Episode 142 Show Notes
Episode 142. Stop the presses! Sake is back again in the news recently and we wanted to take a look at some of the latest newsworthy sake headlines hitting our shores. This week, we’ll discuss the New York Times’ declaration that “Sake is Booming in America” and talk about their comprehensive take on sake. We’ll also look at a report out of Japan that the 1.8L Issho-bin or magnum bottle size for sake is falling out of favor. Lastly, we’ll discuss the BBC’s take on the global rise in sake sales outside of Japan. Listen in to get our two cents the latest sake headlines as we revisit our series on sake in the news! #SakeRevolution
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Welcome to the show from John and Timothy
Sake In the News. SOURCE: New York Times, Feb 27, 2023
Imports are way up, retail shops are proliferating and more sake breweries are opening.
When Shinobu Kato first tried sake as a young man in Tokyo, it tasted harsh and sharp to him. He hated it. But, he recalls, an older colleague told him that he was drinking cheap, poorly made sake. As he was introduced to better styles, Mr. Kato grew to love it.When he moved to the United States in 2004 to study business at the University of Maryland, he could afford only the sorts of bad sake that had left such a terrible first impression. So he decided to brew his own, steaming and fermenting rice in his kitchen. To his surprise, he and his friends adored it. Mr. Kato continued brewing sake after he moved to Nashville to work for Nissan. He grew so passionate about sake that, in 2016, with the encouragement of his wife, Ayako, he moved to Bushwick, Brooklyn, with the aim of opening his own sake brewery. He equipped himself with small stainless steel vats from a brewery supply house, bought special rice grown in California and ordered yeast and other necessities by mail from Japan. Finally, in April 2020, just weeks into the Covid lockdown, Kato Sake Works opened in a tiny, 500-square-foot industrial space in Bushwick.
It now sells four different kinds of sake, with numerous special batches. The brewery has done so well, Mr. Kato said, that it will soon move to a new space five times as big.
Mr. Kato’s timing could hardly be better. Sake sales are booming around the world and in the United States. Exports from Japan more than doubled in volume from 2012 to 2022, from roughly 14 million liters per year to nearly 36 million liters, according to the Japanese Sake and Shochu Makers Association, a trade group. Exports to the United States in that period grew to more than nine million liters per year, up from just under four million liters.Paradoxically, as the popularity of sake rises elsewhere, it is declining in Japan. The population is aging, people are drinking less in general and younger people have yet to take up sake, said Chicako Ichihara, the New York liaison officer for the sake makers’ association. Still, she said, sales of premium sake are stable. It’s the cheaper stuff, the sort of sake that Mr. Kato first tasted, that fewer people are buying. For years, sake proponents have proclaimed that it would be the next big thing in the American alcoholic beverage market. But it never took off, even as other categories, like tequila and natural wines, grew from niche markets to the mainstream. Now, though, evidence of a leap seems to be all over.
Brooklyn Kura, a sake brewery in the waterfront complex Industry City, is expanding in partnership with Hakkaisan Brewery, a Japanese sake producer. Asahi Shuzo, which makes the Japanese sake brand Dassai, is constructing an American brewery in Hyde Park, N.Y., to produce Dassai Blue, a brand for the United States market. It is expected to open this year.
In Hot Springs, Ark., a 24,000-square-foot brewery for Origami Sake — almost 10 times the size of Kato’s new brewery — is scheduled to open in May. Master brewers from Nanbu Bijin, a Japanese brewery, will act as advisers, but the financing and ownership is American. “It will be the largest U.S.-owned brewery, with a capacity of one million liters a year,” said Matt Bell, the chief executive of Origami. “The goal, really, is to move sake into the mainstream.” If Arkansas seems an odd place to put a sake brewery, the state is by far the leading producer of rice in the United States, growing nearly 40 percent of the national production. As for the other major necessity for sake brewing, Mr. Bell points out that Hot Springs is renowned for the quality of its water.
While sake comes in any number of styles, the basic ingredients are few: rice, water, yeast and koji, a rice mold also used for making miso and soy sauce that breaks down the rice starches into fermentable sugars, just as malting does with grains in beer production. The variables, however, are many. The freshly harvested form of rice is brown rice, and though brown rice can be used to make sake, that use is rare. The husk and outer part of the grain is usually milled away to expose the starches. The percentage of the grain that is retained after milling, or polishing, will partly determine the style. Many other factors also play into the final product. Is the water hard or soft? What strain of yeast is used? Where does the rice come from, and where is the brewery? How long should fermentation last? Brewers will sometimes add a small amount of alcohol, which can make a sake more fragrant. Some sakes are infused with citrus or other flavorings. Most sakes are filtered and pasteurized, but other styles exist, too. Rice in a pot being steam-heated. A wire that is buried the rice snakes its way out of the container and over the rim, out of frame.
Rice is steam-heated for brewing sake at Kato.Nico Schinco for The New York Times
A shot from behind of a person wearing an illustrated “Kato Sake Works” shirt, stirring a pot of sake with a red handle.
Stirring the rice during sake brewing at Kato.Nico Schinco for The New York Times
Sake produced in the United States accounts for a small fraction of the sake sold domestically. Most is imported from Japan, and wine importers have gotten in on the act. In New York City, Zev Rovine Selections, a natural wine specialist, and Skurnik Wines, a national importer and distributor, have added sake to their portfolios. The upward trajectory of sake sales has been mirrored at Skurnik, said Jamie Graves, who manages its Japanese beverage lineup.
The jump in the last few years has been particularly noticeable in retail, as you might expect, given the restaurant shutdowns during the pandemic. “Retail sake exploded in 2020 and never went away,” Mr. Graves said. “It went from 15 to 20 percent of our sake sales to 40 percent, staying steady even after restaurants reopened.” At Sakaya, a retailer that opened in the East Village in 2007, sake sales took a huge jump during the pandemic, said Rick Smith, who owns the business with his wife, Hiroko Furukawa.
“Interest in sake has increased,” he said. “You can see it in more importers and the proliferation, at least in New York City, of all these sushi omakase restaurants.”
