Kanpai Sake has launched a special edition just ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan, which runs from 20th September to 2nd November. MIRU, which means 'to see' in Japanese, is an ultra-premium, Junmai Ginjo Sake. Only 660 bottles have been made with an RRP of £44.95. Tom Wilson, Co-Founder and Head Brewer said: "MIRU is supposed to be a perfect all-rounder, a crowd pleaser. It's not too extreme one way or the other - not too sweet, dry, floral, estery nor overly savoury. It has very gentle acidity. This is sessionable sake and can also pair with a huge array of food."
Label design by local Peckham illustrator Meroe. It forms the second in Kanpai's 'hear no, see no, speak no' series. Following a sumo with his fingers in his ears, here a blindfolded samurai slices open a sake carafe in front of Peckham's iconic Bussey Building!
Junmai Ginjo is a defined style of sake with a minimum of 40% of its outer level polished off and no alcohol added.
The result is a fruity, smooth, elegant, junmai ginjo sake with gentle acidity. It manages to combine both intensity and delicate, nuanced stone fruit-like flavours. MIRU will pair particularly well with charcuterie, strong cheeses and shellfish. Serve it either cold or at 40-45°C.
Tom and Lucy Wilson
Tom and his wife, Lucy, have quickly established Kanpai as one of London's most innovative alcohol brands. Tom's journey began with the discovery of Japanese food and sake while visiting New York as a young man. Moving back to London in his early 20s, he found a huge void in what was available at the time. Having begun home-brewing, Tom and Lucy went to Japan on holiday and visited several small sake brewers. Returning to the UK, they started experimenting and brewing sake for three to four years.
"The response from people so far has been overwhelmingly positive. We have many supporters from the Japanese community in the UK and Europe. People from Italy and Germany go to London for the weekend specifically to visit Kanpai!"
They then set up as a commercial business in Peckham in 2017. Through word of mouth and social media, the quality of their sake became known and attracted the Sake Sommelier at Selfridges. As a result, a short time later the UK's first sake brewery launched their first product in the prestigious London store. Success continued and so the brewery moved to larger premises down the road last August, launching the taproom bar in December.
Kanpai means 'cheers' in Japanese, or literally 'dry your cup'.
Kanpai is one of only five sake breweries outside of Japan, recognised by the Japanese Government. Therefore, they have access to the government's sake yeast bank, sourcing pure strains of traditional sake yeast. With several accolades, Kanpai is the first non-Japanese sake brewery to win a medal in the International Wine Challenge (IWC) Sake Division, gaining a Bronze in 2019.
Tom and Lucy have taken their inspiration from craft beer and spirits, so are keen to experiment with their styles. With a core range, they also produce limited one-off sakes, varying the ingredients each time. Strict laws in Japan govern what is allowed to be called sake, but Kanpai is all about experimentation and using innovative ingredients. This means they can create a sparkling sake dry-hopped with Mosaic hops or infuse a Junmai Sake with watermelon. "We're in a unique position", explains Tom. "All of our techniques and processes are based on very traditional methods of making sake and traditional styles. However, we can put a contemporary twist on this and draw from other influences around us."
"Sake is brewed like a beer, enjoyed like a wine"
For Tom and Lucy, experimentation is crucial to their philosophy. "First and foremost we are an experimental brewery", adds Tom. "We were born out of the back of experiments. So we like to keep that continuing throughout what we do. We have our core range sakes, we have our limited runs, but for anything to get to that point, they've been through at least six rounds of experiments! So for us it's important to be continually flushing the brewery with new ideas, drawing on other influences from around the world and the alcohol industry."
Sake's umami character makes it incredibly versatile with food, not just Japanese cuisine. This is something Tom and Lucy are keen to express throughout their range of sakes. So, they produce fuller bodied flavours to match different types of food, including Sunday roasts and spicy food. "We trying to change the hearts and minds of people to maybe trade that bottle of wine for a bottle of Sake … It's meant to be with food."
Unlike craft beer, which typically takes 7-10 days for the primary ferment, Kanpai Sake takes 45 days or longer at a low temperature. The process begins in a mini stainless steel tank. Tom builds a starter batch of sake, Moto, from all the yeast mixed with small amounts of freshly steamed rice, koji rice and water. This typically takes about 14 days and is then pitched into the main fermentation tank. Then small amounts of the remaining ingredients are gradually added in stages over a four-day period to propagate the yeast colony. It takes around 10-15 days for the Koji rice to break down the sugars and start to build alcohol.
Kanpai uses two 1100L and two 500L main fermentation tanks. The press, pasteuriser and steamer were custom-made in the UK.
Following fermentation, the sake is pressed out in a Fune and typically bottled straight after filtration. Once it's been sealed and pasteurised, the sake matures in bottle for over three months, before it's ready for release.
All Kanpai sakes are natural, low intervention styles that use traditional Japanese Sake yeast, not hybrid varieties. They are filtered through cotton, not charcoal, to remove sediment, are sulphite-free and vegan, while no fortified spirit is added.
Kanpai's core range comprises the classic Junmai Sumi, the cloudy Nigori Kumo and the dry-hopped sparkling sake Fizu. These are available through Amathus Drinks, as well as at the brewery, online and in selected restaurants, bars and retail outlets. MIRU will also be distributed by Amathus.