The Sake Samurai: Meet Yukino Ochiai

In Australia, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more knowledgeable or passionate about sake than Yukino Ochiai. The Kikisake-shi, or Master of Sake, has dedicated her life and career to educating us about Japan’s iconic drink. In 2017, she was recognised for her tireless work by the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association, bestowed with the revered title of Sake Samurai.

explore DRINKS spoke with Yukino recently about her sake import business, the Déjà Vu Sake Company, how she felt receiving her new title and how best to start experimenting with the rice-based beverage.

explore Drinks: How did your career with sake start?

Yukino Ochiai: It began in 2011 when we first set about establishing Déjà Vu Sake Co. I had worked in the Australian wine industry for a long time and enjoyed seeing international people enjoy our wine. Now I get to see the big smiles on Australians’ faces when they experience sake, which makes me extremely happy.

eD: How did you come to live in Australia and how do you hope Déjà Vu Sake Co. is helping to spread the word about sake?

YO: I migrated to Sydney from Japan with my parents in 1987. In terms of the business, we like to think that we’re influencing the market to move closer to sake through our activities, such as sake education and marketing/PR sessions.

eD: What does it mean to be a Sake Samurai and how were you awarded the title?

YO: Being awarded the title of Sake Samurai was a very special experience and I feel very honoured. It is a title bestowed by the Japan Sake and Shochu Association and is a huge recognition as they choose only six people per year to give this title to. There are only 70 recognised as Sake Samurais in the world.

The title is given to someone who has promoted Japanese sake and the culture. With this title, I have the opportunity to better promote the drink and educate Australians on how to taste sake.

eD: Are there many women within the sake industry and are you seeing this number grow?

YO: Yes, there are more women starting to involve themselves in the industry in many aspects. It’s wonderful to work together to keep this traditional industry alive, hopefully for a long time.

eD: For someone looking to try sake for the first time, what tips would you give?

YO: If you like aromatic and light bodied white wines, then I would recommend trying daiginjo or ginjo. If you like a drier style of wine, then futsushu is a good place to start. If you like body and depth to your wines, then you might prefer junmai sake.

The price of sake is a great indication of the work that has gone into its production. Around $35-50 at retail is a good price point to explore.

Opened bottles of sake can be stored in the fridge for up to 10 days or more with the cap screwed back on, so you can enjoy your sake a few times if you cannot finish the bottle all at once!

eD: How is sake best served?

YO: If your sake is aromatic, then around 15 degrees Celsius is the perfect temperature. Serve it in a normal wine glass to enjoy its aroma.

If your sake is junmai or has body to it, then warm it to around 45 degrees. Use either a sake vessel, called tokkuri, or a narrow coffee cup to bath the sake in water at approximately 80 degrees Celsius. Wait for five to ten minutes, and you’ll have a nice, warm sake! Do not heat the sake itself, or you will lose its aroma.

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