Sake makers in Biei, Hokkaido, on Wednesday started to dig out containers of rice wine aged under the snow during the long winter.

The freshly brewed sake had been placed about 100 days earlier in cellars carved out of snow banks. Temperatures in the cellars hover between zero and 2 degrees, which allows the liquor to mature more slowly and results in a smoother texture and lighter taste.

The practice is popular among Hokkaido sake brewers, who like to take advantage of the natural environment.

The sake drawn out Wednesday had been brewed in late December by Takasagoshuzo Inc., based in Asahikawa, Hokkaido. Two types were aged this winter: Junmaishu, characterized by its "umami" flavor, and Honjozoshu, brewed with a small amount of alcohol added to enhance its fragrance.

The storage tanks measure about 3 meters tall and have a diameter of about 2 meters.

The new brew will go on sale in May. It will be bottled as Tokubetsu Junmaishu, or special pure rice wine, under the name Setchu Bijin, which roughly translates as "Snow Beauty," and Tokubetsu Honjozoshu under the name Hyakuya Komachi, meaning "100-Night Beauty."

Junmaishu, made with rice, water and "koji" mold spores, refers to a type of sake where the rice used must be polished to at least 70 percent, while Honjozoshu is made with rice, water, koji and a very small amount of "brewers' alcohol."