Here in Hong Kong, it is very active sake trade in the market. Juyondai, Dassai, Kokuryu…those popular items in Japan can be found at many restaurants although it is quite pricey. According to export data by Japan Tax Agency in 2015, 385 Sake breweries had export Seishu to Hong Kong which was the biggest numbers in the world and Hong Kong, the position was no.5 by volume and no.2 by value among export countries. Plus the ratio of premium sake in Hong Kong was 72% which meant the majority of Japanese sake in Hong Kong were expensive ones. No wonder I can easily find famous prestige brands.
What kind of image about Sake do you have? I had an image “Old men’s drink” before. I recall that my father used to drink Atsukan at dinner every day when I was kids. At that time sake was usually consumed at warm and only during Japanese new year celebration I still remember special cold sake from Niigata – Koshinokanbai was opened by my grand father. Well it is such a long time ago, the old Sake grade system existed in the early 1980s before changing to current legislation which partially involved to lead to Ginjo boom later. Compared to that time, the current style of Sake is much stylish and cool! Don’t you think so?
By the technique of reduced polising ration of rice, very fragrant style of sake like white wine, Daiginjo, has been prevailed in both domestic and international market. Diginjo, Ginjo sake is fruity, pure and perfumed on the nose, acidity is fairly low. It suits to drink as cold. I am sure the establishment of Ginjo style sake had contributed to increase the numbers of Sake lovers who are not only original sake drinkers like my grand father or father but also a younger generation or females. Ginjo style sake is very popular and quite dominates in Hong Kong.
In contrast, Kimoto and Yamahai, having savoury, earthy character with high acidity which used to be made by traditional method for a long time of course exist. This type of sake is more flavourful to drink at room temperature or slightly warm- Nurukan. At current situation, honestly there is less selection like minor category at restaurants, but some can be found at certain retailers in Hong Kong.
Compared with Ginjo and Daiginjo, Kimoto and Yamahai are quite opposite style, but nowadays something new, like mixing both styles which are like Ginjo style made by Kimoto method appears on the market in Japan. Probably there are so many Ginjo style Sake has been for a long time in Japan market, therefore some brewers started to create a new style. Unlike wine production, the human factor is highly involved in Sake production in terms of creating a style, which means Sake brewers can adapt their style of sake to market demand. This is very unique, but conversely, it tends to be unvarying in certain or entire markets, which is quite dangerous.
The history of the production of Sake is extremely long in Japan and its precise production, system, and background in Sake industry have been veiled for a long time. However, nowadays Japanese Sake industry is widely opened, which is surprising to compare than before. In addition, the Japanese government and Japan Tax Agency have eyes on the potential of Sake in the export market, therefore it is an obvious fact to accelerate final negotiation of Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between EU and Japan. Probably you know this news. The Japanese government has encouraged the promotion of Japanese sake for Tokyo Olympic in 2020. I really can not take my eyes off how sake industry keeps on innovating.