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Sake Competition – The International Wine Challenge 2024

Sake Competition – The International Wine Challenge 2024

Just got back from London where I was Co-Chairing the 2024 International Wine Challenge (IWC) sake side for the 17th time. The IWC is the largest annual commercial sake and wine competition in the world, and dare I say it’s the best. There are many sake competitions out there these days, but none have the weight, brand, and excellence of the IWC.

Yes, tasting and judging sake is work! Many think it’s an easy thing to do, but I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s a hell of a lot of work with a nice amount of pressure added to the mix. This year we had a total of 60 judges from all over the world, and I will say that they are the strength and backbone of the IWC. In a word the IWC has the best sake judges on the planet, and they are all accomplished, knowledgeable, and wonderful people. For me working with the judges is my favorite part of the three-day event (Co-Chairs work 4 days).

Typically we hold the tasting right after the wine team in the Oval (famous cricket field), but this year we did the sake side alone in a very cool church called St. Mary’s. How cool is that? Tasting amazing sakes in the confines of a beautiful 200 year-old cathedral, and getting credit for going to church 4 days in a row. Ha!

This year there were 1,504 sakes entered, with the majority being Junmai Daiginjo submissions. And since they come out to the judges in flights this number accounted for 216 perfectly arranged flights. (They did 90 flights the first morning).

As sake is ever changing, so too is the IWC judging. This year they created a new category called “Aged” sake, which is technically “Koshu,” but it’s been stored in zero or below temperatures and does not have the deep color of ambient-stored sake. And yes, we had some growing pains as some 2006 or 2009 brews had color even though they were stored in very cold conditions. I told my fellow judges to think of Dewazakura’s Yukimanman (cold aged for 5 Years and very clear) as the template for this style of aged sake that drinks clear and rounded and not dark and rich. 

Of course I did not see who won the medals or trophies, but I certainly tasted them! And the overall quality of sake this year was impeccable. There was some really delicious sake all around, and I personally found the Ginjo, Daiginjo, and Junmai Ginjo categories as the strongest. Futsushu and Honjozo also were incredibly strong categories. That said I thought the very large Junmai category was incredibly diverse featuring a majority of new-world and new style Junmais and overly milled Junmais that drank light and almost Ginjo like. Since the entire focus of the competition is to judge by category standards as in “Does this sake drink like a prototypical Daiginjo or Ginjo” the Junmai category was the most difficult to judge.

Get ready for many IWC stickers and neckers on the bottles that we get after the winners are announced in July! And remember when you see those stickers it represents the breweries have been awarded medals and trophies and are not necessarily that exact sake that one the award. (But for me it represents quality sake made by quality makers.)

Click Here To Shop All Past Trophy Winners

As of Thursday 6/6/2024, IWC just announced the 2024 winners! Check them out here!

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