Pop Culture and Japan

Touring Kanpai Sake Brewery: A Story Of Innovation, Passion And Resilience

Lockdown may have stopped hospitality venues from operating normally, but the resiliency shown across the sector should be applauded. Businesses have adapted through embracing eCommerce, offering takeaways and launching virtual events to strengthen their connection with customers.

It’s during this time that I toured my first sake brewery and was able to do so from the comfort of my own home. At a virtual tour of Kanpai Brewery in London, I was able to peek behind the curtain and see how nihonshu is produced and the passion of the people involved.

Exploring equipment 

The tour started out with an introduction from co-founder of Kanpai Tom Wilson and sake specialist Natsuki Kikuya. The story of the brewery is that of experimentation, innovation and a love for raising sake awareness in the West. 

After a trip to Japan, Tom and his wife Lucy started brewing sake at home and eventually set up a microbrewery in 2017. From there, the brand’s sake was launched in Selfridges and Kanpai has gone from strength to strength, setting up a taproom and producing a wide range of sake that I was able to taste.

The first drink was Kanpai’s yuzu and cucumber session sake, which comes in a can. It’s a great idea to put sake in a can and make it more accessible to western drinkers. At 5.5% ABV, the yuzu and cucumber went down easily.

Next, Tom showcased the brewery’s equipment. This included boxes used to make koji, a fune pressing machine used to separate sake kasu (lees) from the liquid and a huge vat of moromi (main fermentation mash). It was fascinating to see the mash bubble and acted as a reminder of how magical the fermentation process is.

A glorious tasting session

The tasting section of the tour was nothing short of brilliant. With a versatile line-up, Kanpai flexed their creative muscles, offering five different drinks. There was Miru, a dry, crisp junmai ginjo bottled at 15%, Nomu, a spicy junmai daiginjo bottled at 15.5% and three other surprises. 

One of these surprises was a new release called Tori, a genshu (undiluted) junmai daiginjo made from Arkansas rice polished to 40% and bottled at 17% ABV. Heady, acidic and punchy, Tori has some awesome white wine qualities and is sure to be another great success for Kanpai.

My favourite of the lot was Taru, a barrel aged sake made from Calrose rice and bottled at 17.5%. With notes of coffee, caramel and sourdough bread, Taru is heaven in umami form. 

Looking to the future 

The event concluded with Tom providing insight into how Kanpai will continue to evolve. New inventions are on the horizon, such as a miso and honey session sake release and the possibility of a Kanpai shochu. The brewery is also looking to open a second premise in the future.

The tour was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about a brand that’s constantly pushing the envelope and striving to elevate sake. It’s an exciting time for nihonshu in the UK and Kanpai is leading the charge for the sake revolution. 

Want to show your support for sake brands? Check out this list of businesses in the UK that are raising the bar for sake promotion and education! 

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