If you enjoy sipping a cup of warm sake at the end of a chilly day, you will probably love taruzake, a seasonal sake with the spicy, earthy flavor of Japanese cedar. Whether you buy it bottled or make your own ersatz version at home, this unusual drink is particularly comforting during winter.Before stainless steel tanks and glass bottles, sake used to be stored in big casks made of sugi, or Japanese cedar. Some breweries still use these casks to produce a smaller amount of taruzake, which is traditionally consumed around New Year's. The wood imparts a distinctive cinnamon-like scent and flavor which would overpower a delicate, high-quality sake, so less expensive types are typically used. Look for bottles marked "cedar aged," "taru sake" or "taruzake."
If you can't find it by the bottle, you can also mimic the flavor of taruzake by either serving sake in a vessel made of Japanese cedar, or steeping a piece of the wood in a jar of sake for a few days. I found the sugi sake set above at a thrift store in Japan, but similar sets can be found online. Or you can simply fill a jar with inexpensive sake, add a few sheets of Japanese cedar cooking paper, and let it steep until the sake is pale yellow and smells like a forest. Then pour yourself a cup and toast the coming year.
Anjali is a former private chef who is currently pursuing a graduate degree in nutrition, with plans to become a registered dietitian. She lives in Los Angeles. You can read more of her health-focused writing at Eat Your Greens.
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