May 2013

Sake Industry - Protecting Against Poor Quality Sakes In The Market

Posted by Beau Timken in 2013, May, Newsletter, Sake Industry
True Sake In the April issue of the True Sake Newsletter I wrote a piece about being served a bad sake in London. (LINK HERE PLEASE TO APRIL ISSUE "BAD SAKE") Several readers emailed me about what I had written, basically asking why I didn't look at the date of the label or send the sake back. I had to confess to them basically what I wrote above that I was deathly sick and didn't have the energy to talk the game of sake with the sake sommelier there. I went to the restaurant battling influenza and just wanted some simple food and a sake or two. But more emails continued to flood my inbox and it seems to be a topic that people are interested in.

I will answer their questions with a story that happened at the IWC Master Class Seminar in London. At the end of our presentation we were asked questions and as there were several presenters we all gave some answers. But one question was asked and it was directed at me and perhaps because I had pneumonia I went off. "Why do we not have very good quality sake in London?" (On a side I did some homework and the vast amount of sakes in basic Japanese restaurants in London are made in California - you do the math!)

I basically said that the sakes were poor in London because of him! I said the sake industry in London had languished because of the end users. I stood and said that if you want better sake that you must create a better sake market, which includes restaurants that serve well conditioned sake, distributors who also well condition their sakes and help educate the restaurateurs about sake, and importers who bring in quality sake and get the product quickly to the distributors and restaurants and markets and promotes sake to their fullest. It is not one step. It is a series of actions to make a better market. And it takes everybody from the customer and end-user to the importer asking and demanding a better sake product.

True Sake The guy was a little baffled. I said to him, "Have you ever returned a bad bottle of wine?" Of course he replied. "Have you ever returned a poor tasting sake?" Never - not once. "Have you ever been served a poor quality or off sake?" Yes of course! "And you just drank it?" It didn't occur to me to return it. There in a nutshell is why the quality of sake in London is poor. The end users do not know what good sake is and they do not know how to ask for it. Period.

I am not saying this to promote myself or float my own boat, but I personally changed the sake market in the Bay Area for the better. When I opened True Sake the first deliveries of my orders were shocking. One distributor tried to "dump" three-year-old sake on me. I returned it! What? I was later called by the owner who said that nobody had ever returned sake and what was my problem? Did I want a discount? NO! That was exactly what I did not want. I wanted fresh sake. So over time this particular distributor realized that he had to make smaller orders of sake to keep their inventory fresh. Gone were the days when they could make a huge order and sit on it. The Genie was out of the bottle so to speak and we went from there. I also frequently asked the importers to get their breweries to put a release date on their labels so we knew how fresh the sakes were and when we should stop selling them.

So what does this mean to London or for that fact certain parts of the US? Sake drinkers MUST demand better quality sake. They must tell the owners of restaurants that they want better quality sakes, they must call distributors and tell them to stop delivering old sake to restaurants, and they must call importers and tell them to get their product into your specific areas. In a sense you must shame restaurants or wine shops that have poorly conditioned sakes. Say things like I am not going to pay for a two year-old sake and you should not try to sell it. Ask to taste the sake first before buying a glass! Ask to see the date on the label. YOU must push the market, because trust me when I tell you that local distributors don't give a hoot! Restaurateurs don't give a hoot either as long as the bucks are coming in. But the bigger stink that you make at the ground level the better chance you have at an improved market! It's that simple!

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