When Yoko Kumano and Kayoko Akabori opened Umami Mart in Oakland, Calif., in 2012, specializing in Japanese goods and ingredients, they did not sell sake. But they got a license in 2014, and now, Ms. Kumano said, sake is their No. 1 seller.
The small interior of Umami Mart, with many people sitting at tables and the bar. Colorful, well-designed Japanese art lines the walls and “Umami Mart” tote bags and other products are on a table. Two bartenders serve customers behind a bar and in front of wall-mounted shelves filled with sake bottles. Sake has become the main business at Umami Mart in Oakland, Calif., which also sells Japanese barware and other goods.Kelsey McClellan for The New York Times
Two women working behind the bar at Umami Mart. There are people drinking at the bar, and on the wall is a chalkboard with lists of sake, shochu, tea and more.
She has also seen an evolution in her clientele. In 2014, customers would ask for a dry sake and maybe for a daiginjo, a common style. “Now, people are waking up to the fact that sake is much more versatile than people thought,” she said. “They are trying sake with foods other than sushi, and now, they are asking for nama — unpasteurized sake — or nigori — unfiltered sake.” If any individual could take credit for the rising interest in sake in New York, it might be Tadao Yoshida, the entrepreneur behind Japan Village, a complex of Japanese food stalls, groceries and other goods in Industry City. He also owns Kuraichi, a sake store at Japan Village. Mr. Yoshida, who goes by Tony, has for years sought to introduce Americans to the pleasures of Japanese food and beverages. Over the last 50 years, he built and owned a Japanese-oriented food-and-drink empire in the East Village, including the original location of Sunrise Mart Grocery; Village Yokocho, a restaurant; and Angel’s Share, a renowned cocktail bar.
All are now gone, and he is putting his efforts into Japan Village. He especially wants people to understand the many shades and subtleties of sake. “It’s sometimes mild, sometimes sweet,” he said. “Some are good for eating with steak.”
Since Kuraichi opened in 2018, it has offered Saturday afternoon sake tastings to introduce its clients to the many types of sakes. “We try to ask them, ‘What is the difference?’ ” he said. Each of Kato Sake Works’ four flagship sakes illustrates a different major style. Mr. Kato makes a bold, clean, fruity and lightly sweet but balanced junmai (a term indicating that nothing else has been used in the production beyond the four key ingredients, and that no more than 70 percent of the rice grain remains after milling). He also makes an intense, complex, milky white nigori, which is unfiltered. His nama, or unpasteurized, sake is fuller and wilder, almost in your face with a lightly raspy texture. Kimoto, made with an old, labor-intensive process for kicking off the fermentation that Mr. Graves of Skurnik likens to sourdough starter, seems fuller and more complex. Though Mr. Kato also makes smaller batches of other styles, these four are the focus. “I understand the esoteric nature of sake, so I just want to make things simple,” he said. Richard Geoffroy — who was for 28 years the charismatic face of Dom Pérignon, overseeing the production of the luxury Champagne and traveling the world to promote it — was so drawn to sake that, in 2019, he left the company to create, with Japanese partners, his own sake. Though impeded by the Covid pandemic, they built their own brewery and made their first sake, IWA, in 2020. It was released in New York and California last year, and, now past the depths of the pandemic, Mr. Geoffroy has resumed his globe-trotting, proselytizing the beauty of sake and IWA. Two men, one in chef whites and the other in a dark blazer, hold wine glasses up to their face. In front of them is a bar in light wood, and behind them is an inset shelf holding bottles of Japanese liquor.
He hopes to bring IWA to a wine-drinking audience. IWA is terrific, smooth and light in the mouth, with a floral, lightly fruity aroma but savory, too — fresh and crystalline, with a sense of tension and energy. The only problem? The Dom Pérignon prices. IWA retails for roughly $200 a bottle. (Most mainstream bottles will fall into the $25-to-$50 range.). What accounts for the rising interest in the United States? Mr. Graves suggests it’s fueled by a rapid increase in American tourism. From 2010 to 2019, the number of Americans visiting Japan rose from roughly 900,000 per year to about 2.2 million, according to JTB Tourism Research and Consulting, which tracks tourism in Japan. Many of these travelers return home with heightened interest in Japanese culture, food and sake. One restaurant that has made sake a focus is Rule of Thirds, a sleek Japanese restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that specializes in izakaya fare. It sells roughly three dozen sakes, along with natural wines, cocktails and shochu, a Japanese distilled spirit. “We now have two local sake breweries in Brooklyn,” said George Padilla, an owner. “Having local entry points is really important. People can make personal connections with the product and meet the people behind it.” The interior of a busy restaurant with patrons sitting at a booth and the bar. The room is done in mostly wood, with some green plants above the bar and near tables. An open kitchen can be seen behind the bar.
During the pandemic, the restaurant opened Bin Bin, a sake and natural wine shop around the block. “Sake is definitely the leading seller,” said Sophia Sioris, who manages Bin Bin. “People enter the shop expecting to see sake, and sales are great.”
Mr. Kato says he is encouraged that sake will continue to grow in the United States.“I see more money coming into the industry. The investment is way bigger than what I had seen before,” he said. “People are no longer hesitant.”
-SOURCE: New York Times,
Choryo Omachi Junmai Ginjo
Brewery: Choryo Shuzo
Classification: Junmai Ginjo
Rice Type: Omachi
View on UrbanSake.com:
Sake In the News. SOURCE: Nikkei Asia, March 6, 2023
NIIGATA, Japan — Japanese sake brewers have found that bigger is not better when it comes to bottles, the largest of which have fallen out of favor as people drink less. COVID-19 accelerated a shift away from 1.8-liter bottles. Shipments have fallen faster during the pandemic as restaurants and bars struggled to stay open for much of the time. But big bottles were already in decline. Breweries have begun embracing smaller containers to try to create a buzz amid a general decline in sake drinking. Since fiscal 2002, sake consumption has decreased by more than 50% in volume terms, while shipments of 1.8-liter bottles have declined nearly 80%, government and industry data show. Nearly 44 million 1.8-liter bottles for sake were shipped in fiscal 2021, according to a bottle recycling association. The amount had been decreasing at a pace of several percent a year before the pandemic, but it plummeted by 20% in fiscal 2020 and 16% in fiscal 2021. Demand from restaurants and other establishments accounts for more than half all shipments of 1.8-liter bottles, known as issho-bin in Japanese. When restaurants shortened business hours or refrained from serving alcohol during the height of the government’s pandemic measures, demand for the large bottles was hurt, according to the recycling association. Waste from unsold sake became a bigger problem — once opened, the beverage starts to lose its flavor. The change has been felt in Niigata prefecture, one of Japan’s biggest sake-producing regions. Household demand for big bottles has long been on a decline as drinking tastes have changed and multigenerational households have decreased.
