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Forbes Japan reports on sake reaching the small but infamous party island of Ibiza, off the south coast of Spain.

The sake in question is Hakushika from Tatsuuma-Honke, a venerable brewery founded 356 years ago in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture where the miraculous miyamizu water was discovered around 1840.

Flowing from Mount Rokko and rising to about 3-4 m underground under the city, the water is unusually rich in minerals for Japan, containing phosphorus and calcium, and was used for almost nothing but sake brewing for two hundred years.

This relatively hard water produces lively fermentation and a relatively dry sake, and the surrounding region of Nada was said to produce “masculine” sake in contrast to the “feminine” character of sake brewed with soft water in the rival region of Fushimi in Kyoto. Today, the Nada area produces 30% of all sake in Japan.

Tatsuuma-Honke was founded in 1662, during the rule of the fourth Tokugawa shogun, and rose to fame using the miyamizu water for its brewing. Its most famous line, continued today, was started in 1920 as Kuromatsu Hakushika (黒松白鹿, black pine white deer).

Kenji Tatsuuma, who took over as President and Representative Director at 35, reflects that although the sake industry is said not to be swayed by market conditions, after regulations on alcohol retailing were relaxed in 2006 the market gradually shifted from being driven by consumer demand (pull) to being led by the breweries (push). He also warns that the trend among the younger demographic to turn away from alcohol is cause for great concern.

Having come into his role at such a transitional period, Kenji Tatsuuma has his eye on what he calls “sake beginners”, those who are yet to start drinking sake, and aims to increase the frequency with which they encounter it. He refers to its image problem by saying it has to be a “cooler” and more sophisticated consumer good. No-one’s going to enjoy the sake they come across in a bargain all-you-can-drink event.

One step to achieve his aims was setting up a marketing department. He also started a “drinking outside” project in 2017 to make sake more accessible, including a pop-up bar in the summer at nearby Suma Beach, a joint venture with a glamping (“glamorous/luxury camping”) site, and a special line of sake made to be drunk on the rocks.

Of particular note is a story from the party capital of Ibiza. Having heard Hakushika was popular there, Kenji Tatsuuma went to see for himself, visiting the island’s nightclubs. When he ordered “sake” he was asked “straight or cocktail?” That was his moment of revelation. Most Japanese people would never think of mixing sake with anything, but why not find new and different ways to enjoy it? “Cultivation” is one of the company’s principles, but that applied to the market as much as to sake itself. Rather than preserving tradition above all, he thinks it’s important to discover what is needed at the present time through trial and error. He believes that when he looks back from some point in the future, that will have been the right decision.

Based on his experience in Ibiza, Hakushika plans to promote sake cocktails this summer, including through YouTube videos. Kenji Tatsuuma points out that although he inherited the company, he didn’t inherit the market. What he needs to do is to “cultivate” the future drinkers of the next market, and the one beyond that.