Couple start sake brewery in the land of whisky

Japanese sake made in the UK
When you talk about alcohol in the UK, beer or whisky come to mind, but a sake
brewery has just been set up there. A young London couple who fell in love with local sake while travelling in Japan are determined to “tell everyone about it”. They’re aiming to break into the market with the UK’s first ever “domestically-brewed Japanese sake”.

Peckham is a residential area a few kilometres south-east of central London. The KANPAI brewery is on a road full of warehouses in space rented from an entrepreneur. 500 litre tanks are lined up inside a 20 m2 room. “We're experimenting with rice and yeast to see what combinations yield what flavours.” Tom Wilson (32) and his wife Lucy Holmes (29) both look at the tanks with expectant faces.

The pair visited Kyoto, Kanazawa and Hida Takayama on a trip to Japan three years ago, and fell in love with the local flavours through visits to sake breweries. They started brewing at home, and shared the results with friends, but were seized with the desire to spread the word about how wonderful sake is.

Mr Wilson went to Kyoto in February of this year. He learned about brewing from a major sake producer, and the couple started brewing after he returned to London. They import rice and koji, and use local tap water. The hard water encourages fermentation, so they had to get creative in controlling the rate of fermentation, including keeping the tanks at low temperature.


Tom Wilson (left) and Lucy Holmes holding their own junmai and nigori sake, London, July (Kyodo)

Tom Wilson (left) and Lucy Holmes holding their own junmai and nigori sake, London, July (Kyodo)

Both work full time and spend their evenings and weekends brewing. They started sales of a total of 800 bottles of junmai and nigori in June. (330 ml bottle for £15, about 2,200 yen)

The sake is currently only stocked by a small number of department stores and off-
licences, with most still waiting to be shipped but they are keen to “have it taken up by restaurants and bars as well”. Last year’s exports of Japanese sake reached a new high for the seventh year in a row. The USA and Asia account for 80% of exports. The UK is the biggest market in Europe, but still accounts for only 2% of the total. The couple are aiming for a substantial flavour to make it “a sake that will even go with roast beef”. Mr Wilson is full of hope that “One day you’ll be able to drink it down the pub like any other drink”.
(London, Kyodo)