Sake Bummer - Thank You Our Dear Government!
A massive shocker has hit the sake industry in the US and you can thank your government officials who basically have lost their minds. Effective July 1st 2008 sake will no longer be classified by the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as a wine, instead it will fall into the fortified wines and distilled beverages category on account of it's elevated alcohol content. This is sheer insanity and the ramifications are huge.
Any restaurant or retail store that does not have a hard liquor license will not be permitted by law to sell sake. In a word, this will crush most sushi restaurants, as they predominately have beer and wine licenses. The reasoning for this out of control move is to place sake into a higher taxed category. It's simply a revenue-generating move, but the results will be devastating in the short run.
All beer and wine licensed restaurants and retail stores will have to apply for a distilled spirits license, which as we all know takes about a year to obtain. So this bureaucratic move will create even more bureaucracy as restaurants small and large will have to reach out to the public to obtain these licenses, and more than not in today's society neighbors of restaurants will most likely object to this. It is an expensive, time consuming, and sometimes humiliating process, which more than likely will not be attempted by true mom and pop sushi restaurants.
How could this have occurred and who didn't put up a fight? The answer is easy! The sake industry in the US has no lobby group whatsoever. Importers, distributors, etc have never formed associations or lobbying groups to protect the interests of our industry. The argument over "Honjozo" sake and "Genshu" sake has been on the table for years, and yet we didn't do anything about it. These sakes with an elevated alcohol content and sakes with added distilled spirits have become the "Trojan Horses" that the government needed to obtain a higher taxation structure.
Personally I am not only hurt (a selfish emotion because I love my sake and sushi nights) but I am pissed as hell. I have been trying to organize a lobbying effort in the industry for years, exactly to combat situations such as this. Sadly, we cannot appeal the measure because it was passed unanimously. I am certain that importers and distributors of sake will unite to sue the ATF and FDA to create an injunction to temporarily stop the process, but this is a little too little and little too late. The writing was on the wall and we blew it!
There is one hope, and that is to appeal to the US Supreme Court on the grounds that this should be an individual State's issue or that sake has been unfairly targeted. But both of these are non-issues as this is a Federal tax play, and sake would be joining fortified wines like Port and Sherry, which are classified in the higher taxed category already.
Basically you have about two months to enjoy your sushi and sake nights out. After that it is back to your favorite sashimi plate with some red wine durge that was selected by folks who do not know grape wine. Oh and one more thing - April Fool's! (For my foreign readers this is a joke! It is customary to play a joke on April 1st of each year! For more information please see this for an explanation. And next year - no disclaimers!)