In addition to the predictable responsibility of managing Japan taxation system, the Tax Bureau also defines sake production methods and categories (Ginjo, Junmai etc). For this reason, regional tax bureaux have historically played an important role in guiding sake production techniques. In the past, sake was prone to spoiling, so in order to minimize loss of the significant liquor tax revenue (from spoiled sake), regional tax bureaux took an active role in improving techniques to avoid spoilage.
The annual Zenkoku Shinshu Kanpyokai for Shinshu (unaged) and Ginjo category sake has been held each spring for over 100 years. However, various regional bureaux (including Tokyo, 2003) began changing the event to autumn so they could evaluate the sake when it had reached consumption age, rather than when it is fresh. Since sake is not generally available immediately following production, this enables judgement on the basis of the taste after transport and storage.
Sake Experience Japan was granted an interview with the Tokyo Tax Bureau Office of Analysis and Brewing Technology Head Hitoshi Utsunomiya and CTO Junichi Kuramitsu. They were generous with their time, explaining the Bureau’s work to strengthen the basic sake production techniques and recognize excellent quality sake, which leads it to becoming well-known among the sake industry.
At the 2017 Tokyo Tax Bureau Alcohol Appraisal Fair , 41 sake breweries in four Tokyo Tax Bureau jurisdictions (Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Yamanashi) submitted 139 different sakes under four categories (Ginjo, Junmai Ginjo, Kanzake (warm sake) and Junmai Kanzake). The 10-13 member judging panel comprised representatives of the Tax Bureau Office of Analysis and Brewing Technology, sake brewery owners, and the regions’s research center researchers. In 2017, sommeliers were also included as judges for the first time.
The sake is judged at its standard serving temperature, so Ginjo and Junmai Ginjo are judged at 20℃ and the warm sakes are served into sake ware at 45℃ then judged at around 40℃.
The Tokyo Fair is divided into two selection rounds. The first round (Isshin, 一審) grades (out of five) aroma, flavors and the harmony between them. In addition, judges check if they can detect any of the 28 positive or negative aroma or flavor characteristics. The five positive aroma characteristics include isoamyl acetate, fragrance and “refreshing”.The eleven negative aromas include acetaldehyde, diacetyl and mustiness from trichloroanisole. The four positive flavor characteristics include “body” and “roundness” and the eight negatives include dullness, bitterness and coarseness.
After this first selection, the selected sake moves to the second selection (Nishin, 二審) which evaluates the sake as a whole, and determines which sake will receive an award.
In 2017, the result of each category is as follows.
Ginjo: 15 awards out of 53entries
Junmai Ginjo: 12 awards out of 31 entries
Kanzake: 9 awards out of 23 entries
Junmai Kanzake: 12 awards out of 32 entries
The Fair also makes comment on common characteristics observed in each category each year. In 2017, most Ginjo sake had harmony of fruity Ginjo aroma and a refreshing taste.Junmai Ginjo had two diverse groupings in 2017: fresh, less sweet, versus mellow, rich types. In addition, the sake was diverse in terms of the quality and volume of Ginjo aroma. Kanzake was also diverse, ranging from dry, lighter sake to deep, aged sake, providing excellent food pairing options. Junmai Kanzake was fairly consistent in having round texture and rice-derived sweetness, with a balance of sweetness and acidity when warmed.
Sake is made from the rice harvested the previous autumn. The summer 2016 growing season was very. When solubility is reduced, the taste of sake becomes flat, creating a significant challenge for sake brewers in achieving their ideal taste.
Yamanashimeijo Sake Brewery received two awards (one Ginjo and one Junmai Ginjo) at the 2017 Fair and CTO Ryogo Kitahara spoke with Sake Experience Japan about the effect of the 2016 growing season. Mr Kitahara overcame the insolubility of the 2016 rice by balancing three changes to the usual production method. In the first instance, he used a specific koji with the aim of increased enzyme production to prompt saccharification. He also used a higher ratio of koji to support increased saccharification. Finally, he used less water than usual, to bring a richer condition at the moromi stage.
He has never experienced this difficulty in his ten years. In fact, compared to the sake brewed in 2016, the 2017 sake has a higher Baume degree and less kasu-buai, also indicators of how much less soluble the rice was.
As part of their production advisory role, officers of Tokyo Tax Bureau visited sake breweries to encourage them to increase water absorption (for increased solubility) of the rice or to use exogenous enzymes if needed. In the past, it was commonplace to canvas those breweries that produces sake earliest about the degree of solubility, then share this information with other sake breweries. However, the National Research Institute of Brewing’s rice solubility forecast (2017 forecast based on mid-October climate data) enables officers to guide the 2017 brewing technique earlier and minimize wasted efforts.
It is apparent that despite competition and Fairs outcomes, and regardless of the number of awards it may have receive, sake is ultimately evaluated by consumers. One of the most important purposes of these Fairs is to strengthen basic sake production techniques, to help brewers gain their ideal taste. For this reason, it is essential that brewers pursue a taste that fits the consumer palate.
While there is a beauty in brewers’s devotion to producing their perfect sake, according to their own brewing philosophy, there is a risk that this pursuit is at the expense of consumer satisfaction if brewers lose sight of their end customer. Sake is a part of Japanese culture which is inherited worldwide through global consumption, so even the smallest Japanese sake brewer must keep sight of the diversity of various international palates.
While currently sake production represents an integrated approach between Japanese national and local public and private enterprises, the taste ideal is still very much brewer-driven. To truly benefit brewers, the focus needs to transition to being consumer driven. To achieve a bright future of sake, Fairs should also incorporate a flexible evaluation system which reflects current trends. There is also an as-yet under-explored niche for intermediaries to bring together brewers and consumers for mutual benefit, which will be the strongest support for sake brewers.
To achieve bright future of sake, sake production should be carried out under integration of nation and private organizations and this type of fair with flexible evaluating system which reflects the latest trends will be the strongest support for sake brewers.