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JFC Sake Expo & Food Show Pt. 1

Last week I attended the Sake Expo & Food Show organised by JFC in London. JFC is one of the largest distributors of Japanese food products globally and in the UK in particular. The Sake Expo was obviously the most interesting part of the event for me. JFC’s suppliers include such large sake companies as Hakutsuru, Ozeki, Kiku-Masamune, Asahi Shuzo (Dassai) as well as a number of smaller breweries. I also got an opportunity to put into action my own tips about sake tasting I’ve written about before and it was successful!

The show was a new experience for me. It’s a trade event only open for JFC’s existing and prospective customers restaurants, retail outlets and other food and drinks suppliers as well as sake and food professionals. I was attending it as a member of the press representing my blog. It was the first time I was carrying a badge with a big word “MEDIA” and it was very exciting.

Sake Expo: Sake barrels

There was a lot of great sake to try at the event presented by the breweries themselves. I also had an opportunity to try some shochu, whiskey and beer! Such brands as Kikkoman, Java Curry were offering tasty food samples using their ingredients so I was not drinking sake on an empty stomach.

It would be quite difficult to write about all the sake I tried and give a description of all the breweries. So I decided to put photos of all the stalls I visited with some highlights of the sake I liked the most. Still, the post has grown quite big and I had to split it into two parts. This is the first part of my review.

Hakkaisan Brewery

Sake Expo: Hakkaisan Brewery
Sake from Hakkaisan Brewery

Hakkaisan Brewery from Niigata presented a wide range of sake from simple futsushu to a very premium Junmai Daiginjo Kongoushin with 40% polishing ratio and matured for 2 years under -2C temperature. However, I was really impressed by their new product, Snow-Aged Junmai Ginjo 3 Years.

Made of 50% polished rice and aged in snow (literally, I’m not kidding!) for 3 years it’s a great sake. Despite being genshu with 17% alcohol, the sake had a nice fruity aroma with a hint of rice, very rounded taste and a full body with a crisp finish. If I were not told, it’s genshu, I would have never guessed.

Another Hakkaisan sake I liked was Junmai Daiginjo Kouwa Gura. It was brewed using the brewery’s new M310 yeast, which gave the sake its fruity aroma dominated by peach and melon. The bottle’s label (far right on the photo above) was also very impressive: pure and simple, designed and drawn by a famous calligrapher, Kyuyo Ishikawa.

Ippongi Kubo Honten

Sake Expo: Ippongi Kubo Honten

Ippongi Brewery from the Fukui Prefecture was offering two sake they are selling here in the UK, Ine (junmai) and Yuki (junmai ginjo). The brewery also had its flagship “First Class” junmai daiginjo made using Yamada Nishiki rice polished to 30%. The name comes from the fact that it’s served in First Class on ANA flights.

Sake Expo: Ginkoubai Hannya Tou
Ginkoubai Hannya Tou

The Ippongi brewery also had another very interesting product which I have actually tried before: Ippongi Ginkoubai Hannya Tou. It’s umeshu, a plum liqueur, but with a twist. Besides the traditional umeshu ingredients, sake, plums, sugar and shochu, it contains chilli pepper!

Hannya has a great plum aroma and when you try it first, you think it’s just sweet and mellow dessert drink like any other umeshu. But not for long. Gradually your tongue, lips and the rest of the mouth start catching fire. Not too spicy but still. Hannya then leaves a very nice warm sensation in your whole body. It’s a great drink for a cold winter day!

Choryo Brewery

Sake Expo: Omachi Tokubetsu Junmai
Tanisawa-san from Choryo’s Sales Department with Omachi Tokubetsu Junmai

Choryo Brewery from Nara, pre-Kyoto capital of Japan and one of the spiritual centres of the country, had two sake I really liked. The first one was made from Omachi rice, famous for its rich flavour.  It was a tokubetsu junmai sake, full-bodied, with a savoury profile and oily texture. The perfect sake to go with food rich in umami. I also tried Yoshinosugi Omachi, which was a taruzake yamahai junmai, a sake made using a traditional method and aged in cedar barrels. The yamahai method highlighted the richness of the Omachi rice.

Sake Expo: Yoshinosugi No Taruzake Choki Jukusei Honjozo Genshu
Yoshinosugi No Taruzake Choki Jukusei Honjozo Genshu

The second sake from the Choryo brewery I also liked very much was Yoshinosugi No Taruzake Choki Jukusei Honjozo Genshu. It’s a long name, I know. Basically, it means an undiluted honjozo sake aged at a low temperature for 26 years! It’s a beautiful amber-coloured sake, full-bodied, with the rich aroma but the relatively mild and elegant flavour.

While it’s still a cedar barrel aged sake, the cedar flavour is not overpowering, but more like an accent, which gives the sake its vintage feel. The sake would be great as a digestive with a dessert or dry fruits.

