Struggling cedar wood industry branches out to liqueur in Kyoto
The Asahi Shimbun by ITSUKI SOEDA/ Staff Writer December 19, 2016
KYOTO--“Kitayama sugi” Japanese cedar trees have long been used to construct tea houses, but the aromatic wood is now a key ingredient for a more potent potable.
Fruit Liqueur Freaks LLC, a fruit liquor maker in Kyoto’s Nakagyo Ward, has developed a Kitayama sugi-flavored liqueur to promote the traditional but pricey building material.
The idea of flavoring liquor with cedar wood was suggested by Tomoiki Sekine, 31, operator of the nokishita711 bar in the Sendo-cho district of Shimogyo Ward.
After hearing about Kitayama sugi from a friend, the bartender became enchanted by the tree’s unique aroma and beautiful appearance.
He asked his friend Ryota Anezaki, 32, president of Fruit Liqueur Freaks, for advice to “utilize the wood for making sake.”
Anezaki spent two months studying how to make full use of the aroma and flavor of Kitayama sugi.
In his technique, Anezaki cuts Kitayama sugi logs into small pieces and bakes them in a home-use oven until they are slightly burnt for a stronger flavor. The treated wood is then placed in colorless spirit.
The cedar-flavored liqueur is complete after the wood is left in the spirit for several weeks.
A sip of the finished light yellow liqueur, tentatively named “Kitayama Maruta Shiyo Ki no Liqueur” (Wood-flavored liqueur using Kitayama sugi logs), offers the clean flavor of Japanese cedar that spreads in the mouth.
It can be enjoyed in various ways, such as diluting it with water or soda.
At Sekine’s nokishita711 bar, a cocktail based on the special liqueur is available.
“(The cocktail) has proved popular especially among female customers as it boasts a refreshing flavor and is easy to drink,” Sekine said.
Japanese cedars contributed to the tea ceremony culture in feudal Japan. The wood has also been used to construct “sukiya”-style buildings since the Muromachi Period (1338-1573).
Businesses dealing in the wood are now turning to the beverage industry to counter the rapidly shrinking production of the wood.
According to the Kyoto city government, 238,000 Kitayama sugi trees were shipped in the peak year of fiscal 1989, but the figure was only 17,000 last fiscal year.
Yoshiya Matsumoto, 53, secretary-general of the Kyoto Kitayama Maruta Productive Cooperative, said the organization’s sales have fallen to less than 10 percent from the peak period.
The cooperative, seeking new uses of Kitayama sugi, has provided free cedar wood for Anezaki’s liqueur production.
“I never expected that the wood would be used in such a way,” Matsumoto said. “I hope the project will provide a good opportunity for many people to learn about Kitayama sugi.”
In September, a tasting event for the cedar-flavored liqueur was held in Osaka. Money was raised through crowdfunding to produce the liqueur on a full-scale basis, and 46 people who offered funds have ordered a total of 83 bottles.
“(We have received so many orders) probably because the idea of using Kitayama sugi for making a liqueur is novel and people love the cedar flavor,” Anezaki said.
He plans to begin full production of the liqueur in 2017.
The liqueur is also available at Lagwagon, another bar in the Hoki-cho district of Kyoto’s Fushimi Ward.