How does a brewery choose a product name? How do Japanese names get translated into English? These are all questions I found myself pondering as I continued my journey into the world of sake. As an American, myself and others like me are familiar with the tip of the iceberg; the bottle of sake or shochu that we purchase and enjoy. If you peel back the cover, you’d begin to realize that each brewery is rich in tradition and has a story that teaches the history of the brand. Factors including region, marketing, and passion also play major roles in deciding how different sakes and shochus are named.
To learn more, I connected with Sakeman, an importer nice enough to provide beautiful anecdotes from the breweries back in Japan. Starting off, we have Kaori Tsuru which is brewed by the Yamagata Honten in the Chugoku region of Honshu. Kaori is the original brand from Yamagata Honten and it translates directly to “beautiful aroma.” This particular sake is very fragrant, and additionally it was the first cold sake! In the rice fields where Yamagata Honten grow their sake rice, cranes visit and use the grounds for nesting. Mr. Yamagata, Chairman and President of the brewery, noticed that the crane’s numbers were dwindling and wanted to help. For each bottle of Kaori Tsuru sold, a portion of the sales is donated to the conservation efforts of these cranes or Tsuru in Japanese.
Ken sake is brewed by the Suehiro Brewery, is located in Aizu, Fukushima and famous for its abundance of samurai history. It was the same area where the last battle of the samurai took place, as shown in the movie “The Last Samurai”. Ken means sword in Japanese, and this sake represents that. Both clean and beautiful, this particular sake has a sharp finish.
Last but not least, the ever popular Kuroushi Omachi, a product of Nate Shuzo Honten in the Wakayama Prefecture. “Kuroushi” translates to “black bull,” the prominent image used on the bottle’s packaging. The black bull gets its name from a rock structure that was used by sailors to safely navigate themselves to the port near the brewery in Wakayama. This structure was described as a “huge, black bull” but due to erosion, the “bull” is no longer there. We now say that “Kuroushi” safely navigates people towards delicious sake!
After indulging in these wonderful stories, it became evident that a brewery can name a product for any number of reasons, but they usually relate to geographic, cultural, and familial factors. If you find these stories interesting and want to learn more about how brews are named and dive further into the inner workings of the sake industry, visit @gosakeman. Their team of enthusiastic and knowledgeable sake superheroes are true sake professionals!