“More people think that [a 1.8-liter bottle] is going to be more than they want to have,” said Akira Shizukuishi, president of distributor Niigata Shuhan. Many sake drinkers are choosing large paper cartons for easier storage, he said. Demand for 1.8-liter bottles is expected to pick up in fiscal 2022 as economic activity resumes, but most expect the decline to continue in the long term.
A restaurant manager in Niigata said the business wants to stock a bigger selection of 720-milliliter bottles because “more people want to drink smaller amounts of different kinds of sake.” Suigei Brewing, located in Kochi in western Japan, has been increasing its offerings of 720ml bottles since 2020 in response to the pandemic. The share of 1.8-liter bottles of the brewery’s shipments was 25% in the fiscal year ending September 2020, but fell to 18% two years later. Sales in the year ended September 2022 were up 20% on the year a record high 1.2 billion yen ($8.8 million).
Hokusetsu Sake Brewery from Sado in Niigata prefecture released a small 100ml bottle version of its YK35 daiginjo premium sake in 2021. A 720ml bottle retails for 4,950 yen, but the small bottles sell for 770 yen. They were initially produced for shipment to overseas hotels, but the brewery said it decided to sell them in Japan as well in response to demand from customers who want to try a small amount. While smaller bottles may help the increase the number of sake fans, some breweries say they are more labor-intensive than 1.8-liter bottles.
-SOURCE: Nikkei Asia,
Sake In the News. SOURCE: By Susan Hornik and Will Smale, BBC News, March 1, 2023
Genki Ito says there are a number of factors behind the continuing decline in sake sales in the drink’s home market.
“Sake’s consumption in Japan has dropped significantly due to an increasing variety of choice of alcohol… as well as the westernisation of consumer culture.” A Japanese expat, Mr Ito is the founder of Tippsysake, a US website that focuses on importing and selling the alcoholic drink, which is made from fermenting rice soaked in water. He adds that the reputation of sake in its home country has been tarnished by cheaper, low-quality versions “with lots of additives that caused hangovers”. Sake, which typically has an alcohol content of between 15% and 17%, is still often referred to as the national drink of Japan. Yet today beer is the best-selling alcoholic beverage in the country. Sales of sake have been further squeezed by the continuing popularity of a spirit called shochu, plus whisky, wine and “highballs” – canned drinks that mix either fruits or whisky with fizzy water.
The figures showing the decline of sake are pretty stark. Between 1973 and 2020, annual domestic sales fell by 75%, according to one report. Meanwhile, the Brewers Association of Japan said in 2021 that home market demand had shrunk by 30% over the past decade. Thankfully for Japan’s more than 1,100 sake breweries, there is one shining light – continuing strong overseas sales. Exports of sake in 2021 totalled 40.2bn yen ($294m; £243m), according to the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association. It added that this was a record high for the 12th year in a row.
So what is driving this international growth? Jumpei Sato, chief executive of sake brewer Tatenokawa, says that a growing appreciation of Japanese food and culture certainly helps. Yet he explains that sake producers are also continuing with a successful policy of focusing on exporting some of their best bottles. “Overseas export and high-end sake are key elements for our future management,” says Mr Sato, who is the sixth generation to make sake at Tatenokawa. “Of course the domestic sector is also important, but it is equally vital to be recognised in the new global market. I think it will give a bright future for Japanese sake.” Mr Ito says that in addition to focusing on quality for the export market, producers are also adjusting their recipes to increase the level of natural acid in the sake, and slightly reduce the alcohol content, so as to make it taste more like wine. The idea here is both that sake will appeal more to wine enthusiasts, but also so that it can better pair with richer, fattier and often dairy-based Western food.
“With this attention on acidity and ability to pair with food, brewers are designing the taste of sake to cater to consumers outside of Japan,” adds Mr Ito. “They think that the wine communities around the world are the most susceptible and appreciative of works of art craft sake brewing.” This targeting of the wine enthusiast community appears to be a continuing success, as a number of prestigious wine-tasting competitions around the world now have sake categories running along the likes of best US chardonnay or pinot noir. To help make sakes more wine-like, a number of producers are even bringing on board former winemakers. Tatenokawa is working with a new sake producer called Heavensake, which is a Franco-Japanese business. Its founder Regis Camus was previously head winemaker at champagne house Piper Heidsieck. While Heavensake’s sakes are still, quality sparkling sake is available and increasingly growing in popularity. Another former champagne big wig, Richard Geoffroy, previously of Dom Perignon, also now makes sake. Heavensake is also said to benefit from champagne’s decades of marketing and advertising know-how. “I believe international collaboration and cultural exchange on liquid, packaging and marketing concepts for sake will open new doors, and make it more relevant and successful outside Japan,” says Heavensake’s chief executive, Laurent Cutier.
He adds that international sales of high-end sake were helped by the coronavirus pandemic. “Consumers were exploring new products and categories while being stuck at home.” UK wine writer Jamie Goode is also a sake expert, with an advanced level qualification in the Japanese drink. “Lighter, fruitier sakes are the ones that are really flying at the moment on the international market,” he says. “They are more accessible for people used to wine, who can appreciate them more easily than some of the more traditional sakes. “Sake is obviously not as mainstream as wine, but it does seem to be having a bit of momentum.” Courtney Kaplan, the co-owner of Los Angeles sake bar and restaurant Ototo, says that many sake-makers are now “explicitly” mentioning wine in their English language literature. “And they are suggesting that consumers enjoy sake from stemware [wine glasses] rather than worrying about procuring more traditional vessels like ochoko and guinomi [sake cups],” she says. Ms Kaplan adds that some sake producers talk about pairing sake with non-Japanese foods. “As an example, we sell a sake called ‘Cowboy’ that is only sold on the export maker, and was developed by the brewery specifically to demonstrate to Americans that sake can pair with steak or beef. “We also serve sake with oysters at the restaurant, which are loved around the world. It’s also a great pairing with pizza – sake shares high levels of the amino acid called glutamate with tomatoes and Parmesan cheese, making it a natural fit.”
