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Both domestically and abroad, restaurant closures and restrictions on dining due to the pandemic have curbed demand for sake. As Japan struggles to combat a new spike in infections, the widespread cancelation of corporate bōnenkai (end-of-year parties) has also put a damper on usually robust holiday sales.

So how are Japan’s sake producers surviving? In many cases they’re just hunkering down like everyone else and trying to weather the storm. “Hard times are going to be with us for a while,” brewer Philip Harper tells Melinda Joe. “People throughout the hospitality industry are going to need support, so if you love sake, keep on drinking.” Amen to that.

Looking to support the industry during these tough times, sake educator Simone Maynard created a weekly online event to connect breweries and consumers around the world, writes Joe. The Taste with the Toji events are scheduled to last roughly two hours, but many revelers stay on for the virtual nijikai (after-party). One boozy event even lasted five hours.

Sake mistress features nihonshu masters and Japan pottery artisans | SIMONE MAYNARD | JJ WALSH
Sake mistress features nihonshu masters and Japan pottery artisans | SIMONE MAYNARD | JJ WALSH

“Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear” goes the saying, and in that vein T5 continues, but for many in Japan’s craft beer industry this year has been the mother of all headaches. Basically, 2020 has been about making hard choices and doing what it takes to keep the doors open, writes Jeremy Wilgus. With the help of tax breaks, take-out alcohol and a lot of creativity, bars and breweries are clinging on.

Last month, Iain Maloney asked 20 Questions of Sean Collett, head brewer at Two Rabbits in Shiga Prefecture, including about how his company was coping in the pandemic. For Two Rabbits, the crisis meant a shift from kegs to bottles and then cans, but “we’re now trying to keep up with demand,” Collett says.

Some good news for a change — we can all drink to that. And what better way to do that than with the closest thing Japan has to mulled wine: otoso, a herb-infused concoction made with sake. First sipped by aristocrats at New Year’s ceremonies at the Imperial Palace around a millennium ago, now we can all enjoy it thanks to Florentyna Leow’s recipe. But don’t forget, “Beer before liquor, never been sicker.”

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