Sushi has been gaining popularity in India for over a decade now, and along with sushi, sake has also rapidly gained a loyal following. Sake, a Japanese rice spirit, is made from four key ingredients: rice, water, koji (rice mold) and yeast. To marry love for sake, in India, with an appreciation of Japanese culture and cuisine, Sake Club India (SCI) was born in 2020.
Sake served in traditional stoneware | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Mika Ioka and Ravi Joshi, who started Sake Club India in 2020, say it was launched amid the pandemic and has since hosted virtual, hybrid and in-person events, fostering stronger ties between the Indian and Japanese communities are made. ,
While Ravi Joshi, a former army officer and IT specialist, is a drinks writer and spirits connoisseur, Mika Ioka is a Master Sake Sommelier and holds the Sake Diploma International from the Japan Sommelier Association (JSA) as well as the WSET Level 3 (Sake) Wine Certification from End Spirit Education Trust, London. “While both India and Japan share a vast producer and consumer base for rice,” she says, “sake definitely spurs the interest of beverage lovers in India.”
Colonel Ravi Joshi and Mika Ioka at an event | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
With offices in New Delhi and Tokyo, SCI offers a range of education, engagement, beverage consultations and events in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, among many other cities. All sake programs introduce participants to sake from specific regions of Japan.
Ioka explains, “Sake is broadly classified into four types: aromatic, light, rich and aged. Each classification has a specific serving temperature, serving vessel, food combination, and even an ideal season to taste it. In Delhi in January, I prefer hot socks. Can be enjoyed absolutely cold in summer. Sake can be a good accompaniment to eggs, seafood and even soups.
Ioka has conducted training sessions for hospitality chains such as Marriott, The Leela and Four Seasons as well as stand-alone restaurants such as Azuki Japan Travel Bistro and Sake, Bengaluru. C. T. Geetha, partner at the bistro, says that their audience is about 75% Indian and 25% expatriate.
A multi-course dinner with Tottori Prefecture Sacks at Takashi, New Delhi | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
“Since we serve a range of authentic Japanese food, we have a curated list of dishes such as Gekikan traditional and daijinjo, as well as sawanothsuru,” she says. SCI is currently focused on developing a sake ecosystem in India to offer a wide range of the spirit to Indian consumers.
Nikhil Agarwal, founder of Mumbai-based All Things Nice, which provides exclusive consulting services to the wine and spirits industry, says, “Just as Indian food has been the greatest ambassador for India’s wine industry, so too is the . Indians love Japanese food and want to taste it, so many stand-alone restaurants now serve it, whereas a few years ago sake was mostly available in restaurants at five-star properties.
Joshi says they initially approached food and beverage industry insiders and the business community to promote the drink, then organized training sessions for hospitality students. He further adds, “The USP of Sake in India is that it is a vegetarian product, sulfite-free unlike many wines, and can be served at different temperatures.”
Heemul pajeon (Korean seafood pancakes) with Ginjo Sake at Kofuku, New Delhi | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Joshi says, “In India, Sake is classified as a wine, despite having 15-20% ABV (absolute alcohol per volume of beverage), which is higher than fruit-based wines. At VinExpo 2022, held in New Delhi, SCI presented 19 sakes with low-alcohol varieties (seven to eight percent) from six breweries in five prefectures of Japan. The curd-based and scintillating sweets were especially well received.
At the Provine event in Mumbai in 2022, SCI exclusively presented sake from Tottori Province and held a sold-out masterclass on sake tasting. Ioka believes that Indian consumers appreciate sake because of the rice-based diet, “The Indian palate is flexible and people can adjust to hot sake as well, which surprised me,” she says, adding that the umami factor is a definite delight. It is important to choose the type of sake.