Ask Beau - "What do you think about the new goofy sake brands?"
David R. from LA wrote a very long email to me explaining his "disdain" for the "Cheapening" of sake's name in the US via "these new goofy brand named sakes that are pitching to the hip hop club generation." He ended his diatribe, which I really enjoyed, with the following question: "They didn't do it with wine or beer, so why dumb down sake?"
The answer is a tricky one from my perspective. As a purist I really am bummed that several of these sakes will be some consumers first introduction to sake. But as I always say, whatever brings people to the sake table is all right with me. So I am caught in the middle - jokers to the left of me jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with Ty-Ku.
Sake is a business. For many it is a passion and there are ways - right and wrong - to promote and educate the essence of this wonderful libation. But again sake is a business. And like all elements of free market economy it is yet another cog in the money making machine. Some try to take advantage of the "fad" element of sake, and yet others try to do some form of honor to the history and image of this ancient beverage. Who is right and who is wrong? I guess the point is that there is no wrong in a free market economy. So in one sense I see people trying to shake their moneymakers, and in another sense I see people trying to get sake "right" by their own perspectives. And yes, there are those stuck in the middle.
I know several of the folks trying to become THE kings of THE sake brand in the US. They are good people. I also know of several others who are in it for the sake of the trend and the pomp, and I won't go so far as to say that they are bad people, but I do question their impact on the betterment of sake.
When I decided to write about this "Ask Beau" question I was going to name names specifically. I was going to shake the tree and point out what falls out. But in the end who cares? Readers of this rag are passionate about sake. They are passionate about the best aspects of this incredible beverage. And they are extremely sensitive about elevating sake and sake's perception in the west. But not all people are like "us." And perhaps sake, which has a long history of being under marketed, needs a shot in the arm via some snazzy add campaign or some tricked out bottle. Again who knows and who cares?
I am not that guy in the cave up on the mountain. Nor are my peers. I do not want to be perceived as that guy who "knows all" in the realm of sake. But in my gut I do have a guard dog vigilance in the right way to communicate and educate consumers about sake. I am a warrior when it comes to the betterment of sake. That is "me." So I do have issues with several of these efforts to "mainline" sake via catchy names or signature cocktails. That is not the sake that I know and love. That is not the sake that I protect. And in a word, that is not sake. It is a false liquid god preying on false faddy consumers.
Is there room for both camps? You bet. Those in one camp need to learn how to market and "showboat" the virtues of good sake, and those in the other need to honor the product and quality of sake. Sake is in a tough tough booze market, where the weak disappear like Yugo's. Thus we need to fight to make a market. These new sake endeavors see that and do a good job getting the word out. But, we need not cheapen the product, quality, and image of sake to flip a buck. Did "Wine Coolers" do justice to the wine industry? I don't know, but at least people knew what wine was before they drank a "Cooler." Sake does not have that luxury. People don't know what the hell sake is or should taste like. They need basic training, whilst having fun sipping something new. Sake is in the position to teach people, not trick them.
I don't want to be seen as the guy sitting on the fence here, but in the end; who the hell am I?
Please send your sake specific questions to askbeau2 @ truesake.com. (This address is not for general questions and I only review the questions once per month. All other correspondence should use info @ truesake.com.)