International Sake Day

How to Celebrate International Sake Day

With just 10 days left to go, read on for everything you need to know about International Sake Day, and details of all the festivities taking place in London from 30th September – 1st October 2015.

The 1st October is one of the most significant days in the Sake calendar, and indeed, the Japanese calendar. Otherwise known as Sake Day, or “Nihonshu no hi”, it marks the first day of the sake-making season, as Sake is brewed in autumn and winter.

The 1st October, in other words, is Sake’s ‘New Year’s Day’. The date is also of important for symbolic reasons, because the tenth year, hour and month are represented in the Chinese zodiac system by an ancient character that is also the old symbol for sake*:

Sake Symbol

So what have our UK importers and restaurants got in store for this year’s “New Year” celebrations?

*The modern symbol has an added three strokes on the left side, identical to the Chinese character for “alcohol”:



Events on Wednesday, 30th September:

vagabond wines logo

Junmai, Honjuzu, Daiginjo – it’s not easy to get to grips with Sake without a guide so we’re happy to welcome Takeshi Nakamura from importer [email protected] and Sake Sommelier Jono Beagle to guide you through some of the many flavours and styles of Japan’s finest beverage. Both Takeshi and Jono are convinced Sake can match with European food and are importing previously unavailable breweries to the UK for the first time. This is sure to be and palate-expanding, fascinating tasting.
See here for event details and booking.

hedonism logo


The Terroir of Yamagata Prefecture & Dewazakura Brewery
Hosted by Honami Matsumoto
Wednesday, 30th Sept 6.30 – 8.30pm

Following the success of Hedonism’s recent Sake Summer Showcase, Hedonism have welcomed back Honami Matusmoto to host another fantastic masterclass.

Honami will be joined by 5th generation brewers Akari & Shotaro Nakano of  Dewazakura to present a number of their very fine Sake & talk about the terroir of Yamagata Prefecture.

The evening will also feature cuisine provided by one of London’s finest Japanese restaurants, Kikuchi. Each dish has been hand-selected to match a specific Sake.

Guests will sample Tobiroku Sparkling Sake, Oka Ginjo, Dewasansan Junmai Ginjo, Izumi Judan Ginjo Genshu, Omachi Junmai Ginjo, Ichiro Junmai Daiginjo & Yuki ManMan Daiginjo 5 Years Matured.

International Sake Day

Copyright Jimmy Gleeson


Events on Thursday, 1st October:

japan centre logo

Japan Centre in Piccadilly will be offering 20% off all Gekkeikan sake bought in store on the day. Sake sampling at Japan Centre will be held on the day between 3-6pm, with Naoyuki Torisawa, Japan Centre’s sake sommelier.

The 1st October will also see the launch of renowned sake brewers, Gekkeikan’s new Master Cooking Competition in collaboration with Japan Centre. For more information see here.


shoryu logo
Shoryu Ramen, who specialise in authentic Kyushu cuisine, are celebrating International Sake Day 1st October 2015 by offering a complimentary sake for every diner that visits one of their four restaurants from 6pm on the day. They have also created a special flight of three different Sakes, which will be available for £6.50 – a perfect opportunity to try different Sakes.

For the complimentary sake, Shoryu Ramen will offer Gekkeikan Namasake, which is unlike other types of Sake as it is unpasterurised for a stronger taste and aroma.

Gekkeikan Namasake

The flight of Sakes, will include three Gekkeikan Sakes – Junmai Kome to Mizu, a dry, mellow Sake, Namazake, with the name literally meaning ‘natural Sake’ and Nigori, a sweeter, creamier Sake.  All of these choices have been especially chosen by Vicky Vittoria Vecchione, bar manager and mixologist for Shoryu Ramen.

Shoryu Sake Flight



sushi samba ISDCelebrate World Sake Day on October 1st. From 5:30 PM until close, SUSHISAMBA will . . .

