The sake world in Yamaguchi has been abuzz lately with some new faces. I previously talked a little about Abu no Tsuru, a re-opened kura under the sponsorship of Sumikawa Shuzo of Toyo Bijin fame. Sumikawa is also supporting another renewed kura, Ohmine.
Ohmine’s website says it was closed for 50 years, and reopened in 2010, although I’ve never seen any bottles before. Very recently, they built a brand new Kura and renewed their website, with a very big reopening reception and news event…the whole nine yards. Sake shops have displays with “Like a Virgin First Shipment” labeled bottles from this new brewery building. If you browse that Instagram post, you’ll find pictures from the opening reception showing a DJ (sponsored by RedBull!), young men in backward baseball caps and, perhaps most telling, a neon sign reading (in English) “1822 Born, 1955 Dead, 2010 Reborn, 2018 Against Sake World.” Which is provocative, to say the least.
For me, though, the really interesting thing about Ohmine is the novel approach they’re taking to marketing.
Sake is still a very traditional business, and many of the people involved take a rather traditional attitude to how they sell their products. I’ve been told that the toji of Sakai Shuzo, of Gokyo fame, is unhappy about advertising in general and says “People learn all they need to know by tasting the sake.” For these people, sales are usually generated through third parties, via shops and restaurants, rather than marketing by the Kura. Ohmine, on the other hand, is running a very aggressive, and very very modern, advertising campaign.
They have an Instagram feed that, honestly, looks like they’re opening a new Roppongi club rather than a sake brewery in the mountains of Yamaguchi. Their website is fresh and sophisticated (and, interestingly, bilingual from the very start). Also notice that their branding uses a Romaji name, not calligraphic kanji like you almost always see.
Then there are the bottles. Similarly to Abu no Tsuru, the bottles and labels show a distinct eye for design and market appeal. They’re unusual, trendy, and have a distinct look that unites the three versions. Most sake breweries have several different labels with varied branding for their sake styles, but Ohmine has one design language for three versions.
It’s a striking, easy to understand system….and clearly intended for new sake drinkers. No hard to read names, no busy labels with confusing terms like Muroka or Kimoto. Taken all together, the various elements spell out an obvious marketing plan: young, international appeal. Also, lots of disposable income.
See those 720ml Yongobin bottles? Typically, all but the rarest sakes go for 1100-2000 yen in that size. These, however, start at 2000 for the 3 Grain, 3500 for the 2 Grain and 5000 (!!!) for the 1 Grain. To give you some perspective, a 720ml bottle of Dassai 39% in a wooden gift box at the same shop was 3200 yen.
Clearly, the target market for this sake is not your typical drinker. But that’s just packaging, right?
So, then, what about the sake?
Since they were so pricey I couldn’t really do a full comparison. I did try a sample of the Junmai 60% (But with 3 grains, shouldn’t it be 58%? Don’t ask me!).
It was a junmai daiginjo. It was sweet and light, with a strong apple aroma on first nose. The first sip hit as sour, again with the apple notes, then mellowed to something more like muscat grape and pear.
It had very little umami, and was overall a one-note fruity sake, with some unpleasant astringency. It was by no means bad, but there was nothing about it that I found interesting.
It’s hard for me to come down strongly, since I’ve only been a serious sake comparison drinker for a few months. Before that, I just drank what looked good, without any note taking or comparing. So I can only speak from personal preference here, but…
Personally, I prefer pretty much any of the other local brew I’ve tried, like Harada. Or Taka. Or Dassai. Or Toyobijin. Or even Abu no Tsuru, and you can get a massive 1.8l of their Junmai Ginjo, with its award winning label, for 3000 yen.
So the bottom line is, the sake is a perfectly fine daiginjo, very fresh and fruity…just like a dozen other junmai daiginjo out there.