Japanese sake exhibits at LWF for the first time

Japanese sake producers are to exhibit at the London Wine Fair for the first time, as interest in the Japanese rice wine grows across the on-trade.

Natsuki Kikuya of the Museum of Sake in Japan will lead masterclasses on sake at the London Wine Fair in May

Natsuki Kikuya of the Museum of Sake in Japan will lead masterclasses on sake at the London Wine Fair in May

The Sake Pavillion will feature a selection of brewers and distributors and is being curated by Natuki Kikuya of  the Museum of Sake – an organisation devoted to the marketing and appreciation of the drink – who will also present a master class on identifying the different styles of sake and matching it to different menus.

Breweries who will be exhibiting include Daishichi Brewery, Sekiya Brewery and five artisan producers from the ENTER.Sake label. There are also well-established sake distributors who will be exhibiting at the show including Bibendum (part of the Bibendum PLB Group), SAKE at UK, Tazaki Foods and Ueno Gourmet, a German sake specialist importer who launched in the UK last year.

Kikuya said the drink was a “perfect fit” for a show that was “all about discovery” and noted an increasing interest in sake cocktails in addition to its usual pairing with food.

“We have witnessed a significant interest in the category in the last two years,” she said, noting the WSET, SSA and SSI sake qualification that launched in the last few years. “It ensures more wine professionals, bartenders and sommeliers are taking sake seriously. Both the trade and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of this unique product.”

Although interest is primarily driven by Japanese and Asian fusion restaurants, according to Bibendum’s sake specialist, business development manager Josh Butler, this was beginning to broaden to include other premium restaurants, with a “much more diverse” clientele enjoying the drink.

“We’re seeing much larger lists – for example Sushi Samba has over 100 sakes on their list – and a move towards less traditional Japanese restaurants. In terms of premium restaurants, there is so much interest and we’re seeing pairings with sake on degustation menus at Restaurant Story and The Cut, 45 Park Lane for example. Gordon Ramsey has added a short sake list of 5 sakes at Heddon St Kitchen,” he said.

“It has amazing potential because sommeliers and chefs are completely engaged in the category. We see potential for sake to be listed on most restaurant lists, in the same way that you would have a dessert wine section.”

This interest is expected to spread across the wider on- and off-trade, he added.

“We’ve had a lot of interest from some of the major retailers and also airlines who would like to offer alternatives in First Class. In terms of wider on-trade, the non-traditional sakes like yumeshu and yuzushu are being used a lot in cocktails and that’s really driving awareness of the category overall. The move towards lower alcohol sakes is also encouraging, up until recently the average ABV was around 17% and this has dropped to levels that are familiar in New World wine so it’s really opening up as an accessible drink.”

LWF show director Ross Carter said it was a good time to make noise about the drink following increased interest in the UK.

“It is a first for us which is exciting,” he said. “It shows sake is going from strength to strength.”

The London Wine Fair will take place at Olympia from 3 – 5 May 2016.


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