For the sake enthusiast, refinement, the more or less of it, is everything. Designer Oki Sato, for instance, founder of Nendo, likes sake that’s not too refined. When the drink is made, the outer shell of the rice is milled away to a greater or lesser extent, sometimes leaving as little as ten to 15 per cent of the original grain. ‘I prefer it brewed with rice that has been milled down to about 50 per cent,’ explains Sato. ‘It creates a more interesting flavour. Just like design, too polished can be too much for me.’

The outer shell of Nendo’s prototype stainless steel sake cellar, though, is polished to the nines, with 
a mirror-gloss finish broken by a distinctive namako pattern, commonly found on the exterior of sake breweries. As well as adding visual interest as a motif, the punched holes serve both as handles for opening and closing the cellar door, and as vents for the compressors (which control the flow of refrigerant) inside. At night, they also allow for a soft glow from the inner compartments to shine through.

The cellar was designed for former professional soccer player Hidetoshi Nakata, a sake connoisseur – and founder of his own brand, N – keen to promote the subtleties of the drink. ‘Nakata wanted us to look at the optimal storing conditions,’ says Sato.

The cellar features three separate chambers that can be individually controlled by a touch panel in English, Japanese and Chinese. There are even plans to create an interface that can scan a sake label and determine ideal storing temperature and humidity. Each chamber requires its own compressor, which 
Sato neatly accommodated by fitting one behind each compartment (rather than putting them all at the bottom, as in a standard fridge).

The cellar holds 36 720ml sake bottles or 24 wine bottles, while the bottom two chambers are tall enough to store the larger, 1,800ml isshobin sake bottles. A temperature range of -5ºC to 15ºC allows unpasteurised nama (fresh) sake to be kept below zero and wine at higher temperatures.

The first working prototype was presented at Vinexpo in Hong Kong in May, weighing in at 400kg and 1.6m tall. It is far from market ready, but the storage principles have been narrowed down and with the right partner a commercial product could be developed in the not too distant future.

As originally featured in the September 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*210)