This is an interesting piece on the difference between hiyaoroshi and akiagari. We mostly know Hiyaoroshi, the sake released in Autumn. Akiagari is not so well known. Here is the difference. We thank our friend David Cheek for his enquiring mind and passionate devotion to all things sake.
The difference between hiyaoroshi and akiagari
(By David Cheek - a facebook post).
I was asked to do a repost of this piece I did a couple of years ago. Hope it’s not redundant.
What is the difference between hiyaoroshi and akiagari?
A simple enough question. I was asked this recently and my answer was that hiyaoroshi was pasteurized once and akiagari was pasteurized twice. There was virtual eye rolling and himming and hawing. No one said I was wrong per se but the overriding sentiment was ... Dude can't be right. So I started doing some digging. (My wife says I'm becoming obsessed with this question.She might be right.) I'm not afraid of being wrong. That's how you learn. In the sake world, there are some nebulous terms out there and I think most folks make a good faith effort to get it right. It is truly commendable and it’s something I admire. However, if the truth is elusive, and you never get it pinned down what's the point? So if I'm not wrong BUT I'm not right... Then which is it?
The first thing to note is that they are not legally defined terms. So intrinsically they can be used any which way.
I have seen both loosely defined, mostly in one or two sentences in many blogs and posts. Many differ, some are vague and none of them seem to be quite the same. Maybe they’re not wrong. Are they right though? That's the question.
First, let's take the term hiyaoroshi. The history and etymology of the word are easy enough to find. The term hiyaoroshi dates back to the Edo period (1604 to 1867). In short, sake was brewed and pasteurized once and rested in a wooden tank. (生詰め nama tsu me) The sake would rest and stay put until the ambient temperature outside was the same as it was inside the kura. Then it could be safely released without worry of dormant enzymes and the lactic acid that feeds on them doing a little dance and turning the sake bad. If the brewer needed to ship some out earlier then they would pasteurize it a second time.They were put into wooden casks called taru. These single pasteurized sake came to be known as hiyaoroshi. Hiya means cold and oroshi means to lower something. as in lowering the sake from the tank to the taru. I’ve also had it explained by a toji that it means to “put out” as in put out of the tank, without a second pasteurization. 冷やおろし-Jisho defines the word as sake that is brewed in the winter, pasteurized, aged over the summer, and distributed in autumn without a second pasteurization.
There is no question that the term has evolved over time. So what about akiagari? What does it mean? When did people start using the word? These were my questions. When I tried researching this in Japanese and English I found nothing except for contemporary definitions. If you look around, none of them are really the same. Sort of a dead end. Well the word had to come from someplace. You don’t really need a word that’s used at a specific time of year and doesn’t mean anything but at the same time means everything. So I decided to look at what I had.
Back in the day when hiyaoroshi was maturing it would often go south. As in bad! The term used for this sake was akiochi. As a result, brewers started pasteurizing twice. So let’s look at the kanji for a sec.
秋 aki-this means autumn (for reference)
秋落ち akiochi-Deterioration of sake quality through summer aging.
秋酒 akishu-Sake released in the fall.
So check this out-the 2nd kanji in akiochi is
落 This means to fall, drop, or come down.
The 2nd kanji in akiagari is
上 This means above, up, or over.
Of course there is no legal definition to either term so brewers can call it what they like. I had read someplace that when brewers ended up with akiochi sake and started to pasteurize it twice, it was coined akiagari. Since it could be released earlier, traditionally akiagari was released before hiyaoroshi. The term hiyaoroshi has plenty of documentation as to its origin and history. By contrast akiagari does not. At least I can’t find any evidence of it. It can be inferred that because of the akiochi that the term akiagari was used as the kanji for both are opposite. Up and down. I was wondering if historically it did actually mean 2 pasteurizations and afterward evolved into what it is today.
So this is where things get interesting. Part of my research involved me asking my friend, Shindo san, who is a toji in Yamagata what he thought the difference was between the two terms. He said “Akiagari and Hiyaoroshi are used interchangeably. There is definitely no different meaning. However, many brewers think that the word "Oroshi" does not have a good image, so many sake breweries use "Akiagari". In other words, you can think that "Hiyaoroshi" and "Akiagari" have the same meaning.
I thought that was interesting. He's brilliant and makes great sake.
