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The Man Who Brought Sakes On Board Top Airlines: We Spoke With Master Sake Sommelier Joshua Kalinan

"People see the success part of me, but they do not see the other side. Only my family knows the amount of sacrifice. I spent nights reading, tasting, tasting and tasting. Traveling in search of breweries and getting lost along the way."

– Master Sommelier Joshua Kalinan, on his devotion to learning about sakes.

 

Joshua Kalinan should ring a bell if you’re a sake enthusiast from Singapore. After all, he made headlines a couple of years back as the first Singaporean to be crowned the international Sake Sommelier of the Year.

A favourite for curating sake menus at top restaurants and for conducting sake masterclasses in the region, Joshua’s expertise actually extends well beyond the realm of rice and koji. The Master Sommelier has obtained every notable wine and sake certification on the planet. Court of Master Sommeliers? Check. WSET Level 3? Yep, with distinction. Certified Specialist of Wine, Sake Sommelier, Kikisakeshi? Check, check, check.

You may not know that this sake superstar started as an in-flight sommelier. For 30 years, he soared through the skies with Singapore Airlines, recommending passengers the perfect Cabernet to match their filet mignon. But halfway through this journey, something beckoned him to shift from the familiar world of French wines to the exotic domain of Japanese sake. And it all started with a fateful sip of a strange concoction of hot sake soaked with pufferfish tail (hirezake).

 

Joshua was recently engaged to lead a sake tasting at Mikayla Italian Restaurant in Kagawa, Japan for Sake Club India. 

 

Lucky for me, I bumped into Joshua one evening at RPM by D. Bespoke, where he was sampling some awamori and shochus. I couldn't resist the opportunity to pick his brain about sakes. We decided to continue our conversation at Japanese whisky bar Samsu Huay Kuan.

Speaking to Joshua, I learned about what inspired him to pivot from grape to rice, the slightly perilous journeys he's undertaken to seek out Japan's hidden sake breweries, and the enduring passion that keeps him tirelessly exploring, learning, and sharing his knowledge of this exquisite drink.

 

We got a chance to taste a very special sparkling junmai daiginjo nigori sake, specially brewed to Joshua's specifications to make the ultimate pairing with Singaporean and Southeast Asian dishes. 

 

Joshua spoke about the trend of sake finding its way onto the cabins of top airlines, and also humoured our playful request to find the perfect sakes to pair with some quintessentially Singaporean dishes. Think Hainanese chicken rice, mutton rendang and chendol. Of course, I couldn't leave without gleaning some tips on how to elevate our sake enjoyment at home and navigate the sake aisle with confidence. 

Here’s my full conversation with the sake guru himself.

Follow Joshua Kalinan: Facebook | Instagram | Official Site

 

Northern Indian dinner with sake pairing led by Joshua: This coming Saturday (27th April 2024), Joshua would be leading a unique North Indian food and Japanese sake pairing experience at Singapore's most awarded Indian restaurant. Renowned sakes from Katsuyama would be featured. 
Book your seats via Sakeya SG!

[88 Bamboo]: You’re a very familiar name for sake lovers, and everyone knows you best for being the first Singaporean to be named Sake Sommelier of the Year by the prestigious Sake Sommelier Association. You’ve also curated sakes for restaurants. So, it’s easy to forget that you were originally a wine sommelier for First Class passengers in Singapore Airlines with 30 years of experience.

How did you find yourself in this career as an SIA sommelier? Looking back, could you tell us about that first bottle of wine (or wines) that got you inspired or motivated early on to pursue a career as a wine sommelier?

[Joshua Kalinan]: Actually, I joined the airline in late 1992, as a flight steward. Then we attended a cocktail class, and some instructors showed us about wine. I didn't actually like wine; I found it boring and was not much into alcohol because I started tasting alcohol very late. Even during National Service, I hardly drank beer, only slowly. When I ventured into the commercial world, I started tasting, but I was more interested in the cocktails part because it was sweet, like the Screwdriver or the Gosling. My first taste of wine came about during a long stay in Athens in the winter. We had a very good time, and I tasted very good rosé, which made me realize how beautiful wine could taste.

 

 

So, as I flew to different countries, like Italy, I tried to find out more about the wine regions. At that time, I was not even in that familiar circle yet, and it became very interesting how much wine had to offer compared to what I had previously thought. And at that time, we were flying as a team, and people in that team loved to drink wine. So, after we checked in, we would go to a restaurant and have French wine or any wine stuff. When you go to Australia, we tend to drink a lot of Australian wines. So, my knowledge of wine started to get better, and my interest in wine also started to grow deeper.

 

John Chua is a respected wine sommelier and trainer for Singapore Airlines' cabin crew.

 

Suddenly, there was an intake of sommeliers for the SIA Air Sommeliership Program just before SARS. I was so excited and signed up for it. I’ll never forget Mr. John Chua, who I revered very much. He taught me a lot; he is a very well-known figure in wine, an international judge, and always told me, "Joshua, the key to learning wine is to keep tasting." Then, SARS hit, and the program got interrupted. We didn't fly much, so I tried to fly to Australia on my own to visit vineyards and take down notes.

When the program resumed after SARS, I did the WSET, level one, then level two, and got distinction. I was so excited. A week later, it was an in-house program, so I enrolled for WSET level three. I was so excited and kept reading. I think I got a merit award for that. Then I pursued further. I wanted to do more and flew to New Zealand to do my diploma. I just left about one paper unfinished when my father passed away and took a break. Then I pursued the CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) on my own and had a chance to go to Napa Valley, to the CIA, to do the CWP (Certified Wine Professional), which they don't offer in Singapore. I called them and asked if I could go; they prepared a paper for me. During my stay in San Francisco, I traveled to Napa Valley, getting lost halfway, and took the exam two hours later, had a tour of the CIA campus, then drove to Montelena, which was my dream. I met Bo Barrett, the owner of Chateau Montelena, and he signed the Magnum bottle, which I still have. One month later, I found out I passed my exam.

Then I was still so hungry for knowledge and wanted to delve deeper into wine. So, I began to study for the CWE (Certified Wine Educator). It was not offered in Singapore at the time, but in 2013, I had a chance to do it in Japan. I enrolled in the program, and in 2014, they told me I passed all except the presentation paper. By the time my daughter was born in July, I had passed and think I was the first CWE holder in Singapore. Though before that, in 2008, I also went to London to do my Court of Master Sommeliers. I was the first to do the Court of Master Sommeliers. So, I actually have a lot of wine exposure.

 

[88B]: Were there any memorable experiences with any particular bottles?

