Disaster-hit brewery to sell sake of hope in U.S.

JIJI

A sake brewery in Iwate Prefecture that was heavily damaged by the monster earthquake and tsunami three years ago plans to start selling a new product in the United States in September.

Intending to convey that the disaster-hit areas in the Tohoku region are vigorously headed toward recovery, brewer Suisen Shuzo named the new sake Kibo, which means hope. The pure rice wine, which will cost $6 to $7 per 180-milliliter can, will land on store shelves in California in September and in New York a month later.

Suisen Shuzo, based in the city of Rikuzentakata, lost its production facilities and inventories when it was hit by the massive tsunami spawned by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake of March 11, 2011. It resumed sake production six months later at a rented factory.

It wasn’t until August 2012 that the company returned to full operations after building a new plant. Given lackluster growth in domestic sake demand, however, the brewer decided to expand abroad.

Suisen Shuzo’s sake export plan made substantial progress after it found U.S.-based partners at a trade show.

“We were rather encouraged by the fact that the firm did not give up hope even after losing almost everything,” said Masahiro Fukuda, a sales manager at Oregon-based sake brewer and importer SakeOne. Fukuda advised the Japanese brewer to adopt Kibo as the name of the sake it planned to ship to the United States.

Recalling that Suisen Shuzo received support from a U.S. volunteer group after the disasters, sales chief Hiroyuki Wada said: “I want to deliver a message that we have perked up.”