Regardless of nationality, executive class drinkers lean towards the relatively new style koshu, such as Nagarakawa T-406 (Komachi brewery, Gifu) or MADENA (Ichinokura, Miyagi).
Takiguchi claims that in many cases the fragrant, prize-winning ginjō and daiginjō categories are already established among the moneyed classes. This makes it easier for the newer koshu to get their attention, especially as it behaves like whiskey or wine in terms of vintage, making it more easily understood. Takiguchi further states that warm sake (nurukan or atsukan) is popular with celebrities around the world, and that there are some wealthy people trying warm sake to compare to the spicy and slightly sweet Glühwein traditional in Germany, France and Switzerland. [Yes, I am muttering “cite your sources” at the screen.]
The super-wealthy in Australia, including those who frequent the resort area of Adelaide with its exclusive members-only clubs, are another example of sake devotees. Tateya puts the yearly income of more than a few members at JPY 30,000,000 per year, and a good number at JPY 100,000,000. She exports sake to the bars of these ultra-exclusive clubs. These places are particularly interested in sparkling sake, such as Kikuizumi Hitosuji (Takisawa brewery, Saitama). Like champagne, it undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle to produce a naturally carbonated sake. Tateya comments that the wealthy like things that are “authentic” and “top class”. Drinking sparkling alcoholic drinks on a sunny day is a custom common to all countries of the world [Sources plz.] and the surprising nature of sparkling sake has made it popular in the west.
Other rated sake include the reasonably priced, umami-laden Daishichi junmai kimoto and the more refined Daishichi kimoto Minowamon (Daishichi brewery, Fukushima), plus the daiginjō Tokusei Gold (Kamotsuru, Hiroshima) served to former president Obama. Takiguchi speculates that their excellent balance and ease of pairing makes them favourites with foreigners.
Most of the sake being sold abroad is from the small group of extremely large companies that dominate sake production by volume, but Tateya has her own strategy. She selects small breweries that cannot compete with the big names, and seeks out urban areas abroad where sake is not yet well known where she approaches high-class restaurants or sells directly to the wealthy. Resort towns full of villas and second homes are where she paves her own way to selling sake. Tateya admits it’s not a very efficient approach, but there are plenty of foodies and always at least some people interested in sake.
Her methods are simple: she explains what sake is, lets the guests taste, and then does her utmost to convey the passion of the brewer.
There’s a reason why she left the high life with an international financial institution to enter the world of sake: she wants to reclaim Fukushima’s good name after the Great East Japan Earthquake. She was blown away by sake from the Suehiro brewery in Aizu, Fukushima, but distressed to see how sake from the prefecture was treated after the disaster. She talks about her shock when an acquaintance in Hong Kong checked a bottle for radiation. She made up her mind to change the situation, left her job and spent the next three years collecting a string of qualifications: the Sake Service Institute Kikisake-shi, International Kikisake-shi and Sakashō (a kind of super-taster), sake educator, wine sommelier, drinks retailer licence.
Takiguchi returns to her starting point: that sake is a luxury good outside Japan. Tateya says that she felt she had to sell sake to the high-end market or it wouldn’t succeed. She believes that selling directly to the wealthy, and convincing them of sake‘s value, will help sake spread through each country. She’s also worried that the sake may not be handled properly, so rather than selling sake to supermarkets she sells directly and individually to those who will appreciate it.
So there you have it. A frustrating post (who are the “celebrities” who are supposed to be drinking sake? Is she just selling to old work contacts/colleagues?) but with some interesting titbits, including the popularity of non-ginjō styles and relative newcomers sparkling sake and koshu. I can agree with that at least.
- Original article (Japanese, Nikkei Style, 13 July 2018)
- Komachi brewery (Japanese)
- Komachi brewery (English)
- Ichinokura (Japanese)
- Ichinokura (English)
- Takisawa brewery (Japanese)
- Takisawa brewery (English)
- Suehiro brewery (Japanese)