[Joshua]: Athens was my first taste of a beautiful rosé. I know Athens didn’t make good rosés. I mean, they make them just easy to drink. But that was the one that kicked off my taste for wines. Then I started drinking. Like, I went to Montelena, then to Mornington Peninsula to taste beautiful Pinot Noirs from Stonier, then from Red Hill, from Port Phillip Bay. And it was like every day you get thirstier and thirstier. Then I went to New Zealand to the vineyard, you know, to taste Pegasus Bay. Then I realized there's a lot of terroir involved in wines. So it was like many different experiences with wine.

"Each toji (sake brewmaster) tells a different story; the challenges they face. It's not always a sweet success story, with issues like nobody to take over breweries, declining populations, and families not continuing the tradition. They would lament to me if their son is not taking over the brewery, so they have to groom another person to take over."

[88B]: So you went above and beyond what was even expected of an in-flight sommelier?

[Joshua]: Yes, correct. And then I started to teach. Once I got my SIA flight sommelier badge, I began teaching the cocktail program, providing wine service, and also the WSET level two program. Then, being part of the Wine Appreciation Group Committee, I decided to do something very drastic, which was to redesign the Singapore Airlines sommelier badge that John Chua first designed. It took me a while, but finally, after more than five or six years, the badge was approved. I am proud to say that I managed to draw something out of history. If you happen to fly on the flight, you will see a sommelier wearing that very iconic badge.

And I can proudly say that badge was designed by me. I feel proud because I did something memorable before I left. That was one of the things I did then.

[88B]: You only became inspired to get into sake after chancing upon a very unique type of sake while you’re in Japan – so I heard?

[Joshua]: Yes, that was around 2013, right after my CWE exam. That experience I will never forget. I was in Japan and tasted a hirezake (blowfish tail doused in hot sake). It had a funky umami quality that was beautiful. Because that sake is actually more for a connoisseur. Drinking hirezake sake can be quite daunting for a novice. But I enjoyed it so much, especially the whiff of umami, and I felt that I really needed to learn more.

"Please try table sake first; Futsushu - don't discount them. 70% of the sake market in Japan is Futsushu... Then you'll start to understand the flavours and won’t discount any one of them. Each [sake category] plays an important part in the sake realm."

[88B]: And what was it about sakes that caught your attention and eventually inspired you to make this transition from wine to sakes?

[Joshua]: It's about the mystery behind it, the history. Wine is very straightforward. When you look at wine, you know whether it's Old World or New World, roughly if it's from the Left Bank or Right Bank, or if it's a Riesling, whether it's dry or sweet. But sakes, when you look at the bottle, oh my. It really confuses me. First of all, the label is totally new to me. I didn't know what rice was used, what region it came from. So that caught me. Like I said, I thought I should dive into the unknown. I believe that was in 2014. So, I was the first Singapore Airlines sommelier to enroll in a certified sake program, and the instructor told me what to study about sakes.

That caught my attention, to recalibrate my learning in sake. The moment I went to Japan, I would try to immerse myself. My first winery trip was when I went to Osaka. The next day, early in the morning, I took a train and then a bus to Nara to learn about the sakes, buy them, read the label, understand the kanji. Then along the way, I started to take up my Kikisake-shi course (Sake Sommelier), and slowly I picked up the WSET level three. It was not offered in Singapore at the time but in Hong Kong. So, I was the first one to fly over there to do the three-day program and then fly back one month later to do the exam.

Can you imagine the amount of time, effort, and money spent while also flying and handling a family? I had a little girl at the time, who was only about two years old then. I was very fortunate when I wrote in to apply for a scholarship run by the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association, and I got it. I was the first Singaporean to get it, along with my sake sensei Cheong TW. So, we were the first inaugural batch to be inducted into this program, which was a five-day program where you learn about sakes for a few days and a few days about honkaku shochu in between your exams. We went to the breweries, and experts from Japan gave us talks on all the various sakes and more. At night, they immerse you in sake culture, and the last part immerses you in shochu culture, which was so exciting.

This program is now so popular that many Singaporeans want to get into it.

 

Singapore Airlines' in-flight sommeliers undergo rigorous training. 

  

[88B]: How does a day in the life of an in-flight sommelier look like? How does it differ from the job of a conventional restaurant sommelier?

[Joshua]: An in-flight sommelier's job is to recommend beverages on board and to recommend them to customers. Every year, we undergo a recency training, which is unlike what normal sommeliers do, as they don't require such recency training. To pass and obtain the badge, you need a minimum of a level three WSET. Then, you need to pass an in-house exam to complete the in-house sommelier program. Additionally, every year you are encouraged to attend masterclasses and tastings to upgrade your skills. Some of the in-flight sommeliers are trainers who teach newcomers, those who join the airline, in the areas of cocktails and wines. So, they don't get involved in the selection of bottles.

I was very fortunate because my boss at the time, who was the cabin crew In-flight Services Director, said, “Joshua, since you are very good with sakes, why don't you come and assist in selecting the sake for Singapore Airlines?” At that time, the Singapore Airlines sake program was quite basic, offering just one sake for all, which was quite boring. So, I took on the role on a complimentary basis to redesign the whole program. I managed to include two types of sake, one Junmai Daiginjo and one Junmai Ginjo for First and Business class. And during the Japanese Matsuri period, I managed to convince management to include Dassai as part of the promotional offering. This initiative kicked off the interest in sake in the airline.

[88B]: The SIA sommelier programme seems really rigorous.

[Joshua]: I think the onus is on you to expand your knowledge. If you just want to stay as an air sommelier, you can. But if you decide that you're hungry for more, you can enroll in courses like I did, attend masterclasses, go for tasting sessions, and all that. Or join the Sommelier Association of Singapore, which I did, to go for periodic tastings. That's how you sharpen your skills.

 

Balinese wines are starting to become a thing (Source: Hatten Wines Bali)

 

Yeah, if you have time, go and visit vineyards. My wife is Balinese, so I had an opportunity at that time to visit vineyards in Bali, which was crazy. I told them I needed to go to the vineyard, which was like four and a half hours away in the north of the mountain. My daughter was just a one year old. Can you imagine carrying a little girl the entire way? *Laughs*

 

Joshua with his wife and daughter at Hatten Vineyard in the exotic port town of Singaraja in northern Bali.

 

Balinese wines are getting popular. There are two types of wines: one, the local grapes are grown in the north; and the second, they use the must from Australia. They buy the must, there's a different label, so they process, they vinify it in the winery, just two different things. And I was told that there's also a vineyard in the north of Bali. I was told by one of my contacts, so maybe this time in June, I might go back and explore again.

