Article: We asked the manager of AKAKUMA, a well-known sake pairing store in Shinjuku, about his commitment to purchasing and serving sake, and how to enjoy sake.
We asked the manager of AKAKUMA, a well-known sake pairing store in Shinjuku, about his commitment to purchasing and serving sake, and how to enjoy sake.
Keita Akahoshi has been involved in restaurant management in the United States for 20 years, including restaurants in Manhattan and Koreatown, New York, and consulting for Japanese restaurants in the United States. Currently in Shinjuku, Tokyo, he runs the sake bar “AKA-KUMA” and “AKA-KUMA Bettei”, which introduced the world’s first AI sommelier “Kaorium”, and also has a store himself. He has always been fascinated by things he likes and has a tendency to become obsessed with them. We asked him about the concept of the store, his commitment to purchasing and serving sake, and how he thinks about how to enjoy sake.
Shifting from a sommelier to selling sake and renewing his own image of sake
ーPlease tell us about your career, leading up to the formation of the sake bar AKA-KUMA and AKA-KUMA Bettei. Did you originally study sake and cooking?
Before I could drink alcohol, I used to love grapes. Before I entered society, I was interested in wine made from grapes, which I love, and studied sommelier as a first class student of the "Japan Sommelier School" in Kobe. After that, I moved to Tokyo and got a job related to sake sales, but soon after I was appointed to sell sake in the United States. I didn't have the heat. This was before the repackaged products that we have today and the development of sake products aimed at young people.
However, in order to sell sake, I was in contact with various kinds of sake, and one of them changed my feelings about sake.
It was sake from a sake brewery called “Daishichi Sake Brewery” in Fukushima Prefecture. It is a sake brewery that sticks to the old-fashioned method of making sake, "kimoto-zukuri", which uses the power of nature to make shubo by hand without adding artificial lactic acid. Since it takes a lot of time and effort, since the Showa era, the fast-brewing method, which uses artificial lactic acid and has a sense of stability, has become a major method. I got it.
As my image of sake was revamped, I began to think that I wanted to somehow bring about such a change in people's awareness, and how I could do that. If you just bring a bottle of sake and explain how it's made and how it tastes, of course they'll say it's delicious, but there's nothing more surprising than "drinking sake", and it's overwhelming. This is because it was not easy to reach “delicious”.
A pairing centered on acid as an opportunity to get people to notice the charm of sake
At that time, the axis of my taste and way of thinking was the quest for the taste of "acid" that I had continued since I was studying wine. I started thinking about the ingredients that would pair well with the taste of each acid contained in each type of sake. For example, this sake would go well with lemon citric acid, so it's a pairing with acid. When we started doing that, it was very well received in America, and most people were surprised. First, we opened a store in the United States. Rather than offering the taste of sake alone, the customers were impressed by the pairing, so I brought in a lot of Western foods such as cheese and sweets such as crème brulee, and asked, "Is there any sake that goes well with this? '' said. It was a time when eating together was almost unheard of in Japan.
This is my subjective opinion, but Japanese customers are very passive. They go to a popular restaurant and eat what is offered. I had a strong image of repeating that, but I had the impression that many American customers were critical of challenging things and had an attitude of running side by side. Because of that, I feel like I've acquired the attitude of ``accepting complaints honestly in order to make things better''.
After that, he returned to Japan from New York in 2015 and opened the predecessor store “Akahoshi and Kumagai”.
“Mirai Saketen” has something in common, tenaciously proposing to make it better
-Currently, there are many opportunities to purchase sake from Mirai Saketen, but when did you first encounter Mirai Saketen? Is there any reason to keep using it as a liquor store?
Originally, when I returned to Japan and opened a store, I visited a physical store. They sell Japanese sake, and the people from Mirai Saketen visited my store, so I got to know them. It was impressive that they taught me so kindly, and I honestly thought that I wanted to buy from these people. He likes alcohol, and after grasping the knowledge that is not superficial, and the trends of restaurants, he is close to what I want to do, and I was happy that he made suggestions that tickled my curiosity.
I also felt that the overwhelming desire to spread the word about sake was the same as mine. I want to spread the goodness of sake to people who are not aware of its appeal.”
Earlier, I said that "curiosity is tickled," and I believe that it is extremely important for people to like something. If I can pique the curiosity of people who have yet to discover the appeal of sake, I think I can stand at the doorstep of people who love sake, but that is a very difficult task.
-I see. Do you have any expectations for the sake that Mirai Sake offers in pairing at your shop? Do you choose to create pairings based on sake, or do you look for sake that matches the food?
In my case, I often decide on dishes based on alcohol overwhelmingly. Mirai Saketen sells many new products with strong individuality. For example, there is a sake called “Sanuki Cloudy” by Kawatsuru Sake Brewery. I thought it was more suitable for pairing rather than slowly enjoying sake alone. So, when we matched it with our restaurant's cutlet sandwich, this combination became a specialty.
We believe that it is our job to create a place that makes the most of the uniqueness of sake, so we are using Mirai Saketen as a place where you can find a wide range of interesting sake.
How will traditional Japanese brewed sake be incorporated into the diet of the future in this age of globalization?
While maintaining the identity of domestic sake, pairing continues to bring new excitement and enjoyment to us, as various unique sakes are created as the manufacturing method develops.
〒160-0023 Tokyo Shinjuku Nishi-Shinjuku 7-15-17 Toko Building 1F
Phone number: 03-5937-2485
Official website: https://akakuma-sake.com