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Forbes Japan has an article on the rising price of sake, and how it hasn’t dented the rise in exports.

They comment that the average sake retails for about JPY 2,000 for a 720 ml bottle, and even a boxed daiginjō will put you back around JPY 5,000. And the general evaluation has been that it’s cheaper than wine. However, some sake in recent years have pushed up into higher price tiers and also been highly rated overseas.

The article references the sake industry’s first ever auction-style sale, held in June 2018 by the Kokuryū brewery for their Mu-ni series and attended by 66 buyers from contracted retailers. [Covered previously in A sake that costs as much as wholesalers want to pay.] Until then, common practice was for the brewer to set a recommended retail price and leave it to the retailers who do the actual selling to do the pricing, effectively asking the market how much sake should cost.

Kokuryū called on a group of chefs and sommeliers from famous Japanese restaurants to provide an objective quality assessment of batches of Mu-ni junmai daiginjō genshu brewed between 2012 and 2015 and aged in cold storage at -2°C. All were made with Yamada Nishiki sake-specific rice from the famous Tōjō region of Hyōgo Prefecture, milled to 35%. The retail price range for a bottle, complete with a lacquered box, is between around JPY 100,000 and JPY 200,000. A four-bottle set has even sold for JPY 600,000.

Aoki Shuzō in Niigata celebrated its 300 year anniversary on 1 October 2017, releasing three types of their Kakurei junmai daiginjō. The launch consisted of 100 bottles of tokubetsu-han [special edition] Kakushu at JPY 170,000, 200 bottles of tokubtesu-han [special edition] Yukidama at JPY 100,000 and 300 bottles of tsujō-han [normal edition] at JPY 30,000.

The junmai daiginjō is made from Niigata Prefecture-grown Koshitanrei rice milled to 30%, with the sake laid down in 2007 to mature for 10 years at -5°C. The tokubetsu-han Kakushu was also pressed by the labour-intensive fukurodori method, resulting in a mellow sake with no off flavours. Creative director Kashiwa Sato was responsible for the bottle design and painted every Arita porcelain container by hand. Each one has a unique pattern, more like a work of art than a simple sake bottle. The sets even came with a photo book. The launch is sold out, although a few sets might be left in department stores or specialist retailers.

Toshio Kuroda was a pioneer of Japanese food and drink in Paris, opening a Japanese food and sake shop and restaurant in the city and working tirelessly to promote them both. He passed away in February 2017 in a Paris hospital.

Christian Mazzalai of the rock band Phoenix was already interested in sake, and particularly fond of Tatenokawa. Grateful for Kuroda’s efforts to promote sake, Tatenokawa turned their feelings into a sake that won Grand Prix at the US Sake Appraisal. They then created the Phoenix Sake Collection project to continue their homage to Kuroda, using crowdfunding for the second sake in the series and reaching their goal within a week. They also produced a junmai daiginjō from rice milled down to just 1% in 2018, which sold for JPY 100,000.

Venture company Clear founded SAKE100 in July 2018 as a specialist brand for premium sake. They teamed up with carefully selected sake breweries around the country to use their skills to create sake that will be remembered 100 years from now. Their first product was Byakkō, developed with Tatenokawa. [Covered earlier in Is sake too cheap?]

Made purely from Dewasansan rice grown organically and under contract in Yamagata Prefecture and milled to just 18%, the sake is held in cold storage at 0.5°C. The resulting sake has a sophisticated, mellow aroma reminiscent of lilies and a remarkably smooth texture. Fresh, clear sweetness and rice-derived umami unfold gently on the tongue, developing into pleasant lingering notes.

The four labels featured here are more than just highly polished. They have an extra something, displaying each brewery’s distinctive characteristics. And with overseas demand increasing, we should expect to see more and more sake in this higher price range.