When Yumiko Munekyo was a vice president at Nomura Holdings Inc. in 2011, she would take clients to upscale sushi spots around Manhattan. They'd invariably order junmai daiginjō, the highest grade of sake and also usually the priciest, but not always the most interesting or appropriate.

Munekyo knew better, having grown up in the Hokuriku region, a hub for jizake (artisanal sake). New York's top Japanese restaurants almost never stocked them.

"They were mainly serving daiginjō, which is made from highly polished rice so it's elegant and floral, good with some fish but not with meat," she says. "I wanted different sakes that people could pair with food, like wine."