For the first time in Imbibe Live history, Europe’s largest on-trade drinks exhibition will feature an area called the Japanese Pavilion, organised by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) and the country’s National Tax Agency.
The Japanese Pavilion will showcase a range of 20 exhibitors across a wide range of the country’s drinks categories, from the ever-popular gin, to the rising star of rum, to the signature spirit of Okinawa awamori.
But no discussion of the Japanese Pavilion – or, indeed, Japanese drinks – is complete without paying homage to that beverage most intrinsically related to the country’s culture, saké.
Originally brewed for Shinto gods, the popularity of premium saké has risen sharply outside Japan, with exports to the UK rising 150% since 2012, fuelled in part by the global trend for Japanese food as people look to pair the two. The Japanese government is looking to broaden understanding of the range of foods enhanced by saké pairing.
‘We want to help trade and consumers to understand saké is also a great match with non-Japanese foods, such as fish and chips, prosciutto, oysters, calamari and – my personal favourite – cheese, from fresh mozzarella to mature cheddar to blue cheese,’ says Hirohisa Ichihashi of JETRO.
Saké is particularly food-friendly because it contains more amino acids than most other alcoholic drinks. These pull the flavours out of food and are the secret to its umami boosting qualities, giving it an affinity for umami-rich foods, such as mushrooms, cured meats, tomato sauce and cheeses.
The diversity of styles also helps pair saké with a broad range of flavours and textures. Sweet and dry sakés include those that are light, fruity and aromatic, clean and dry, fuller flavoured to funky, and aged with often complex layers of flavour. There are fruit-infused sakés and those with varying textures, still or sparkling, and even creamy sakés containing rice solids.
Although saké often has fruit-laden aromatics, most is made simply from rice and water. Koji mould is used to break down starches in steamed rice to fermentable sugars, which yeasts then turn into alcohol, creating the esters giving these aromas.
Saké is classified according to the ‘polish ratio’, meaning that the amount the rice is polished – from the highly polished Daiginjo to Ginjo and Honjozo to everyday Futsushu – affects the saké’s final flavour.
Traditionally saké was enjoyed hot, in small, ceramic cups. But modern, sophisticated, aromatic styles can be better drunk cold or at room temperature in wine glasses, better capturing aromas, making saké more appealing to wine drinkers.
Through saké tastings and a seminar at Imbibe Live 2018, JETRO hopes to dispel some of the myths surrounding saké, and to advise on food and saké matching, encouraging restaurants to pair saké with their menus.
More information on food and saké pairing can be found on foodandsake.com, set up by the newly established Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center (JFOODO) – and don’t miss the Imbibe Live’s Japanese Pavilion on Stand F130 to experience a world of Japanese drinks.
While you’re here…