artisan brewers make the national drink cool
Japan’s sake makers are eyeing a brighter future as a younger generation of makers refines the traditional drink to reflect changing tastes at home and satisfy booming demand overseas.
South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong are also big customers. The 2,000-year-old beverage had been declining in popularity, with the number of breweries dropping from 3,600 in 1970 to about 1,500 now.
However, sake has become fashionable again. A new generation of younger and trendier artisan producers has emerged, helping to create sakes that are suited an international palate and designed to accompany non-Japanese foods.
“One reason is that sake now being produced is fruity, refreshing and gorgeous, and is closer to white wine which people are more familiar with,” says sake specialist Ayumi Takahashi.
Koedo Kagamiyama Shuzo is one of the new breed of sake breweries. Akihiro Igarashi, the company’s sales manager, says the company has experimented with new tastes, bringing yeast from France to create a richer, full-bodied version of the tipple.
Igarashi admits that it is a practice the older generation of sake specialists, known as Toji, would have frowned upon. “If we had done this a little while ago, a senior Toji would have punched me,” he says.
Traditionally, the Toji would also have travelled from northern Japan in winter to make sake and return home in spring. Now it’s a year-round endeavour.
“There is an impression that sake is produced by elderly people, but we make sake with youngsters,” he says. “We want to pursue sake of the future.’