Late last month, the 102nd running of what is officially known in English as “The Annual Japan Sake Awards” was held. While I feel that the “National New Sake Tasting Competition” is much more accurately descriptive, nobody asked me. But I digress.
As most readers surely know, it is a national blind tasting of sake from most of the breweries in the country. It is prestigious if limited in its applicability to daily tippling. But it is fascinating and revealing of trends, technology, and individual skills. I have written about it almost every year, and so feel free to read about past contests, and different aspects of the completion, in the June issues of this newsletter over the past decade or so, all of which can be found in the archives.
This time, let us just take a perfunctory look at the contest this year. Although this was the 102nd running, the rules have changed from time to time, and apparently there are but 55 appraisals for which clear records exist, at least for contests run reasonably similar to the way they are today.
As a background, let us first look at the state of the sake brewing industry, in just as perfunctorily a way. There are 1818 brands of sake these days, made by 1563 sake breweries with licenses to brew, but of those only 1251 breweries are actively doing business (and less are actually brewing, but I digress again; let us save that for next time).
From amongst these, there were 845 entries this year. Each brewery is allowed one submission per brewing license (and a few do have more than one license). So, in the end, almost all will at least submit an entry. It’s has to be newly-brewed (not matured) sake, and it will almost always be a daiginjo.
So, 845 entries. Of those, there were 233 gold medals awarded for excellence. So, about a fourth. This is typical, I think.
The brewery that has won the most golds over the years is 34 for Saura Co., making the sake Urakasumi of Miyagi Prefecture. Next is 33 for Miyasaka Jozo, making the sake Masumi, from Nagano Prefecture.
The longest streak of golds is held by Saito Shuzo, brewers of Eikun sake, at 14 gold medals in a row. The current active streak is a tie, shared by
Takashimizu of Akita and Koganezawa of Miyagi. Both extended that streak to 11 this year.
All are wonderful accomplishments and a part of the long and rich history of this contest, and its significance to the sake industry.