Craft a creative range of sake-infused cocktails, including:

ICHIJIKU CLOUD £14 – Enoki Shuzo sake, fig, fino sherry and a blend of chocolate and soy bitters. Stirred with ice until icy cold and served ‘up.’
SAKE SPRITZ £14 – Takashimizu Sake, dry cacao liqueur, lemon juice and a cherry and cacao bitters blend. Served over ice and spritzed with prosecco.

Feature a Kimono performance,

where dressed in traditional garb, Geisha will be serving sake to guests throughout the celebration during the night’s festivities.

Serve sake-inspired dishes created by our chefs,

who have seized inspiration from International Sake Day to breathe some sake spirit to their culinary craft.

SEA BASS SEVICHE £14 – sea bass, yuzu sake, orange, yuzu pearls, maize morado, nasturtium
SAKE SORBET £9 – quince sake sorbet, hazelnut, fig purée ​

To book: +44 (0)203 640 7330 or email: [email protected]


tengu sake logo

Tengu Sake is kicking off World Sake Day 2015 at 6:30pm with a Sake Masterclass hosted by experts Tengu Sake.  There’ll be a variety of Sakes to try: different types, styles and regionalities.  They’ll also be talking about temperature and food pairings, with nibbles for people to try with the Sake.

Then, at 8pm, the party starts in true PimpShuei style.  The collaboration with Tengu Sake means Sake both by the glass, straight from the barrel as well as some superb Sake cocktails.  All this mixed in with PimpShuei’s signature cocktails, retro arcade machines and killer Kung Fu theme.  Also present will be Double Dragon Sound Systems on the decks to provide some chilled tunes.

A night to remember so come on down for your sake fix!


World Sake Imports

World Sake Imports is organizing a seven-course food and sake-pairing menu at renowned Matsuri, on the first October. For a peek ahead at the magnificent menu, see below. To book your seat, call 020 7839 1101 – last few places remaining!


Matsuri menu

 But most of all don’t forget to…
International Sake Day

Copyright Jimmy Gleeson

Sake, Fashion and the Four Seasons

Sake is always good, so to serve it for a good cause surely makes it greater.

Last Friday, good drink was united with a good cause at the British Red Cross’ inaugural Good Look Fashion Show, organised by the Young Tiffany Circle. For one night, the grand ballroom at the beautiful Four Seasons Hotel was taken over by 200 special guests, models and racks and racks of gorgeous clothes to raise funds for the charity.


Photo credits: Backstage

Nicky Clarke

Nicky Clarke in action. Photo credits:


Photo credits:

A fantastic event in itself, made a little bit more special by our sake. On the night, guests had the chance to enter our raffle: for £10 a play, two lucky entrants would be in with the chance to win a box of 12 premium sake each, totaling over £600 in value. As a deal sweetener, every entrant was given a complimentary glass of sake with a free flow top up policy.

Sake for two, for charity too! That’s what you call an offer that you can’t refuse.

What we drank:

Urakasumi Zen, Haku Boten and Urakazumi Umeshu and a whole lot more.

Urakasumi masu


Photo credits:


Photo credits:


The Rest

The rest of the evening involved an elegant drinks reception, where guests were served with sparkling pink champagne and floral trays of dainty canapés. Arancini turns into something much more desirable than arancini, when you embed it in a bouquet of flowers.

Arancini canapes


With everyone in high spirits, the lights were dimmed and guests were ushered into the grand Ballroom for the evening’s main event. Goodybags for everyone of course, involving the very natural combination of Grazia magazines, popchips, nail polish and fruit bar.

Photo credits: British Red Cross

Photo credits:

One by one, models in luxurious textiles swanned past an enraptured audience, sporting designs generously donated by Amanda Wakeley, PPQ, Erdem and other homegrown London designers. My particular favourite was this confectionery creation, by couture designer Dar Sara:

Dar Sar Couture Dress

Copyrights 2014 , Jef Anog

Excitement in the room reached a whole new level once the live auction began. Runway looks were raffled off to ferocious bidding, along with an 18ct white gold and diamond pendant from Boodles, a private wine tasting with the Chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine and a VIP experience at the Nicky Clarke Mayfair salon, worth £1,000. Nicky claims that he has auctioned these off at £29,000 before.