SOURCE: By Susan Hornik and Will Smale, BBC NEWS
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Episode 142 Transcript
John Puma: 0:21
Hello everybody and welcome to Sake Revolution. This is America’s First Sake podcast, and I have the honor, of being, one of your hosts. My name is John Puma. You may know me from the Sake Notes. I’m also the administrator over the internet sake, discord, as well as Reddits r slash sake community.
Timothy Sullivan: 0:41
And I’m your host Timothy Sullivan. I’m a Sake Samurai and a sake educator, as well as the founder of the Urban Sake website. And every week John and I will be here tasting and chatting about all things sake, doing our best to make it fun and easy to understand.
John Puma: 0:57
And, uh, and I’m hoping, I’m hoping that today’s episode will be extra fun. I think, uh, with what, what we have in store. Then, you know, Tim, uh, I don’t know if you’ve been, uh, checking things out lately, but the news, the news is not always good. It’s frequently bad. Uh, actually, yeah. But Tim, you went out and, found us. Very interesting sake news and, and we’ve done this once before, when, when it was bubbling up, there was a lot of sake news. And so we did one of these episodes where we talked about sake in the news and, and the time has come again. You went out and you found some very interesting articles from, uh, all over the world about sake. In English language in my mind, you there are, Doubtlessly plenty of other articles on sake and in other languages, probably Japanese being first and foremost. But uh, but we’re restricting this one to, to English language articles and you found quite a few. And, and I’m hoping cuz you know, because the real news is bad usually. Is this good news? Tim
Timothy Sullivan: 2:02
I can’t promise only good news, John
John Puma: 2:05
Timothy Sullivan: 2:06
But we do, we do these sake in the news episodes, few times a year. We’ve done it once before, so this is our second sake in the news, and there’s been some substantial news, so I think we should get into it.
John Puma: 2:19
All right. All right. I like that.
Timothy Sullivan: 2:21
Well, the sake elephant in the room is the New York Times.
John Puma: 2:25
Timothy Sullivan: 2:26
is from February 27th, 2023. We’ll have a link in our show notes. There was an article in the New York Times, a big, big article about sake. Sake is booming in America now. Do you saw this article? I’m sure you
John Puma: 2:41
Uh, I did, I did. Uh, and this fits in the good news category for sure, uh, because we’re all, I think, very excited about the growth of sake in America. You know, we do have a sake podcast, so it’s probably a good thing for us that sake is growing in America. Uh, I do hope that we’re doing things to help sake grow in America. but yeah. Let’s, let’s talk a little bit about that article.
Timothy Sullivan: 3:07
The article was written by Eric Asimov, who’s normally one of the wine writers for the New York Times, and my understanding from hearing some background sources is that he reached out to a few people to write a small article about sake and then kind of discovered that there’s a lot more going on than he thought, and the scope of the article expanded. And I think that he tried to cover a lot in the article. He talked about import sales, he talked domestic production and. There was just a lot going on in the article, but I think it just points to the fact that it’s a big, complex industry and that there’s a lot happening.
John Puma: 3:49
They covered, Brooklyn, Kura and their expanding relationship with Hakkaisan. Uh, they talked about Dassai opening of their brewery in Hyde Park. And then a lot of information about, uh, origami, the Sake brewery that is currently, being built over in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with a friend of the show, Ben Bell, over there is a big part of it. Uh, and that. A 24,000 square foot brewery. We’re gonna, we’re gonna revisit that in a, in a big way one day, I’m sure, Tim. But, uh, yeah, it was really nice to see like, you know, the mainstream newspaper have this really substantial article about, uh, the beverage we all know and love.
Timothy Sullivan: 4:32
And I know it is a mainstream article. When I have friends of mine who have nothing to do with sake, message me out of the blue and say, Hey, I know you’re connected to sake somehow. And did you see that it was in the New York Times? I’m sure you saw it, but here’s the link. So when people, people on other sides of your life are sending you the link, you know that it’s reaching a wide audience for sure.
John Puma: 4:54
Yeah, I had people in my office do the same thing cuz I, I do work in a, a finance firm and some people in the hallway were like, Hey, did you see that article And I was like, yes I did. It was really nice. Anything that raises the sake profile I think is really, is really great to see.
Timothy Sullivan: 5:10
Yeah, so the thrust of the article, as we said, really was two pronged. And let’s talk about the first one, which is that sake sales are booming around the United States.
John Puma: 5:21
Timothy Sullivan: 5:21
Yeah. So from 2012 to 2022 exports from Japan more than doubled.
John Puma: 5:29
I can easily believe that. I just, you know, from our, you and I like our observations. We talk sometimes about how like, when we were first getting into sake, how, uh, limited the selections were and how hard it was to find certain things. And, between then and now, it’s like there’s so much more. And, and that’s gotta be because people are buying, they’re not doing that for the fun of it.
Timothy Sullivan: 5:51
Well, John, I think you drank a good portion of that doubling that happened.
John Puma: 5:56
So, so what you’re saying is that the, the main, the main change is that I entered the chat
Timothy Sullivan: 6:02
Yes. When Puma hit the scene,
John Puma: 6:05
hit the scene and they
Timothy Sullivan: 6:06
exports started to
John Puma: 6:07
single-handedly increase. Does that mean that there’s a significant dip every year when I go to Japan, pan
Timothy Sullivan: 6:14
I don’t know about that. No, I think when you go to Japan, you encourage brewers that don’t export to get their act together and send more sake over here. So you’re, you’re doing the Lord’s work
John Puma: 6:27
uh, yeah. This was this, again, this, I think this was a really a feel good. And they, as you mentioned, they did start out with talking about just like how the exports are growing and that’s, that’s really great.
