American sake association

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Get talking: U.S.-Japan brewers' 'Sake Dialogue' forges taste for collaboration

Washington – A “Sake Dialogue” featuring long-established Japanese breweries and those emerging in the United States recently brought about discussions on cross-border information-sharing, cooperation and innovation to spread the word of Japan’s most famous alcoholic export.

The nearly 90-minute talk, whose participants included three sake brewers on each side of the Pacific, was organized by the Sake Brewers Association of North America in Washington, and the Embassy of Japan in the United States, in late February.

On the Japanese side, the Miyagi, Fukushima and Nagano prefecture breweries — all in existence for hundreds of years — participated in the webinar conducted in English, while brewers from New York, Tennessee and California, spoke passionately about the challenges involved in the sake-brewing process and the ingenuity required for further product development.

The panel also discussed the obvious challenges ahead after the U.S. market — for many years the largest overseas export destination for Japanese sake — was severely damaged by the coronavirus outbreak.

Weston Konishi, 50, president of the sake brewers association, said he expects “Japanese sake to become more popular in the U.S.” and explained that the conference was part of a series, which also aims to educate Japanese brewers on regulations in the North American market, and the prospects for growth in the industry.

In 2020, due to shrinking demand for food services and leisure during the pandemic, the value of sake exports from Japan dropped by 25% from the previous year to ¥5 billion ($45 million), falling for the first time below exports to Hong Kong and China, economies that rebounded relatively quickly from the virus-induced downturn.

Before that, the United States had been the largest importer of Japanese sake since 1988.

The future of Japanese sake exports hinges largely on the resurgence of the U.S. market, where consumers are very open to trying new things, said Euka Isawa, 27, the person in charge of overseas business development for the centuries-old, family-owned Katsuyama Supreme Sake Co. in Japan’s northeastern Miyagi Prefecture.

“Compared to European or Asian countries, I feel that American consumers are more receptive to different cultures,” Isawa said during the conference. “In Europe, some countries are really conservative, so even if you introduce sake that people can enjoy with meals, they still believe wine is king.”

While studying abroad seven years ago, Isawa started visiting restaurants in New York for sales meetings and realized, “Since U.S. restaurants have a good understanding of sake, if they feel it is good quality, a small brewery can become a (well-established) brand.” Because of her unwavering commitment, Katsuyama’s sake has built a solid overseas following.

Isawa said the brewery was severely damaged by the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan. A high school student at the time, she recalled the words of her principal, who instructed his students “to grow into capable people who can contribute to the local community.”

Taking those words to heart, Isawa set out on a mission to promote the family’s sake around the world.

Kosuke Kuji (left), president of Nambu Bijen in Ninohe, Iwate Prefecture, serves a guest a glass of sake at a meeting held in Washington in February 2020. | COURTESY OF KOSUKE KUJI / KYODO

Kosuke Kuji, the 48-year-old president of Nambu Bijin, and a sake export pioneer for the brewery in Ninohe, Iwate Prefecture, said the surge in the number of local U.S. sake producers is indicative of the industry’s youth movement.

Craft beer in the United States has been booming, and microbreweries have sprung up around the country since the 2010s. Riding this momentum, sake breweries have also emerged both in big cities and rural areas in recent years.

“Young and passionate American brewers continue to evolve,” Kuji said, adding that he would not be surprised if the day comes when an American sake producer wins the world’s top award, supplanting a Japanese brand, due to the quickly-evolving U.S. sake market.

Brooklyn Kura co-founder Brian Polen, 39, who opened his brewery with a counter bar in Brooklyn, New York, in 2018, was one of the three U.S. representatives participating in the event.

For Polen, a former financial analyst, the attention Japanese breweries pay to craftsmanship and quality made him question why the drink was not more alluring to producers in the United States.

“It’s very simple. … It really is an exceptional beverage. It’s one that we believe isn’t as well represented around the world as it could and should be,” he said in the webinar, adding, “It’s a question that requires a lot of time, energy and investment” to overcome a multitude of complexities to create the different sake variants.

