Kanpai!  Meros joined the discussion on NHK World’s current BizBuzz episode on the Japanese sake industry.  The episode can be seen streaming on NHK World for the next few weeks.

Sake, also called nihonshu, is an alcoholic beverage brewed from rice, water and the critical ingredient koji mold which helps convert the starch in rice into sugar to be fermented. Although sake is often called “rice wine” in English, this is a bit of a misnomer, as the production process is closer to beer brewing than to wine.

Within Japan, sake consumption has decreased to a minor share of the alcohol market (6%).  Sake began to be thought of as an “old man’s drink”, with younger Japanese consumers preferring beer, wine, shochu (Japanese distilled spirits) or other drinks.  With Japan’s shrinking population, Japan’s venerable sake breweries have needed to think strategically about how to maintain their industry – growing share within Japan as well as finding new markets overseas.

Japan has been seeing  growth both in younger brewers and new business models, such as Asahi Shuzo’s Dassai sake who marketed directly to Tokyo restaurants or and  start-up  Nihonshu Oendan which supports the sale and marketing of craft sakes from several breweries.  Sake brewery tours, like wine tours in California, are growing in popularity among both Japanese and international tourists.

Overseas too there has been increased interest in sake, both because of the increase in sushi and Japanese restaurants, as well as the inclusion of a sake category in major wine competitions.  For example, in Japanese sake’s top export market, the US, most Americans who have tried sake say their first experience was in a Japanese restaurant. Still, sake is a negligible share of even the US market.   To really have an impact in overseas markets, sake will need additional consumer education and will ultimately need to break out of the limited Japanese restaurant market.  Organizations like the Sake Samurai Program, Sake Education Council and WSET Sake Certification as well as direct-to-consumers sales models like Kanematsu’s Sake Network for the EU are looking to address these issues.

In this episode, Meros’ Lucia Vancura, sake expert Rebekah Wilson-Lye and host Jon Kabira discusses the changing sake market, the rise of sake sommeliers, pairing sake with non-Japanese cuisine challenges and opportunities for the sake market to grow overseas.