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Entry for Winter....Winter Burial: The 雪中貯蔵 [Secchu - chozou]

Winter preserves beauty, like a timeless stasis of the ice ages  along the Tokachidake plains of Hokkaido; the whistling swan sang.    I can sense the birth of spring on the twigs of trees even now, as the last frost of snowy patches fall to the ground.    This year, I was back up in one of my top places in Japan, not Hokkaido, but in Kawabata's Snow Country, Niigata, and on a timely and auspicious occasion!  The burial of sake.   The 雪中貯蔵 The Secchu-chozou way!  

My mission this time around was to bury several thousand bottles of Japanese sake under several tons of snow and ice.    The timing was essential for a few reasons:  Man power, machines, temps, weather, and logistics.  This time of year, the winter was unusually warm with the occasional drop in temps gave us scattered snowfalls through-out the mountain ranges.   When we arrived on the 20th of February a cold front moved in the night before and gave us heaps of snow, so the window of opportunity was open for us to get all three warehouses done.    8 hours and some very intensive work was underway and with three teams pushing, burying, and packing snow as quickly as possible.

Our tractor drivers were highly proficient in transporting snow to the warehouses, and along with our snowplows were able to pump several hundred pounds of snow per minute directly in the storage spaces.   Us, the shovelers, were tasked with packing the snow in and making sure the hard to reach places were properly filled.   Under snow you put only the premium stuff  i.e...Junmai Ginjo, Ginjo-shus.     

I get a sense that burying anything is symbolic to death, but in Japan the burial could represent the coming of newness.   In this part of northern Japan, and like other places, the locals bury under snow, sake, vegetables, meats, and even soy sauces of varying kinds in what is called "yukimuro"  which is a type of snow house for storage.   Some vegetable and sake are buried directly under snow whereas perishable items like meats and other produce are stored in warehouses that are covered in snow.    

Nihonshu / sake is normally not stored under snow at all, actually.   It is usually bottled then refrigerated or shipped out around the world.   However, there are exceptions here.   Some breweries will store their sake for about 6 months under snow for a number of reasons.  First, there is regionality.  Since it snows six or more months out of the year, snow is useful for cooling things, since there's plenty of it.   Next, snow maintains a constant temperature through-out the winter months, and even longer depending on where you live.  Snow contains high moisture  that is  good for sake and food overall.   Snow does not emit  EMF ( Electro-magnetic Field), and is therefore good for amino acids in sake; keeps it constant and stable.   For snow reserved foods the flavor of fruits and vegetables are milder and sweeter, and are fresher.     

Refrigerators, like all household electrical appliances,  emit harmful EMF which over time can have an affect on amino acids, even in the human brain!  This is also not good for regional artisan sake, especially if you are trying to achieve the  end-product of the type of flavors you hope to attain after 6 months.    Do you ever count how many times you open your refrigerator door a day?  And how much temperature is effected?  Upwards to 5 degrees or more.   This constant change in temperature effects sake if you're constantly opening and closing your fridge.   Plus, modern refrigeration makes the environment inside where you store your food and sake dry.  This is not to say  that sake that is  NOT snow-cooled is bad, on the contrary, it isn't effected that much and sake can still have  exceptional qualities, but snow-cooled sake is a type of regional  choice whereby the brewer wants to create a lighter, tighter, and much rounder flavor profile in the sake that's unique to the prefecture.      Snow is also more  environmentally friendly compared to EMF pollutants emitted by refrigerators. 

In the photo below, I and several drinking buddies lodged at a lovely matron's house for the night for free.  Did I say free?.  There we were graced by this delicious spread of local specialties all hand made by my kind of arm candy.  Those who read my blog know what I mean.    Hot nabe and warm kotatsu in the winter is epic!   And sake taken directly from a moromi tank to boot.   We drank and ate well that night.

( "There is a sake brewery on Sado Island, Niigata Japan which also stores its sake in snow, but in addition they also play classical music in the cold storage vault - Vivaldi's Four Seasons.   This is done to influence amino acid motility, and this also makes sake softer and more flavorsome").

After all the handwork was done we headed over to "Yukidaruma" onsen for some respite while taking in a gorgeous snow scene from the edge.   (sigh^^) Mission accomplished.


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