 

Joshua with Assistant Winemaker Peter Gadjics at Hatten Winery.

 

When I was doing my CWE, I had a chance to go to Yamanashi to visit Grace Wine Estate to learn about Koshu wines. So it's like it's your own journey and your thirst for knowledge. Even last year, I went back to Bali. This time, I went to the winery to see how they produced the wine vines that were harvested in the north, how they have two wineries. I went. So I got a picture, and more or less nine years later, you can put the two pictures together so you can see that non-conventional regions also make wines.

People think that Joshua has already forgotten about wines, that he's only into sake, but that’s not true. I still like exploring the unconventional, and it's a learning journey for me.

[88B]: You mentioned how you curated sakes for SIA and you were the first to do that for them. It seems like just a couple of years back, flights didn't carry that many sake labels. There seems to be a rise of sake appreciation on airlines. Whereas years ago in-flight sake menus were uncommon, now we see a nice selection of sakes being carried on first class flights in various airlines.

From your observations, can you talk about how the general understanding of sake has evolved, especially within the airline industry? How has sake's image evolved over time? And what do you feel has driven this change in mindset within the airline industry?

[Joshua]: I think in terms of exposure to sake on board, no airline comes close to ANA and Japan Airlines. I think they carry the most, being very Japanese-focused airlines. I think Singapore Airlines still has room to grow. I got a lot of feedback from customers: “Hey, Joshua, I tasted the sake that you curated, but I wish there were more.” So I said, “Okay, you should provide feedback so they will carry more!” I think there's more interest in people drinking sake on flights. That is very encouraging for me.

[88B]: What do you think changed the mindset over time and led airlines to start carrying more sakes?

[Joshua]: Airlines now recognize that sake has become one of the go-to drinks, unlike before. In the past, when I joined the airline 30 years ago, we used to fly to Japan, and the sake – you'd drink all the futsushu sake in izakayas, the cheap sakes. But now, you’re beginning to see more interesting sakes coming out. Also, because people are traveling more, tasting more sakes, and being exposed more to sake than to wine, there's a lot of more interest in learning about and embracing sake on-board flights too.

"Tasting a range of sakes of the same category in a sake flight would be very good – perhaps taste sakes made with the same rice but from different prefectures. Because the water of the different prefecture will give you a lot of [taste] differences.

[88B]: In 2018, you won the grand title of Sake Sommelier of the Year and made the headlines to the pride of both SIA and Singaporeans. It’s also very inspiring for us because winning this competition must have taken a lot of effort and preparation.

Can you share with us how you prepared for this sake sommelier competition over the years – whether it’s practising hundreds of blind tastings and studying about sakes?

[Joshua] : Actually, I attempted the competition three times. In 2015, I went in and reached the semi-finals. When I looked at the picture that day, I yearned to be on the podium.

So, in 2016, I took a year to practice, which was not easy because I have a family, a little girl, and I was working as an Inflight Auditor for four years, taking up a lot of my time. I read a lot of books, attended events, went to breweries to learn, and bought a lot of bottles of sake. I would buy like ten bottles every time I went to Japan, sometimes 15 bottles, and of course, I paid my tax. Then I started tasting. My wife asked if I was crazy, but I said I really needed to get a good feel for it. I needed to read a lot and understand why a sake from Kyoto is interesting and different from a sake from another region.

By the way, wine is different in terms of cold and hot regions, but for sake, there's no such thing as cold regions. And whereas wines have so many different types of grapes, rice is still rice – there are different types of sake rice, but it's basically still rice, you know? The water actually makes a lot more difference.

I really had to grasp the label part because I don't study Chinese characters. I tried to remember the characters by the strokes because, in the competition that came up, and in my exams it also came up. In 2016, I went all the way to the semi-finals and finals and was actually a runner-up. The judges told me I was just an inch away from winning the competition. That word lingered in my mind. In 2018, I was ready to go again. My boss questioned why I was risking my title – , “Joshua, you already number two. Why are you risking your chances of losing the title? Are you not afraid that you lose your title?” I said I had nothing to lose and was still not satisfied.

 

Joshua's claim to fame was his winning the title of the 2018 Sake Sommelier of the Year organised by the UK Sake Sommelier Association (Source: Shinichi Adachi)

 

By this time, I was so hungry. I believe I scored well on the theory paper because I knew all the answers very well. Then came the tasting, pairing, and presentation. There was a lull period waiting for the results. The judges, including a Japanese judge, an Italian judge, and all the famous writers, mentioned how close the competition was. I really didn't want to hear that word again. Then they announced the Sake Sommelier of the Year as Joshua Kalinan, and I couldn't believe my ears. What I worked for had come true. But that was not the end of everything; it was the beginning of everything that would change my future and career.

[88B]: What do you think was this secret sauce in your performance that ultimately led you to outperform everyone in 2018?

[Joshua]: I think I was very hungry. I wasn't going to give up the things I had come so far for. This was my third attempt, and I wasn't going to come again just to forfeit my time. So, I decided to go all out.

I was quite aggressive, even in the way I answered the questions. There were six tastings of sake, then six tastings with food beside them. And in front of the audience, you had to explain why this is a Junmai or Junmai Daiginjo. For the tasting, the same sake, you put food inside, sometimes even chocolates, to see which one would match the chocolates.

Then after a lunch break, you do a mockup service element where the judges play as restaurant guests, and you have to prepare the sake. They would ask, "Okay, why this one? Which sake will you use for this?" They would throw a lot of questions at you.

"Don't look for specific bottles, but look for the style you want to learn. Then slowly, you develop your own encyclopedia in your mind."

[88B]: So, the main way to distinguish yourself in the competition is really the service aspect and being able to answer questions very well.

[Joshua]: Yes, very well and fast. And they say, " Okay, how are you going to heat up your warm sake? Show me now." Then they'll throw another question at you, and another judge might say, "Oh, I don't like this sake. Can you recommend another sake that pairs well with Chinese food?" So, it becomes a situation where you're constantly on your toes.

I guess when I did my Court of Master Sommeliers certification in London, it was similar—they keep asking you questions. So maybe I got some practice there.

[88B]: Your path to becoming a sake sommelier is very unique and standout. You were first trained as a wine sommelier. You’re also very talented in the kitchen, having done very well in the first and most iconic MasterChef Singapore competition. During the Sake Sommelier of the Year competition, you’re also great at suggesting very creative, daring sake pairings like foie gras with grilled pineapple.

