On 25 May 2022, the winners of the 2021 National New Sake Competition organised by the National Institute of Brewing Science, the largest sake industry competition with a history of over 100 years, were announced. There are also a number of other sake competitions organised by regional taxation bureaus and private organisations in Japan.
Furthermore, with the growing attention to sake, various contests are being held abroad. Contests are one way to stimulate interest in sake. Here are some of the main ones.
Brewing year: from 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022. Brewing year is also expressed as brewing year or BY (Brewery Year).
The three major sake festivals for Niigata breweries
Sake competitions are not just a competition, but also a valuable opportunity for technical development. It is said that during the period when the breweries are working on the sake to be entered in the competition, there is a special tension in the brewery and the brewers' concentration is heightened.
There are three product fairs that Niigata breweries have been particularly aware of for many years.
The first is the Echigo-ryu Sake Brewing Techniques Championship, for which the awards ceremony was held on 26 April this year, about a month before the announcement of the winning sake at the National New Sake Competition.
The aim of this competition, organised by the Niigata Sake Brewers Association and the Niigata Sake Brewing Technology Research Association, is to improve the art of fine sake brewing. To achieve this, they bring their own ginjo sake to compete in sake quality.
It is noteworthy that breweries in Nagano and Aichi Prefectures, where Echigo Toji groups used to be responsible for brewing as migrant workers, are also eligible to participate. The first (Niigata Governor's Prize) to tenth place winners will be awarded.
The first edition of this competition was held in 1968 (Showa 43). It was organised by the former Niigata Sake Brewers' Union (now the Niigata Sake Brewing Technique Research Association), to which the toji belonged. Toji who belonged to this association were eligible to participate, so breweries from outside the prefecture still take part in the festival, as did toji who went out to work across the country. In the past, the Echigo Toji used to be recognised as a competition to determine the number one Echigo Toji working in the country.
The name was changed to the current name in 2011 following a reorganisation, but the system of determining the top 10 is still the same today.
Awards ceremony for the 2021 brewing year. Management and toji (production manager) receive awards.
The first prize for the 2021 brewing year, the Niigata Governor's Award, went to Takai Shuzo of Ojiya City. The brewery's master brewer, Akihiro Kimura, is a graduate of Niigata Sake School.
Takai Shuzo's award-winning sake Iyano Daiginjo-genshu.
The second is the National New Sake Competition, the only national competition organised by the government, which boasts a history dating back to 1911 (Meiji 44), when the first edition was held.
The target group is the original ginjo sake, which, after a preliminary and concluding trial, is awarded a prize and, from among the prize-winners, a gold prize.
The number of entries for the 2021/3 brewing year was 826. Of these, 405 won prizes and 205 won gold medals.
Niigata breweries won 26 prizes, 12 of which were gold awards.
Incidentally, Fukushima Prefecture had the highest number of gold awards this year, with 17 (32 awards).
This year, for the first time in three years, the National New Sake Competition Open Sake Tasting will be held within the Sake Fair at the Tokyo International Forum on 17/18 June, where about 230 gold medal-winning sake can be tasted. Unfortunately, registration closed on 31 May, so those who missed out should attend next year or later.
The opening of the Sake Fair in 2016.
Public sake tasting in 2016. Prize-winning sake from different regions.
The third is the Kanto Shinetsu Regional Taxation Bureau Sake Competition, held every autumn to assess the maturity of sake. It is held to improve the quality of sake brewed in the Kanto Shinetsu Regional Taxation Bureau area (Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Niigata and Nagano), and was held 92 times in autumn 2021. Currently, the Grand Prize, Special Prize and Excellence Prize are decided in the three categories of 'Ginjo-shu', 'Junmai Ginjo-shu' and 'Junmai-shu'.
Past award ceremonies
A number of Niigata Prefecture breweries won Excellence Awards in the 92nd edition. Unfortunately, the Grand Prize was not awarded, but a special prize for junmai ginjo sake was awarded to Kubiki Shuzo's Koshiji-no-Kenbai from Joetsu City, and a special prize for junmai sake to Hara Shuzo's Koshi-no-Homare from Kashiwazaki City.
Kikuchi Shuzo's Koshiji-no-Kenbai Junmai Daiginjo.
Hara Shuzo's 'Koshinohomare Tanrei Junmai Aya'.
Still more, national competitions.
There are also a variety of privately organised national product fairs.
The 2022 results were announced in March, and the ' Delicious Sake in a Wineglass Award' aims to bring out the new appeal of sake in a style commonly enjoyed in wine glasses overseas, with the highest gold and gold awards in five categories.
In 2022, seven breweries were selected for the highest gold award and 21 for the gold award in Niigata Prefecture.
The National Heated Sake Contest is a unique sake competition; in 2021, the judging took place in August.
There are three categories: 'Value lukewarm (45°C)', 'Value hot (55°C)', 'Premium heated sake (45°C)' and 'Special lukewarm (45°C)', with the highest gold medal and a gold medal selected in each category.
In 2009, four breweries were awarded the highest gold medal and 17 breweries were awarded the gold medal in Niigata Prefecture.
Hidetoshi Nakata, former Japanese national football team player, is a member of the organising committee for the SAKE COMPETITION, a competition to evaluate commercial sake.
Unfortunately, due to the new coronavirus infection, it has been cancelled from 2019-22. It is hoped that it will resume next year.
Sake competitions held abroad.
Since 1984, the International Wine Challenge (IWC) has been held every April in London, UK.
The SAKE category, which was newly established in 2007, has nine genres, and gold, silver and bronze medals and competition recommendations are selected in each of these categories. Furthermore, a 'trophy' for each category is selected from among the gold medals, and a 'champion saké' is decided from among the trophy-winning sake. In the past, the Champion Sake in Niigata Prefecture was Nechi 2008 from the Watanabe Sake Brewery (Itoigawa City) in 2010.
A number of Niigata breweries also won awards as a result of the judging held in London from 24-27 April 2022. Among them, they were awarded gold medals in two categories.
The two newest additions to the Junmai Daiginjo-shu category are Hachiekubiki Tsuchidaichi (Kubiki Shuzo, Joetsu City) and Minamo Yamadanishiki Chukkumi Daiginjo-genshu and Minamo Chukkumi Daiginjo-genshu Hiroshima Ginjo Yeast (both Yoshinogawa, Nagaoka City).
Hachiekubiki Dododashi DAICHI from the Kubiki Shuzo brewery.
Yoshinogawa's Minamo Yamadanishiki Nakakumi Daiginjo Genshu.
Yoshinogawa's Minamo Chukkumi Daiginjo-genshu (Hiroshima Ginjo Yeast).
The Hachieki DAICHI and Minamo Nakakumi Daiginjo-genshu Hiroshima Ginjo Yeast also won trophies in their respective categories.
This year's champion salmon will be announced on 7 July.
In the same city, the Sake Sommelier Association (SSA) organises the London Sake Challenge, one of the first specialist sake competitions in Europe. It is unique in that it includes judging of labels and packaging.
The National Sake Competition has been held in the USA since 2001.
THE JOY OF SAKE ", an open sake tasting for the public to taste the winning sake.
events are also taking place, with 2022 scheduled for Honolulu in June and New York in August.
The Kura Master, held in Paris, France, will be held for the sixth time in May 2022, and the winning drink will be announced on 6 June.
Along with the growing demand for Japanese food and sake abroad, new sake competitions have emerged in European and Asian countries. We would like to draw attention to overseas competitions in order to understand the overseas situation of Niigata sake.