IWC 2018 Award Winning Sake Tasting
Credit: Taka G Wu

IWC 2018 Award Winning Sake Tasting

Last Monday I attended the IWC Award Winning Sake Tasting, the most important sake event in London. It marks the end of the sake brewing year, which runs from July 1 to June 30th of the following year. The IWC sake tasting event brings together the best sake brewers from Japan and sake specialists, journalists and aficionados from the UK.

The International Wine Challenge

The International Wine Challenge (IWC) is one of the most influential global wine competitions running for more than 30 years. Its sake competition was established in 2007 and has grown tremendously ever since.

The International Wine Challenge awards medals and trophies to the competing sake as well as Great Value Sake Awards, Champion Trophies and the Sake Brewer of the Year. The results are announced at the IWC dinner in July.

On the eve of the Awards Dinner, the IWC together with the Japanese Embassy and Sake Samura organise the tasting of the award-winning sake at the Embassy of Japan in London.

This was my second IWC sake tasting event. The first one last year actually became an eye-opener (or should I say a tasting buds opener) for me. It triggered my interest in sake, which resulted in this blog. So I felt very excited on Monday night in anticipation of new sake discoveries!

Last time the official part was quite long as all the participating breweries made presentations of their sake. While the presentations were relatively short, the sheer number of the breweries was 16. So you can imagine that it took a while for all of them to do presentations.

This time the presentations were limited to the Japan Finance Minister, the organisers and the Yamagata Prefecture, where the judging took place this year. The presentation of the prefecture was actually very good and to the point. So all together they managed to keep the official part within 40 minutes, after which the sake tasting began!

My picks from the IWC sake tasting

I’m not going to talk about all the breweries and sake presented that evening. There were 14 breweries from 10 prefectures, each offering two sake to try. So I will only highlight the most interesting ones and those I liked the most.

All the presented sake were great. Indeed, they had gone through a meticulous judging process. But still, some of them stood out. So these are my favourites without any particular order.

Junmai Daiginjo Miyanoyuki Shukon from Mie prefecture: very complex but elegant sake. It was relatively dry but very well balanced with a smooth finish.

Junmai Daiginjo Kuroudokou Kimoto from Kamogawa Brewery in Yamagata Prefecture: very interesting and complex taste well associated with the kimoto style brewing. The sake was produced from table rice, which highlighted the mastery of the brewery.

IWC 2018 Award Winning Sake Tasting
Tasting Kinsuzume 2017. Credit: Taka G Wu

Kinsuzume 2017 from Yamaguchi Prefecture: I have to admit that this one just blew me away. It is a very premium sake. You would have to part with 30,000 yen (around £200) to get a standard 720ml bottle. However, it was absolutely fantastic: refreshingly sweet and intensively fruity, very classy with perfectly balanced acidity and a touch of savoury on the finish.

Special mentions

There are a few other sake I would like to mention. I was really impressed by Kijo Daikoshu Furudokei from the Kamogawa brewery. It is vintaged aged sake made in 1974! I’m not a big fan of aged sake, but this one was completely different from what I had tried before.

Rich plum, apricot and orange peel flavour, very complex and smooth taste with some twist at the end. The taste, while complex, was not overpowering and too sweet. Given the limited number of the bottles left in the coffers of the Kamogawa brewery,  I felt very privileged to be able to taste it.

Okunomatsu Adatara Ginjo was another sake, which drew my attention. I found it very pleasant and smooth, with a gentle dry taste and a balanced acidity. It was not a surprise that it eventually won the main prize, IWC Champion Sake Award 2018.

There were many other superb sake that evening. Ichinokura Mikansa Honjozo Extra Dry was a great sake to have with food. The same brewery’s Suzune Wabi sparkling sake would be my choice on a sunny summer day. It was refreshingly sweet and actually was the first sake to start the sparkling trend.

Gekkeikan brewery, which one of the biggest and oldest breweries in Japan, presented their honjozo Tokusen sake, which won the Great Value Sake trophy. Thier junmai daiginjo Horin sake was excellent as well as the Gekkeikan team at the stall presenting it!

Gekkeikan Sake
Gekkeikan Team with Mr Okura, Managing Director of Gekkeikan Sake Company. Credit: @kynu_

One of my favourite breweries, Kamoizumi, (I have written about them before), presented 1997 Sachi koshu sake. Again, it wasn’t your typical aged sake. 1997 Sachi had an elegant dry style and was very smooth.

Looking forward

Overall, the tasting event was very good and interesting. I met a lot of new people but also caught up with the friends I made in the sake world during this year. While the selection of sake gravitated towards junmai daiginjo (12 of 28 sake in total), there were two kimoto sake as well as a slightly more honjozo than last time.

You can see that the interest in sake is growing and breweries are getting more serious about the European market and the UK in particular. There were many new faces at the tasting and more promotional materials at the stalls. You could feel the interest in the air!

I’m still learning how to taste sake and write down the taste notes and this is something I need to improve. Another thing I didn’t think of was to ask a permission to take photos beforehand. So in this post, I had to rely on the photos provided by Taka and Kinu. Thanks a lot, guys! Now I have another year to improve my blogging and tasting skills.

Kampai!

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