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The Shokuhin Sangyo Shinbunsha (Food Industry Reporter) site reports on a continuing trend among alcoholic drinks in Japan, including sake – higher strength.

Commenting that all the major sake breweries have their own “strong” product, the article also predicts that depending on how they sell smaller breweries may also develop their own.

“Strong” versions of canned chūhai [short for “shōchū highball”, a shōchū-based low-alcohol pre-mixed drink or Ready To Drink (RTD) beverage] and beer have become more established, with a market now taking up half the available space on shelves at convenience stores. The trend has even spread to “strong” fizzy drinks and snacks. Sake is not immune, with one “strong” product launched by Konishi in June 2018 and more appearing as breweries bring out their autumn/winter product lines. Although each one has taken a different approach, every big brewery has put out a “strong” product.

Gekkeikan is the pioneer here, having launched the Jōsen Eco Cup Strong (17%) and Junmai Eco Cup Strong (16%) in March 2012, followed by a 2 litre Karakuchi Strong Pack (17%) in September of the same year. The karakuchi pack was later discontinued as it wasn’t competitive. Gekkeikan commented that based on their own experience they were worried from the start, as they knew the pack would only sell in certain regions and it wouldn’t be enough for the product to establish itself. It only sold well in one prefecture, Niigata, which is well known for its alcohol consumption.

Some credit the Koyama Honke brewery in Saitama with the current trend for “strong” sake, after they launched the Kai brand (17%) in March 2017. It attracted the attention of larger breweries, who realised that although volumes were currently low they should get in before they started to rise, and also that Kai was enjoying good sales. Koyama Honke commented that they easily reached their targets for the product, Kai was rated for its taste and drew in repeat drinkers. It was also rated by retail staff and buyers, especially as it was the first of its kind.

Konishi released Hakuyuki Tanrei Karakuchi Strong 1.8 L Pack (16%) and Hakuyuki Tanrei Karakuchi Strong 180 ml Cup in June 2018. The sake aims to be clear and refreshing, but also to deliver a satisfying combination of dryness and short finish. The brewery commented that they wanted to try the products out ahead of other breweries, and based on the results would be developing them in earnest from autumn 2018.

Four other companies are coming out with new “strong” products for autumn/winter 2018. Kiku-Masamune is launching Koi Karakuchi Pack (17%), and commented that it performed well in comparative tastings with buyers quick to pick it up after tasting it against other products. Kizakura have their Strong Dry (17%), commenting that it’s a current trend but they expect it to grow.

Takara are adding Ten Nomigotae Karakuchi (15%) to their product line, not as a “strong” product but rather to provide a more satisfying taste after a survey of their consumers found that their existing dry sake was weak on this point. The sake is designed to leave a longer aftertaste, with the company commenting that it would deliver more to drinkers of their dry styles.

Sawanotsuru have the strongest offering at 18.5%, Kome Dake no Sake Junmai Genshu Namachozō Pack. The Kome Dake no Sake series has a normal strength sake and a low-alcohol one (10.5%), so the new “strong” member fills a gap in the range.

If the sake is stronger there is always the possibility that people will drink less of it, although Kiku-Masamune commented that people who drink regularly usually drink the same quantity regardless of alcohol content. Sawanotsuru also noted that the people buying their product will be sake drinkers, so they weren’t worried about them drinking less. The difference in alcohol content from standard products was only 4% so they didn’t foresee any big changes in quantity. Takara added that drinkers can always add ice to adjust the strength of the sake, something many drinkers of their pack sake in their 40s and 50s already do.

Other breweries who do not yet have a “strong” product commented that this was still a fad and they would see how it developed before doing anything. So they will be keeping an eye on how these new autumn/winter products do before acting. If all goes well for these new products, they could be joined by many more.