The Nikkan Gendai Digital site has a report on the only two words you need to introduce sake to foreigners - apparently it's "apple" and "banana".
The article first reminds us that sake is enjoying unprecedented popularity, with exports breaking new records for eight years in a row. It also points to a growing "sake movement" around the world, with organisations like the Sake Sommelier Association in London trying to popularise it.
But many Japanese people hesitate when it comes to introducing foreign friends to sake. How do you explain that it's all made from rice, but differs by region, label and brewery? There's just no common language to express all of that.
Fear not, for Jerome Reed from Colorado is here to tell you what to do. Former PR manager for the Imayotsukasa brewery in Niigata, he has plenty of experience showing foreigners around the kura. There's no need to make it complicated, he says.
He starts off by stating that most of the sake available outside of Japan is of poor quality and most foreigners know nothing of sake properly brewed in a real brewery. So the first step is to have them experience the real thing for themselves, and for that he uses the two magic words "apple" and "banana" to express the aroma of sake. Although sake is made from rice, the brewing process produces fruity aroma compounds which can resemble melon, nashi (Asian pear) or tropical fruit depending on the type of kōji used. But to make things simple, he divides it into apple for fresh, clear aromas and banana for rich, mellow ones.
He quizzes the about-to-be-drinker before they take their first sip - does this sake smell like apple, or banana? The important point here is to make them stop and think, and allow them to associate something unknown - authentic sake - with something known - fruit. In Jerome's experience, 90% of people can correctly identify the aroma as apple-like or banana-like.
The article also mentions that many foreigners who have never drunk sake see it and think that because it's colourless it must be like gin or vodka. [In combination with the tiny glasses it's served in, imho.] So the makers have to make it clear that it's produced in a way similar to beer, or wine, to help the message about alcohol content get through.
Jerome currently works as a brand ambassador for long-standing whisky label Johnnie Walker, introducing whisky to the Japanese. So the interviewer turns the tables by asking him what fruit aromas can be detected in whisky. His response - ripe orange and apple, with blended whiskys containing a multitude of different elements. His way of detecting the differences is to lick some seasoning and then drink the whisky as a highball - salt, for example, brings out smoky notes. He enjoys preparing a range of spices and comparing how each one affects the whisky.