Sake Nation “First Sake Sampling Event Overseas in a Long Time - Part I: Hawaii”

By Kosuke Kuji

As lives get back to normal following the coronavirus pandemic, Japan finally fell into step with the rest of the world and removed restrictions for citizens to travel overseas. Japan downgraded the infectious disease classification of Coronavirus from Class 2 to Class 5, which allowed business trips overseas to be more easily permitted. I also attended a sake sampling event in the United States in Hawaii and San Francisco for the first time since the Coronavirus outbreak.    

Since I couldn’t travel to the United States for a long time due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I utilized the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and took a flight on Japan Airlines (JAL) out of Haneda International Airport in Tokyo to Honolulu for the first time in years. 

Since I long forgot how to board and enjoy flights as I did frequently before the Coronavirus pandemic, I felt both nervous and excited during my flight to Hawaii.   

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, I thought “I better sleep overnight to Hawaii, or I’ll be tired when I land.” However, I was so excited about visiting Hawaii for the first time in years, I couldn’t fall asleep.

When I finally arrived at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (formerly Honolulu International Airport), I smelled the tropical scent of the island and felt overjoyed to finally arrive in Hawaii.  

Normally, I would feel anxious going through immigration, which I looked forward to during this trip. Everything about my latest visit to Hawaii felt new and exciting.  

Residents of Honolulu, Hawaii were very friendly as always to foreign tourists like myself. Although costs were ridiculously high, I nevertheless rejoiced in the end of the Coronavirus pandemic, and thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Hawaii.    

酒豪大陸「久しぶりの海外での試飲会 その1 ハワイ」








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Increased brewing water

In the late 18th century, the percentage of brewing water in Nada sake was approximately sixty-six percent, slightly more than the sixty percent used in Itami sake. By 1850, brewing water constituted 120 percent of sake. The percentage of brewing water in Nada sake passed on to date. 

Since this time period, smooth and refreshing sake were commonly preferred over mellow and rich sake. 

Sake from the Meiji Era (1868-1912)

The “sake brewing licensing” system was abolished after the Meiji Restoration and replaced by a much lower licensing fee as the only requirement to produce sake freely, which paved the way for many sake brewers to emerge. 

Around 1887, sake brewers in Nada and Itami used bricks to build cellars, adopted new equipment such as steam engines, etc., and formed sensible limited partnerships and companies common at the time.   

By 1899, liquor taxes accounted for thirty-two percent of the national taxes.

The Brewing Society of Japan organized in 1907 and led the evolution of sake brewing techniques. The society organized the first Annual Japan Sake Award, where skilled brewers from nationwide competed, held every other year until the Showa Era (1926-1989).  

This competition greatly influenced the quality of sake produced for general consumption and generated the lightly-hued, highly aromatic sake quality. 




明治時代の酒 (1868年-1912年)





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Tokyo Jizake Strolling (Japanese sake similar to wine) 

By Ryuji Takahashi

Kanemasu Brewery (Shibata city, Niigata prefecture), producer of “Hatsuhana” and “Kinmasu,” partnered with the Tokyo-based wine importer and distributor Grand Cru Wine Company to produce “Domaine Takahashi,” a Junmai Daiginjo non-filtered unprocessed sake product inspired by wine production, condensed in flavor developed in the local climate. A suitable parcel was selected from Kanemasu Brewery’s rice field to grow the sake rice used to produce this product, a unique production method not common for Japanese sake. Domaine Takahashi is produced since 2020.    

Upon receiving notification that 2022 Domaine Takahashi was ready, I headed to an event organized at my sake shop in the Hatsudai district of Shibuya ward in Tokyo to sample this “wine-like sake” in the standing bar and compare to French and Italian wine samples. Four Italian wine samples were prepared for this event - rose wine from the Abruzzo region, white wine from the Calabria region, and red wine from the Marche region and Sicily - along with two bottles each of Languedoc red and white wine from France, totaling eight bottles of wine to sample comparatively against Domaine Takahashi.    

First, draft sake is commonly refrigerated between 32 degF to 41 degF to preserve the aroma and flavor. Sake bottles were opened thirty minutes before the event started and placed at room temperature to raise the sake temperature back up to 53.6 degF, the temperature recommended by breweries to enjoy sake, which also corresponds to the serving temperature of wine. Ginjo sake by Kanemasu Brewery released a sweet, fragrant ginjo aroma that is just right. The sake was smooth to the palate with a gentle lactic acid flavor and no odd taste.  

Sake was served in wine glasses used for tasting instead of sake cups, which helps the detection of aroma and flavor. It’s unclear if sake aroma and flavor are just as easily detectable in sake cups. However, the ginjo sake was decanted in the same fashion as wine to allow the gradual exposure of sake to air in the decanter, anticipated to enhance the above aroma and flavor. Perhaps the exposure of sake to air could enhance the sake flavor, even when drinking sake in sake cups? The sake aroma and flavor is enjoyable not only with Japanese cuisine, but also with Western cuisine. 