Timothy Sullivan: 6:38
Yeah, and the article opens with information about Kato sake works, who’s also a friend of the show, uh, he’s also featured in the article and he’s expanding his brewery in Bushwick, and that’s another really exciting kind of indication of where the sake industry’s headed right now is so exciting,
John Puma: 7:00
Yeah, it’s great.
Timothy Sullivan: 7:02
Okay, John, so we’ve talked about our first big sake in the News New York Times. If you haven’t listeners, if you haven’t read it yet, we’ll have a link to it in the show notes. Be sure to check it out. John, before we go on to our next two articles, should we get some sake going here?
John Puma: 7:19
Ah, that’s a great idea. We are gonna do our part to increase sake sales and imports by drinking some sake.
Timothy Sullivan: 7:26
All right. What do we have to drink for today?
John Puma: 7:29
So, um, today is, is a local variation of, of something I like to do in Japan when I go and that’s having, sake from familiar brands with bottles that I’m not that familiar with. That’s, that gets to be a lot of fun. In this case we have the, Choryo Omachi Junmai Ginjo if the Choryo sounds familiar to you,
Timothy Sullivan: 7:53
It does ring a bell. It does ring
John Puma: 7:55
it it is because we talked about and drank their sake. Uh, on episode 86. Now they are known primarily for their taru Sake they are specialists in Taru sake. They have a lot of, uh, feelings, they have a lot of thoughts on ta, on Taru sake, and go back to 86. We talk about it at length. but they’re not just Taru Tim. They also make, uh, a couple other sakes including this one again. This one is the, Omachi Junmai Ginjo. Choryo Shuzo is located in Nara, Prefecture, and, and Tim, you’re gonna love this. Their motto on their website is, uh, it’s two, two sentences. No limit to sake brewing. And no extremes in sake brewing.
Timothy Sullivan: 8:37
John Puma: 8:38
no extreme. So I’m guessing they’re probably not gonna be, uh, to Myshell’s taste.
Timothy Sullivan: 8:43
Well, I, I, we have to guess this is not crazy style then.
John Puma: 8:47
not, definitely not crazy style, and they probably won’t be featured on an episode of, uh, of extreme sake, but
Timothy Sullivan: 8:54
John Puma: 8:54
like a nice easy sip in sake too.
Timothy Sullivan: 8:56
I don’t know. I don’t know about that motto. Cuz if you say no limits, that usually means you’re willing to go pretty extreme. But then they say, no extremes. I’m getting mixed signals.
John Puma: 9:06
Yeah, Tim, I didn’t ask. I just saw it and I’m, I’m just reporting
Timothy Sullivan: 9:09
You’re just reporting
John Puma: 9:11
speaking of the news, I’m just reporting the news
Timothy Sullivan: 9:14
John Puma: 9:15
uh, back to the sake at hand. It’s, uh, omachi Rice from, Takashima in Okayama Prefecture. It’s milled down to 58% of its original size. That’s. Oddly specific number in my opinion. Uh, the sake meter value is 3.5. Acidity is 1.5, and the alcohol percentage is a nice and reasonable 15. So it’ll be something that we can sip on while we talk about the rest of the news, and we probably won’t don’t get too drunk.
Timothy Sullivan: 9:44
Right. And this is good to know that they make sake in Nara Prefecture, but they’re using Omachi from Okayama Prefecture, which is the home of Omachi. So that’s a really good, interesting detail here. So should we get it in the glass?
John Puma: 9:58
I think we should.
Timothy Sullivan: 9:59
John Puma: 10:05
So one thing that’s really interesting about this, like right when you take a look at the, the bottle is that the label is a really thicker sticker than usual sake label, and it has some texture to it and an almost like reflective quality. It’s a little eye-catching when you see it on the shelf. Uh, I did a little research and it looks like this is not the same label that you use for the sake in Japan. Based on what’s on their site at least. it is very eye-catching, very unique and different,
Timothy Sullivan: 10:33
hmm. It’s not unusual for breweries to pick out a different label for their US exports versus domestic.
John Puma: 10:41
Timothy Sullivan: 10:42
John Puma: 10:42
Timothy Sullivan: 10:43
All right. Well, let’s give it a smell here.
John Puma: 10:45
yeah. It has a lot of that richness and that nuttiness that I associate with Omachi in a lot of ways. And
Timothy Sullivan: 10:53
John Puma: 10:54
I do. And there is a rice-y note as well, like a, just, you know, your steamed rice note.
Timothy Sullivan: 11:00
It’s got some earthiness to me.
John Puma: 11:03
Timothy Sullivan: 11:04
Often we talk about omachi being the more rustic kind of, earthy down to earth sake rice. And this kind of encapsulates that for me. The aroma here is earthy and little robust.
John Puma: 11:18
Timothy Sullivan: 11:19
John Puma: 11:20
earthy is definitely, a word that comes to mind here. I get, I’m getting a lot of that here. Is
Timothy Sullivan: 11:26
Yeah, some umami too. There’s some savoriness. If you think about, just like a little hint of a soy sauce flavor going on. Um, some Rice-iness.
John Puma: 11:36
from a, it’s interesting, like stylistically, I feel like this drinks more like what you’d call Junmai rather than like, you know, what we usually think of with, with Junmai ginjo, I know that at the end of the day it’s just a rice milling and blah, blah, blah. But I think there’s, there’s a stylistic component to what a brewery decides sometimes. And so this definitely, uh, fits a little bit more with that. What I think of when I think of like a, a nice, rich Junmai. What’s a, what’s some, a lot of like Rice-iness to it. Yeah.
Timothy Sullivan: 12:14
Yeah, definitely has savoriness, I think is the word I want to use here. It’s savory sake.
John Puma: 12:19
I like that.
Timothy Sullivan: 12:20
Yeah. And you know, I might think that this sake could be good warmed up as well. What do you think about that?
John Puma: 12:28
Completely agree. this is definitely something that as I sip on it, I’m like, you know, room temperature, maybe a little bit warm. It might be like the, the bullseye spot for this. We always default to chilled here when we start, unless something very unusual is happening. But, you know, we do, we learn and we we taste things and we learn about them. And, and I do think that maybe room temp or something like that would open this up in interesting ways.
