There was so much in yesterday's story that I'm back to the Yahoo News Japan coverage of a sake event in London, this time focusing on a talk from UK Sake Samurai Rie Yoshitake.
Rie Yoshitake, representative Sake Samurai in the UK, appeared at the event to talk about the challenges and opportunities for sake. She pointed out that one of every ten new restaurants opening in London is Japanese, and that although sake is still inextricably wedded to Japanese food, interest in washoku had increased explosively over the last decade. She likened the situation to moving from low gear into second gear, and also claimed that London was the capital of the wine scene, rather than Paris, as it was the centre of the international wine network.
She also commented that wine lovers know that they can drink sake with a meal just like wine, and that although the easy-to-drink sparkling sake and ume-shu are most popular now they will serve as a stepping stone on the way to greater popularity of sake just like the California roll did for sushi. She also claimed that it had come to the point where wine sommeliers needed to know about sake, and that her task was to use the wine network to increase distribution of sake. She also pointed out that misconceptions such as sake being high in alcohol and always drunk hot had to be addressed.
Yoshitake also noted that sake is available on supermarket shelves alongside wine, and the day when it is a viable alternative for shoppers may not be far away. She added that the biggest obstacle was price, with GBP £7 average for wine and a good bottle costing about £10, but sake costing £30 or £40, and appealed to the big breweries to bring prices down so that sake could make it onto ]dinner tables. She was also worried about the impression drinkers would get from "strange and dishonest/unfair" (reported as ずるい) sake starting to appear in supermarkets, where interested people might seek it out but come away disappointed. She called on breweries to produce not just honjōzō (added alcohol 10% or less) but also futsu-shu (added alcohol over 10%) as she feels they could be a big hit.
I think a few things were over-stated here, particularly how close sake is to being chosen over wine by your average UK shopper, but first of all I wanted to look into this "strange, dishonest/unfair" sake on European supermarket shelves.
I'd heard about one or two bottles in supermarkets in the UK, and admittedly hadn't heard very good things about them, but wasn't sure what was being discussed here. It wasn't hard to find, and the "dishonest/unfair" may be because it's produced outside Japan where there are no regulations on what you can call "sake".
- Doragon "sake", "produce of the EU" in Sainsbury's at GBP £6.96 / 700 ml, reviews rate it 1.9 out of 5
- Same on the Tesco site, this time with the full details of the brewer in the Netherlands, £5.50 / 500 ml, and stating it won silver in the International Wine and Spirit Competition 2011
- Same "sake" with a review stating it's made in Holland and tastes like dry cider
- More negative reviews for Doragon "sake" on the Master of Malt site, £11.45 / 700 ml (funny if it wasn't about something you cared about) and comments saying the quality had dropped since 2013
- Sawanotsuru sake, from the famous Nada region in Hyogo, in Aldi at GBP £3.99 / 300 ml, given a positive review by the Telegraph's wine correspondent
The idea of promoting honjōzō and futsu-shu is also complicated by aruten (alcohol-added) sake being classed as a fortified wine for import purposes, which makes it more expensive than junmai. I know some tariffs will be phased out under the EU-Japan trade agreement finalised in December 2017, but I'm not sure how that will affect this class of sake.
And slightly surprised to see that the UK is the only European country to get its own section on the export chart - I see a lot of news about sake in France, but maybe it's more news than export volume.
- Original article (Japanese, Yahoo News Japan, 29 March 2018)