Sugar Cane, bamboo and ceramics belong to the oldest packaging materials used by mankind. Although fully natural and sustainable materials neither sugar cane, nor bamboo are used any longer as packaging material and even packaging made in ceramics have a special aureole and are rarely used in mass production. If a ceramic image for the mass-produced packaging is required designers switch to glass with ceramic coatings sprayed directly onto the outside of the bottle or jar, resulting in effects that are usually not achievable with ordinary coloured glass.
Bamboo Bottles and Saké
Bamboo and saké are bound by an indissoluble tie. Historically one is an essential part to the other. Bamboo grows wild all over Japan and it is deeply entwined with Japanese culture through food, clothing and shelter. In Usuki, Miyazaki Prefecture, there is a kind of saké named “Kappo Zake”, which is saké that has been poured into bamboo cylinders and heated over a bonfire. The unique aroma of green bamboo infuses the saké as it heats up, and it is said to be very tasty.
Bamboo cylinders are created just by cutting fresh green bamboo carefully through its knots so that each segment is a watertight perfectly natural container that do not require any additional processing. Bamboo cylinders can be thought of as one of the most primitive types of bottles. During the Jomon Era in Japan, people were already using the bamboo cylinder by putting water in it, carrying it like a water bottle.
Nowadays, the role bamboo played in old times as a practical material has largely been replaced by plastic and stainless steel. Although, as an artefact, still available in Japan (see photo) as saké bottle, like Europe uses a decanter for wine, commercialisation of saké has been taken to glass bottles.
The basic ingredients of saké are rice and water. Saké is brewed on the very coldest days of winter using rice harvested in the autumn. Saké is pasteurized at 140˚F (60˚C) and then transferred to vats, where it is aged for about three months. Before bottling, the brewer dilutes the saké by adding water to a level of between 15% and 17% alcohol, after which it is pasteurized again.
In the USA the owner of a Japanese restaurants chain, Nobuyuki Natsuhisa, commissioned New York-based agency ChappsMalina to design a special packaging for its famous classic Nobu saké. The designers of ChappsMalina captured its floral nature and specific Japanese origin and created a bottle, which imitates a bamboo halm. The bottle is not made from bamboo but is just a plastic imitation shaped like a bamboo halm.
The Nobu saké comes from the Hokusetsu brewery (meaning “Northern Snow”) located in Sado, the largest island in the Sea of Japan. Sado is known for its harsh winters. This climate is a key factor for the quality of Hokusetsu products.
One of the most famous Hokusetsu products is Ongaku-shu, literally translated as “musical saké.” Connoisseurs claim that saké that have been shipped by boat have a deep taste, since the saké is smoothened by the undulating motions of the waves. To recreate the wave-effects, Hokusetsu plays New Age music of Japanese composer Kitaro to Ongaku-shu bottles for three years in a special cellar.
Currently Hokusetsu sells its saké products and beers exclusively through the Nobu and Matsuhisa restaurants for the overseas markets. If this is true, you should expect a more sophisticated and refined bottle in stead of the plastic which is offered in the restaurants at this moment. A saké with such a tradition as Hokusetsu deserves an original bamboo bottle.
Sugar cane and Cachaça
Ceramarte did a better job to secure the historic origin of its Kaballa cachaça. Masters in ceramic art sought to bring together the incomparable joy of the Brazilian people and its cultural diversity.
Cachaça is a distillate obtained from the by-products of cane sugar. Cane was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese who established a large sugar cane cultivation, with sugar mills and consequently the production of molasses and sugarcane juice.
The slaves at the mills collected the foam resulting from boiling the syrup and stored it in clay pots to ferment. The result was a bitter drink, ‘Garapa Sour’ that they consumed as a stimulant to support the daily hard work. Later the beverage came to be known as cachaça.
The Cachaça Kaballa is aged for more than 18 months in barrels made from balsámo-wood which gives the cachaça a very spicy taste. An exceptional degree of maturity that enhances its flavour and aroma and its beautiful golden colour.
Besides the quality, Cachaça Kaballa (42%) reveals a little of the history of the country and its culture through a unique bottle made in artful ceramic. The bold beauty of the shaped ceramic 1.000 ml bottle (height 285 mm, diameter 100 mm) mirrors the shape of the sugar cane halm. Ceramic, an inorganic, non-metallic solid as a result of heating and subsequent cooling, has very deep roots in the South American indigenous culture and as such Cachaça Kaballa not only captured the Brazilian heritage with its golden cachaça, but also with the packaging itself.
Ceramarte, the producer of the Cachaça Kaballa, went even a step further to satisfy its market. As the famous Brazilian caipirinha is made with cachaça, Ceramarte designed a ‘caipirinha kit’ holding in a simple cardboard box: a solid wood crusher, ceramic cups one for crushing and two to serve and drink the caipirinha and of course the sugar cane shaped 1.000 ml ceramic bottle with the Cachaça Kaballa. Unfortunately Ceramarte slipped a bit by making the cardboard box too simple, it should have been a real gift box.
Both products (saké and cachaça) with their rich local tradition tried to translate the origin of the product into its packaging design. It is clear that Cachaça Kaballa succeeded completely with its ceramic bottle shaped as a sugar cane halm and the exclusive Nobu Saké just made a poor attempt to show its origin and its heritage.
Note: Amazingly Tetra Pak has a beautiful blog on his Japanese website, titled: “The Cultural History of Packaging” talking about the history of packaging in Japan. Worth a visit. I took some of the details about saké from this website.
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