Kiku-Masamune Brewery

Sake Expo: Kiku-Masamune Junmai Tokusen
Kyogoku Shimpei with Kiku-Masamune Kimoto Junmai

Kiku-Masamune is famous for its kimoto sake. The kimoto method was around for hundreds of years and was replaced with the current sokujo-moto method only at the beginning of the 20th century. Kiku-Masamune kimoto junmai sake is rich in flavour and dry, a bit rough on the edges with a crisp finish. It’s quite versatile as you can drink it chilled, room temperature or even hot.

However, what really caught my attention, was their junmai sake called Koujo. While it’s made from the rice polished to only 70%, the new Kikumasa HA14 yeast, developed by the brewery, gives it daiginjo properties. The sake had a fruity aroma and a light body. It’s slightly sweet with SMV of -2 but has a very balanced acidity. It’s a very enjoyable sake and should be a very good value for money given its daiginjo profile.

Nishi Sake brewery

Sake Expo: Nishi Brewery
Tempting the angels: Takashi Kudo is keen to grow shochi sales in the UK

Nishi Sake Brewery from Kagoshima didn’t bring any sake this time but was focused on promoting its shochu. If sake is relatively well-known in the UK, shochu remains a mystery for many. It is a distilled beverage, typically 25%, made from either rice or other raw materials such as barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat or brown sugar. Shochu is very popular on Kyushu island in the south of Japan.

Sake Expo: Tenshi no Yuwaki
Tenshi no Yuwaki

While I wasn’t too keen on tasting shochu this time I still sampled Nishi’s Tenshi no Yuwaki shochu made using sweet potatoes and white koji and aged for more than seven years in sherry barrels. The name of the shochu is translated as Angel’s Temptation. It refers to the so-called Angel’s share, a small amount of whiskey or sherry evaporated during the ageing process.

Tenshi no Yuwaki had a very mellow taste with vanilla aroma and mushroom notes and smooth and creamy texture. Must be great on the rocks or with savoury snacks. 

Hakutsuru Brewery

Sake Expo: Hakatsuru Brewery
Hakatsuru’s President, Kenji Kano (right) and Masafumi Futatsugi (left)

Hakutsuru is one of the largest sake producers in Japan. You can find their sake everywhere in the country. In fact, Hakutsuru Junmai Daiginjo was the first sake I ever bought, when I was coming back from Japan a few years ago. This time I tried their junmai ginjo, a pleasant sake with a floral aroma, silky texture and a well-balanced taste.

While the company presented a good range of sake at the show I think they have a lot of room to grow. It’s not that easy to find Hakatsuru sake in London. I guess that their export focus has been primarily on the US so far. I hope that will change in future.

Yamato Shizuku

Sake Expo: Yamato Shizuki
Akiko Ito with Yamato Shizuki

I love the logo of Yamato Shizuku! The word “shizuku” means a droplet of liquid, shown on the logo, and represents the sake brewed by the brewery. The brewery is a part of Akita Seishu, which also has such brands as Dewatsuru and Kariho.

I tried two sake from Yamato Shizuku, both made using the local Akita Sakekomachi rice. The first one was Junmai Ginjo. It was a light-bodied sake with a flowery aroma, creamy and soft texture and some savoury notes in the taste. The second was Yamahai Junmai. It was an elegant sake but with a more intense and powerful taste and some rice notes in the aroma. Given a choice, I would go for the Yamato Shizuku Yamahai Junmai!

Chiyomusubi Brewery

Sake Expo: Chiyomusubi Brewery
Tadashi Sano with Goriki 30

Chiyomusubi Brewery from Tottori prefecture had a few very good sake to try. The first one was Junmai Ginjo Goriki50, made of the local Goriki rice. It was a dry sake with a fruity aroma, apricot notes and elegant acidity. Very enjoyable and smooth sake. The second sake was Chiyomusubi Sorah, a premium sparkling sake made using a secondary fermentation technique. Sorah was a light and fruity sake with a balanced acidity. I would drink it as an aperitif.

Sake Expo: GeGeGe no Kitarō
Kitaro, Medama-Oyaji and Nezumi Otoko

Chiyomusubi Brewery also makes sake branded with the characters of a famous manga, GeGeGe no Kitarō. The sake is sold in 180m glass jars with black and white labels depicting several characters of the manga.

I guess if you like the manga and its characters, you would enjoy reading it while sipping Chiyomusubi sake from a jar.

If you would like to know more about the Sake Expo, to read about the first namazake, a surprise encounter, and a very interesting nigori, or to find out more about other drinks presented at the event, please read my next post. In the meantime…



Alex is a London-based sake blogger, podcaster, IWC Sake judge and sake advocate. He is a publisher of the Sugidama Blog website and a host of the Sugidama Podcast. Alex has an International Kikisake-shi (Sake Specialist) qualification from SSI (Sake Service Institute). He sees his mission as expanding the awareness of Japanese sake among as many people as possible and helping the growing community of sake lovers to bring together beautiful Japanese sake and non-Japanese food as a way to build a better understanding between our cultures.

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