But the point is to keep it simple and accessible for consumers. “It is (a substitute) for your fine wine or craft beer, and you don’t need special glassware, ceremony or Japanese food to enjoy it,” he said.

As for what the future holds for cooperation in challenges and innovations to improve the sake brewing process across the Pacific, the six agreed that further “Sake Dialogue” conferences would go a long way toward achieving that goal.

“Almost 80% of our distribution was to restaurants. In New York City, effectively all of the restaurants were shut down (during the pandemic), so it’s been challenging. But I think that our work is much longer term,” Polen said.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and if we can continue to work together like this, everybody is going to come out a winner — as long as you have cash on your balance sheet.”

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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  • Euka Isawa, who manages overseas business development for the family-owned Katsuyama Supreme Sake Co., displays a bottle of the company's sake in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. | KYODO
  • Kosuke Kuji (left), president of Nambu Bijen in Ninohe, Iwate Prefecture, serves a guest a glass of sake at a meeting held in Washington in February 2020. | COURTESY OF KOSUKE KUJI / KYODO

Sake Day USA Thursday, October 1 from 3:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. Live Zoom Webinar Admission: $5 The American Sake Association is celebrating World Sake Day online! Join the American Sake Association and esteemed members of the sake community to study, explore, enjoy, and KANPAI together! The online “Sake Day USA” gathering will run from 3:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. ET on October 1 and … Continue reading Celebrate Sake Day with the American Sake Association


Sake Social Sunday! Sunday, June 14 from 8:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. Via Zoom Register here: Admission: Free This week the American Sake Association will take you inside another sake brewery! Travel to Denver for a tour and interview with Colorado Sake CO! One of a small number of sake breweries in the US, Colorado Sake CO started this venture almost four years ago, learning … Continue reading Meet Colorado Sake CO at the American Sake Association’s Sake Social Sunday


Sake Social Sunday! Sunday, June 7 at 8:00 p.m. Via Zoom Register here: Admission: Free The American Sake Association is excited to introduce you to the stories and people behind the organization’s favorite artisanal Japanese beverages. Join Jamie Graves of Skurnik Wines & Spirits and The Sake Ninja Chris Johnson as they host this week’s session. This week, you’ll enjoy a rare chance to look … Continue reading Tour Niizawa Brewery of Miyagi Prefecture with the American Sake Association


Sake Social Sunday! Sunday, May 17 from 8:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. Via Zoom: Admission: Free This Sunday the American Sake Association has another great sake-centric event planned. We will follow that ever-important rice from last week in Chiba to the mountains of Nagano to visit with Miyasaka Brewing Company’s very own Keith Norum and Master Brewer Kenji Nasu. They make the famous Masumi … Continue reading Masumi in the Sake Social Sunday Spotlight


Sake Social Sunday! Sunday, May 10 from 8:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. Via Zoom: Admission: Free The American Sake Association continues its Sake Social Sunday program with another great sake-centric event. This week’s host, Jamie Graves, Japanese Portfolio Manager at Skurnik Wines, will welcome three very special guests in a live stream from Japan! It is currently rice planting season in Japan, and our … Continue reading Tour a Rice Field in Japan at ASA’s Next Sake Social Sunday


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Sake Brewing Series |
The Journey of Craft Sake Brewing in North America


02.25.2021 (Thu.)

03.02.2021 (Tue.)

03.23.2021 (Tue.) 