How do you think your unique path has helped shaped your perspectives in sake appreciation and pairing?

[Joshua]: To be different and to think out of the box. My journey allowed me to use the elements of sake not just with Japanese dishes but also to leverage my love for food. So, you're able to understand the food better and also sake better, and how you can harmonize them. I always believe in harmonising the characters of the different flavours of food.

 

 

[88B]: The ability to harmonise foods and flavours - do you think that takes inherent talent?

[Joshua]: Yeah, I think so. Someone told me, “I think you have a gift”. I said, yes, you can have the gift, but you need to practice to bring out the gift. I don’t use the word 'gift,' because 'gift' can sound very heavenly. But I think if you're able to put it into practice and you dare to believe in it, then you can achieve it.

"Not every bottle has SMV (Sake Meter Value) because it's very subjective... You don't want to put a number on a sake. Instead, taste the sake based on its attributes, because two sakes could both be a number six, but both will taste differently."

[88B]: Sakes are traditionally paired with light Japanese seafood dishes. As a Singapore based sommelier you’ve taken it one step further, and contextualized sake to the culture that we live in, and you’ve shown us we could pair local Singaporean dishes with sake, like tandoori chicken, mutton biryani or even hokkien mee.

I have with me a list of some quintessentially Singaporean or Southeast Asian dishes – could you recommend us a good sake / sake style that would pair with each dish:
(1) Hainanese chicken rice, (2) Mutton or beef rendang, (3) Kaya toast, (4) Sea hum cockles, (5) Chendol, (6) Durian

[Joshua]: Oh, I've done it before!

For Hainanese chicken rice, you need something dry - a Karakuchi style of sake because of the fattiness of the dish and the oil of the chicken, so it can bring out the flavour. Something dry, like from Niigata – this very dry Karakuchi style.

 

 

For mutton or beef rendang, you need something more fruity. There’s this quadrant for sakes- Kunshu means aromatic, Soshu means light and easy, Junshu means rich, Jukushu means aged.

 

 

So, for these dishes, a bit of fruitiness, a bit of sweetness can go well with mutton dishes because they are quite rich in flavour. A sweeter style of sake, not the very sweet one, but a bit more fruity style. The fruitiness in the aromatics on the nose, but on the palate, can be slightly more full-bodied. The fruitiness can interact very well with the spices. 

 

 

I'm actually going to do a sake pairing with Northern Indian cuisine on the 27 of April with Katsuyama Shuzo. 

On Saturday 27th April 2024, Joshua would be leading a unique North Indian food and Japanese sake pairing experience at Singapore's most awarded Indian restaurant. Renowned sakes from Katsuyama would be featured.
Book your seats via Sakeya SG!

[88B]: So it's sort of sweet, but at the same time, the spices add a kick to it? 

[Joshua]: Yes, correct.

For Kaya toast, this is quite interesting because you can still do a fruity sake with Kaya toast. It can go very well.

 

 

 

Sea hum cockles can be quite fishy, so you can use aged sake, but you can also use dry style sakes. It still goes well because it will cut away the fishiness. It's just like drinking a Chablis. Imagine your sea hum cockles as oysters and the sake as Chablis that cut through the brininess.

 

 

 

For Chendol and Durian, you can try some sweeter styles of sake, like the kijoshu. Sakes are made using a three-step preparation brewing method – they call it "Sandan Jikomi." That means the first addition, second addition and third addition to the main moromi tank. During the final addition, instead of adding water, rice, and koji, they add sake. So it slowly brings up the sweetness. For chendol and durian, you won’t go wrong with Kijoshu.

  

 

"Thirstypalate is specially made to pair with our local cuisine, like chili crab or maybe Balinese cuisine. I've tried it before with something very spicy and savory, and it was good. I wanted to create something very Singaporean."

[88B]: Earlier last month, you launched your very own sake brand called Thirstypalate, a sparkling Junmai Daiginjo made from premium Yamadanishiki rice, brewed in collaboration with a brewery in Saitama. This was created specially for the Singaporean palate which loves spicy Indian or Peranakan dishes.

Could you share with us how the collaboration with Kamaya Sake Brewery began? What made you decide to work with Kamaya, out of the many sake breweries in Japan?

[Joshua]: I always had a dream to collaborate and create my own brand. So, when I left the airline, I spoke to a lot of breweries, but there were a lot of requirements in terms of volume, etcetera, which seemed like too many obstacles.

 

Brewing equipment at Kamaya Sake Brewery where Thirstypalate is made.

 

But late last year, I was selected to be an influencer for sake for the Chichibu Tourism Board. They asked me if I was willing to go to Chichibu, which is near Saitama. The Japanese host also asked me if I would like to visit a brewery in Saitama. Now, Saitama is not very famous in terms of sake compared to regions like Hyogo, Nara, Niigata, or north Iwate. But she told me that the brewery had heard about me and was open to talking with me. So, I went to the brewery, which is very old, about 270 years old. I spoke to one of the generational brewers, who was so enthusiastic to see how this foreigner or gaijin was so interested in sake. They asked me whether I was a winemaker. I said no, but I had a lot of interest in brewing.

 

 

So, I asked them if they could tweak this sake that I tasted to my preferred style. They said, “Oh, we can do that.” I asked them to increase the acidity because most sparkling sakes are quite sweet and flat, it can be very sweet and cloying. Instead, I wanted to push the acidity and desired natural sparkling, not one where CO2 is pumped into it. They agreed to reuse the sake lees, putting them back to create a bit of a nigori style, then freezing it to deactivate the yeast.

The alcohol content was about 8.9%. When I tasted it on January 1, I was blown away by the style and quality. It tasted so good and could pair well with different cuisines. It was made for Yusheng (Malaysian/Singaporean raw-fish salad). Many people took pictures and told me it paired well with the raw salmon, the spiciness of the pepper, and a bit of sweetness and sauce.

A friend of mine then suggested we put it to the test at a North Indian restaurant. He ordered butter chicken, and it went so well with the butter chicken. It was beautiful.

[88B]: North Indian food and sake pairing is pretty unheard of.

[Joshua]: Yeah, it was unheard of. I thought it was just a one-off pop-up project, but I didn't know people would be so excited. I was asked to present this at a masterclass at Tanoke restaurant. And Tanoke decided to carry it – so they became the first to carry this. And I think it's been selling quite well, especially to the newbies, that you can taste sake in its pleasurable form. It's a Junmai Daiginjo, uses Yamadanishiki rice from Saitama, and also the water from the Tone River, which, when I tasted it, was like, wow.

