Special FeatureHere’s to Japanese sake!
Japan now has another product to grab the attention of sake lovers—the mini-kansuke. It heats their favorite beverage to the temperature they want, at home.
Japanese sake tastes good chilled or at room temperature, but you can also enjoy its flavor if you warm it, by placing a bottle of it in hot water.
Yamazaki Hiroshi developed the mini-kansuke for his company,Sanshin. “The fascinating thing about sake is how the taste changes in subtle ways as the temperature rises,” he says.
He must be right, because there are different names for heated sake, depending on the temperature. For example: hinata-kan (30 °C), hito-hada (35 °C), nuru-kan (40 °C), ryo-kan (45 °C), and atsu-kan (50 °C; all temperatures approximate). As you may have guessed, kan means “heated sake.”
But it is hard to serve sake at the exact temperature preferred by the individual drinker. In places like high-end Japanese restaurants, this used to be the job of a kan-ban attendant. The human kan-ban has been replaced by commercial automatic sake heaters, like those manufactured and sold by Yamazaki’s company. His challenge was to develop a smaller, easy-to-use model for the home.
He found it was impossible to simply apply the technology used in the commercial model for smaller home units. So it was back to the drawing board, and on to trial and error. The final product, the mini-kansuke, gets your sake to the temperature you want. All you do is pour boiling water into the receptacle. The container conducts and holds the heat well, and the tin gives the sake a nice mellow flavor.
“Hopefully, more and more people will come to enjoy sake the kan way,” says Yamazaki.
Japan Food & Liquor Alliance Inc.
Japan had about 4,000 sake breweries 50 years ago, but today that number has fallen to less than half, perhaps no more than 1,900. The main reason? The Japanese are drinking far less sake than before. Almost all of the local breweries that are still in business are struggling to stay afloat.
“To avoid going under, they have to team up with others. That’s what my acquaintances in the business and I thought, so we joined forces and established this company,” says the president of Japan Food & Liquor Alliance Inc., Kobayashi Takeshi.
Their enterprise is a holding company, a group launched by soy sauce manufacturers in Kagawa Prefecture and sake brewers in Aichi Prefecture. Since the start-up in 2006, the venture has placed a number of members back on their feet, and the alliance has grown to 20 enterprises. Five of them are sake breweries.
“Over the centuries, the different regions of Japan developed their own varieties of sake to suit the local cuisine.” explains Kobayashi. He is a strong believer in the theory that saving a local brewery from collapse will help preserve the local traditional culture. His company will support an independent brewery only if it has strong roots in the community, and takes pride in its product.
Sake breweries in the alliance band together to buy their rice, bottles, labels and other supplies in bulk. They have also cut the number of brands they produce by about half. The other alliance members, the soy sauce manufacturers, are busiest at a different time of the year, so during their off-season they may lend a hand to their partners. All of this boosts business efficiency.
“Our sake partners leave many of the business decisions to us. That way, they can concentrate on making a fine product.”
About a dozen other sake makers have asked the company to help so that they, too, can get their operations back on track.