Sharing the Joy with Sacred Drink “SAKE TASTING IN LONDON”
Japanese people love sharing time in great company, with seasonal food and good drinks.
Washoku, Japanese cuisine, was registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2013, not only because of its taste and aesthetic presentation, but also because of the impact it has on people’s life. The importance of the process of preparation, from the agricultural aspect to cooking, and sharing meals within a community, cannot be underestimated for the cohesion of Japanese society.
SAKE, Japanese rice wine, is an unmissable fixture in all this.
Shrinking Domestic Market
SAKE has played an important role in every turn of the country’s history, as it is considered a sacred drink, given by the gods of Japan, the protectors. However, its demand has constantly declined since the 1970s, from approximately 1.7 million kilolitres to 0.7 million kilolitres by the end of 2009, according to statistics from the National Tax Administration Agency. During this time, wine consumption has increased from 50,000 kilolitres to 250,000 kilolitres. The change in diet played a big part, but the change in business environment and globalisation has also affected the very traditional SAKE brewing industry. They struggled to adjust and survive.
But some of the new generation in the industry picked up the opportunity afforded by the Washoku boom, centred around Unesco’s recognition, outside of Japan. The interest in SAKE as the natural and essential accompaniment for the cuisine has gone up, and the brewers and the trade associations ran a series of overseas promotions.The records of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries shows that the export of SAKE increased from 3.4 billion yen in 1998 to 15.6 billion yen in 2016.
How to Choose SAKE – Sommelier in Demand
SAKE is increasingly recognised internationally, but there are not many who can explain in English, French and other languages, the cultural background, the variation of processes and the local ingredients involved.
As the consumption of wine (of grape origin) has increased significantly in Japan, a lot of magazines and books on wine, on grapes varieties, local wineries, and food pairing, became widely available. There are more sommeliers available in more restaurants to provide background information and to suggest selection ideas according to food choices. Wine tasting experiences and tourism are popular. At the same time, it is recognised that it is never enough to be a true expert. Even for renowned sommeliers, it is a lifetime project.
SAKE can be similarly complex.
There is an official classification of SAKE, depending on how far the rice gets polished before the brewing process. It is a good starting point for learning, but it could thereafter quickly get overwhelming to read and learn.
Categories, Origins, Ingredients, Process …
Typically, there are three categories accordingly to the amount of rice grain polished down, 70% (“Futsu = Standard), 60% (Ginjyo), and 50% (Daiginjyo). In general, SAKE made with more polished rice gives a purer flavour and more delicate fragrance. It is more expensive to make Daiginjyo, but the prices are not the best indicator to find the best-suited drink for you. It is impossible to appreciate the differences in full without tasting the comprehensive range at the same time, as there is more to it than just three simple categories.
For consumers of SAKE, learning opportunities with experienced sommeliers/instructors and great food may be what is missing abroad.
To gain the proper knowledge of SAKE, a Japanese restaurant called Yashin in London hosted a tasting evening in collaboration with “Dassai”, one brewer who worked hard to modernise the business, by exploring and expanding the export market. The event was named Yashin Brewery Club – Dassai.
Joy of Sharing with Experts and Peers – SAKE Tasting in London
After a small lecture on the process, the guests were offered three different products from Dassai, with food using ingredients from the same area, the Yamaguchi prefecture in the western part of Honshu island. By tasting three different types, which are polished down to 50%, 39%, and 23%, the earlier lecture comes to life. There is no better way of finding what drink suits which kind of dishes, how they bring out the best of each other, in a friendly, interactive session, sharing the time and experience with experts and like-minded people.
There were more than 1500 breweries in Japan in 2015. It has significantly decreased since the early 1970s, but each brewery produces SAKE that tastes different. The differences derive from the variety of rice used and from the mineral content in local water, the temperature and processes, and in some cases, the equipment. The combinations are simply countless.
The guests who gathered at the Yashin’s Sake Brewer’s Club were very keen to learn about and to appreciate the traditional Japanese drink. It shows the importance of not only offering the drink but also of stimulating interest by providing in-depth product information and historical knowledge.
Yashin is committed to providing enthusiastic SAKE lovers with more opportunities to explore the world of SAKE with their Washoku dishes, with a modern twist.
The next event is scheduled for the end May, and this will be a Dassai Pairing Dinner, in which the participants can enjoy food and drinks – a match made in heaven for your eyes and tongue.
Dassai Pairing Dinner (£150 per person)
Details are available at the Yashin Website:
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