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“Experience Sake from Japan” Introduces a Variety of Sake

• A Japanese sake event “Experience Sake from Japan” took place at the Chicago Cultural Center on February 24, and 19 sake breweries from Japan and import traders served a variety of sake, shochu, and other alcoholic beverages. The event had two parts, one of which invited restaurateurs and distributors. Another welcomed people from the public who were over 21 years old. Each part gave two sake seminars regarding sake categories such as daiginjo and junmai, sake making processes, sake matching food, and more. Several kinds of cheeses were served to the visitors, and they enjoyed good matching taste of cheeses with sake.

Interview with Sake Breweries

• Hakutsuru Sake Brewing of Hyogo Prefecture, Japan has been selling its sake products through the JFC International, Inc. for more than 35 years. Sweet sake “Sayuri” in a pink bottle is its best-selling product in the U.S.
• Gaku Saito, General Manager of the Hakutsuru Sake of America, said that its sales volume has increased to 150% in five years. “I think that most American people feel sushi equals sake, so its popularity spread over the U.S. I wish sake will become a part of American culture as sushi did,” Sato said.
• Hakutsuru’s new product is “Hakutsuru Nishiki Junmai Daiginjo” made of sake rice “Hakutsuru Nishiki”, which was newly developed by the brewery in a long process. A variety “Yamada Nishiki” has been called “King of Sake Rice”, which was developed in Hyogo Prefecture in the 1930s. Hakutsuru sought to create better sake rice and met the challenge by crossing old varieties of “Yamadaho” and “Tankan-wataribune.” After eight years of trial-and-error, it finally created a brother variety of Yamada Nishiki and named it “Hakutsuru Nishiki.”
• “The sake of Nada” is a famous expression for good tasting sake, especially, in the Kansai region because of availability of good quality water. Hakutsuru is located in the Nada area; thus, the brewery can take advantage of the water and grow good sake rice.
• Another new product is “Toji-Kan.” Toji means a master brewer. When Hakutsuru’s master brewer reached his retirement, the company asked him to make his favorite sake, so he pursued it. He used the high quality of Yamada Nishiki, which was usually used for junmaishu or higher grade of sake, and attained the ultimate in the sake taste. As the result, his masterpiece became futsushu, an ordinary grade of sake or sake for everyday drink. “Toji-Kan” is good for celebrating the finish of a day’s hard work.
• Saito said, “Thanks to JFC, Hakutsuru products are well embedded in the Chicago market. Our share is pretty high.”

• The Maruishi Jozo of Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture was founded in 1690. It embarked on overseas business seven or eight years ago and began selling its products in the U.S. three years ago. Hideki Fukada, Sales Director of Maruishi, said that it was the first time to go overseas to promote the product directly from his brewery company.
• Maruishi, one of the oldest breweries, has developed a line of fruit liqueur flavored with strawberry, peach, orange, yuzu, mango, and matcha green tea as a selling edge to enter foreign markets. The idea came from younger workers including Fukada. They harvest strawberries, hull strawberries, and then a cake maker mashes the strawberries manually. The matcha powder comes from nearby City of Nishio, famous for macha production.
• Fukada said, “Fruit liqueurs gained visitors’ attention very well. There is a big difference whether we have the liqueurs or not because sake is very competitive.”
• Maruishi introduced its sake named “Nito (two rabbits)”. Fukada mentioned a proverb, “He who runs after two hares will catch neither,” and said, “Only he, who runs after two hares, will catch two.” The company blended two different sake qualities such as “tastes and aroma” or “acidity and umami (savory taste)” together into Nito. “If you drink Nito, a little acidity comes first followed by sweetness, and then you’ll have a sharp finish,” Fukada explained.

• The Sekiya Jozo of Shitara town in Aichi Prefecture brought premium sake named “Kuu (air),” which was rumored, “You have to wait for one year to get it.”
• Masafumi Sekiya, Sales Manager of Sekiya Jozo, said that Kuu was made of Yamada Nishiki, which was polished by 40%, and was fermented in low temperature, so that the taste became elegant.
• He also said that most important factor was quality of water. The company found very soft water, which sprang between rocks in a mountain that located three kilometers from the brewery. They get the water through an underground pipeline.
• Kuu is a well-known brand among local people and sold to mainly those people. Sekiya modestly said, “I appreciate getting a premium on Kuu. To tell you the truth, it is a matter of demand and supply balance.” Because of the soft water, Kuu is lacking body; thus, the brewery keeps the sake in tanks for 1.5 to 2 years for maturation. “We have so many tanks,” Sekiya says, but it takes time to deliver Kuu to customers.
• Sekiya Jozo entered the American market more than 15 years ago and has sold its sake products in 13 countries, mainly Asian regions. Regarding his impression of Chicago, he said, “The visitors are really serious to taste sake. I think that they came here to find something new. I brought sparkling sake, too, because I thought that Chicagoans would love it. My prediction was right! I’m very satisfied.”

• The Wakatsuru Jozo of Toyama Prefecture was founded in 1862. The brewery has sold its sake products through trading companies, but this was the first time it promoted its products directly in a sake fair.
• Wakatsuru’s sake was “Nokaya,” the name was taken from an inn run by Wakatsuru’s owner in Edo samurai period. It also introduced “Kijo-shu”.
• According to Yoshiyuki Kakuzaki, Trade Business Development Manager of GRN, a subsidiary of Wakatsuru, instead adding water, sake was added in Kijo-shu in the sake making process, so that sweeter sake was produced. Adding sake into sake sounds expensive, but Kakuzaki said, “No.” “Most of the cost is manual labor. Dai Ginjo for example, we polish sake rice by 67%, that requires many hand workings, but Kijo-shu doesn’t need so much human labor, so it’s not very expensive,” he explained. “Kijo-shu was more popular than Nokaya at this fair,” he said.
• Wakatsuru also brews whiskey. Kakuzaki said that Japanese whiskey has become very popular in the world and was easily sold out. “Thus, people say, ‘Rare whiskey that is hard to obtain,’” he added.
• Amid this trend, Wakatsuru is going to release a new whiskey brand soon and another in the fall. Kakuzaki offered the new one to the visitors from a no-label bottle.
• He talked about a story that nearly 200 bottles of 55-year-old whiskey were found in the company last year. A bottle of the whiskey was sold at about $5,000, and all of them were sold out quickly. Kakuzaki said that they wouldn’t have sold well 10 years ago.

• The event “Experience Sake from Japan” was hosted by JETRO Chicago, Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago, Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association, and Japan America Society of Chicago

The all visitors are welcomed by a variety of sake at "Experience Sake from Japan."

The visitors ask questions about Japanese Sake.

Gaku Saito, General Manager of the Hakutsuru Sake of America

Masafumi Sekiya, Sales Manager of Sekiya Jozo

Hideki Fukada, Sales Director of Maruishi Shuzo

Yoshiyuki Kakuzaki, Trade Business Development Manager of GRN