Popularity of sake continues to grow in the UK

The prestigious International Wine Challenge (IWC) featured some 583 entries in the sake category this year, with results being announced at the awards dinner on 18 July 2013 at Grosvenor House in London, attended by Ambassador Hayashi. The sake judging took place earlier in the year with the judges choosing Daiginjo Gokujo Kitaya 2012 from Kitaya in Fukuoka as the champion sake for 2013. A few days before the awards dinner, the Embassy also co-hosted an IWC sake-tasting event with the Japan Sake Brewers Association Junior Council. Over 250 guests gathered at the Embassy to sample 33 different kinds of sake from around Japan.

Sake judging for IWC 2013

Champion sake 2013 - Daiginjo Gokujo Kitaya 2012
The popularity of sake has been steadily growing overseas. In fact, recent figures have shown that sake led a record surge in Japanese liquor exports in 2012, whereas sake sales domestically have been falling. Natsuki Kikuya, former Head Sake Sommelier at Roka and Zuma, and winner of the IWC Sake Communicator Award 2011, is the founder of the Museum of Sake, which provides sake education and tasting experiences to spread the word about the delights of sake overseas.


Regarding the sake industry in the UK, she tells us: "Even though sake sales in Japan has been phenomenally in the doldrums - down by 60 percent from two decades ago - sales overseas has been breaking records every single year. It comes from the growing popularity of sake along with Japanese food trends across the world. In the UK alone, many people have started to discover the beauty and variety of sake in spite of its mystery, and understanding that shooting a shot of scorching hot sake is not necessarily the way to appreciate its flavour!"

Indeed, there are now many shops and restaurants around the UK which stock sake, particularly with the recent boom of ramen noodle restaurants in London. Several restaurants, such as Matsuri St James in London, have also experimented with sake cocktails.

However, accessibility to a variety of sake in the UK is still rare, and customers may often be confused about the labelling and packaging which may not always be English-friendly. Natsuki recently gave a talk at the Daiwa Foundation introducing how to appreciate sake to a British audience, and kindly provided us with the following illustrations on how to read and understand a sake label. Why not experiment with sake yourself? I'm sure you can find something to suit every palate!

Sake cocktail at Matsuri St James