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The SG Shochu with Joshin Atone

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Lately it feels as though we’re teetering on the verge of shochu’s day in the limelight. Japan’s indigenous spirit with about as much market and mindshare as the beverage more commonly associated with the island nation – sake – has been gradually demanding more and more attention amongst some many of the world’s most prolific bartenders, mixologists and connoisseurs of fine spirits. However, despite the category’s all-too-common association at home, the incredibly diverse, distinct and delicious category has struggled to find a way to reach the masses.

With The SG Shochu, internationally renowned bartender and arguably currently the world’s most successful bar owner, Shingo Gokan, and his team at the SG Group are setting out to change that. Should they manage to realize their lofty goals for the product line, and the category itself, shochu could become a staple behind bars around the world…maybe by the time you’re reading this.

And the man responsible for helping lead that charge is long-time SG Group bartender, now The SG Shochu brand manager, Joshin Atone. For this episode, Joshin packed a bottle each of IMO, MUGI and KOME and joined Justin and Sebastien in the studio, where the trio sipped (and guzzled, as you’ll hear) their way through the process of developing a line of shochu from scratch that’s persuasive enough to claim a permanent spot both behind bars across the globe, while communicating what makes the category so unique and special in the first place.

Oh, and Snarky Puppy fans might enjoy this week’s show (and shochu) as well.

This week we’re (finally) back at the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center, recording in the actual physical presence of one another for the first time in a long time. We missed this format! There will still be more online recordings coming down the pipe, but it was a nice reminder of how pleasant – and important – it is to be able to sit down together with our guest, and one another.

Go ahead and pour yourself a glass (or several) and settle in with us on this week’s episode of Sake On Air.

When you’re done, go ahead and  drop us a review on Apple Podcasts, or reach out to us at questions@sakeonair.com. You can follow our current limited movement on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook, or join us over on YouTube, as well.

Thanks for listening and we’ll be back with more Sake On Air in a couple of weeks.

Kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

*Please note that the official theme song for The SG Shochu made by Snarky Puppy is not what is playing in this week’s show. You’ll likely have to wait just a bit more for that.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” is composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

The State of Sake Amidst COVID 19: Part 2

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Thanks for tuning in to Part 2 of our special focusing on the current impact of COVID-19 on the sake and shochu industries. If you haven’t yet listened to Part 1, where we interview a number of significant individuals with unique perspective on the industry here in Japan, that’s a great place to start. You can find that here.

Slightly different from Part 1, this particular recording is more discussion-based. This time around several of your regular Sake On Air hosts, including John Gauntner, Sebastien Lemoine, Christopher Pellegrini, and Justin Potts, share anecdotal insights from their own experiences over the past several months. While our experience is by no means any be-all-end-all “official” word on where things stand, we hope that it will contribute further perspective, as well as provide some additional food for thought.

In addition to the impact of COVID-19, we also touch upon the serious flooding that has battered the Kyushu region throughout the month of July, only adding insult to injury in already incredibly trying times. This is impacting the livelihoods of the locals, as well as producers across both the shochu and sake industries.

If any listeners are keen to donate and contribute to the relief efforts still very much underway, please contact us at questions@sakeonair.com and we’ll be happy to provide you with a few potential options. As all of these activities and the information related to them are being conducted in Japanese, it makes it hard for the international community to support. If you’d like to help, let us know how we can help you.  

While all of us in Japan are now generally free to roam at this point, this particular conversation took place online, with John joining us from the U.S., where he’s been grounded since the early days of all of this, Christopher and Sebastien joining us from their respective locales in the heart the Tokyo metropolis, and Justin tuning in from his home Chiba countryside.

For this conversation, do feel free to pour yourself a glass or two of sake or shochu (or both) and settle in with us. After the show, we’d love to hear from our listeners about their experiences over the past several months all across the globe, so do feel free to reach out to us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook at @sakeonair, or mail us at questions@sakeonair.com.

