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Sake Times carried out a review of some sake brewed outside of Japan: they note that its increased popularity has led to breweries popping up in the USA and Asia, Norway and Brazil. Some are operations run by big Japanese breweries who create local companies, but others are started by non-Japanese who just fell in love with sake. They estimate there are about 40 breweries outside Japan.

The article introduces sake brewed in Mexico, New Zealand and Australia.

The first sake they present is Nami, made in Mexico. Sake is showing signs of increasing popularity in Mexico, where the Kanpai Festival of Japanese food and drink attracted 3,500 people. One of the products available to taste was the Mexican-brewed sake Nami. It’s brewed by a company that runs large supermarkets and off-licences/liquor stores in Mexico, and the brewery is mostly operated by younger people. The master brewer (tōji, 杜氏) is only in his late twenties, and supervised by Kōji Yamada, former master brewer for the Michizakura brewery in Gifu Prefecture. The brewery is a remarkably modern one, with the latest imported machinery. Sake Times tasted their junmai made with imported Japanese Yamada Nishiki rice.

  • Aroma: They were struck by the substantial ginjo-ka (characteristic fruity aroma of ginjo/daiginjo sake) apparent immediately upon pouring, reminiscent of tropical fruit such as mango or papaya. There were traces of freshness and youthfulness, but overall it was like walking in a fruit orchard.
  • Flavour: Simple sweetness underpinned by refreshing acidity, bringing juicy fruit like pineapple to mind. Grain and buttery notes emerge inside the sweetness, like when you’ve just eaten a cookie.
  • Summary: Mature sweetness rounded out by refreshing acidity, with a tropical profile.
  • Would pair well with: Boiled daikon radish topped with yuzu peel, or sweets like milk chocolate or marshmallow.

The second sake was Zenkuro from New Zealand. It was founded in 2015 in Queenstown, an area capped with glaciers and permanent snow, by master brewer David Joll. He previously worked at the Yoshikubo brewery in Ibaraki Prefecure, creators of the sake Ippin, and the Canadian sake brewery YK3 Sake Producer. David fell in love with Japan after first visiting at age 17, and saw the lack of a sake brewery in New Zealand as a business opportunity. Zenkuro (written with characters meaning “All Black”) hit the headlines in August 2016 when it won a gold medal in the oldest sake competition in Europe, the London Sake Challenge, despite the brewery being operational for less than two years. The brewery uses local water and rice imported from California, and no machinery is used except for at filtration stage, showing their commitment to hand-produced quality. Sake Times chose their junmai White Cloud sake for tasting.

  •  Aroma: Rounded and full of kōji-derived scent, with a sweetness like the one you get after eating rice.
  • Flavour: Plenty of robust volume at the start, but with a sharp, white wine-like acidity that fills the mouth at the mid-palate and end. Rounded sweetness and crisp finish. Overall, a simple profile.
  • Heated: Sake Times tried heating the sake to nuru-kan temperature (about 40°C). The acidity became milder, giving an overall more rounded impression. Using a thin-lipped vessel made the acidity more prominent, but with a thick-lipped vessel the acidity wasn’t as evident and the sake tasted more balanced.
  • Summary: The crisp finish and impressive acidity stood out, which may be a result of making a sake for the mainly meat-based local dishes. Changing the temperature and drinking vessel made a big difference to the impression of acidity, so it should be fun to experiment.
  • Would pair well with: Strongly-flavoured, fatty sirloin steak, pizza topped with plenty of seafood, and should go well with many Western dishes as a sake to drink during meals.

The final sake they tasted was the Australian Go-Shu, made in Penrith just outside Sydney by Australia’s only sake brewery, Sun Masamune. They started test brewing in 1988 under the guidance of the long-established Konishi brewery in Hyogo Prefecture, who make the sake Shirayuki, and released their sake to the market in 1996. All staff are recruited locally, including chairman and managing director Allan Noble, and all ingredients are sourced in Australia. The brewery is almost entirely automated, and produces all year round to ensure stable supply. 

  • Aroma: Like yogurt, mainly sweet notes containing some acidity. Also some aromatic sweetness like freshly-cooked rice.
  • Flavour: Robust sweetness on the attack, but overall refreshing with a crisp finish. The end has pronounced acidity and sweetness, like a lactic acid-based drink.
  • Heated: Heating to nuru-kan temperature (about 40°C) results in a more restrained aroma and brings out more umami. Whether a result of the prominent acidity shifting to sweetness or something else, it’s more balanced hot than cold.
  • Summary: The yoghurt-like aroma gives an impression of heavy body, but it’s actually very drinkable. Heating brings out a little umami, so it can probably be enjoyed at a range of temperatures.
  • Would pair well with: When chilled to bring out its milky notes, raw oyster or roast beef. When heated to bring out some umami, mirin-seasond or miso-marinated fish.

The article concludes with a comment that the quality of non-Japanese sake has improved massively in recent years, and that they may in time adapt to local tastes instead of simply trying to be like their Japanese inspiration.