04:00 PM - 05:00 PM (PST)





The Sake Brewers Association of North America (SBANA) and the Embassy of Japan in Washington, DC introduces a series of virtual, engaging, and exciting initiatives promoting the sake industry and consumer knowledge in North America through a three online webinar sessions. The webinar series will end in March in conjunction with the celebration of The National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Webinar 1
The Bond Between the Brew: The North America + Japan Sake Dialogue

Thursday, February 25, 2021
4:00 pm – 5:00 pm (PST)

This engaging exploration of sake will shine a spotlight on the launch of the North America-Japan Sake Dialogue, an initiative designed to foster cooperation and information-sharing between sake brewers on both sides of the Pacific about common challenges and opportunities in the industry. Featuring an all-star lineup of some of the most dynamic innovators in the sake industry in Japan and the United States in a discussion moderated by sake expert Justin Potts of Sake On Air and with introductory remarks by Kosuke Kuji, master brewer and president of Nanbu Bijin. Dialogue participants include:

Japanese sake representatives:

・Mr. Katsuhiko Miyasaka (Miyasaka/Masumi; Nagano, Japan)
・Mr. Hiroyuki Karahashi (Aizu Homare; Fukushima, Japan)
・Ms. Euka Isawa (MiCURA/Katsuyama; Miyagi, Japan)

North American sake representatives:

・Mr. Brian Polen (Brooklyn Kura, Brooklyn, NY)
・Mr. Troy Nakamatsu (Sawtelle Sake, Los Angeles, CA)
・Mr. Byron Stithem (Proper Sake Co., Nashville, TN)

Sign Up


Webinar 2
The Rules of the Brew: Sake Regulations & the Future of the Sake Industry

Tuesday, March 2, 2021
4:00 pm – 5:00 pm (PST)

Sake brewers and entrepreneurs often face a bewildering array of laws that strictly regulate how their products are produced, distributed and sold across North America. SBANA Board Member Bernie Baskin will lead a discussion on the regulatory landscape facing the industry, followed by a discussion on the future direction of the sake market in North America with industry insiders Ms. Sachiko Miyagi of Tippsy and Mr. Jamie Graves of Skurnik Wines and Spirits. The webinar will be simultaneously translated in English and Japanese and will include a Q&A session with the audience.

Sign Up


Webinar 3
The Beauty of the Brew: A Video Journey & Conversation Celebrating Sake & Sake Making

Tuesday, March 23, 2021
4:00 pm – 5:00 pm (PDT)

This webinar will feature the world premier of SBANA’s animated video illustrating sake’s unique tradition, craft, and range of enjoyment for sake newcomers. The video will be followed by a panel discussion with three SBANA member brewers relating their passion for sake and sake-making: Mr. Andrew Centofante of North American Sake Brewery (Charlottesville, VA); Ms. Euka Isawa of MiCURA (Tokyo, Japan) and Mr. Patrick Shearer of Ben’s American Sake (Asheville, NC). The March 23 event will be held in conjunction with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the nation’s greatest springtime celebration commemorating the enduring friendship between the people of Japan and the United States.

Sign Up


*Webinars will be recorded for archival purposes.

The Sake Brewers Association of North America (SBANA) is a 501(c)(6) trade association for the sake industry in North America, headquartered in Washington DC. SBANA is the first and only sake industry trade association outside of Japan. SBANA is honored to unite sake breweries across the United States, Canada, Mexico (and beyond), distributors, retailers, rice farmers, governments, enthusiasts, and a wide array of the allied trade to form one of the strongest sake organizations in the world.

Supported by JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles

Sake Day USA 2020: Sequoia Sake Brewery Profile


What is the American Sake Association?

The American Sake Association (ASA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with the goal of educating individuals about sake while raising funds for charities approved by the Association.

We welcome anyone to join our events and learn about sake. The Association is a network of individual members and all are welcome! Companies, shops and corporations are not able to join as members but are welcome as partner-sponsors.

Join our Sake Day Event in NYC In Person OR Online!

Come join us to celebrate Sake Day 2021 in person at Brooklyn Kura in NYC
…or Join our Sake Day Livestream for free!

Sake Day is October 1st, the one day every year the world comes together to celebrate our favorite beverage: SAKE!  If you’d like to join in on the fun, you can take part in Sake Day USA.

Donate to the American Sake Association

Interested In Our Next Sake Event? Get Our Newsletter to Stay Informed!


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Sake Day USA 2020: Sake Discoveries Koshu Sake - How Old Is Too Old?

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