The Kokoro Files tells the story of ordinary people and their connection to Japan. And whether it’s food, alcohol, history or sport, the experience is unique to each person. For Jorg Muller, his experience in Japan inspired him to start up a sake supply company, Ueno Gourmet, one of the top importers of sake in Europe.
In this interview, Jorg reveals what connected him to nihonshu, what kind of breweries Ueno Gourmet works with and what it means to get involved with some of the most exciting beverages in the world.
Glad to have you featured in Yamato Magazine Jorg. As one of the founders of Ueno Gourmet, you specialise in supplying premium sake across Europe. How did the business start and what inspired you to get involved with sake in the first place?
We visited Japan frequently and enjoyed excellent sake over there. When we returned to Europe we noticed there was not much sake available. So, we thought we need to change this ourselves and started a premium sake import business
What are some of the best types of sake and shochu that you’d recommend to people?
I always recommend premium products, which is any kind of classified sake from honjozo and junmai to junmai daiginjo and similarly honkaku shochu, which is a high-quality shochu. Further than that it is a matter of personal taste and occasion.
Every sake brewery has its own distinctive character and the craftmanship that goes into the brewing process is a thing of beauty. Do you have any favourite breweries that you like to work with?
We import from over 30 sake breweries, all of them have distinctive character and high class craftmanship. We’ve chosen these 30 breweries for their quality and uniqueness so they’re all our favourites!
As you’ve spent time living in Japan what are some of your favourite aspects of the culture?
My favourite aspects are the discipline, diligence and focus on detail. This also leads to the high quality of sake, which we can get today. And this quality is still improving.
What was involved in the process of you training to become a sake sommelier?
Most important is tasting many different sake. And pairing sake with different food. At home we pair sake every day and further develop our experience.
What are some of your favourite sake and food pairings?
I find the most interesting pairings are when the umami of food and sake come into play. An outstanding example is sake and cheese. But in essence you can find a prefect sake for any kind of food.
In addition to your sake work you also act as a wine consultant. What do you feel are the key differences between wine and sake?
The most obvious difference is the much lower level of acidity in sake. Because of this, sake appears somewhat quieter and it takes a second taste to understand the beauty of sake.
If you could change one thing about the sake industry, what would it be and why?
There is still a consideration of sake as a spirit among some consumers, so the overall image still needs some work – which we’re working on.
What would your best advice before for someone who wants to become involved in the sake industry full time?
Taste a lot of sake, take sake courses, visit fairs, visit breweries in Japan and talk to the people in the industry!
Sake is experiencing a renaissance in the west and there are plenty of knowledgeable people who are championing Japan’s national drink. Be sure to read Yamato Magazine’s interview with sommelier John Callow, who inspired my own journey into the sake world and with Erika Haigh, co-founder of the UK’s first independent sake shop and bar Moto.