July 2010

Sake & Miwa - Trade-only Sake Events

Posted by Beau Timken in 2010, July, Newsletter, Sake & Miwa
Miwa This month I'd like to share snapshots of sake events that were held by three local Japanese sake/food importers. All the events were for their clients, mainly restaurateurs. I attended the two as a visitor and one as an exhibitor's helper. From each event I learned a few new things and hope to share some best practices as well as lessons- learned.

JFC SAKE EXPO & FOOD SHOW (Monday, May 17th. 12-5pm.)

Last year JFC held their first San Francisco Sake Expo at Kabuki Hotel in Japan Town. It drew about five hundred guests. This year, the event was held at The Cypress Hotel in Cupertino. (JFC / Sake Expert)

Based on the brochure, roughly 110 sakes (nihon-shu) were represented by 27 breweries at the event. (Plus seven shochu companies.) Among the newest were: Kotsuzumi Junmai, Hakutsuru Organic Junmai Ginjo, and Mizubasho Junmia Ginjo Sparkling.

Along the perimeter of a room were sake tables, and in the center were food exhibitors' tables. This layout allowed the guests to snack on food as they sampled sake. In contrast, food was set on the side of the room at the event last year, which gave more focus on sake. The event had a very vibrant feel.

Personal Highlight:
I would have had more highlights if I was able to stay longer, but during my two-hour stay, these things stuck with me.
  • Ozeki Brewery's exhibit of damaged sake: when I saw the table with a big sign said "damaged sake", I thought "wow, this is 'so' Beau Timken." In other words, for a brewer to show and allow people to taste purposely-damaged sake was bold, honest and educational. They put sake in direct sunlight at an hour interval. The result was several bottles of sake with different shades of color and taste.
  • Gassanryu side-by-side: simply because I enjoyed their line of sake, I took the liberty to taste all four side by side-again. When I was first introduced to the same set of sake a year ago, I liked their honjozo the best. This time I was able to detect more of a full and complex nature of their Junmai. There was an air-like lightness to their Daiginjo compared to their Junmai Daiginjo. It was fun.
Best Practice:
  • Their booklet is compact in size, so it is easy to use. It includes sake prices.
  • This year the room was slightly smaller and more guests attended compared to last year. This made the event feel a little bit crowded.
  • Since it was being held in Cupertino, some restaurateurs from San Francisco decided not to go. (Meanwhile, restaurants in that area benefited the most.)
  • Lack of spit buckets and water pitchers. Wished every table had each item.

NA SALES RESTAURANT SHOW (Saturday, June 5th. 9am -3pm)

Every year I go to this trade show and ended up spending easily five hours. This year I attended the event as a helper at Kamotsuru Brewery's booth. The very important lesson-learned from this day: it takes patience, understanding, respect, and love to promote sake. (NA Sales)

According to the company, 64 sake (nihon-shu) were represented by 15 breweries at the event this year. (Plus, there were two beer breweries, four shochu companies, and one plum wine company.) Among the newest were: Amabuki Daiginjo, Amabuki Gin no Kurenai (rose), Amabuki Yamahai Junmai Omachi, Dassai 39 Sparkling Nigori, Yuuga Junmai Daiginjo, and Hojun Junmai.

The event is always held at their warehouse space in South San Francisco. The space is nicely decorated with banner and panels, so it does not feel industrial. I like this everyday nature of the space. As the name of event suggest, this event showcases food, cooking ware, and dinner ware as well. Everyone who attended seemed busy trying to find a deal or something new.

Personal Highlight:
This year I worked behind a table, pouring samples for the visitors. All the helpers, dressed in black and white, arrived at 8 am and received an orientation talk. When I arrived, most of the exhibitors' tables were set. That meant the brewers, who had just arrived in SF the day before, were up and busy before I got to the venue. I am reminded over and over again how hard they work, and how dedicated they are.
  • Suigei: I stood next to Mr. Yamazaki from Suigei Brewery. Since we've met at past events, we casually chatted about all things sake while giving out samples to our visitors. Each sake table had a price sheet and an order form, yet I noticed an extra piece of paper Yamazaki-san had. When the event was winding down, I had to ask him what that piece of paper was for. With his warm smile, he showed me his home-made chart. It turned out he was keeping tracks of tasters' names/restaurant names, what sake they tasted, and their likes. He recorded this information effortlessly while pouring sample and answering questions. I thought, "He is a pro." Big bow to Suigei.
Best Practice:
  • Nametag for each guest indicated who had an alcohol license (also who was under-age.)
  • 10% off of order taken at the day of event, even for a single- bottle order.
  • A bottle of water in each welcome bag.
  • While the price list showed the discounted price, there was no regular price listed. Some folks could not quite commit to order but wanted to know the regular price for future ordering.
  • Because of the layout, you cannot see the entire event at a single glance. There is a corridor, separated by partitions, that snakes around the warehouse. While the first corridor was heavy on food, the second corridor was all sake. From a sake point of view, if they mixed the food and sake stations, the guests may have spent more time at sake stations while snacking on food.
  • While each sake station had many brochures and informational pieces on sake, one booklet with a list of all sake and breweries would have been useful.
  • Lack of spit buckets--although trash cans were at every sake station.

