Niconico News reports on a sake cocktail competition held at London's Hyper Japan festival in late November 2018.
The cocktail contest presented three cocktails a day over the three days of the event, with votes collected daily from participants who paid GBP £5.00 for a ticket. Each day had one cocktail based on junmai sake, one on nigori sake, and one on ume-shu, giving a total of nine cocktails. Which one do you think appealed to a London audience?
The winner on the first two days was the nigori-based cocktail, with the ume-shu one winning on the third day. The first day was won by the tropical "Sake Me Sideways" cocktail from Nathan Ho who works at Buddha Bar in Knightsbridge, made in the image of a mango and mochi rice dessert. It blended nigori-zake with coconut cream, lemon vodka, yuzu juice and mango syrup.
Day two was won by Italian Michele Reina of the Smith & Whistle, who took advantage of nigori's milky mouthfeel in a cocktail that resembled a milk-based punch.
The last day's competition went to Ryu Okada of Kanpai Cocktails, with his fruit iced tea-style creation mixing ume-shu, jasmine tea, amaretto, gin, lemon juice and homemade peach and orange syrup. Everything is shaken and served in an ice-filled highball glass with jasmine flowers and lemon peel.
Two of the three winners in the first contest, held in 2015, were also for nigori-based cocktails. This led to speculation that the English, unfamiliar with sake, might be more comfortable with nigori's cloudy white appearance, lactic flavour and thick mouthfeel that recalls stouts such as Guinness or the heavy soup for tonkotsu ramen which has also become popular in the UK capital.
Ryu Okada, who won on the final day with an ume-shu based cocktail, believes that ume-shu's strong flavour makes it distinctive for British consumers. Sake, on the other hand, is more delicate and ends up being compared to the more aromatic white wine and losing to it.
The author speculates that many Japanese people might be reluctant to use sake in cocktails, but in the UK where people aren't used to sake it could be just the thing to break into the market. He credits the influence of "mixologists", who not only mix cocktails but also tailor them to suit the venue, theme and mood. This ability to introduce new ingredients might be the key to successfully bringing sake overseas.