Timothy Sullivan: 12:52
For sure. Well, we can let it sit and chillax. We have two more. We have two more articles to talk about.
John Puma: 13:00
Timothy Sullivan: 13:01
So John, the next sake article you actually found, do you want to give us a, the, the Deets on that one?
John Puma: 13:08
Yeah. So I’m gonna put this one under bad news.
Timothy Sullivan: 13:11
Oh, bad news.
John Puma: 13:12
I think this one’s bad news.
Timothy Sullivan: 13:14
John Puma: 13:14
This article is from Nikkei, in, uh, Japan. But it was published in English, uh, is that, um, supersize sake. Bottles are becoming a thing of the past in Japan. Uh, this was published on March the sixth, 2023.
Timothy Sullivan: 13:32
Ooh. So we all know those bottles, right? The 1.8 liters. I call them the party size or the magnum
John Puma: 13:40
The party size. I love it. Yeah. The Issho-bin, the, the party size, 1.8 liter magnum of sake. And apparently the sales have falling. Um, yes. And the shipments of the 1.8 liter bottles have declined by, and this, this blew my mind when I saw this number, 80%. Since 2002, so I didn’t know what sake was in 2002. That’s quite a long time. But, you know, I think that what we’re seeing here with this is covid. Didn’t help. You know, generally speaking, those big bottles go to restaurants in Japan. So whenever you go to uh, an Izakaya, nine out 10 times, the bottles that are in the fridge at at the sake bar or the izakaya are those big bottles cuz they go through them. Sake doesn’t keep forever. So they go through them ra rather rapidly, and it, it works and it’s, it’s worked for a really long time. During Covid, those restaurants were closed most of the time. Over in Japan there was a, a government, mandated closure, that lasted, a lot longer than, than a lot of other countries. And that made demand for the 1.8 s drop. the analysts do feel that it’s expected to pick up for, for fiscal 2022. This was Nikkei. So this is a, financial news article, but they’re expecting the fiscal 2022, year to have a, an uptick in the sales of the Issho-bin. Um, but long term, they’re still expecting it to go down.
Timothy Sullivan: 15:06
Well, you know, from our point of view. 1.8 liter bottles have never really been a huge player in the US market. Right. Yeah.
John Puma: 15:14
We know a handful of places around here that I really serve that really use them. Most places are using the smaller, um, 720 milliliter bottles.
Timothy Sullivan: 15:23
Yeah. As we’ve talked about in the past, we did a episode on different bottle sizes in the past and in Japan, as you mentioned. Very often you’re gonna see these large 1.8 liter bottles cuz they sell sake by the go, by the 180 milliliter serving. And it makes financial sense for restaurants to serve out of the larger, it’s basically like selling everything by the carafe.
John Puma: 15:48
Timothy Sullivan: 15:49
and if you buy a sake fridge in Japan as a restaurant, like a restaurant equipment fridge, the bottles fit in there perfectly. But those bottles do not fit in my American fridge. Have you? No.
John Puma: 16:02
There, there was a, there was a period where I reconfigured my fridge so that I can put them in, but you still can only fit like three or in a converted wine chiller, you know, it’s, it is where it is. You know, I think like the purpose of these bottles were for sake bars and for izkayas. And as long as they’re really healthy, they’ll probably continue to sell. But when they’re not healthy, as has been the case for two years, uh, they’re, you’re gonna, you’re gonna see a, a bad situation come up.
Timothy Sullivan: 16:33
For me, one interesting thing is that I think this mirrors a trend that’s been happening, which is. The growth of the premium sake market and the diminishing of the table sake market, the futsushu market. So as more and more consumers turn to premium and ultra premium sakes, those are more often bottled in 720 ml and smaller like wine size bottles. And the more entry level table sakes, everyday sakes are bottled, usually in the larger size. And as the consumers switch more to high end wine like super premium sakes. I think that is also gonna reinforce this trend. What do you think?
John Puma: 17:20
Well, I think that’s right, but I also think that if you look back at our previous news story sake booming in the West,
Timothy Sullivan: 17:28
John Puma: 17:29
and as you pointed out in the west, they’re not buying issho-bin really. We’re buying 720 milliliter bottles. We’re buying one cup sometimes or 300 milli bottles, but we’re not buying really large ones. They’re not what sells here. And so if the foreign market is gonna become a bigger portion of the pot, it leaves less room for those other big bottles that are just gonna be used domestically for the most part.
Timothy Sullivan: 17:53
But I will give you my point of view on one reason why I don’t think 1.8 liter bottles are gonna go away.
John Puma: 18:00
Timothy Sullivan: 18:00
It’s because a lot of breweries in Japan have invested in the machinery to bottle this bottle size.
John Puma: 18:08
That’s an excellent point.
Timothy Sullivan: 18:10
I don’t think that they’re just on a trend. I don’t think they’re gonna chuck that equipment in the garbage. And I think that even if it doesn’t make it over here as often, 1.8 liter bottles will continue at a smaller scale to be a presence in Japan for sure.
John Puma: 18:28
Hmm. Yeah, I think, yeah, you’re absolutely right about the, the fact that the machinery’s already there and also in Japan, they do a really good job of recycling those bottles.
Timothy Sullivan: 18:38
John Puma: 18:39
Yeah, the, the izakayas put out the empties every night. They come by and, you know, they’re picked up every morning. Their glass recycling there is quite advanced, uh, compared to what we have going over here, I wanna say.
Timothy Sullivan: 18:51
Yeah. And it’s very ecologically friendly to keep recycling and reusing these bottles. And you, I, I’ve seen it as well. The recycling program is like next level in Japan when it comes to these bottles. It’s great.
John Puma: 19:04
Timothy Sullivan: 19:05
Do you like the 1.8 liter bottles personally, when you have them at home, are they, is it fun for you or is it an annoyance?
John Puma: 19:12
honestly, I haven’t bought one in years. it’s also, there’s not that many places in New York that sell them.
