Sake Thoughts - The Perception of Micro vs. Macro Sake Breweries | True Sake
May 2010

Sake Thoughts - The Perception of Micro vs. Macro Sake Breweries

Posted by Beau Timken in 2010, May, Newsletter
In a word - I take "heat" for some of my thoughts about the sake industry. It's not mean heat though - just sort of that ow I bumped the skillet heat that doesn't leave a life scar! It's not a mean heat because most folks know that my heart is pretty pure for this wonderful thing we call sake! The heat usually comes from the presence or fuel known as politics. Yes - sake politics suck! Ummm as we are seeing, basically all politics suck, but sake politics really gets under my skin. (I almost typed "gets under my crawl" because it sounds cooler but I don't even know if that is a word or if this is an actual phrase that I have been using since kid-dom). In any case, politics does rear its fugly head, and per usual I'm either at the epicenter or like a "firejumper" I toss myself smack dab into the middle of the inferno.

This may be one of "those" thoughts.

I was in the shower doing some thinking - I do a lot of shower thinking - usually for the good of mankind or sakekind. I was pondering the whole macro brewery versus the micro brewery battle in the beer industry. You know! The ol' drink a small, brewery-crafted beer instead of the huge machine-made giant brand beer. Or the other direction! Drink our fresh and tasty reliable brew instead of the old and damaged small brewery beer. They attack each other - they are brothers but still they attack to gain market share. In a sense they also educate the market - these wars. I mean I think about fresh beer now. I also think about trying smaller batch production stuff. Their struggle to win over customers actually educates all customers to a degree. But what is really important is the advertising itself. Beer supports beer even in battle.

Now many of you know my two "before I die" desires of 1) having a sake selection on every restaurant menu that offers wine and beer and 2) having the sake industry join forces to create a 30 second Super Bowl commercial about - ummm well - sake! For years I have spoken to the powers that be in Japan to do a better job with advertising sake. They are not only tone deaf, but they are tone blind too - whatever the hell that means. They simply do not get it! (Okay this is where the heat is about to burn ol' Beau's tush!)

The current situation is and has been this: the small breweries have absolutely no budget and the big breweries take care of themselves (rightfully so in biz terms but not big picture terms) That's the way it is and is and is (for the grammatically correct). Now when representatives of big and small get together to speak about joining forces to create an awareness the ugly politics "miracle" occurs every time. When the Japanese Brewer's Union sit and meet to discuss what I call the "betterment of sake" they agree that something along the lines of a "national campaign" should occur. But every time they do a "national campaign" they screw it up - and I mean that to the worst possible degree - they absolutely screw things up! For example and this is typical - when the shochu industry started an ad campaign about shochu being "healthy" for you the sake industry responded with a national campaign that can be summed up as this: "When you drink a glass of sake you should have a glass of water." Ummm yah! That was the campaign. Drawing attention to alcoholism. Shochu is healthy for you and sake makes you a drunk! Winner winner chicken dinner!

Now the reason for this is - okay now the heat is on full burner! - on account of the fact that the major macro breweries carry too much weight in the Japanese Sake Brewer's Union. There I said it. And I am friends with several of the owners of these macro breweries, and yes they read this very here rag. Sorry gents! But my point is on target. The big boys do not have the same vested interests as the little guys. They have far different customers and that is why I feel that a war or battle of the micro (jizake) breweries vs. the macro breweries would do wonders for everybody. Go to war boys! I would love to see the smaller local breweries advertise as one. Pool their money - share their expenses and get far more bang for the yen. What would they say? Easy! The would say - we make sake by hand - handcrafted sake that tastes far far superior to large company machine-made brews. They would both win! Huh? How? Well it would encourage large breweries to make a better product to keep up, which would behoove them. Heck maybe even the macro breweries would spin off smaller little jizake-like houses that produce smaller batch brews.

There will be blood! Not! These guys aren't like that, but a good awareness marketing campaign between the two vested interests would do wonders for the whole sake world. And guess what? The sake world needs a kick in the pants! There are so many boozes out there calling to the next generation of drinkers. Where is our voice? Is our hat in the ring? A good bloodfest between these two factions would make our voice heard - like a yell!

I cannot tell you how many younger Japanese people still regard sake as an older person's drink. They are amazed when I say that young westerners love sake. Why? That's the question I get back. Why do we like sake? The answer is obvious. We are drinking good sake. Most westerners have never had to drink cheap rot gut mass produced sake - we have been injected right into the "good stuff" (Jizake sake). So our perception of sake is far better than many young Japanese drinkers. And that is the segment that needs a good bombardment of "Do you think you know sake?" ads or campaigns that distinguishes small hand crafted sake versus large corp. machine made sauce. These drinkers will not go to sake - sake must go to them!

Nobody preaches the "high tides raise all ships" mantra louder than I. Each and everyday I tell anybody within the industry who will listen that each brewery sells other breweries sakes, each importer sells each others sakes, and each distributor distributes each other sakes - we are all one team! But competition is incredibly important to the future of sake. It's time that some of the weight that the big boys carry in the Brewer's Union be rested from their hands. They cannot or should not be the driving force of the sake industry when it comes to game planning the market - for the expressed previously stated reason that their interests are different than that of the small breweries. And it is these small breweries that need to unite in some simple form to get the word out that they are not the same entity as the macro breweries. They need to draw a line in the rice! They need to go to war!

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