Thanks so much for joining us across this special two-part series. As this is an ongoing challenge affecting everyone, we’ll very likely revisit this topic again six months or a year from now. While the hurdles to overcome are high any many, we’re all guaranteed to learn a lot through this process together. We look forward to helping keep you informed along the way.

We’ll be back to our regular programming in two weeks.
Until then, Kampai.

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” is composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

The State of Sake Amidst COVID 19: Part 1

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This week, we’re bringing you a double episode exploring the impact of COVID-19 on the sake industry here in Japan, and how that impact is beginning to reverberate through the international market.

The entire nation of Japan, while never undergoing a formal lockdown, was officially placed on State of Emergency status as of April 7th, a state which continued until May 31st, with the country gradually easing restrictions in phases over the several weeks that followed, leading to a complete reopening on June 19th.

During this period, restaurants and izakaya were requested to limit their hours of operation from 5am to 8pm, while closing all alcohol service by 7pm. This, combined with the request for the entire population to refrain from unnecessary travel, as well as shift to teleworking in all instances possible, transformed how people shopped, dined, and of course, accessed and consumed sake and shochu. As you might have guessed, for many breweries, wholesalers, retailers and restaurants, sake and shochu stocks became largely idle for months on end.

While sales numbers have been gradually recovering since June, the number of people testing positive for COVID 19 have also been on the rise as of late, with Japan now experiencing what at this stage might be considered a “mild second wave.” As a result, dining establishments have again been asked to curtail their hours of operation for the month of August, closing by 10pm, with particularly dense dining and entertainment districts in parts of Osaka being asked to cut back their hours of operation even further.

These front-line sales tend to get a lot of attention, however it’s the beverage’s deep agriculture ties, along with the particular timing of the pandemic which might result in a truly devastating fallout down the road. We discuss this as well.

To be honest, there’s still a lot that we don’t know. The impact from the past 6 months isn’t truly going to manifest itself for some time to come, and how the pandemic will develop both in Japan and internationally is, at this point, still anybody’s guess.

However, we do feel a responsibility to sake lovers around the world to share what it is we do know, which is why over the past couple of months we’ve been conducting a series of short interviews, as well as discussing this reality amongst ourselves, in order to help paint at least somewhat of a picture as to where we stand as of the end of August 2020.

For Part 1, we’ve edited together a series of excerpts from five different interviews that we conducted with individuals here in Japan who are in a position to offer particular insight into the impact COVID-19 on certain pockets or channels of the sake and shochu industries. Our guest include:

・Yoshiro Okamoto – Vice President of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association
・Koichi Saura – President of Saura Co. Ltd. (makers of Urakasumi) and co-chairman of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association
・Takahiro Ibaragi – Head of the International Sales Division at Nihon Shurui Hanbai
・Sam Mitsuya – Owner of Mitsuya Liquors
・Shinnosuke Hiramatsu – Retail Sales Office at Imadeya

When you’re done with this episode, Part 2 is already live, so you can jump over and continue this exploration whenever you’re ready. For Part 2 we bring your regular hosts Christopher Pellegrini, John Gauntner, Sebastien Lemoine, and Justin Potts together to anecdotally discuss the experience of the past six months. We hope you’ll find it to be an interesting supplement to the first-hand perspective provided in this episode.

Between this and Part 2, we’ve left you with a lot to digest over the next couple of weeks. There’s still a long road ahead, but we’ll be in it for the long haul. We hope you’ll stick with us. If you’re looking for a great way to support, there’s always one:

Keep kampai-ing.

Part 2 is here.
We’ll see you in two weeks.

Timestamps:
0:00:21 Introduction
0:05:17 Yoshiro Okamoto – Vice President of JSS
0:12:47 Koichi Saura – President of Saura Co. Ltd. (Urakasumi), Co-chairman of JSS
0:29:00 Takahiro Ibaragi – Head of International Department at Nihon Shurui Hanbai
0:41:48 Sam Mitsuya – Owner of Mitsuya Liquors
0:57:15 Shinnosuke Hiramatsu – Retail Sales Office at Imadeya
1:16:27 Closing

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” is composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Natsuzake is Summer Sake

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While this summer has certainly been a lot of things for many of our listeners, we hope that one thing which has been a defining mainstay throughout the summer of 2020 has been sake.