Timothy Sullivan: 19:20
John Puma: 19:21
I know a couple places that do, but I just haven’t bought them in, in the longest time. And also, you know, they, well don’t, don’t ask either of us, but can the average person finished that in an appropriate amount of time? Again, ask us
Timothy Sullivan: 19:36
John Puma: 19:39
Uh, but you know, you bring it to a party, Hey, that’s nice, everybody wins.
Timothy Sullivan: 19:42
John Puma: 19:43
you’re just having stuff at home, it’s, it’s hard.
Timothy Sullivan: 19:45
So for you personally at home, you think it’s a little inconvenient, not offered that many places. Doesn’t fit in the fridge, hard to finish.
John Puma: 19:53
If I, if I had a bigger fridge, maybe I’d change my mind. Maybe the rest of those things would not be factors.
Timothy Sullivan: 20:01
Well, for just for everyone’s reference, the 1.8 liter bottles we’re talking about is equal to 2.5 of the standard bottle size, the 720 ml. So it’s like having two and a half bottles in one.
John Puma: 20:15
If you find a place that sells them and you compare the pricing with the 720 milliliter bottles, it’s a steal. It’s a really good deal. If you have a sake that you absolutely love and you see the Issho-bin of it, you, if you have the space for it, you buy that it’s great. It’s a really cost effective way to get a lot of sake
Timothy Sullivan: 20:36
Yes, I’ve done that for parties. I think I might have done that for my wedding reception too. That, you know, you order the, the. 1.8 liters and it’s just more fun per ounce or
John Puma: 20:49
more fun per ounces. Oh, that’s gonna be a headline for our next show. Sake Revolution. More fun per ounce than your average podcast. it’s been a few minutes now, Tim. I wanna revisit our sake
Timothy Sullivan: 21:01
oh yeah, that’s a good idea. All right.
John Puma: 21:04
So, I kept a very small amount in my glass so that it would warm up a little bit faster, and I’ve been, I’ve been kind of treating it with my hands a little bit, kind of putting the money outside of the bowl of the wine glass just to, just to help it along. I wanna see what happens when it’s a little warmer.
Timothy Sullivan: 21:20
John Puma: 21:22
Aroma wise, I’m still getting that, that rice-iness is actually more forward
Timothy Sullivan: 21:27
John Puma: 21:27
I wanna say Hmm.
Timothy Sullivan: 21:29
Yeah, it’s still the same sake. It’s still savory to me.
John Puma: 21:32
Yeah, it’s still, I mean, I don’t, I don’t expect it to get fruity, Tim, but but, uh, I’m enjoying it more.
Timothy Sullivan: 21:41
John Puma: 21:41
For certain. I think that, you know, I think that having it as chilled as I did might have been trying to stick a round peg into a square hole. And it’s much more comfortable at this, um, at this temperature. It comes off a little bit, a little bit smoother. I want to say.
Timothy Sullivan: 21:58
Yeah, it’s definitely opened up as they say,
John Puma: 22:01
They they do say that, don’t they? Oh, boy. So I think we do have one more article that we’re gonna talk about, and Wow, Tim, you’re gonna, you’re gonna lead us in this one. Is this, is this good news or bad news?
Timothy Sullivan: 22:12
This is good news.
John Puma: 22:13
Timothy Sullivan: 22:14
yes. So this is an article from that was published on bbc, and this is right on the heels of the New York Times article. So this was published on March 1st, 2023. And the headline here is that Sake Brewers Toast, Big Rise in Global Sales.
John Puma: 22:33
Hmm. So what I’m getting outta that title is it’s not just America
Timothy Sullivan: 22:38
it’s not just america. Right. I think that this is a supplemental article, a little bit smaller in scale to what the New York Times was saying, which is that the exports have really increased over the last 10 years. And this is all with the backdrop of domestic sales of sake in Japan declining,
John Puma: 23:01
Yeah, and that that’s been the story for years that domestic sales are dropping. So they need to look to the west and off we go.
Timothy Sullivan: 23:09
Yeah, so the article highlights that of the 1100 breweries or so in Japan, the ones that do exports have seen a bright spot in that there have been increases for 12 years in a row. So the increase in export sales have been ongoing, continual upward trend, we mentioned that. That sake sales have been going down, but you know, in Japan, all alcohol has been going down. This isn’t just, I think, younger people, generation Z, triple Z, whatever
John Puma: 23:48
C C is that hard? Z I don’t know. Um, we, we actually talked about this in our previous. In sake, in the news episode, there was an article that you had picked out that talked about how young, the younger generation weren’t drinking sake, and they were looking for people to come up with ways to make them drink alcohol. Um, and that was, uh, that was, that was the thrust of that.
Timothy Sullivan: 24:10
Yeah. Another really interesting point, and you and I have talked about this a lot, is that brewers are looking at wine like sake profiles
John Puma: 24:20
We know that’s the, we know that’s the
Timothy Sullivan: 24:21
we know that story
John Puma: 24:24
is it? Wait, is this story that a son or daughter of the Kuranoto ventures out into the world and comes back and takes over and then make sake that is a little bit wine like.
Timothy Sullivan: 24:34
yeah. The article mentions not the prodigal son storyline, but the fact that. They enter sakes into wine tasting competitions and are making more wine like high acid. Long finish sakes.
John Puma: 24:53
Yeah. there are plenty of them out there. That’s definitely a trend.
Timothy Sullivan: 24:57
it’s a big trend and I don’t see it as the silver bullet answer to growing the sake industry, but it sure doesn’t hurt. It’s a great supplement, don’t you think?
John Puma: 25:07
Yeah. I think it’s a good thing to have them there. And I, and I do think that they’re more approachable to people who are into wine. Uh, I think that all, what do they say here? Uh, also in the article, uh, lighter fruitier sakes are more accessible to people used to wine. All right. I like lighter, fruity or sakes, so this is perfect for me. And that’s great for me, oh. And High End Sake sales were helped by the Coronavirus Pandemic with consumers exploring new products and categories while being stuck at home. And I think that is a fact. That is something that like, there were so many people that even I know like, uh, anecdotally that. Knew a little bit about sake or maybe tasted sake before, and got really into it during the pandemic because, a lot of the delivery services really kind of like blew up. and people were able to experiment at home and, and try things. And, and also let’s not forget that for people who were getting even more into sake, uh, for the first time ever, a lot of the breweries were accessible over the internet for people. There were so many different sake tastings, so many brewery tours. So people who were, you know, kind of sake curious and starting to dip their foot in had a great situation where they can really get access that people like you and me, when we were first getting into it, we didn’t have that.
