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Like fine wine, sake can be a luxury lifestyle good too

Sake Hundred Byakko

Japanese sake can be expensive, but can it be a lifestyle?

That is the question Sake Hundred wants to answer with its high quality, higher priced bottles that aim to resonate with consumers emotionally.

With expressions ranging from a 26-year-old vintage to a dessert style, the label is positioning itself as a luxury brand that evokes an experience similar to what fine wine is already doing.

Unlike most sake brands, Sake Hundred does not have a long history filled with generations of brewers. Instead, the label was founded in 2018 (followed by a minor rebrand in 2020) by Ryuji Ikoma, who also runs the Japanese media publication Saketimes. Over the years, he noticed brewers making a wealth of different sake styles, but drinkers were only exposed to a select few.

Sake Hundred’s founder, Ryoji Ikoma. Credit: Sake Hundred

“One of the greatest things about sake is that there’s so much variety,” Ikoma writes on Saketimes. “From sweet to dry, mild to rich, earthy to tangy, with sake made to be matured long-term, and sparkling sake crafted with the level of quality and care you find in fine champagne.

“Sadly, most people have still only experienced a very narrow range of what’s out there and the market has yet to develop to a point where sake of every style is appreciated and valued accordingly.”

Ikoma sought to change that by offering four vastly different expressions made with four different breweries, which he settled on after visiting more than 300 sake breweries and tasting over 3,000 individual styles. The flagship is Byakko, a clear sake made from organic Dewasansan rice from Yamagata prefecture.

Rice that is used for Byakko and Shirin is polished to 18 percent. Credit: Sake Hundred

Polished to 18 percent, the drink has delicate aromas of white flowers, stone fruits, and a rich flavour. On the other end of the spectrum is Amairo, a dessert tipple made by adding sake to the brewing water. That process concentrates the drink’s sweetness and umami flavours, resulting in a honey-like brew with tart and savoury notes.

[Read more: Orientalist Spirits releases limited-edition Mizunara Whisky]

The Shirin is the brand’s oaked-aged sake. Yamadanishiki rice is polished to 18 percent and aged in Japanese mizunara oak for nine days, making it fresh and creamy with an underlying toasty, smoky profile and a long finish.

Shirin is made from sake aged in mizunara oak. Credit: Sake Hundred

Finally, Gengai is a 26-year-old sake. It was brewed in 1995 until the Kobe earthquake destroyed the brewery’s facilities that same year. The liquid was left untouched until it was rediscovered in 2020 and bottled. Over two decades, the sake took on luscious flavours of caramel and chocolate, together with a silky palate that lingers on.

But Sake Hundred aspires to be more than just about its products. Instead, it wants to be an evocative symbol of luxury. With a statement of “Fill your glass of life” and a website that reads like an artist statement, the brand is hoping to fill a bottle-shaped hole in people’s souls.

“The best sake experience enriches our hearts,” says Ikoma. “It also makes the conversations bounce while drinking with people. Ultimately, we aim to connect the world gently through Sake Hundred.”

These connections don’t come cheap. The Amairo costs S$288 and prices escalate from there – Byakko: S$488, Shirin: S$588, and S$2,558 for Gengai. Stock is also highly limited; while Sake Hundred does not release overall numbers, only 50 bottles of Byakko were available for pre-order in Singapore late last year. All were sold out in a month, but Sake Hundred is bringing in more.

Gengai is a sake that’s been aged for 26 years. Credit: Sake Hundred

If those figures cause sticker shock, just look to the wine world where it’s already playing out. Savvy winemakers from grand cru burgundy houses to natural winemakers offer bottles that are highly allocated and often astronomically priced, yet buyers rush to secure a release before flexing them on social media.

A more accessible, perhaps crasser example would be Chateau d’Esclans’ Whispering Angel rosé, which many consumers use to signify the kind of Hamptons or south of France lifestyle they desire.

[Read more: Sake: A beginner’s guide]

It’s a market that Sake Hundred hopes to develop. Besides Japan and Singapore, the brand is already in Hong Kong and Dubai, and plans to expand to Mainland China, the US, and the UK this year.

“We believe that the charm and value of sake are comparable to wines and other alcohol,” says Ikoma. “This is a big opportunity for the sake industry.”

About the Author
Jethro Kang enjoys boozing, biking, and climbing, and he’s still figuring out how to do all three at once. When not writing for Spill, he’s pouring beers, opening wines, and hoarding bottles of cru beaujolais. You can find him at @thisrocksmysocks.