Yamagata named best sake producer

Japan's northeastern prefecture of Yamagata has been deemed the country's best sake producer after winning the most top prizes at the 111th Annual Japan Sake Awards.

The contest's judges on Wednesday announced 218 gold prize winners among 818 entries from across the country. Twenty of those top recipients were from Yamagata.

This is the third time the prefecture has earned Japan's top spot.

The results of the 111th Annual Japan Sake Awards were announced May 25 online.

Nakano Masumi, head of the prefectural brewers' association, says he's happy the judges acknowledged Yamagata's sake-brewing skills.

He said he hopes the result will boost domestic demand for Yamagata sake, which has been sluggish due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Judges evaluate sake entries at the 111th Annual Japan Sake Awards.

Yamagata brewery welcomes result

Sakata Shuzo, a Yamagata sake brewery, has now won a gold prize for nine consecutive years.

Sakata Shuzo has been making sake since 1947.

President Sato Shoichi says he's extremely happy about winning the prize. "I'd like to use the contest results as a springboard to promote Yamagata sake."

Sato says young master brewers from other sake makers come to the Sakata Shuzo to learn. He is thinking of setting up a room where such people can stay and learn sake-brewing techniques for up to half a year.

"If we only care about our own brewery, sake production could fall behind that of other kinds of alcohol. I'd like to explore further possibilities for Japanese sake by working with other breweries in Yamagata and elsewhere."

Sakata Shuzo President Sato Shoichi believes the contest results will help promote Yamagata sake.

Fukushima dominated for nine years through 2022

Yamagata's neighbor Fukushima was aiming to become the first prefecture to win the most gold prizes 10 years in a row. But this year it finished in fifth place with 14 golds.

Fukushima became Japan's most awarded producer of sake in 2013 - two years after the nuclear disaster - and held the top spot for eight more years. Many believe the accomplishment has contributed to improving the image of the prefecture's food and beverages.

Fukushima-based sake breweries won the most gold prizes nine years in a row from 2013-2022.

Fukushima sake brewers express disappointment

"The era in which Fukushima was the only top brewer is gone," says Suzuki Kenji, a special advisor to the prefectural brewers' association.

Suzuki notes, "Sake brewing technology has improved in areas outside Fukushima Prefecture. Unlike other breweries across Japan, those in Fukushima came out with products that were at about the same level as the year before, and couldn't please the judges."

"Fukushima will aim to become No.1 again and stay on top," he adds.

Suzuki Kenji, a special advisor to the prefectural brewers' association, has spent many years teaching how to make sake in Fukushima.

Watanabe Kenichi, head of the brewers' association, says, "It is regrettable we failed to secure the No.1 position for 10 straight years, but that doesn't mean the quality of Fukushima's sake has declined. We will continue striving to make delicious sake."