[88B]: Are there any interesting anecdotes or stories to share from your experience working with Kamaya Sake Brewery? How do the Japanese brewers take to your suggestion as a sommelier to pair sake with spicy Indian or Peranakan food – does it surprise or amuse them?

[Joshua]: They were very excited, actually, because they never thought their sake could pair so well with these foods. You won’t see this type of pairing suggestion on their label. They messaged me to tell me they were so happy that their sake was receiving this kind of attention.

[88B]: Could you let us know what’s the ideal experience someone should have when they taste your sparkling sake?

[Joshua]: The ideal experience would be recognizing that this sake is specially made to pair with our local cuisine, like chili crab or maybe Balinese cuisine. I've tried it before with something very spicy and savory, and it was good. I think that’s very important. I wanted to create something very Singaporean.

 

Joshua sharing some of his Thirstypalate with Samsu Huay Kuan's owner, Jeremiah, and myself.

[88B]: Singaporeans don’t often get something adapted to Singaporean cuisine. I would say that's doing us a great service. Since the launch of Thirstypalate, how do you feel about reception your brand has received?

[Joshua]: I never expected that. The people who came to Tanoke and tasted it said, "Wow, it tastes so good." And the champagne-like acidity was there, the sweetness was there, but it's not cloying. The bubbles were there. It slowly dawned on me what I could do if I believed in this project.

[88B]: Looking ahead, any other styles of sakes or other sakes with special brewing methods that you might want to explore for Thirstypalate?

[Joshua]: Someone just asked me what the next series might be. Maybe I will come up with a still version of the sake. But I would stick to the same brewery because of the support they gave me. I just want to pay back the kindness. I use the word 'kindness' because they were supportive of what I wanted to do and the amount that I wanted, which was so nice to hear from a typical Japanese company with a very old history but with a modern mindset that is willing to work with me.

Actually, they said they were very pleased to see their product here because their brewery is not represented in Singapore. I’m a bit surprised - it's a hidden gem. We usually look for the common sakes, the most popular sakes, but we rarely look for the hidden gems. As a sake sommelier, I think it's good to explore the hidden gems and discover or rediscover a lot of sakes that are beautiful. Of course, you need to respect the brewery, whether they are willing to accept your changes. It came as a surprise to me when I just asked for fun. I said, I hope they wouldn’t get offended when I asked, “Do you mind changing that acidity?”

[88B]: And just to give us a sense of what sort of brewery it was. How do you describe it brewery, it’s production volume compared to commercial sake breweries?

[Joshua]: They are basically more for the local market, not so much for export. They do export to Germany, a few of their products, but it’s a very small brewery. When you go to the brewery, it's very interesting because it's like along the roadside. You walk into a very old building. Very quaint. It's all made by hand; it’s really handmade sake. They don't use machines to do a lot of things. So, it's really labor-intensive.

[88B]: Funnily enough, you and I met at a fantastic awamori masterclass organised by the Okinawa Prefecture Government and conducted by Thomas Ling. Given how the increasing popularity as well as a very concerted push towards revitalizing the shochu and awamori category, would Thirstypalate consider botting shochu or awamori or other types of Japanese drinks?

[Joshua]: Shochu would take a while. Even among Japanese drinkers, some of them don't even know about awamori. Yes, of course, it's another form of shochu because of the black koji used, but that drink can be quite challenging. Also, because shochu is popular in Japan but not in Singapore. So, I know more cocktail bars are now using shochu, but it's a long way to go because you still need people to understand the different styles. And people always confuse Japanese shochu with Korean soju. People say, "Oh, is that the one with apple flavor?" So, that could create a bit of confusion. Honkaku shochu which means authentic shochu can also be made from different raw materials, with a single distillation.

Thirstypalate will not go in that direction yet. It's basically to appeal to the market for newbies to enjoy sake at the same time, appreciate it with local food. I think that was my main target, and I think I was able to reach it in quite a short period of time.

I just ordered quite a lot of bottles coming soon, so I think there's potential for people to enjoy it with their local food. I like to see the culture where you go to East Coast Lagoon, order your sambal stingray, and take up a bottle of Thirstypalate. I think it's going to be interesting. This is what I do, actually, for other sakes.

[88B]: As far back as we can remember, wine has been globally accessible and familiar to everyone. Sake, on the other hand, is more deeply rooted in Japanese culture, rituals, and is mainly produced in Japan.

Yet there’s also been a growing trend of winemakers becoming interested in sake-making. We also see sake makers setting up breweries in France to access the climate, collaborate with French winemakers and prestigious restaurants and earn their places in the prestige category.

Being so deeply involved in both realms of wine and sake, do you notice any interesting parallels in the brewing philosophy of winemakers compared to sake makers?

[Joshua]: Actually, I think there are a lot of bars where you can see a new style of sake that is very wine-focused. Some of the sakes you drink does not taste like sake but tastes like white wine. I saw a label the other day which has French words on it, but they make sake! So some of them are using French words in it. France makes sake. Our nearest neighbour is in Da Nang, which is 2 hours away, where I visited a sake brewery. And I know Ho Chi Minh has Mua Sake Brewery that has a sake infused with pineapple and chili padi. And even down under, in Australia, New Zealand, you have Zenkuro, Kanpai.

 

Zenkuro is New Zealand's first and only sake brewery.

 

So you can see the trend of sake being produced not only in Japan but also in non-Japanese contexts. I believe there is a couple of collaborations. I'm sure you saw the former winemaker of Dom Perignon starting his brand and also Tanaka 1789 x Chartier, which has a famous Canadian-French master blender. He collaborated with Tanaka Shuzo when I was there last month. They do sake blending. Their bottle won the Platinum award last year at the Singapore Sake Challenge which I was the Co-Chairman of. It's nice to see brands like this getting picked up on the international scene and receiving international awards.

 

Renowned French-Canadian Master Blender François Chartier collaborated with Tanaka Shuzo to create a premium blended sake product line. 

 

So I believe more people, more brewers in France or elsewhere, will do collaborations because they are beginning to see the sweet spot of sake. Sake breweries are now more willing to accept changes, which is very important. I saw sake fermented in a French oak barrel, or in a whisky barrel. They have the Link 8888 Sake which was aged in Chivas Regal casks. I tasted one sake from Hanagaki, which is French oak barrel-aged. Also, in Chiba, I tasted some sake aged in red wine and white wine barrels. It's very interesting. When I run my courses, I use them to show the effect of barrel aging on sake.

 

Link 8888 Masuizumi is a sake that had been aged in several Chivas Regal Scotch casks.

