As someone who lived in Japan for four years, I love many aspects of the country’s culture – soaking in a hot spring, cherry blossom parties and karaoke, all of which are best enjoyed with a cup or two (or three) of sake! Here I a raise glass in celebration of the national drink of Japan.
- Sake has been a category in the International Wine Challenge (IWC) since 2007, and it is now the biggest sake competition in the world outside of Japan. Hosted in London, each year sees better sake, fiercer competition, and an ever higher profile for the brewers taking part. I was lucky enough to sample some of this award-winning sake at a reception at the Palace of Westminster recently attended by the winning brewers and organised by the Sake Samourai Association. Hic.
- As the national drink, sake is consumed at all important cultural traditions. It is is used to toast the marriage ceremony, welcome in the New Year, to bless new buildings, to mark the changes of the seasons and of course, to fuel the best karaoke sessions and parties.
- The art of making sake from rice – a highly skilled profession and, even today, mostly done by hand – is passed down from generation to generation and breweries remain always in the same families, passed from father to son. I was able to watch sake being brewed by hand in snowy Tohoku two years ago. (You can read the article I wrote about it here.)
- Although the popularity of sake overseas is continually growing, in Japan, sales have been declining for a number of years. Due to its traditional image, sake is less popular with younger drinkers and this has meant that many breweries are under threat. The number of breweries in Japan dropped from around 2000 in 1989 to just over 1,000 today. However, following the tsunami which struck Japan in March 2011, this sales decline halted. The Japanese people rallied round the sake industry, which is seen as a symbol of Japan.
- It is usually ordinary sake that is served hot. The best quality sake should generally be served chilled. Although the traditional way to drink sake is in a small cup, a wine glass is technically the best vessel to drink it from, to savour the flavour and get the full aroma of the drink. Delicious.