SAKE spring (Kyoto, 15 – 16 April) was greeted by a full bloom of cherry blossoms. Organizers report that 8,500 people attended the event.
Forty-five sake breweries offered 150 different sakes and vendors provided local Kyoto and Nara food, as well as Western and Asian dishes. Although most of the attendees were Japanese, we were fortunate to interview a tourist and two internationals who work at sake breweries.
Our Danish tourist reported that he did not like sake, but he decided to take part in this event because he discovered the “proper” way to enjoy sake during his visit. He traveled booths to find his favorite aromatic and dry sake. Although in Denmark he drinks sake around twice a year, before SAKE spring, he did not know that sake can be drunk cold because most restaurants in Denmark only serve hot sake.
This is a common misunderstanding – that sake should be consumed hot. For many outside Japan, the same prejudices exist as (until recently) for wine. In Japan, inflexible rules for food paring, such as red wine with meat and white wine for fish, are still the norm, despite recent relaxations of these “rules”.
At Sake Experience Japan, we believe that pleasurable experiences of both “hot” and cold sake is essential for those planning to serve sake outside of Japan.
In contrast with our Danish friend, Ozanne Guillaume from France jumped into the sake industry due to his fascination with sake. Now working at Masudatokubee sake brewery, he previously worked at Yamamotohonke sake brewery for three years. We asked him which aspects of sake attracted his interest most and he spoke of both the production process and easy food pairing.
Sake production is still very hands-on. He enjoys the total process from rice planting to sake production. In fact, he even takes part in rice planting.
His other point of “easy food pairing” is very interesting from someone who had grown up in a wine culture. He confessed that it is never easy to find a good food/wine pairing and sometimes this spoils enjoyment of either the food or the wine. However, he said, sake can go with most foods, which is very attractive: his favorite is to which attracts him a lot. His favorite is pairing koshu (aged sake) with aged cheese.
Like Ozanne, Jarom Reid (USA) is now employed in the Japanese sake industry. Previously studying wine in his career, he entered the sake industry after working at Delta. We asked him how to attract people who are not familiar with sake.
He said that international people, especially those living in Japan, may feel apprehensive of the strict rules of sake culture and are afraid of making a mistake or causing offence. For instance, when Japanese people drink sake, it is not done to fill your own glass – instead, you must wait for someone else to offer to do so for you. As a result, Jarom felt that he could not relax when drinking sake because he needed to observe unfamiliar customs, offering sake to others before their glass becomes empty, the need to pay close attention to the glasses of superiors and elders, and so on.
For people brought up in the sake culture, these customs are simply related to Japanese traditions of courteous entertaining. To serve sake means to entertain people. Thus even among friends, Japanese people often offer sake or any alcohol to others when they drink together. However these unique customs are a barrier to those who are nor familiar with them. Jarom reassures people that they can enjoy sake with one another regardless of these rules, without causing offence, and select either wine glass or traditional sake ware as their preference.He also commented that sake holds characteristics both similar to and distinct from those of wine. Like wine, sake has an expressive aroma. Unlike with, though, sake has a higher alcohol content and low acidity which brings strong impact with smooth texture.
There is an increasing number of international workers like Ozanne and Jarom in the sake industry. In defiance of tradition, women are also achieving prominence as brewers and brewmasters. Since several characteristics of sake, such as fruitier aromas and a smoother texture is attractive to new audiences (such as Japanese women as well as international palates), we believe the sake industry should accelerate diversity to reach these new markets. We hope more international attendees follow the examples of our new friends and will attend SAKE spring for a true sake experience next year.