Nicky Clarke

Photo credits: Nicky Clarke takes to the auction floor.

Nicky Clarke

Photo credits:
The raffle.

To finish off the evening, the lucky raffle prize winners were drawn and two very satisfied guests taxied home that evening, each 12 bottles of sake the richer.


Kanpai with sake

Photo credits: British Red Cross

Photo credits: British Red Cross

Special thanks to Rie Yoshitake for her generous sake sponsorship once again.

PS – I hear that sake is really going places. Ollie at Tengu Sake kept guests at the Louis Vuitton party well watered with a generous flow

Sake: from the front line

I don’t know how I feel about Wednesdays.

Usually what happens by the third weekday is that one half of my brain gives up, whilst the other half starts to attempt forward time travel to Friday.

Wednesday sits pathetically between the bookends of a week's beginning and end, apologetically impeding one’s swift exit to Saturday. Once I cross this mysterious threshold however, my heart begins to feel immediately lighter. Friday practically is the weekend. And Thursday is the day before Friday.

Suffice it to say, I am unaccustomed to the practice of "looking forward to Wednesday".

However, following this Wednesday’s events, I am launching a wholesale review of this attitude. April 29th had been ring-fenced in my diaries - iCal, Gmail, outlook, hardcopy - for a while, for the British Sake Association had sent news of a very interesting talk on sake.


The Talk

Sake: from the front line

Oliver Hilton-Johnson, owner of sake importing company Tengu Sake, had brought back goodies from Japan. He was also going to give a talk on his experiences. There would be sake.

It is in my nature to be suspicious of group lecture/ study events, but also in my nature to never refuse a sake tasting. So on Wednesday, I made my way to The Royal Asiatic Society -  a hop, skip and a jump from Euston Square Station - curious and intellectually thirsty.

The evening began with a presentation from Ollie, accompanied by some sake to enhance our audio-visual processing capabilities, followed by lovingly made yakitori, sushi and more sake. In 1.5hrs we covered a lot of material, so I present some highlights to share with you.


Hayashi Honten Brewery

Ollie had just returned from a 2 week sake internship at Hayashi Honten brewery, one of the breweries from which he imports. Founded 1920, the brewery is based in Gifu prefecture in what appeared to be fairly urban surrounds from Google Satellite images. There's a great map on Tengu Sake's website which shows the locations of all the breweries from which Ollie imports. Here's a close up of Gifu Prefecture:


Gifu map


Hayashi Honten


The urbanisation of the brewery's location surprised me, as I always imagined that something as romantic as a sake brewery would be most suitably located at the top of a fat, fluffy cumulonimbus, surrounded by mountains and sage men practicing calligraphy. What urban areas do have that clouds don’t, however, is secure access to good water. Breweries need good water in vast quantities, hence the co-location.

My favourite thing about Hayashi Honten is that it is run by one very capable Hayashi-san, who happens to be a woman.

How rare - in this industry as in any other industry. You’ve heard a lot by now of how female presence at the top of the food chain has quantifiable benefits for a company’s success, but hear this word of corroboration: one of the first things that Hayashi-san did was to institute a more humane work/life balance at the brewery. Some breweries ask workers nothing less than to work, live, eat, sleep onsite.

Hayashi-san instead preferred to implement a 07:00 – 18:00 schedule, with an hour for lunch in the middle!! I’ll say no more.

Ollie and Hayashi Honten brewers

The brewers of Hayashi Honten. Hayashi-san, centre right. Ollie, centre.


Brewery Tour

We were shown a virtual tour of the brewery. Again, in my wildest imaginings of what a Japanese brewery would look like, I never imagined that it would be possible for everything to be conducted in only 2 to 3 main rooms.