As a result, sake produced by Kanemasu Brewery was the indisputable winner. The smooth and refreshing sake flavor unique to Kanemasu Brewery was most notable for its “terroir” (characteristics of flavor unique to the production region) of sake rice harvested in Shibata city, Niigata prefecture. Many draft sake can now be stored at room temperature until unsealed due to improved sake brewing techniques. I hope this draft sake will break the stereotype of storage temperature and serving temperature of draft sake, commonly adhered to by sake fans. If Japanese consumers can rediscover the delicious flavor of draft sake, various new ways to introduce new Japanese sake products can captivate Japanese consumers in the future.  


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The season for cloudy sake

Nigori sake refers to white, cloudy sake. Fermentation-mash is squeezed in a loosely woven cloth to leave white and cloudy lees. Cloudy sake flavor is rich from abundant lees, notable in the natural mellow rice flavor. Lees form the basis for the subtle aroma, flavor, texture, etc., from yeast and dissolved residue of fine malted rice particles, unique to nigori sake.

Sweet sake is made by adding malted rice to rice and storing between 131 degF~140 degF for twelve to twenty-four hours. Saccharification enzymes in koji (rice malt) break down rice starch into glucose, malt sugar, dextrin, and other sweet components. Hardly any alcohol is fermented from yeast in sweet sake, thus very low in alcohol content.    

Able to be prepared overnight, sweet sake is also referred to as hitoyo-zake (“overnight sake”). Temples and shrines served sweet sake as offerings and also served to visitors, etc., during the Amazake Festival. By the end of the Edo period (1603-1867), amaze was sold in cities such as Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka, enjoyed by the general public as a casual beverage.    

Historical records at the time indicate sweet sake was sold as a summer tradition. Commonly seen today as a winter beverage to warm the body, sweet sake is still enjoyed during the cold season. Documented to be sold as a summer tradition during the Edo period (1603-1867), sweet sake is a seasonal summer term used in Haiku, etc., to date. It’s not clear when the production of sweet sake started as a separate beverage from sake.    

As described in “Manyoushuu” (“The Anthology of Myriad (Ten Thousand) Leaves,” Japan’s oldest anthology of poems, AD 750), sake lees dissolved in hot water was consumed since ancient times to survive cold winter nights. In later documents after sweet sake is first mentioned, sweet sake is indicated as a winter beverage. 

At some point into the Edo period (1603-1867), sweet sake became a seasonal summer term. While the reason is unclear, one theory is that sweet sake was consumed as a nutritional supplement during the summer season to combat physical exhaustion, thus becoming a summer beverage and a seasonal summer term. Analysis of the components of sweet sake show very high glucose content. 

In addition, glucose content is also high in essential amino acids, generated from protein in rice broken down by enzymes in koji (rice malt). Further, many essential vitamins are generated in large amounts when koji mold propagates, thus valued at the time as a healthy beverage. 



甘酒とは、米の粥に米麹を加えて、12~24時間ほど55~60度で保温して造る甘い飲み物である。米のでんぶんを麹の糖化酵素によって、 ぶどう糖や麦芽糖、デキストリンなどの甘味成分に分解したものだが、酒とはいっても、酵母によるアルコール発酵はほとんど行なわれないため、 アルコール分はほんのわずかしか含まれていない。ひと晩でできることか一夜酒(ひとよざけ)と呼ばれている。寺社で甘酒を供え、参詣者などにもふるまう甘酒祭りは、いまも各地に例が多いが、 江戸時代末期頃には、江戸、京都、大坂では市中に甘酒売りが出て、庶民の手軽な飲み物として親しまれていた。その甘酒売りについては当時の文献にも書かれており、甘酒売りが夏の風物詩であったことが分かる。 甘酒というと体を温めてくれる冬の飲み物のイメージが強く、実際、寒い時期に喜ばれる飲み物だが、江戸時代に甘酒売りが夏の風物詩だったように、俳句などの季語ではいまも、甘酒の季節は夏である。 酒とは別の飲み物としての甘酒がいつ頃から造られるようになったのかは明らかではない。しかし、『万葉集』には、冬の夜に酒粕を湯に溶いたもので寒さを堪えている描写からも分かるように、古来酒は体を温めてくれるものであり、甘酒らしきものが出てくるその後の文献にも、甘酒は冬の飲み物として登場する。ところが、江戸時代に入ってからのことと思われるが、甘酒はいつの間にか夏の季語になっていた。 その理由ははっきりしないが、体力の消耗する夏季に栄養補給の目的で飲まれるようになったことから、夏の飲み物として季語にもなったのではないかとする説がある。 甘酒の成分を分析すると、ブドウ糖の含有率が極めて高い。また、米の たんぱく質が麹の酵素作用によって分解されてできる必須アミノ酸類も、豊富に含まれている。さらに、麹菌が繁殖する際に作る必須ビタミン類の含有量も豊富で、そのため総合健康ドリンク剤として重宝されたのでは、というわけだ。
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