So I decided to get a 2nd opinion and ask John Gautner about all this. I prefaced it with some info that I had and asked him if he knew when the term akiagari was first used to describe a fall release as I could not find any history of the word. I also asked to his knowledge did the term start out to ever mean that the sake was pasteurized twice because of akiochi sake. I also threw in what my toji friend had said-that akiagari and hiyaoroshi are interchangeable terms.
He wrote back fairly quickly. Coincidentally he was waiting for a train in a town called Hashiochi.
Of course he emphasized the fact that they are not legally defined terms. He said that his understanding of the difference was that akiagari refers to sake that is released in the fall, after an over-summer maturation but no longer. He also said that his understanding is that it is pasteurized twice or at least it is usually. Hiyaoroshi is only pasteurized once. He went on to say “I do not think they are interchangeable although they sorta can be since there is no strict definition. Also, some ken have agreed to wait to release hiyaoroshi until 9/9 but I have not heard anything like that for akiagari.” He also didn’t know of any clear historical docs relating to akiagari. This started making me think that the word akiagari was a kind of cultural blind spot.
Briefly, 9/9 is known as kiku no sekku or sekku (節句) for short and is one of five annual ceremonies that were traditionally held in the Japanese imperial court. It has its roots from the double 9th festival in China (9th day of the 9th month) and later became related with the autumn rice harvest.
I had spoken with a sake shop owner who we know about akiagari and he didn't really answer the question but went on to talk about a push in Nagano ken to wait until 9/9 to release the hiyaoroshi. It's a large shop and he has had a hand in the history of helping the branding of quite a few kura. Interestingly John was returning from an Appellation Control judging in Nagano so I think it’s possible that that was what he was referencing. Most of what I've come across is that although there has been a movement to try to get kura's to release their hiyaoroshi on the 9th it has been largely ignored for a variety of reasons. (I would be interested to know of other prefectures that are trying this.)
So I wrote him back and as my first note was somewhat brief I explained why I was asking in a little more detail. I said that today I thought hiyaoroshi and akiagari are interchangeable with each other and you can throw akishu in there as well. I wanted to write a post or do a video about this because of the continuing evolution of the terms and the confusion it can cause. There are a lot of bits and pieces floating out there. Sake-wise this is my favorite time of the year. I thought he might find some of this interesting.
He said ”You may want to just keep in mind, though, that some prefectures treat hiyaoroshi with some officialdom, like not releasing until 9/9, so they would not likely agree that hiyaoroshi and akaigari are the same. But you likely already know well that there is little universally agreed upon in the sake world.” True that!
It’s obvious that both these terms have evolved from what they were to what they are now. It’s not difficult to find a double pasteurized hiyaoroshi or a nama akiagari. There may be disagreement about what it means now but I think everyone would agree that they don't know when and where akiagari came from. Even the most experienced are disagreeing. It’s not surprising. It’s the soup we swim in.
So this is what I think. The term akiochi was coined when stored hiyaoroshi went south. The 2nd kanji character in akiochi means simply down. The 2nd kanji character in akiagari means up. They are opposite each other. This to me ties them together and makes them connected. I may be taking liberties here (kanji forensics KSI Kanji Scene Investigation) but they both have the first kanji in common and both relate to sake. That makes them related step children at the very least. It stands to reason that pasteurization is the common denominator. So I think to myself, why wouldn’t akiagari start out to mean a double pasteurization? I don’t think it’s about flying sake bottles. Since the term is related to fall releases it’s not a huge stretch. At the end of the day there isn’t anything historically concrete to go on,so I have nothing but the clues in front of me to take me there. So this is how I chose to connect the dots.
So the next time someone asks me what the difference is between hiyaoroshi and akiagari, my working premise is this: They are not legally defined terms. They are both fall releases. Historically, the difference is 1 and 2 pasteurizations. Today both terms have evolved to mean a myriad of different types of sake and yes they are still evolving. Many friends I have that brew sake here kind of agree that akiagar is the word used to describe sake that has successfully matured over the summer.i I also believe some kura don’t like the term oroshi and go with akiagari.
I realize this is advanced sake geekery but so many use this term in different ways but at the same time maybe aren’t really sure and are afraid to make a mistake with it. As you've probably gathered I'm not one of those people. Haha! I will keep looking but I think with what I have to look at, I kinda know. Food for thought. Nobody is wrong but then again how right are they-really? I would be interested to hear from anyone if they think I'm full of it or if they have other thoughts about it.