The rise of sake: Taking the UK by storm

Bottles of sake at Sake Collective in London

Sit at the semi-circular bar at the new 25-cover Kioku Bar in London’s The OWO hotel, and sake will be the order of the day. Helmed by sake sommelier Anthony Yukio and head of bars Angelos Bafas, this groundbreaking new offering, modelled on traditional Japanese listening bars, claims to have the largest sake collection in Europe – 110 currently sit in its bespoke sake safe – curated by sake samurai Natsuki Kikuya.

Its arrival comes as Japan’s national drink is enjoying a swell in popularity here in the UK. With the opening of other sake-specific bars such as INÉ by Taku, the launch of new retailer and events company mai, and the first National Sake Week taking place (15-21 April), it seems that 2024 marks the rise of sake.

Sales also speak for themselves: Waitrose reported a 214% rise in searches for sake on its website, and this month US brand SoGood Saké launched its product into international markets for the first time, including the UK. Plus, with Berry Bros & Rudd reporting a 1,000% rise in sake sales in the past year, is it finally sake’s time in the spotlight?

New openings

In Whitehall, Kioku Bar has been turning heads as it becomes London’s (if not Europe’s) best stocked sake bar. Its sake bible is split into sections designed to evoke feelings, senses or memories, like Trip to the Rice Paddies (sakes made from rare or lesser-known rice varieties), In the Flower Garden (floral and aromatic sakes) and Bubbly Memories (a clever nod to new sparkling varieties that offer a sense of occasion). Each sake is detailed with its region, rice polishing rate, rice variety (if known), category, abv and the volume in which it is poured – they also tell you whether it’s best served warm or hot as opposed to cold.

Kioku bar

Kioku Bar. Credit: Kioku

For Yukio, an approach of ‘breadth with the best’ has allowed the team to span the category’s many varied and versatile styles. He admits that sake isn’t always easy to work with or accessible to drinkers, but is hoping they can help turn the tide: ‘Sake is such a sensitive liquid, and there is a lot of fine tuning to be done but we want to change the culture of it – it’s crazy more people aren’t using it.’

When it comes to cocktails, flavour maestro Bafas has exercised his honed ability to squeeze ingredients to their limits with an accomplished list of 12 serves which are rooted in a key component – daikon, yuzu and wasabi to name a few. Working with sake and Japanese spirits, he is also using sake byproducts to bring extra dimensions to his drinks, from sake lees and koji to kasu.

In north London, INÉ by Taku has also opened Upstairs at INÉ, a sake lounge and gallery space where head sommelier of Taku, Bowie Tsang, and INÉ’s head sommelier Daniela Shelton have curated a list of sake’s categorised by flavour profile: fruity & expressive, light & delicate, umami & rice, and dessert.

Having opened London’s first independent sake bar, Moto, in 2019, Erika Haigh’s latest venture, mai, is a boutique Japanese fine sake merchant, working with restaurants (including INÉ) to source high-quality sakes while also providing an online retail space for consumers to buy – and learn about – sake. ‘We’ve launched the digital bottle shop as well as another consumer-facing aspect of our business, collaborating with a lot of our trade clients who are also interested in doing events,’ she explains. Haigh’s events sees her pairing sake with the likes of cheese, pizza and tea to ‘put sake in places that it hasn’t been associated with before, and hopefully that means speaking to a new audience’.

Menus at INÉ by Taku. Credit: INÉ by Taku

A change of pace

Historically, sake is a category that has been largely misunderstood outside of Japan, something that National Sake Week founder and sake expert and trainer, Samuel Boulton, comes up against at his regular tastings. ‘There’s a confusion about what the alcohol component of it is, what it’s…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine/the-rise-of-sake-taking-the-uk-by-storm-533093/