The contest started in 2012 and evaluates commercially available sake that consumers can get hold of easily. The judges are made up of individuals who provide technical guidance on sake brewing, plus invited brewers – basically top professionals – who taste the sake blind so as not to be influenced by recognised names.
The first round of the Sake Competition 2018 was held on 16 May 2018, with 455 breweries putting forward 1,772 different sake in eight categories:
- junmai daiginjō
- junmai ginjō
- Super premium (720 ml JPY 10,000 or more before tax, 1.8 L JPY 15,000 before tax)
- Sparkling sake
- Label design
- New for this year – sake produced overseas.
The first round narrows the field, and the second round on 18 May 2018 produces the final ranking. There were 37 judges for the first round and 41 for the second (with 15 judging sparkling sake). Each judge scores each sake from 1 (highest) to 5 (lowest) and the points are totalled to give the sake a score.
On the day of the preliminary round, long tables wrapped in silver foil are laid out in a large hall and judges, marking sheet in one hand, move steadily from one sake to another. The atmosphere was tense, with no chatting between the judges.
There was also a participating brewer for the overseas section – Ken Valvur of the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company who brews for the Izumi brewery in Toronto, founded in 2011 and the first sake brewery in the north east of the Americas. Taking advantage of the area’s high quality spring water, they are also advised by the Miyasaka brewery in Nagano, makers of Masumi. Their sake is currently served in exclusive Toronto restaurants. Ken aims for a balance of sweetness and acidity, fruity and sweet, not unlike white wine which is popular with Canadians. Now that they are hitting their stride they are trying out some dryer styles.