NISHOMOTO TRADING "VIVA LA SAKE!" (Monday, June 21. 12-4pm)

This year was their first. When I received the invitation form, I noticed two things: the venue being Yoshi's San Francisco and a line to write a liquor license number. I thought, "That's fancy and also smart." (Nishimoto Trading)

Based on the handout, roughly 70 sake (nihon-shu) were represented by 19 breweries. 15 sake were either brand new/yet to be imported. (Plus, two beer breweries, eight shochu/awamori companies-two of which also make nihonshu, one awamori company, and one makkori company.)

An open and beautiful interior with Jazz music in the background made this event very relaxing, and it helped me focus. Many guests seemed to be enjoying eating, drinking and chatting in lounge areas.

Personal Highlight:
Two things at the events stirred a nostalgic feeling in me. I just feel happy to connect and reconnect with something from the past.

  • Naraman: I was happy to see Mr. Shoji from Yumegokoro Brewery and taste his Naraman "Origarami" Junmai Nama. Over two years ago, I met Shoji-san at a reggae bar called OPEN in Shinjuku San-chome. The bar was only a five minute walk from my parents' place. I was in Japan at the time because my father had been hospitalized. Feeling obligated and somewhat guilty I could not take a trip to visit a brewery, I managed to go to a few tasting events in Tokyo. At one of the events I learned about this tasting gathering at OPEN. The theme of the event: up-and- coming, young brewers. There, I spoke to Shoji-san who was seeking an importer at the time. I remember him talking passionately about how wonderful his Naraman Junmai tastes warm. ("nurukan")

    A few years have passed, and here we are again. This time he had a misty looking, unpasteurized Junmai he brought as a sample. He calls it "origarami", which I would loosely translate as "layered with ori (rice lee)". It is not cloudy as nigori or light as usu- nigori; it is in between. This sake is a seasonal product, and he is hoping that sake like this will be welcomed in the U.S. market. I said "Of course!" I enjoyed this refreshing, slightly fizzy and misty sake. It tasted like Japan.
  • Rokkasan: There used to be two kinds of sake available from this brewery in Yamagata. But about a year ago, they were discontinued by their vendor/importer. I particularly liked their Junmai Ginjo "Yamahoushi", yet somehow the sake did not get much attention. Thinking the only time I get to taste Rokkasan is when I'm in Japan, I was thrilled when I saw the brewery name on the handout. At the event Beau was quick to notice their Junmai sparkling "Hitotoki" and "Rose." He asked me to check them out. Although their sparkling sake were far different from the Junmai Ginjo I knew of, it was nice to feel the taste of Rokkasan, like reconnecting to an old friend.
Best Practice:
  • For each sake, there was a "Yes/No" card, which a taster would circle and drop into a box. This would help the company see which sakes were well received and decide which new sake to import.
  • There was a map of Japan along with color-coded brewery list.
  • Like the other two events, lack of spit buckets.
  • If anything, they over prepared on the amount of sample bottles. I saw case after case of sake. I guess it doesn't hurt to be over prepared.

While these companies import sake, they also act as distributors for sake that are imported by other companies. Plus, there are sake promotional and marketing entities. The world of sake importing and distribution is a bit of maze. We hope to keep a tab on who's who, so if you know of other trade-only events that are happening around the country, please let us know and we can pass on the info.


P.S. Sometime a random online search leads you to a place you never thought of before. I was just typing "Jizake Japan" and ended up at this business website. I am not sure whether it is cool, good or scary. Those who are in the importing business might want to check this out: Import Genius

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