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Kubota sake tasting at Japan House

New Kubota Sake in London

Innovation is what keeps brands going on. There is a classic theory of a product life cycle from a rising star to a kind of a dinosaur. However, the theory does not take innovation into account. And if a brand innovates, it can continue to exist for a very long time.

Interestingly, the sake industry being a very conservative environment has been constantly innovating in recent years facing a declining sake consumption in the domestic market and a lot of obstacles to break into the international drinks scene. While many breweries still find their way to hearts and palates of overseas drinkers, there are a number of brands, which earned recognition outside Japan. Kubota is one of them.

Asahi Shuzo

Asahi Shuzo has been around since 1830 but the brand Kubota started in 1985. It should be noted that Asahi, which means ” a rising sun”, is a popular name for breweries in Japan and most of them are not related. There is Asahi beer brewery making famous Asahi Super Dry, there is another Asahi sake brewery making another iconic sake brand, Dassai and there are probably more. It’s probably the main reason for both Asahi sake breweries to be known for their brands.

Kubota sake, Asahi Shuzo Sake Brewery

Brewed in Niigata, a home for a distinctive sake brewing style, Kubota is a classic sake of the prefecture: dry, clean and crisp. It benefits immensely from the excellent Niigata’s soft water, the strong tradition of sake making and relentless pursuit of innovation. The prefecture’s sake industry reinvented itself in the 1960-70s having established its distinguished style and taste.

And it’s true for Kubota, which is exactly what Niigata sake should be: dry, light, crisp even austere. The Asahi Brewery usually doesn’t use the common sake designations like daiginjo or honjozo. There is a good reason for that.

If you look at the polishing ratio of Kubota sake, it’s usually quite high from 50% of Kubota Senjyu to 33% of Kubota Manju (with an exception of Kubota Hyakuju, which is 60%). It makes most of Kubota sake at least ginjo. However, the tasting profile was always different from your usual fruity ginjo or junmai ginjo sake.

New additions to the existing lineup

Kubota Junmai Daiginjo
Kubota Junmai Daiginjo

Still, a fruity junmai daiginjo style became very popular among the younger generation in Japan and overseas sake lovers. Seeing that Kubota decided to come up with its own junmai daiginjo, which they called Kubota… Junmai Daiginjo. Simple and clear as all Kubota sake.

It’s still crisp and clear sake but with noticeable floral aroma featuring pear and melon notes and a very good balance between sweetness and acidity. It will definitely appeal to ginjo aficionados and first-time sake drinkers. The sake was for tasting last Saturday at Japan House kindly presented by Keiichi Nagatsuka, Kubota’s Kikisake-shi, International Sake Sommelier.

Kubota Kouju Junmai Ginjo
Kubota Kouju Junmai Ginjo

The second sake on display was Kubota Kouju, a more traditional Niigata sake, crisp dry and lightly acidic. It has a bit of rice in the taste and a very nice finish. It is a more umami sake than Kubota Junmai Daiginjo but less aromatic and fruity.

Both sake use of Gohyakumangoku rice, grown in Niigata prefecture and widely used by the breweries there. Both sake are also junmai, meaning that they are made without adding any extra alcohol after being brewed.

Insight from Kubota

We had a nice chat with Nagatsuka san about current sake trends in Japan and how Kubota fares outside the country. The United States is the biggest overseas market for the company followed by Hong Kong, Singapore and other Asian markets. Europe is still lagging behind in terms of sake consumption, which this blog is trying to change!

Another interesting fact was that only 5% of all Kubota sake in the UK is sold through retail. The rest is consumed through restaurants. Manju (reviewed here) and Senju are the two best sellers for the company here.

Kubota Sake Tasting at Japan House

What does it tell us? People are happy to order sake at restaurants with Japanese food but they don’t buy it after that. One of the myths about sake is that you should only drink with Japanese food and it’s a big obstacle for growing sales outside restaurants. There is plenty of work has to be done to change it and it looks exciting.

So if you got interested in the Kubota sake range, you should try it. In London, you can buy it at Japan Centre or Ichiba. If you have already had Manju or Senju, then it’s time to buy Kubota Junmai Daiginjo or Kouju. Pour yourself a glass of chilled Kubota and try it with some non-Japanese food. If you like it, leave a comment here!



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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