Summer is gradually winding down a bit at this point, but we thought it was about time we did a (semi-)timely episode that celebrates the sake of the season. For summer, that’s natsuzake. Literally “summer” (natsu) “sake” (zake), this relatively recent entry into the seasonal release calendar has rapidly garnered fans from across the sake-sipping spectrum and the annual releases have turned the category into one that grows and evolves dynamically every year, birthing more unique products and interpretations of the style than even the most dedicated follower of sake can hope to keep up with.

Although no one particular property defines what is (or isn’t) natsuzake, profiles commonly trend toward things like bright flavors, lower ABV, slight effervescence, a gentle palate, and general qualities that tend to require refrigeration or ice cubes (or both), lending to relatively sessionable sake. As a result, if you can get your hands on the stuff, it often tends to be a great entry point for a lot of new drinkers into the sake category itself, as well.

This week Chris Hughes is joined by Rebekah Wilson-Lye and Marie Nagata, where they cover the history of the summery beverage, its evolution, definitions (and its accompanying ambiguity), personal experiences and suggestions, and more.

Go ahead and put a bottle on ice and slide into a patio recliner to beat the heat with us on this week’s episode of Sake On Air.

When you’re done, go ahead and  drop us a review on Apple Podcasts, or reach out to us at questions@sakeonair.com. You can follow our current limited movement on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook, or join us over on YouTube, as well.

Thanks for listening and we’ll be back with more Sake On Air in a couple of weeks.
Kampai!

*Notes:

– Rebekah uses the term “kanzake” occasionally to refer to sake brewed in the winter while discussing traditional sake brewing practices and seasons. For our regular listeners, you may have heard this word before in an entirely different context. Note that this is not actually the same word. The terminology that Rebekah uses is actually a less-common term for what is often referred to as “kanzukuri”.
Prestige Sake Association comes up while discussing its role in developing the natsuzake product concept.
Ajinomachidaya, a sake shop and wholesaler located on the west end of Tokyo, near Nakano, also comes up in referencing the development and proliferation of natsuzake.
– The Sake Cellar ideal for storing your natsuzake.
– Big thanks to Takahiro Nagayama of Nagayama Shuzo (Taka) and Yusuke Sato of Aramasa Shuzo (Aramasa) for their support when preparing for this episode.

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” is composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Shochu Talk: 1st Edition

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This week’s episode is precisely what you’d assume it to be: the crew talking shochu.

It had been a bit too long since we’d last done a real shochu-centric show, so we decided to drag Christopher Pellegrini into the studio to update us on some of the latest industry happenings and also humor our questions and musings.

While we do get down into the nitty-gritty a bit, this week’s show is actually very casual and free-form. Instead of focusing on something very specific, taking a little time to just discuss the possibilities and implications of some of the rapid changes and recent happenings felt like a worthwhile exercise. We hope you think so too.

From new trends in local styles to efforts in international expansion, ways that unconventional producers are pushing the boundaries of the definition of “shochu” and how it could both help and hurt communication for the category as a whole, shochu makers expanding their offerings to more and more spirits categories, from gin, to whiskey, and more, we run the gamut this week.

So, pour yourself a glass of honkaku shochu and settle in with Marie Nagata, Sebastien Lemoine and Chris Hughes, along with our shochu pro Chirstopher Pellegrini, for and hour of all-things-shochu. We tagged this episode, “1st Edition”. It is indeed the first – possibly in a new series – or it could prove to be the last. We’ll see! Attacking shochu in this format was fun for us and we’d like to do it on a regular basis, but let us know what you think.

If you manage a free moment, we would love a review and rating over on Apple Podcasts, or wherever it is you get your favorite podcasts. Feel free to reach out to us at questions@sakeonair.com, or follow us at @sakeonair on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook, or join us over on YouTube, as well.

Thanks for listening and we’ll be back with more Sake On Air in a couple of weeks.
Until then, Kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” is composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.