Sake Success – A New Sake Exporting Promotional Effort
Last month, I was asked out of the blue to attend a Sake Exporting Summit in Tokyo and Kobe Japan. I usually balk at these efforts, because I am a bit of cynic after all these years of watching sake exporting efforts stall or become ineffective. But that is crappy thinking so I said Yes! (Something I need to do more this year.) And went on a whirlwind 4 day trip that involved visiting three breweries, seminars, and personal meetings organized by the Japan Rice and Rice Industry Export Promotion Association (JRE).
I’m really stoked to report that this private initiative did a great job! Why did I stress private? From a majority of my experiences to date, most governmental efforts get diluted or fall victim to bureaucracy and wither or lose impact. I know because I have been a part of many JETRO efforts, and despite really great people, most efforts never excel as much as desired for whatever reason. The good news is that the JRE is backed by JETRO and several Japanese Ministries, so the government is in a background support capacity. Ah! Maybe we are onto something.
Basically, everything happened very quickly! The JRE broke visiting participants into global regions - the Italian, French, Hong Kong, and North American contingencies. And most of the participants were already in the sake business to some extent. Before we arrived they sent a list of breweries and agencies who we would like to meet with and they put three to four meetings together in a “speed dating” meeting type setting at the Hakutsuru Brewery. Not joking here! I’ve never speed dated before but this was as close as I have ever come moving from one table to another every 25 minutes! I felt a little goofy, but it ended up being very effective.
I selected three different sake breweries to meet with, and had a very productive meeting with each. Ironically, one of the breweries I really wanted to be exported actually was in the process, and I met their distributor rep on a radio show that I did when I came back to San Francisco. (Small world!) The Akashi Tai sake brewery will soon be available in the store, and I think their products are great! And there I was 4 days earlier, tasting their line, speaking to the kuramoto to get a sense of his sake and brewing philosophies. Click the link HERE to check out their website.
Some of the highlights, of course, were getting to meet some great people. And to re-meet some great sake friends who I have lost contact with over the years. A big shout out to Masahiro Fukuda of Sake One out of New York, who kept the mood light and was one of the featured speakers at one of the seminars. Another person who I reunited with was Marcus Pakiser who is the VP of the Sake Category at Young’s Market from Portland. Marcus is a legend in the industry, because he has done it all in over 20 years being a part of sake in the US and is a fellow Sake Samurai. Also got to hang with the vibrant and very lucky Michael Tremblay who is driving the Canadian sake scene. I was able to spend two more weeks in Japan after our speed dating session.
The North American contingency visited Chiba Prefecture to visit the Kinoene brewery, which I thought was really beautiful. They are very close to one of the airports in Tokyo and say that they get many tourists who are waiting on flights! We sell their Kinoene Migaki Hachi Wari Junmai, but I wish that we could get our hands on their IWC Trophy winning Koshu sake. Great stuff! They also have a fun set of Astrological sake cups, and of course I bought an Aquarius Cup!
We next visited Ninki-Ichi in Fukushima Prefecture, which is very close to Daishichi, another brewery near and dear to my heart! Yujin Yusa-san is a great man, and he has been very kind to me over the years. He has personally helped me with my Sake Samurai endeavors, and it was the first time that I was able to visit his modern brewery. He is a marketing wiz and had some very insane labels and advertising posters for sake. It was pretty cool. The highlight was tasting almost his entire line of sakes, which featured a lot of sparkling sake, including the one the we carry at True Sake and is featured in this Month’s Beau-Zone Layer. After the tour, I purchased a nama from Yusa-san and a Kioke sake that is fermented in a wooden vat.
So what was the net net of this trip? For me, it was excitement. The sake industry is now fully awake and competing which makes me very proud. Initiatives such as these are born from trial and error, and it’s really refreshing to see that the industry is getting it straight. I was very proud witnessing the excitement and newfound energy in the communication of sake. We have a ways to go and I have fired off an email to the boss of JRE how he can better his product, but the end result is that more and better sake will be available overseas and that is great for you, me, and the entire sake world.