An Interview with a Sake Samurai
At the recent Art of Sake event at the Consulate of Japan in Sydney, I finally got to meet Andre Bishop, Australia’s own Sake Samurai. The title of Sake Samurai is awarded to those who make a significant contribution to the advancement of sake culture.
Andre holds the Advanced Sake Professional from the respected Sake Education Council. Most, however, know him as the prolific and successful publican. He has owned a succession of sake pubs, izakayas and restaurants in Melbourne, and currently has three in his portfolio. Read more about Andre and his restaurant empire here.
Andre travelled to Sydney to give a sake presentation at the Art of Sake event. Afterwards, we caught up to talk all things food and sake.
Sake Guide: So, what is Sake Samurai’s favourite sake style?
AB: At the moment, my favourite style – and it does change – is rich, full-bodied sake. Big, bold style. Lately, I have been drawn to sake from Okayama-Kurashiki area. (editor’s note – Okayama prefecture is in the south-west of Japan’s main island, Honshu). I feel that bolder styles are better suited to the Australian palate, and the delicateness of tanrei karakuchi style, the dry, soft sake from the North of Japan, could be lost on the Australian drinkers.
Sake Guide: What do you think is the best value sake in Australia?
AB: Kizakura Yamahai. It is great value, goes with a lot of things, and is a very well brewed sake. It is very popular at my restaurants.
Sake Guide: On that topic, what are the three top-selling sakes at your establishments?
AB: As I already mentioned, Kizakura sells really well. The other one is Otokoyama, which goes with a lot of food, particularly sashimi. Finally, for warm sake, Shirayuki junmai is one of the most popular choices.
Sake Guide: Andre, you have owned bars and restaurants for the last 15 years. What do you think is the biggest trend on the dining and drinking scene at the moment?
AB: Until not so long ago, the revitalisation of the Japanese cuisine has been the biggest trend. However, lots of other things came into fashion recently – we’ve just had the Mexican wave, and now Melbourne is going through the BBQ craze, American BBQ, in particular. Jamaican BBQ is becoming hot, too. South East Asian cuisine is also going through a revival. But diners are fickle. I think what will happen, eventually, is the second wave of Japanese revival. People will return to the Japanese food.
Sake Guide: What is your favourite sake that is brewed outside of Japan?
Sake Guide: Do you have a favourite izakaya or sake pub in Tokyo?
AB: I actually always try something new, there is so much choice. One that comes to mind is Koju in Shinbashi.
Sake Guide: Finally, an industry question. There are quite a few sake importers in Australia now. Do you think this sake trend has much upside? Is there room for everyone, room for new importers?
AB: There is definitely a challenge that importers are facing. They need to manage the expectations of their brewers. Brewers need to change their way of thinking about the new markets. Sake is a lot more popular now, but to reach wider acceptance, the brewing industry needs to invest into sake promotion. They should invest into ads in industry magazines, more ads aimed at consumers. So it is a challenge for the importers, too, to get brewers excited about the Australian market, but also understand the need to invest into growing sake awareness.
Cooperation will help, too, group cohesion is what will get sake over its hurdles. The industry needs to work together.
Thank you, Andre!