How the Sake Club of India is driving the popularity of Japanese rice wine

Sushi has grown in popularity in India for over a decade, and along with sushi, sake has quickly gained a loyal following. Sake is a Japanese rice wine made from four main ingredients: rice, water, koji (oryzae) and yeast. In 2020, the Sake Club of India (SCI) was born to combine a love of Indian sake with an appreciation for Japanese culture and cuisine.

Sake served in traditional pottery | Photo credit: Special Arrangement

Mika Eoka and Ravi Joshi, who founded the Indian Sake Club in 2020, say it was launched during the pandemic and has since held virtual, hybrid and live events, building strong bonds between the Indian and Japanese communities along the way.

Former Army officer and IT specialist Ravi Joshi is a drinks writer and spirits connoisseur, while Mika Eoka is a Master Sake Sommelier with an International Sake Diploma from the Japan Sommelier Association (JSA) and a WSET Level 3 ( Sake) accreditation from the London Wine and Spirits Educational Trust. With India and Japan having a wide range of rice producers and consumers, “sake has definitely piqued the interest of Indian drink lovers,” she said.

Colonel Ravi Joshi and Mika Eoka at an event | Photo credit: Special Arrangements

With offices in New Delhi and Tokyo, SCI offers a range of education, engagement, beverage consultation and events in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, among many other cities. All sake tasting events introduce participants to sake from a specific prefecture in Japan.

Eoka explains: “Sake is broadly divided into four types: aromatic, light, full-bodied, and aged. Each category has specific serving temperatures, tableware, food pairings, and even the best season for tasting. In Delhi in January, I prefer hot sake. For summer, it can be served absolutely chilled. Sake can be paired with eggs, seafood or even soup.”

Eoka has conducted training sessions for hotel chains such as Marriott, The Leela, and Four Seasons, as well as independent restaurants such as Azuki Japan Travel Bistro and Sake, Bengaluru. C. T Geetha, co-owner of the bistro, says her sake audience is eclectic, with about 75 percent Indian and 25 percent foreign.

Tottori prefectural sake paired with a multi-course dinner at Takashi in New Delhi | Photo credit: Special Arrangements

“Since we serve a range of authentic Japanese cuisine, we have a fine selection of sake such as traditional Gekkeikan sake, Ogamijo, and Sawanothsuru sake,” she said. Currently, SCI is working on developing the sake ecosystem in India for Indian consumption The latter offers a wider range of spirits.

Nikhil Agarwal, founder of Mumbai-based All Things Nice, a specialist consultancy for the wine and spirits industry, says: “Just as Indian food has been the greatest ambassador for the Indian wine industry, so has sake. Indians love Japanese food , also wanted to try sake, so many independent restaurants now serve Japanese sake, whereas a few years ago, sake was mainly sold in five-star hotel restaurants.”

To promote the beverage, Joshi said, they first reached out to food and beverage industry insiders and the trade community, and then held a training session for hospitality management students. He added, “The unique selling point of sake is that it is a vegan product, unlike many wines, does not contain sulfites, and can be served at different temperatures.”

Haemul Pajeon (Korean Seafood Pancake) with Ginjo Sake at Kofuku, New Delhi | Photo Credit: Special Arrangements

In India, sake is classified as wine, even though “the ABV (alcohol content per volume of the drink) is 15-20%, which is higher than fruit wine,” says Joshi. At Vinexpo 2022 in New Delhi, SCI showcased 19 types of sake from six breweries in five prefectures in Japan, including low-alcohol varieties (seven to eight percent). Yogurt sake and sparkling sake, in particular, were a hit.

At the Prowein event in Mumbai in 2022, SCI showcased sake especially from Tottori province and held a sake tasting masterclass to a sold-out venue. Eoka believes that Indian consumers are ready to like sake due to their rice-based diet. “I’m surprised that Indians have such a flexible palate that people can even adapt to warm sake,” she said, adding, The umami factor is key to enjoying certain sakes. Types of sake.

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