Sake Tasting Event Hosted By The Embassy Of Japan [Image: The Embassy of Japan]

Japanese Rice Wine Makes Headway in the United States


Japan is poised to bolster its sake exports to the United States and secure market presence in the alcoholic beverage sector. The Embassy of Japan in the United States hosted a film screening of Kampai! For the Love of Sake followed by a tasting event of Japan’s most prestigious sake brands in an effort to garner interest in Japanese sake.

Domestic sales of nihonshu, Japanese sake, have decreased 30% since 1975, and Japanese brewers and exporters are eyeing Western markets to expand. While the domestic market for homebrewed Japanese rice wine is struggling, rising export figures show a promising opportunity in the US market.

As the top importer of Japanese sake, the United States is responsible for nearly 30% of all shipments. Total exports of Japanese sake to the United States were worth $45 million in 2016, and the figures show growth potential, with Japan’s tax agency data indicating a 21% rise in sake exports year-over-year. This uptick in sake consumption has even sparked interest from former Wall Street investors.

Additionally, Japanese sake brewer Asahi Shuzo Co. Ltd. revealed its plan to invest $28 million to build the largest sake brewery in Hyde Park, New York. The new plant expected to be completed in 2020 will produce 332,000 gallons of Japanese sake at full capacity, and the project is expected to create dozens of local jobs.

While Japanese sake still remains a novelty among many Americans, domestic brewers such as Brooklyn Kura and Arizona Sake have started to produce Japanese sake in the United States. Furthermore, to fill the void of quality Japanese sake outside Japanese restaurants, a Los Angeles-based company launched an online sake delivery service to service the growing demand for Japanese sake. With heightened interest in Japanese sake, along with an increased production facilities and new online delivery platforms, sake just may soon become a mainstream American beverage.

Brian Kim is participant of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He holds a master's degree in Korean Language and Asian Studies from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.