Posts Tagged ‘nihonshu’

Bringing nihonshu into the mix

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Fancy a sake and tonic? The owners of Sake Hall Hibiya Bar are hoping the answer from young drinkers will be a hearty yes as they attempt to carve out a new niche in Japan’s crowded drinks market. The bar, which bills itself as the world’s first specialist sake cocktail bar, opened in Ginza on April 20 and is a collaboration between seven different sake brewers who are using the venture to raise the profile of the much-maligned sake cocktail.

Yep, that's what they call a sake bomb.

Though sake cocktails, such as the sake bomb, have made a splash overseas, the concept has yet to gain traction in Japan, according to Food Stadium. Many of the sake producers I spoke to at Foodex, a couple of years ago seemed to view the concept of mixing sake with anything as an aberration, but some were trying to run with the concept with a special stand serving cocktails shaken by bow-tied bartenders from snazzy silver shakers. This new venture is simply raising the profile of a campaign that has yet to gain momentum.

If they can pull it off, the rewards could be huge. Suntory’s campaign to promote the highball has brought the company a whole new generation of whiskey drinkers, who like the idea of whiskey as a sophisticated drink but are put off by the high alcohol content. Nihonshu suffers from the same image problem whiskey did years back: it’s perceived as both expensive and way too strong. Many young drinkers instead prefer to instead drink shochu with a mixer which allows them to enjoy the tipple without getting immediately smashed.

The SAKE nic (¥580) is at the forefront of Sake Hall Hibiya Bar’s campaign to reinvent sake in Japan: The drink is a blend of seven different sakes mixed with tonic and a sliver of orange peel, and is designed to be refreshing and zesty. Their other trademark drink is the Sake Espuma (¥630): sake blended with a special machine that gives the drink a beer-like frothy head. In addition to offering 150 types of sake cocktails, the bar is covering its bases by also offering classic spirit-based cocktails, whiskey and beer.

But a small band of sake producers don’t have the advertising clout that a huge company like Suntory possesses, so even if they can get people drinking these cocktails, it’s going to take awhile for the trend to take hold. In the hopes that trend will catch on elsewhere the bar will be holding sake cocktail workshops for restaurateurs and other promotional events.

Can sake shake off its old geezer image and get with younger drinkers? The owners of Sake Hall Hibiya Bar have certainly got their work cut out for them. According to C Scout, a 2009 survey of women aged 20-30 showed that 75 percent of them hardly ever drink nihonshu and that’s just the demographic they’re aiming to turn around.

Photo: Marcelo Teson

Thirst growing overseas for nihonshu

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Barrels of sacred sake at Meiji Jingu Shrine

Barrels of sacred sake at Meiji Jingu Shrine (Miguel Michán photo; Flickr link below)

Nihonshu, or sake as it is known to the rest of the world, is selling well overseas. According to a recent report by Mainichi newspaper, Ministry of Finance trade statistics for January to November exports indicate that more sake than ever before has been flowing out of the country. To be precise, 12,223 kiloliters of sake, breaking the record of set in 2008 of 12,151 kiloliters. An upturn in the global economy and an increase in interest in Japanese cuisine both seem to be factors driving the boom. Countries importing sake included the U.S., China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and North Korea.

“In truth, the trend has been going on for about 15 years or more,” sake expert John Gauntner said in a recent e-mail. “And every year a new record was set, until the Lehman Shock in ’08, and sales dropped again in ’09, only to rebound in 2010. There are a million things behind the long trend, but the gist of it all is that people overseas are finally coming to understand what good sake is all about. At the same time, more and more premium sake is becoming available as the distribution system realizes its potential. The big problem now is the exchange rate. If it were not for that the growth would be much, much better!”

The strong yen aside, the market growth has been phenomenal in South Korea. According to Sankei News, the country’s agriculture and fishery marketing corporation put the sake import market at $270,000 in 2000 but in 2009 this rose to $9,560,000. This rise is all the more astounding considering the fact that, due to heavy taxes, a bottle of sake in South Korea can cost three times as much as the same product in Japan.

The trend is driven by an increase in the numbers of Japanese-style pubs (izakaya) that have been popping up all over the country. Quite simply, when Koreans eat Japanese they also want to drink nihonshu. But it’s all part of a wider trend in South Korea that began around the time of the 2002 World Cup when many Koreans traveled to Japan and experienced Japanese culture (and vice versa). Young people are now keen to embrace Japanese culture and that includes not only its cuisine but also manga and anime.

The love is flowing both ways. As we reported previously, Korean pop culture is booming in Japan and appropriately, Korea’s sweet white alcoholic drink makkori has also proved to be a big hit with the nation. Part of the appeal of makkori is that it’s lower in alcohol than nihonshu and appeals to younger drinkers who find sake a little too strong for their taste … which provides impetus enough for  nihonshu  brewers to see new drinkers overseas.

Photo by Miguel Michan

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