While I like to think of myself as one of the more cynical and irreverent – as well as dashingly handsome and sharply dressed – writers here at RocketNews24, I occasionally do come across a subject I’d rather approach with a more measured, sober point of view. Like, for example, the subject of sweet, sweet booze!
It might come as a shock to people whose primary brushes with Japanese culture come from visits to their local, non-Japan-based Japanese teppan restaurant or izakaya, but sake – the country’s national alcoholic beverage – is kind of in dire straights nowadays. The traditional, rice-based drink basically has been getting steamrolled by imported drinks like beer and wine, which have less of a “learning curve” to fully enjoy and thus appeal more to young people in Japan.
Since the 1970s, when the drink still faced stiff competition from domestic beers and imported wines but was doing pretty well for itself, domestic sake sales have hit a wall, with the number of brewers falling from nearly 5,000 in that period to just 1,000 or so now. Some have turned to foreign markets, even looking into new ways to pair sake with western food, while others have tried to innovate with sparkling sake – which is kicking ass in sales numbers and might just prove to be the drink’s savior.
The main appeal of sparkling sake for a lot of people is the increased sweetness, which appears to be a side effect of the brewing method, making it taste more akin to a champagne. Despite sake being translated as “rice wine” in a lot of other countries, the basic brewing method followed is more closely related to that of beer and, let’s be honest, sake tastes nothing at all like wine. So, for a lot of consumers, Japanese women especially, sparkling versions offer a sweeter, more accessible drink that’s also lower in alcohol.
There’s also the classiness factor. Like champagne, sparkling sake is served in a thin flute and has enough universal appeal and wow factor to be perfect for celebratory events. On the other hand, sake was traditionally served in all manner of odd vessels, not least of which the iconic, square masu wooden box – which, to foreigners, can give the drink a sort of rustic charm, but is seen as somewhat archaic and old-fashioned to modern Japanese.
▼ Yes, we have Lost in Translation to thank for knowing what this is, too.
Sparkling sake hit the mainstream market in 2011 with the introduction of Takarashuzo Brewery’s “Mio” label – which the company introduced, not surprisingly, in a groping effort to revitalize sake sales. Takarashuzo says sales of the label had increased four times by 2013.
Will sparkling sake turn Japan’s traditional boozy beverage’s luck around? It’s hard to say, but major labels like Mio appear to be making significant headway both at home and abroad, which is a great sign. Well, I guess this means a thorough, RN24-funded taste test is in order!