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Sake experts showcase Japan's finest brews in the UK
EAT JAPAN Trade News
Tuesday, 24 July 2012

This month, as part of a unique drive to promote Japanese sake and inspire stimulating cultural exchange, four sake brewers visited three locations in the UK.

Organised by Rie Yoshitake, Sake Samurai (The Japan Sake Brewers Association Junior Council) UK Representative, key members of this collective movement include four sake brewers, members of Sake Samurai, Saura Co. Ltd. (Miyagi Prefecture), Shata Shuzo (Ishikawa Prefecture), Watanabe Shuzo (Niigata Prefecture), and Utsunomiya Shuzo (Tochigi Prefecture), as acting sake and Japanese wine consultants, and the Sake Chairman of the IWC , Kenichi Ohashi. The group visited three locations in Britain in total, the so-called wine business network hub, Cambridge University, the world's largest investment company BlackRock Inc, and the Japan Embassy. They held sake introductions for market opinion leaders such as educators, journalists, Japanese Embassy personnel, Japanese Governmental associates, and influential financial figures, which inspired thought-provoking cultural exchange.

The visit kicked off with a Sake Seminar and Tasting Party at BlackRock Inc and followed by a ‘High Table Sake Evening' at The Churchill College Fellows Dining Room, Cambridge University supported by Churchill College’s Professor Akiko Yamanaka. 40 professors were treated to an aperitif drunk from a masu sake vessel , a small square cedar box traditionally used for measuring rice and drinking sake, and a unique lecture from Mr Ohashi on combining traditional English cuisine with sake. Mr Ohashi, who was also responsible for selecting the evening's food and drink pairings, applauded the event for breaking down pre-existing conceptions of Japanese sake. He commented on the difficulties in particular of finding the most effective combinations of food and sake, especially when it came to deserts. Fortunately, Shata Shuzo prepared an umeshu made with sake, presenting the group with a fantastic marketing opportunity for the launch on the UK market.

There were two different type of Japanese sake supplied for the starter and main courses, and one for the desert and cheese courses. The pairing of smoked salmon cream cheese blinis with vintage junmai ginjo sake, roast fillet of beef with warmed yamahai junmai sake, summer pudding with umeshu with ice, and the coupling of local cheeses with three year aged ginjo koshu (aged sake) went down particularly well, and a great time was had by all.

Mr Ohashi noted with the surprise that, whilst professors generally have a good knowledge of wine, this event was the first time there had been enthusiastic comparisons between wine and sake by academics. Mr Yoshiki Watanabe (Watanebe Shuzo) agreed that the team appeared to have decisively shown that Japanese sake can be an excellent accompaniment to British cuisine.

Mr Kazunari Shata (Shata Shuzo) added that, “Although the amount of sake imported to the UK is small compared to that sent to America or Asian countries, we expect that we can educate this country to enjoy it as much as these regions do, especially at events like today, where we can rely on the power of intellectually curious people to pass on information on our behalf.”

It was noted by Michiyo Funyu (Saura Co., Ltd.) that, although a professor stated that it was the first time they had drank sake, she had the impression he was enthusiastically taking study notes. Perhaps the general consensus was best summarised by Masayuki Kikuchi (Utsunomiya Shuzo), who commented that, “With tasty food and delicious sake, we saw happy faces on people. Clear proof that sake can be successfully imported.”

The following day a sake tasting session was held at the Japanese Embassy, with 30 Embassy personnel and Japanese governmental associates in attendance. Keiichi Hayashi ( Ambassador of Japan to the UK ) voiced his ambition for spreading sake drinking around the UK in the future, commending the lecturers on providing an excellent knowledge base on Japan for many people. He added that, with its existing tradition of Scotch whisky connoisseurship, the UK is an excellent destination for dissemination of information about sake, and his staff would persevere in their efforts to promote Japanese Kokushu national drinks.

With the average price of a bottle standing at £4.35, the UK is one of the cheapest countries in the world to buy good quality wine, and as a result customers are highly selective about the alcohol they will choose to invest money in. To increase Japanese sake drinking across Britain, Japanese brewers must utilize people's existing wine knowledge base, employing the global standard of wine to help potential buyers understand Japanese sake.