 

[88B]: So do you notice if sake makers have also started becoming very international in their outlook, and much more open to experiment?

[Joshua]: I think they know that, especially those who have taken over their family business as sake brewers. When I talk to young brewers, they are very open to making changes. For example, I was in Katsuyama last month, and I talked to the son who is supposed to take over from his father. He's very open about new trends, new bottle designs, and new ways to attract locals and youngsters. Which I think is a very good sign that, even though sake consumption is declining and it's seen as an "ojisan" (older man's) drink in Japan, what they’re doing here is not to reinvent the wheel but to find different ways that we can drink sake, not just with traditional Japanese food. It's about using this traditional drink but elevating it in terms of pairing with other cuisines.

[88B]: Do you see any interesting ways that sake makers and wine makers are learning from or influencing each other?

[Joshua]: I visited Kuheiji Sake, a brewery from Aichi Prefecture, last year in March. The brewer is very international; he went to France and learned about French winemaking. He even used rice grown in France, Camargue rice, to make sake. His styles of sake are very wine-driven, reminiscent of white wine styles.

So, you can see there's quite a lot of cross-pollination. It's beneficial because you learn from each other in terms of fermentation, barrel aging, and assemblage, which has been a longstanding practice in French winemaking (assemblage refers to the art of blending different wines, typically from various grapes, vats, or batches, to create a more complex wine). You can see a lot of such practices in sake now, where people are blending different rice types to create a blend. I think that's very interesting.

[88B]: Why do they blend rice varieties?

[Joshua]: To make it more harmonized and also to bring about the different plus points of various rice types. Sometimes by aging. Sometimes they use the kimoto method to age and to blend it, creating a very complex style of sake. Yes, I think that's very interesting. I’d like to see more of such practices.

[88B]: On that note, that's exactly the work of Tanaka Shuzo. Could you tell us about your work as the brand ambassador for Tanaka 1789 x Chartier – a brand created by Tanaka Shuzo and respected Master Blender Francois Chartier?

What is it about this sake that makes it so appealing to wine lovers – from the way it’s made to the way it’s presented and served?

[Joshua]: I first came to know this brand during COVID. One of the major importers asked if I wanted to help bring in a brand, which they felt has a lot of potential and tastes like wine. This sake changes flavour according to the temperature. Especially when drinking wine or sake, I always tell my students and people that you should drink sake in a wine glass, not in an ochoko, so you can see the flavours evolving. And that's what Tanaka 1789 x Chartier brought about.

 

 

They came out with the 01 Edition, which is a blend of three rice strains grown in Miyagi. When I visited Miyagi, I saw the sake brewery. They also use the kimoto method and blend. They age the sake in a tank and then bottle it.

Then the 02 Edition came about after a while. That was the 28% Junmai Daiginjo, and the rice was polished and grown in Hyogo prefecture. The interesting part of the 02 Edition was the high acidity due to the use of white koji. So, it's quite an interesting range.

[88B]: You mentioned acidity, just for sake beginners, could you elaborate on this factor in sakes?

[Joshua]: Generally, sake has a much lower level of acidity, but has a higher level of umami. It contains five times more umami compared to many other beverages, but acidity-wise, it's much lower. However, the sake from Tanaka 1789 x Chartier is very interesting in terms of acidity because of the use of white koji, which produces a lot of citric acid. This gives it a very interesting and fruity character at the same time, with vibrant acids on the palate.

Even though it doesn't interact with the tank, it's susceptible to all seasons, summer and winter, which changes the flavour of the sake. It's very interesting how sake forms very unique umami notes and does not spoil. My job as an ambassador is to create more awareness of this brand, recommend it more, and get it into more restaurants. Presently, a few Michelin-starred restaurants are taking it. It's going to be pushed to neighboring countries. Actually, at the moment, I'm working on that as well, pushing it to two neighboring countries.

[88B]: How would you pair the Tanaka 1789 x Chartier with food?

[Joshua]: Oh, I love to pair it with steak. For the 01 Edition, I would pair it with steak. It definitely opens up the umami nicely. I've also done pairing at this Peruvian restaurant called Kitsu in Duxton. It can pair very well with challenging cuisine, also with very strong foods like uni (sea urchin). It goes so well and is very interesting.

[88B]: In terms of drinking culture, in your position as both wine sommelier and sake educator, what is your experience with consumers when introducing sakes vs. wines to them? Does sake culture differ from wine drinking culture in any interesting ways that most of us don’t realise?

[Joshua]: I think a lot of wine drinkers are shifting towards drinking sake. This is what I felt the last time I conducted a masterclass last Sunday. I can see there's a shift; a lot of people want to explore sake. The problem is that they do not know what's on the label. So, they need someone to coach them and guide them, and I would love to assist them. I think there's more buzz and interest in knowing about sake. I can see some of the prices coming down, and I think that's a very good sign it’s becoming more affordable.

 

Joshua visited countless sake breweries and befriended many of their owners. Here, he's photographed with the CEO of Ayakiku Shuzo from Kagawa.

[88B]: Your incredible career in sake has taken you all over Japan where you’ve learnt so much about the history and culture of sake appreciation, and formed connections with many respected breweries, tojis and sommeliers.

What is your favourite memory from this sake journmey?

[Joshua]: Each toji (sake brewmaster) tells a different story; the challenges they face. It's not always a sweet success story, with issues like nobody to take over breweries, declining populations, and families not continuing the tradition. They would lament to me if their son is not taking over the brewery, so they have to groom another person to take over. It brings a smile to my face when they get excited and start to talk a lot.

[88B]: It's interesting how many of these Japanese brewers are so comfortable and will share so much with you.

[Joshua]: Yes. I would love to spend the whole day at these breweries. Unfortunately, I can't because I also have to visit Tanaka Shuzo. But these brewers share a lot with me, and I was so amazed by the equipment they used, among other things. These might be very well-known and IWSC award-winning brands, but their breweries are actually very small. You can see that they are elevating sake to a different level, and it makes me so happy to see that they are recognised.

 

Joshua acted as Co-Chairman for the inaugural Singapore Sake Challenge held in October last year.

 

When I was the co-chairman of the Singapore Sake Challenge, seeing sake bottles carrying the "Singapore Sake Challenge" sticker also made me feel proud that these Japanese sake bottlers appreciate our recognition. I hope more of such events will be organized.

[88B]: Could you tell us about one sake brewery you’ve visited with a really compelling story that captures your imagination the most?

