workers who perished in the disaster.
Workers say the amber color of the sake and its aroma bring back sad and painful memories from the time of the quake, but they now want to look to the future.
Seven of the company's nine sake storehouses collapsed in the 1995 temblor, and four skilled workers living at the storehouses died. Two months after the disaster, company employees and other brewers produced sake using 24 metric tons of rice in a storehouse that escaped with relatively little damage.
"We worked without sleep, then," recalls acting brewing section head Hideki Makino, who was in his third year at the company at the time. Makino, who was living in a company dormitory, handled phone calls and helped the bereaved families of those who were killed in the disaster. He also worked to repair storehouses that were left more or less unscathed. "I was worried if we would be able to continue producing sake," he remembers.
The skilled workers who perished had hammered into Makino sake brewing concepts and the frame of mind needed to do the job, and he had worked earnestly. He remembers the time he spent with them.
"I can't forget the times we drank sake together," he says.
When the sake was produced after the quake, some of it was aged in oak barrels, and held in storage tanks at the company. At the end of last year, workers tasted it and found that it had a rich, full flavor, so they decided to put it on the market.
When Makino savored the sake, he remembered the joy at being able to prepare the ingredients for sake brewing once again, and recalled the faces of those who died. The tough experiences he had tried to forget appeared in his mind and then vanished again.
"I think I'm now able to understand, to a small degree, that every operation in the sake production process has meaning, and I can grasp the depth of the words of sake producers that I hadn't understood in the past," he says. His maturation over the past 20 years overlaps with the aging of the sake and the development of its aroma.
A total of 50 bottles of the sake will be sold from Jan. 16. Each 720 ml bottle is priced at 5,000 yen.