Akashi-tai sake

Meet the Brewery: Akashi-Tai

One of the most tragic occurrences in Sake history is the decline in breweries over the years.

In between 1940 and 2014, an astonishing 4,500 breweries shut their doors to the public, leaving just a fraction –  c. 1,500 – in operation. Today the trend continues its downward march (Japan’s National Tax Agency).

Nevertheless, to get to know every single one of the remaining breweries would still require some work, and a substantially deep purse. But isn’t that one of the joys of being a little obsessed by something? The prospect of so much terrain still yet to discover.

There is a bit of method to the madness of exploration though. Faced with a sea of choice, one is drawn towards those breweries with a story, an element of soft emotionality that can be latched onto.

“That is the brewery with the Cornish toji (master brewer),” for example, or “that is the one which polishes its rice grains into diamond shapes…” (allegedly there is one).

And yet, it is not always easy to find this kind of information about Sake breweries. I think this has a lot to do with an Asian cultural bent towards modesty, and a fundamentally different way of appreciating alcoholic beverages in comparison to the West.

Perhaps another contributory factor to the lack of information is the lack of translated material. Sake labels are notoriously indecipherable and what marketing information there is is often written in Japanese. In time this too will change, as Sake exports continue to pick up pace.

Anyway, I wanted to introduce some of my own favourite breweries. “Favourite”, not “best”, or “most expensive”, most “cachet”. “Favourite”, because they are breweries with stories that I enjoyed getting to know.

This week, Akashi-Tai.

What does Akashi-Tai mean?

“Tai” is the Japanese word for Red Sea Bream and “Akashi” is the name of one of Western Japan’s major fishing villages. The brewery is therefore named after the red sea bream of Akashi, which are renowned throughout Japan for their taste.

Symbolically, tai in Japan represents good luck, as it rhymes with omedetai, or “Congratulations”.  It is often eaten at “medetai” (congratulatory) occasions, such as weddings and family gatherings.

Akashi-Tai

Akashi-Tai’s logo, a playful sea bream coiled belly up

Date founded: 1886

Production: 73,000l per year, or roughly 400 koku.

Around 73% of Japanese breweries produce annual outputs of <500 koku, which is considered small. Akashi-Tai is therefore firmly at the bijou end of the spectrum.

Sake:

A full range of Sake is produced at Akashi-Tai, including some of the newer Sake styles, such as sparkling Sake and Sake liqueur.

At every event at which I have seen Akashi-Tai served, the unanimous favourite has always been the umeshu, or plum Sake liqueur:

Shiraume (“White Plum”) Umeshu

A plummy liqueur. Akashi-Tai’s umeshu is made by preserving ume in high quality sake (ginjo sake), rather than distilled alcohol (as is the case with lesser umeshu’s).

Ume are soft stone fruit similar to plums and apricots and traditionally used in Chinese medicine for their supposed health benefits. Therefore, umeshu has also traditionally been seen to possess medicinal qualities  – a bit like Mint Julep in the West!

All in all, a rich, velvety drink that could work well with autumn fruit, cheese and certainly with Mince pies.

Why not.

shiraume

The brewery is also known for a second Sake, which I have not yet had the pleasure of trying:

Genmai Aged Sake

Released in 2005. This beverage is special for two reasons:

  1. It is Japan’s first brown rice Sake (usually Sake is made from polished rice i.e. white rice), and
  2. It is aged for a number of years before consumption.

Hard also to not love the bottle design, redolent of a Glenrothes Select Reserve.

genmai aged sake

What’s next?

When Mr Yonezawa, President of Akashi-Tai, was asked about his next big development, he stated that focus is shifting from producing Sake that goes with food, to that which can “shine on its own”.

After attending last Wednesday’s drinks reception at Sake no Hana, I would say that this future vision is already within reaching distance. In the downstairs bar, a crowd of Fintech CEOs performed a very traditional Kagami-biraki with Akashi-Tai Sake. Kagami-biraki (“opening the lid”) is where the lid of a sake barrel is broken with a wooden mallet, and guests are served with the sake stored within. The round lid symbolises harmony , so breaking the lid represents opening the door to harmony and prosperity.

And really, nothing makes me happier than seeing Sake being enjoyed as the drink of choice in the 21st century.

Looking to try some Akashi-Tai? 

Where to drink Akashi-Tai Sake in London:

Sake no Hana

Hakkasan

Yauatcha

The Nightjar

Inamo

Chottomatte

The nightjar

Murakami

 

Where to buy Akashi-tai sake in London:

Selfridges

Odd bin

Whiskey exchange

Nicolas

Hedonism

The Good wine shop

Harvey Nichols

Fortnum & Mason

Amathus

Harrods

Lea and Sandmann

Whole Foods Market

 

Akashi-tai

Akashi-tai

akashi tai

Akashi-tai sake

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.

Backstage

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk. Backstage

Nicky Clarke

Nicky Clarke in action. Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk

Backstage

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk
Backstage

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

sake

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk

sake

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk

 

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: www.aireye.co.uk

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: www.aireye.co.uk. Nicky Clarke takes to the auction floor.

Nicky Clarke

Photo credits: www.aireye.co.uk
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!

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