Timothy Sullivan: 26:25
John Puma: 26:26
And that’s great. So yeah, I’m, I’m really, it makes me, it warms my heart to see that that sake is rising globally.
Timothy Sullivan: 26:34
Yeah, well it’s interesting to look at it a little bit from a historical perspective as well cuz we are history’s happening all the time. We’re right in the middle of a transition. And when people look back in 50 years to what’s happening now in the sake industry, I think this is really, we’re right in the middle of this wave of transition from sake being. Domestic Japanese product that is, has a certain quality to a super premium worldwide beverage.
John Puma: 27:08
A world beverage. Yes.
Timothy Sullivan: 27:11
that’s the goal for so many brewers. And I know with so many brewers have their eye on that goal that we will get there more and more. Um, but articles like this are just, I feel this is like the crest of the wave happening. You know, over the next couple decades we’re gonna see the fruition of what happens with all these efforts to make sake more globally approachable.
John Puma: 27:35
Yeah. Do you see a world where one day, like American sake is just like a regional type I think that when, when we have sake here that’s brewed in America, we, we always have this thing about like, Mmm, is it, it’s not quite as good as the stuff in Japan. Is it quite as like, maybe one day it’ll just. Different. It’ll just be its own, you know? It’ll just be like equally respected, but different vibe.
Timothy Sullivan: 27:59
Yeah. I mean, history repeats itself and in the wine world, they had the judgment in Paris, which. We’ve talked about where they did a blind tasting of French wines and American wines, and the French wine judges picked the Napa Valley wines as the best, and the world freaked out, and it was never the same. And I’m not saying we needed blind tasting to tell us that, but I think that in the future, as more and more sake rice has grown outside of Japan, which it for me is a key development in the quality standard going up For US sake, we’re gonna see that, that there’s going to be really good sake made all around the world. The faster that happens, the sooner it’s gonna be a global beverage. So we want to do everything we can to support breweries all over the world. And there’s just the, the very beginnings of that happening in Europe and Mexico and all around the world.
John Puma: 28:54
Timothy Sullivan: 28:55
And uh, right now we can count everything on a couple hands, but soon it will be we’ll get there. Yeah.
John Puma: 29:02
Yeah. I, to follow up on your, point about the, wine challenge thing is that there’s also Japan had their moment of that for whiskey
Timothy Sullivan: 29:12
John Puma: 29:13
where, where, um, Santori won a whiskey tasting in Scotland and after that happened, everyone knows this mad rush on Japanese whiskey that has not ended yet.
Timothy Sullivan: 29:27
Yes. that’s a good point that it hasn’t stopped. Like Japanese whiskey arrived and it wasn’t like, oh, this is a trend. It’s going, no, people still want whatever they can get their hands on.
John Puma: 29:38
It, J Japan is recognized just like Scotland is as a place with exceptional whiskey.
Timothy Sullivan: 29:44
John Puma: 29:45
And it’s, it’s always gonna be like that now. It’s great
Timothy Sullivan: 29:49
I think it’s only a matter of time
John Puma: 29:50
Mm-hmm. It, it’ll be one of those tipping point moments too, where there’s a, there’s some kind of a thing and something from America really, uh, shows up great. and then that’ll become big. And you’ll see people in Japan will start trying to get that sake from America.
Timothy Sullivan: 30:05
That is so great. Like the, the what, the boomerang effect of sake becoming so good and so appreciated overseas. It mirrors back to Japan and the Japanese people are like, oh, this is, you know, our thing and. They’re going to rediscover even more appreciation for sake when it gains such appreciation overseas. What do you
John Puma: 30:30
I like that idea. The resurgence of sake in Japan will come from sake, becoming a big deal in America. I like that. That sounds like a lot of fun.
Timothy Sullivan: 30:39
John Puma: 30:39
It could happen
Timothy Sullivan: 30:40
yeah. It’s more and more people really discover sake overseas. Japanese are gonna say, Hey, this is, this is ours and this is cool. And yeah, get back into it in a more deeper way.
John Puma: 30:54
Timothy Sullivan: 30:55
All right, John. Well, we hit three big news articles.
John Puma: 30:59
Timothy Sullivan: 31:00
I think despite the reduction in use of the 1.8 liter bottles, I’m gonna call this a win.
John Puma: 31:07
I think so too. I think that too. I think that, you know, even though the vessel maybe shrinking the sake is increasing, at least in the West and everywhere else in the world according to BBC, which is great. Uh, I’m really excited. These are, this is great stuff to hear.
Timothy Sullivan: 31:24
Yeah, for the foreseeable future, there should be no shortage in high acid wine like sakes to keep us talking.
John Puma: 31:31
Yeah. And there’s, you know, and, and in the West there’ll be a whole bunch of selections. We got a lot of breweries opening up. It’s gonna. It’s gonna be a hell of a ride, I
Timothy Sullivan: 31:41
yes. Watch this space.
John Puma: 31:43
Timothy Sullivan: 31:45
All right. Well, great to taste with you, John, and I want to thank all of our listeners for tuning in again this week. A special hello and thank you to all our patrons. If you enjoy Sake Revolution and you want to support us, you can visit patreon.com/SakeRevolution and consider becoming a patron.
John Puma: 32:02
And while you’re considering that, go ahead and drop us a review over on Apple Podcast or Spotify Charitable Anywhere. Really wherever you get your podcast, that’s the place we wanna see your reviews. It, uh, really gets the word out about our show, helps the algorithm find us so that when people are looking for sake stuff where the sake stuff they find
Timothy Sullivan: 32:22
and be sure to check out SakeRevolution.com for our show notes. We have a full transcript each and every week. All the details on the news articles, and the sake we tasted today.
John Puma: 32:31
and I can think of nothing else better to do right now after all this good news than to raise my glass like you should be doing at home. Remember to keep drinking sake and Kanpai.