[Joshua]: Oh, I’ve visited this couple at Rumiko Shuzo from Mie, the land of the ninjas. In most breweries, the man is usually the head, but in this brewery, the female is the head. She had to take over. I was very amazed by her tenacity to take over the brewery from her father because her father fell ill immediately after they got married. So, her husband was very supportive, and she started to make exciting sakes. When I visited her in March, the brewery was the oldest fashion of the oldest fashion. They use the oldest equipment. They don't use rice steamers; instead, they use an oil generator and a pot to heat up the water. The rice cooker is like a giant pot. They put the rice in and just roll the pot to the center of the stove. And she is so nimble, being in her 60s, she climbs up the tank. At this age, you can still see the passion in her. That makes me very happy.

 

(Source: Moriki Shuzo)

 

I was very impressed by her traditional manner of making sake. They were pasteurizing the bottle by pouring hot water over manually and manually labelling and sealing the bottles. It’s quite an old brewery, over a hundred years old. That brewery makes me feel like it's sake making in its most traditional form. That brewery was the one that captivated my heart.

 

Oxford-educated Philip Harper is the first ever non-Japanese person to be a head brewer or toji of a sake brewery. 

 

That was memorable, besides visiting Tamagawa Sake in the north, where Philip Harper, a British-born toji, makes excellent sake. It can be quite a challenging sake to drink since they age the sake. But it's very interesting. I visited Philip Harper six years ago because I wanted him to sign my book. It's one of my favourite sake breweries that makes very interesting stuff.

[88B]: You have mentioned that Philip gave you some advice before. What was it?

[Joshua]: Philip told me, “You should study the characters.” So I realized there's no shortcut. Even until now, I still read through the labels. And even now, I've started to read about rice. I try to memorize the characters that represent the key rice varieties. I think that's very important. When you read the key rice characters, you begin to feel that they want to emulate you. I think that's very nice to hear that.

[88B]: And while most of us are not ever in the contention to be Sake Sommelier of the Year, I hope you could share with us some tips that all of us could use in how we could learn more about sakes.

For someone who is a novice or beginner in sake appreciation, how should we go about learning about sakes? What’s the most important aspects that we should look out for / focus on?

[Joshua]: The first rule of thumb is to taste as much sake as possible. Get a book, write it down. Taste, taste, taste. And don't be label conscious. Don't just drink a Junmai Daiginjo. You can taste other excellent sakes which are not Junmai Daginjo. As a novice, if you want to learn about sake, taste as much sake as possible. Identify the different styles of sake, the different quadrants, and also the different styles. Different rice gives you different styles.

And also, after that, try to learn about sake from different prefectures. There are 47 prefectures. It's not easy to get all of them, but try to get a key style of sake. I think that's the most important part of learning about sake: to understand the flavors. Read more, and you will get there. My sake journey is only coming to about ten years, which is quite short.

[88B]: What styles should we start with as beginners?

[Joshua]: Please try table sake first; Futsushu - don't discount them. 70% of the sake market in Japan is Futsushu. Find out why they are made this way. Why do some breweries like to make Futsushu? They don't drink Junmai Daiginjo as often as we do, but there's a lot of exciting Futsushu out there. Then slowly move on to Junmai, then Tokubetsu Junmai, going to Junmai Ginjo, then Junmai Daiginjo. After that, explore the aruten category sake with added alcohol, like Honjozo, Ginjo, and Daiginjo. Then you'll start to understand the flavours and won’t discount any one of them. Each of them plays an important part in the sake realm.

I think it's going to be very interesting if you have an open mind, rather than just thinking, "Oh, I'm just going to drink Junmai Daiginjo" You'll never learn. And then, don't be so brand conscious. Don't just go for the same common brand that you know.

Understand the rice. Then, slowly start to understand the different yeast involved, and the different koji. Most use yellow koji, but some sake uses white koji, too. Understand how some koji interact and also why the Kimoto method, which is gaining popularity lately, and the oldest methods of making sake, Bodaimoto and Yamahai, are coming back again. The brewers are bringing them back. So I think there's a resurgence in traditional methods of making sake, which is quite interesting.

[88B]: What do you think is the cause of this interest in going back to the traditional methods?

[Joshua]: I feel that there's a lot more flavour in these styles of sake, compared to a very simple style of sake. Aged sakes too, they form a very small market, but if you look at it, sakes age from a minimum of 3 years to 30 years – they take on a lot of Maillard reaction by aging. Most of them are aged in tanks, but some in wooden barrels.

[88B]: If you could break down sake appreciation into several basic steps, what are these steps we should follow to properly appreciate sake?

[Joshua]: First, you need to understand the labels. What sake is this? What’s the grade? Is it a Junmai? Knowing it’s a Junmai means the polishing may not be as high as compared to a Junmai Daiginjo, you’d expect a more umami style of sake. This kind of style may not be very sweet and can be quite slightly fuller, more umami-driven. So, you get more ricey characters as compared to a more delicate style, which is highly polished like Junmai Daiginjo.

So, you need to taste this first, then taste the extremes. Then you're able to see the difference. Then you may know why sakes taste this way. By understanding the label and demystifying it – for instance, not mistaking the sake polishing number for the ABV. It's what is left in the rice that's very important.

So, by understanding the basics of that, I think they are able to learn more.

[88B]: It’s challenging to understand the label, because there are many Kanji characters. Even if I look at those with English labels, there's stuff like SMV.

[Joshua]: Not every bottle has SMV because it's very subjective. The SMV for Thirstypalate was like 40-something, even though it doesn’t taste that sweet. It's basically the measurement from the hydrometer, but palate-wise, it sometimes differs. So, you've got to have an open mind. I designed a sake label for a restaurant that's revamping, and I did not put the SMV on it. I want them to understand my tasting notes to get a feel of the sake.

You don't want to put a number on a sake. Instead, taste the sake based on its attributes, because two sakes could both be a number six, but both will taste differently. You need to have an open mind. Then start tasting and writing notes. Then you will learn a lot. But there's no shortcut. You really need to put in a lot of practice, burn the midnight oil, and be willing to open your wallet.

People see the success part of me, but they do not see the other side. Only my family knows the amount of sacrifice. I spent nights reading, tasting, tasting and tasting. Traveling in search of breweries and getting lost along the way. Even my last trip, I got lost, but then finally arriving at the brewery was a joy. I got lost so many times visiting breweries, but it's like when you see the brewery in front of you, it's so nice. There's the joy of getting lost, the joy of getting stuck in snow. There are a lot of challenges that you go through, like not having enough time to sleep while preparing for courses, exams.

Every bottle is different and has its own story.

