Mie sake brewers vie to be tasted at G-7 banquet


As the Group of Seven summit that Japan will host in May in Mie Prefecture nears, local sake breweries are hoping the government will select their brand to be used for toasts during the banquet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will host at the two-day event.

The brewer whose sake is chosen will get a huge publicity lift. But some are fretting the government has already made its pick, making them even more jumpy.

“It’s like a black box,” said one government official, adding that there are no set rules in selecting what will be served at the dinner.

When Japan hosted the 2008 G-7 summit in the town of Toyako, Hokkaido, Foreign Ministry officials allegedly tasted about 10 sakes nationwide and picked one from Isojiman Premium Sake Brewery Co. in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture.

For the 2000 G-7 summit, sparkling wine from Coco Farm & Winery, run by a facility that helps mentally disabled people in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, was selected.

After it was served at the banquet, Isojiman’s sake became so popular that, even now, it can only be purchased by lottery, said Isojiman President Yoji Teraoka, 60.

Coco Farm’s Chieko Ikegami, 65, says with regret that the sparkling wine was difficult to produce in large volumes and availability was thus limited.

It’s not yet official which sake will be used this time, but breweries in Mie got excited when a Foreign Ministry official in charge of the summit said at an event late last year that it will “definitely select sake from Mie.”

“It’s like we got a guarantee” from the government, one prefectural official said.

But speculation is rife that, in the end, it may all be up to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

One brewery rumored to be among the candidates admitted it was asked by the government to submit a sample.

“We don’t know any more than that,” said the official, asking the reporter for more information.

“It’s a great opportunity to (promote) made-in-Mie sake,” said Shinichiro Shimizu, 58, president of Shimizu Seizaburo Shoten brewery in Suzuka, Mie, known for its zaku sake brand.

Tadayoshi Onishi, 41, president of Kiyashou Sake Brewery, known for its jikon brand, hopes the popularity of Mie sake will last beyond the summit.

“We will continue to make good sake so it won’t be just a fad,” Onishi said.