Hayashi Honten seemed to contain its operations to one main colder room (7 C), one hotter room upstairs (35 C) and one ante room (where bottling and labelling was conducted). The staff travelled between these rooms like worker bees, diligently back and forth, their rhythms only punctuated by the frequent changing of slippers between rooms.

(When I first came to the UK, I was appalled at the way outdoor shoes would be worn straight into the house – and even the bedroom! I still cannot comprehend why people here don’t understand my angst. Where is the hygiene? Where is the respect?)

Upstairs, Downstairs at Hayashi Honten

Upstairs, Downstairs at Hayashi Honten


Sake Brewing – the (figurative) sweat that goes into the sake

The meat of the lecture was devoted to describing a day in the life of a sake brewer. A sake brewer's day is busy, involves a lot of washing, rice handling and temperature changes. But if there's one thing you need to know, it is that sake brewing is hard. 

The hypothetical schedule ran something like this:

07:00                   Arrive ready to work

10:00 - 10:30     Break

13:00 -14:00       Lunch hour

16:00 – 16:30     Break

18:00                    End of working day.

According to Ollie, mornings tended to be very structured, with all activities pre-planned and delegated using the "Master Plan" (an arcane grid filled with neat Kanji).

Then depending on whether it was peak brewing season, afternoons could be more flexible. Ollie had arrived quite late in the brewing season, when production was winding down and most of the sake was already in the maturation tanks; this allowed for more flexibility.  Afternoon activities involved tasks that had to be executed everyday (koji checking, refrigeration of koji, washing, pasteurising, bottle labelling, chemical analysis) and activities that only needed occasional tending to. At peak time on the other hand, everything would be highly regimented.

Ollie spreads out the rice to cool

Ollie spreads out the rice to cool




One last word on Koji.

Aspergillus oryzae. It is the little mold God that determines a sake's major qualities, its depth and amino acidity. A petulant little baby God, which needed to be sauna-ed, massaged, swaddled in muslin and carried around, several times a day. It also carries out the crucial role of breaking down the rice starch into sugars (saccharification), in order that the yeast can ferment it into alcohol.

From Ollie’s account, it is clear that the brewers devoted a large part of their day to tending to it. Looking back through my notes, about 70% of what I jotted down related to the tending of koji!

Koji wrapped in muslin

Koji wrapped in muslin



I’m sure this is what you really wanted to read about. Ever heard of the saying, "stay for a drink, stay for two"?

Or eleven, since eleven is the number of  different sakes that were on display. Here are two that deserve a special mention:

Sky Warrior

Otherwise known as "Seku Honjozo Karakuchi". A Honjozo sake from Hayashi Honten brewery. Official notes:

15% ABV. A fragrant, peppery and zesty sake, clean fresh and yeasty with a lively dry finish. A good match with strong-tasting foods that have one or two dominant flavours and are not too greasy or creamy. It also pairs well with salty, peppery or even spicy dishes. Examples could include grilled (peppered) steak, salted calamari, grilled chicken with a simple sauce, peppered crab or spicy squid.
Honjozo Karakuchi


The name “Akazake (red sake)” refers to its colour. This was a first for me, not knowing that sake could come in such a hue.

Akazake red is not the strong red that we apply to our beloved London buses, but a sister shade to brandy perhaps. (No decent images sadly, but a Google search gives you the right idea).

Where does the red come from?

Most sakes are pasteurised for sterilization, but Akazake uses wood ash. Wood ash is added to the sake before pressing, neutralising the acidity of the sake.  This particular Akazake speciment came from "kumamoto-ken Shuzo Kenkyujo" or "Kumamoto Research Centre".  Akazake is particular to Kumamoto and was the original style made there until 1909.


After a merry evening spent learning about sake and the process, I can only recommend the course. If you wish to learn a bit more about the subject, give it a try! The level is accessible and the speaker well-informed. Now that I know how much human labour goes into creating each drop of sake, I cannot help but be sympathetic to the price, and appreciate every sip more.