Saké in America Today

By Valerie Fayette

For the first several years of marriage, my husband was a frequent business traveler to many Asian countries.  Often, he came back loaded with gifts from clients and co-workers.  The impeccable and generous hospitality of his hosts dictated that the gifts were picked specifically for the intended recipients. 

My husband, a Harley Davidson aficionado was gifted with HD memorability from wherever he visited.  Since I worked in the wine industry at the time, the gifts sent home for me were often thoughtful tokens of regard for my career – Chinese wines, alcoholic elixirs (some strong enough to knock me over with just a few sips) and of course, delicious Japanese saké.

I was grateful for the opportunity to sample these exotic items.  I enjoyed the gifts of saké but didn’t consider it a beverage to seek out here in the States. Like many Americans, I saw it occasionally on beverage lists at sushi restaurants, but rarely noticed it elsewhere.  My well-stocked wine cellar may have blocked my view, but still, who ever offered me (or you) a glass of saké at a dinner party in the suburbs?

Thankfully, a lot has changed over the past ten years in the American saké category.  As sushi’s popularity has soared, so too has that of saké as it goes mainstream.  According to the Japan Saké and Shochu Makers Association, 28% of Japanese saké exports were to the United States in 2012 and the U.S. Department of Commerce notes that saké imports into the US were up 16% in 2014 versus the prior year (1).  U.S. retail sales of sake, both imported and domestic, were also up 8% in 2014 (2).

There are a number of influences impacting these positive domestic saké trends.  The first is that, similar to French wine, saké consumption is down in its homeland.  Japan’s total population is on the decline and its younger generations are eschewing saké as the drink of an older demographic and opting for other types of beverages. In response, Japan is actively pursuing overseas markets to offset the domestic decline.

Next, we live in an uber-globalized world that is vastly different than the world of barely 20 years ago.  The generation that has seen most of the impact of globalization, growing up in a world where few things are truly “foreign” anymore, is the millennial or “echo boomer” generation.  This generation is adventurous and always up to trying new things.  Millennials see saké as a ready-to-be-discovered, unique alcoholic beverage, perfect for mixing their own drinks, and they appreciate the flavor complexities and educational aspects (3) of saké.

Finally, saké itself has a lot to offer.  Americans love choices and saké is definitely versatile. I like to say that it’s brewed like beer, drinks like wine and mixes like liquor but tastes like saké. With many flavors and types to explore, each saké profile is a result of its grade (such as ginjo, junmai, genshu, diaginjo), region, rice milling rate and the ingredients used.  Different water, rice and yeast sources all contribute individual flavors and aromas.  On top of all of that, most saké is gluten-free, sulfite free, tannin free and histamine free – so how does one go wrong when making the choice for sake?

While we may not yet be on the cusp of a saké revolution in the USA, the beverage is on the rise and saké producers, such SakéOne, are intent on introducing and educating the American population about the deliciousness of this ancient but modern beverage in all of its varieties. 



1. 2014 Annual Wine Industry Review, Gomberg-Fredrikson Report, December 2014

2. AC Nielsen $Vol, 52 weeks ending 1/3/15

3. Nielsen Bev AI Generations Study, 2013

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