Awasake, The Sparkling Sake Revolution: A Fusion of Tradition and Innovation
Photo: Julia Ung

Awasake, The Sparkling Sake Revolution: A Fusion of Tradition and Innovation

The rise in popularity of sparkling sake has created a movement in and outside of Japan. The great interest in sparkling sake from countries such as the United States, China, South Korea, and Singapore has grown exponentially in export value and volume from the 1990s and recently, in 2016, the Japan Awasake Association was formed.

On 21 November 2023, the Awasake Association Business Matching in Malaysia took place at The Ruma Hotel, featuring 20 sake breweries across Japan where you can find unique “awa sake”. Thomas Ling of Entwine Consultancy gave attendants a run-through of awasake trends backed with statistics.

Evolving Sake Appreciation Beyond Japan

The growth in sales has also sparked the customer's curiosity about not just the drink but also the origins, ingredients and processes of making the sake itself. Following this heightened interest, Japan's National Tax Agency is starting to classify sparkling sakes by region, methods, and terroir, much like the accreditation bodies in France and Italy, namely the AOC and DOP for the authenticity and acknowledgment of the produce from a certain region.

Terroir-Driven Sparkling Sake

What used to be the standard blend of using the 'Big 4' (Yamada-nishiki 山田錦, Omachi 雄町, Gohyakuman-goku 五百万石 and Miyama-nishiki 美山錦) rice types in Japan to produce sake, breweries are now looking into highlighting the flavour profiles of the rice varieties from their prefectures. This also steers the focus onto smaller breweries and small-batch productions of sparkling sakes that have a closer relationship with local farms and a familiarity with the produce of that locale.

Rediscovering Ancient Techniques for Modern Sparkle

Another fascinating insight is that these breweries are now looking back to the Method Ancestral for carbonation, similar to the production of natural wines, with no added sulfites, preservatives, and/or low intervention, but instead focusing on the quality of ingredients and creative brewing methods. Such methods include organic farming, less or no filtering and/or polishing of rice yielding products such as vegan sake and environmentally-friendly ingredients and packaging options.

Crafting Innovation: Sake's New Narrative

This has also led to a new generation approach to sake, called the modern disruptive approach or also, craft sake. Brewers are looking to specific collaborations with high-end brands, using their barrels to age the sake, such as Chivas Regal, Premium Suntory, and Cognac casks from vineyards in France. They are also concocting special flavour profiles by thinking outside the box, utilising whisky and champagne yeasts rather than the traditional koji, creating a burst of new and exciting possibilities.

Shifting Perceptions and Market Reach

There is also a shift in the perception of sake, making it a more fashionable and premium product. Malaysia, being a growing market, has spurred the breweries to look for distributors here. Some labels are available in Singapore but mostly exclusive to high-end Japanese restaurants.

Tasting Notes: Exploring Sake's Diverse Palette

Daiichi Sake Brewery

Daiichi Premium Awasake Kaika
[Image source: Daiichi Sake Brewery's website]

Daiichi Sake Brewery's Kaika sake is a balance of sweetness with subtle sake notes. Its profile leans towards a sweeter side, offering a nuanced taste that is less overtly sake-like. It is an approachable choice for those new to sake or those seeking a softer, more delicate flavour profile.

Available in Meiji-ya, Singapore

Saito Shuzo

Saito Shuzo Shichiren Mori no Kanade
[Image source: Saito Shuzo's website]

Saito Shuzo's Shichiren Mori no Kanade sake offers a unique taste reminiscent of Yakult, featuring fruity notes and a gentle touch of acidity. This brew stands out with its light and vibrant character. Its fine bubbles add a refreshing touch to the overall drinking experience, culminating in a clean and crisp finish that lingers pleasantly on the palate.

Sake Generation (Brewery)

Ichido Sparkling Rose
[Image source: Ichido's website]

Sake Generation's Rosé Sparkling Sake embodies sake's strength with a light, effervescent touch. It offers balanced acidity and sweetness, presenting flavours reminiscent of Calpis or Yakult with sake's traditional richness and a crisp, clean finish. It is also a pretty pink!

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