 

Joshua in Okayama making a Bizen-ware sake cup.

[88B]: So if you break down sake appreciation into several basic steps, first, We look at the label. What next?

[Joshua]: Understand the type of rice. Open the sake, taste it, and find out why it tastes this way. Determine what the brewery is - Is it a seasonal sake, or is it one of the mainstream sakes?

Water and yeast both make a lot of difference.

For instance, sakes could use a range of yeasts – sake yeast, wine yeast, ambient yeast, flower yeast, and sanuki (olive) yeast. Tamagawa and Rumiko use ambient yeast. A sake could taste very delicate because it used flower yeasts; some sake breweries in Ibaraki use flower yeasts. Sakes in Kagawa Prefecture tend to use Sanuki olive yeast, collected from the surface of olives.

 

Joshua's career as a sake expert and educator took off soon after he won the iconic title of Sake Sommelier of the Year, and he became a favourite sake educator in the region. 

 

Tasting a range of sakes of the same category in a flight would be very good – perhaps taste sakes made with the same rice but from different prefectures. Because the water of the different prefecture will give you a lot of differences. Sakes from Ishikawa as compared to sakes from Fushimi can have a more fuller body because the water from Mount Hakusan has a lot of minerals from the ground, whereas the sake from Fushimi is made with very soft water because it contains very few minerals. So, you can see a lot of differences in how water plays a part, whether it's soft water or hard water.

[88B]: Is there an aspect of sake appreciation that is very commonly misunderstood?

[Joshua]: Some drinkers say, “Tomorrow I'll get a hangover after drinking sake.” There's always a misconception that sake has a very high alcohol content compared to wine. I think that's a very big misconception. It just undergoes a different style of fermentation.

Wines are also more likely to contain sulfur dioxide, which may give some people a bit of a headache. Whereas sakes are more natural and don’t contain sulfur. You won't get eczema or hives with sake. Whereas when you drink white wine or some red wines, you might get hives afterward because sulfur dioxide interacts in your body.

[88B]: What is something simple that anyone could do to immediately elevate their sake tasting experience?

[Joshua]: Understand and come up with your own tasting terms. What do you get out of it? Then, try to look at the sake lexicon and see where your words fit in, rather than trying to copy the tasting notes from the sake brewery. I’d rather taste and tell myself how the sake is. I don't want the sake brewery to tell me how the sake tastes. Trust your palate and go through a systematic assessment of tasting. For example, consider the appearance, nose, palate, and finish. Sometimes as a newbie, you may not know what kind of fruit is being described. So, you should write it down, then later go back and check it out on the lexicon. You’ve got the Internet.

 

 

Start writing notes. Along the way, you'll develop your own style of speed writing. When you are given like 20 sakes to taste, you'll know how to write the notes. Go for more tastings. Today, they are more accessible tastings compared to before. A lot of exhibitions are coming around, like ProWine. You've got a lot of events like Sake Matsuri coming along soon in May. So, grab the opportunity and just dive in and learn. Don't look for specific bottles, but look for the style you want to learn. Then slowly, you develop your own encyclopedia in your mind.

[88B]: Looking ahead, what are some early emerging trends in sake that give you the most excitement?

[Joshua]: The drier style of sakes is coming back. People are a bit bored with the sweeter ones, the very simple ones. People are looking for more complex styles and flavours. Palate-wise, today's drinkers are getting more sophisticated. They may not be sake-trained, but they read, they visit breweries, they go for tastings.

So, you really need to know what you're drinking. If you're going to teach them, you must make sure that you know your facts. And these people right now are hungry for knowledge. So, they want to taste a lot of sakes. I've encountered a lot of people who check things out on the internet.

Also, they are looking for some interesting brands. It’s quite interesting that they have a really curious mind.

[88B]: It seems like there are good sakes and there are good sakes. There isn’t an incredibly big variance in quality in sakes, would you say?

[Joshua]: Quality-wise, I think almost all sakes are made well… even though making sake is much more complex, more tedious than wine.

It's quite interesting to see. I went to one mini-brewery near Tokyo station – it’s a microbrewery. They make sake, there's more space, and they're making doburoku, like unfiltered sake. That's quite interesting. So I tasted it and wow, I loved it. People make it like they’re creating magic. So I think we need to appreciate it.

"Today, climate change is a challenge for sake brewers. Last year’s rice harvested was hard, due to global warming. This leads to quite a challenge with polishing the rice. The rice also may not dissolve in the moromi."

[88B]: And you mentioned that it's, you know, it's more complicated to make something like how elaborate about. Could you elaborate on the challenges that sake brewers face?

[Joshua]: The number of sake breweries has been dwindling. This happens every year. Many of them are very good breweries that just stopped making sakes ever since COVID. Most of them are family owned business, smaller breweries - they are the one who will get hit the worst because they have very few people.

Today, climate change is a challenge for sake brewers. Last year’s rice harvested was hard, due to global warming. This leads to quite a challenge with polishing the rice. The rice also may not dissolve in the moromi. It can be more challenging to make and they may need to take longer time to do so. There’s also a lot of fear about water. Fear that sakes from Fukushima are affected because of radiation, which casts very good breweries in Fukushima in a bad light. Tojis also always tell me it’s very difficult to get youngsters to work in a brewery. Young people don't want to work in ga wet, cold environment. They would rather work in the office.

In essence, they need to shut off all this bad publicity, fight climate change and try to figure out which son or daughter is going to take over the brewery! These are the challenges that sake breweries face. We should appreciate every glass of sake and give credit to the people who make sake.

[88B]: I understand that the brewers are appealing to international markets for greater sake sales. What new approaches are they exploring to tackle this falling demand for sake?

[Joshua]: Some organizations, like the Jetro (Japan External Trade Organization), are putting in effort to promote sake. I think that's quite good but I think more should be done. More such events should take place. Maybe they can create more trendy labels, and bring back more easy-to-drink sake styles that are fruity. Not too heavy for the younger person’s palette. Maybe don't introduce them kimoto-style sakes first. When their palette gets a bit more seasoned, introduce more complex styles of sake.

I think the sake trend in Singapore will continue to grow as long as there isn’t further increase in alcohol taxes. We are one of the top four markets.And I hope to see more companies, restaurants trying to make sake more accessible in the Singapore market so that we can go purchase a sake for S$40 rather than go to a Japanese restaurant and pay four times the price.

I hope to see more shifts in favour of the sake consumer, along with more education and more exposure to sake.

[88B]: Thank you so much Joshua, it’s been a privilege and we've learned so much from you!


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