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September 29th, 2012 at 11:12 am

How Big Are They?

A little while back I realized that I have no idea what the relative size of the US Sake brewers are. How do they compare with the Japanese brewers? While I regularly see production information on particular Japanese brewers I have not seen it for non-Japanese brewers. Given this I started looking around to see what I could find. I searched around but found nothing. I sent notes to each of the breweries outside of Japan and waited to see if they would reply; three of them did reply but only one of them shared their production level: Masa Shiroki, owner of Artisan Sake Maker of Vancouver BC.

I check distribution channels and was pointed to SakeOne. Steve Vuylsteke, SakeOne’s president was very gracious and shared some of his time with me. They do their best to track the industry but the data he shared are only estimates. However, this is exactly the data I was looking for when I began my search. I was just trying to understand the relative size of the US breweries. I have only visited my local Kura, SakeOne, so I had not been able to get a sense for the size differences.

US Sake production by company

US Sake production by company

What you don’t see in this chart are the smaller non-Japanese brewers. For North America this includes: Moto-i, Texas Sake both in the US, Artisan Sake Maker and Nipro both in the Vancouver BC area, with Spring Water Sake of Toronto rounding out the Canadians and finally Nogne0 of Norway and Go-Shu of Australia.

I find this very interesting. My local reference point, SakeOne, while not tiny is the smallest of the US Kura that have been around for a while (more than 5 years). The next largest, Yaegaki has about 4 times the production levels of SakeOne, Ozeki has almost 5 times as much, Gekkeikan USA almost 7 times as much and Takara more than 13 times as much as SakeOne. The only other non-Japanese brewer I have data for is the Artisan Sake Maker which comes on the board at just over 1% of SakeOne’s production level with 9,000 liters. Yoed Anis, the owner and Toji of Texas Sake, while not wanting to give their production numbers guest that they might be around the same size or a little larger than Spring Water.

Together the US Kura produce about 20 million liters of sake. Compare that to the amount of wine produced in the US, about 2,500 million liters; that’s less than 1%. But how does this compare with Japanese kura and production? Well, the two largest Japanese sake producers are Hakutsuru and Gekkeikan.

Top Japanese sake production by company

Top Japanese sake production by company

As you can see from this chart, the top two producing Japanese kura produce quite a bit more than their American counter parts. They each come in at more than 7 times the size of the largest American kura, Takara. As compare to my reference point, SakeOne, Hakutsuru produces a little more than 100 times as much while Gekkeikan is just a little bit less than 100 times as much. However, while these guys are big they give a distorted image of the average size of a Japanese kura.

John Gauntner provided me with all the data on the Japanese kura including a distribution of kura to production levels. As we can see from the chart below, more than 60% of all Japanese kura produce less than 100,000 liters of sake. So, from this we also see that SakeOne has a higher production level than 90% of all Japanese kura. Said another way, SakeOne would rank in the top 10% of sake producers worldwide. Takara USA ranks in the top 1% worldwide.

Sake production distribution

Sake production distribution

Sake production from all US kura is about 20,000 kiloliters. We supplement that with around 7,000 kiloliters of import sake. These imports represent only 0.6% of Japan’s sake production. About 3,600 kiloliters consumed in the US, 13.3%, both domestic and import, is premium sake.

Production data

Production data

What fraction of import sake is premium sake? What fraction of US produced sake is premium? For me, these are still open questions.

Have a wonderful Nihonshu no hi (Sake Day) October 1!

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  • Ben Bell
    6:44 am on October 16th, 2012 1

    Nice stats! Given how few players there are in N. America, I’m not surprised that the big producers are quite big. The 0.6% stat is interesting as well. What will be the main type of sake that drives that number up? I suspect it will not be $30 ginjo-shu but imported bag-in-box sake and possibly cup sake. Anything that has potential for everyday consumption.

    For drinks professionals it may not be very sexy to get out there and promote inexpensive imported sake, but I believe that will have the greatest impact for accelerating growth.

  • Humbert
    9:59 am on August 6th, 2015 2

    this data from which year is?

  • Will
    6:27 pm on August 6th, 2015 3

    This was the most recent current data I could get at the time of the article; that was in September 2012.

  • Humbert
    5:43 am on August 17th, 2015 4



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