When the sake market is as mature as it is in Japan, the greatest opportunities lie abroad. Indeed, over the past four decades, sake consumption has increased steadily outside Japan as it’s consistently declined in its home market—as has the number of sake breweries throughout Japan. The U.S. increasingly has become a market of significant opportunity for sake, as both a Japanese import and one domestically produced by a handful of artisanal sake breweries in the U.S. The key for marketers has been to demystify a product whose exoticism may have intimidated U.S. consumers in the past.
TY KU first hit the scene about five years ago with a green-hued citrus liqueur packaged in an illuminating bottle. Since then, the premium spirits and sake company based in New York City has expanded its portfolio to include award-winning liquid that has raised its profile. The newest addition launched this year: Coconut Sake (premium Nigori infused with coconut), brewed in the heartland of sake, Nara, Japan. Celebrities have taken note and TY KU has added investing partners such as CeeLo Green and Patti Stanger, star of Bravo’s “Millionaire Matchmaker.” TY KU has been putting education at the forefront of its marketing with efforts to make sake more approachable.
18th Century Brewery, 21st Century Design
Founded in 1790, the Ichishima Sake Brewery, based in Shibata City, Japan, decided it was time to freshen up its visual image to attract the modern market. After about six months of tweaking by a high-end graphic designer, the company settled on a label that it describes as a modern rendition of the flow of water. It’s a bit abstract and somewhat resembles a jigsaw puzzle piece, but it definitely makes the product stand out among the other sakes on the shelf.
If there’s been any proof that world-class sake can be brewed far west of Japan it was when Takara Sake USA’s Sho Chiku Bai Classic was awarded the highest prize in the Junmai category at last year’s U.S. National Sake Appraisal. Out of the 326 entries in the competition, Sho Chiku Bai Classic was the only one made in the U.S. to win a gold award. The event, held each year in Honolulu, brings together 10 judges—five from Japan and five from the U.S. for a blind tasting—under the guidance of the Japan National Research Institute of Brewing. Takara Sake USA recommends that the medium-dry Sho Chiku Bai be served room temperature to warm, paired with mildly seasoned food.