MEXICO CITY – Mexicans know mezcal, tequila, rum, pulque and a host of other alcoholic beverages. But one Mexican company is on a mission to bring a new drink to palates across the country: sake.
Ultramarino distributes premium sake imports from five Japanese sake houses and NAMI, the first sake made in Mexico, in Culiacán, Sonora.
Ultramarino’s launch in the Juárez neighborhood of Mexico City on August 13th treated restaurant owners to a tasting of more than 20 varieties of sakes. The event, hosted at the historic courtyard of Proyecto Público Prim, featured the six sake houses and small plates from two Mexico City restaurants, demonstrating how to seamlessly integrate sake to Mexican gastronomy. Ultramarino General Director, Carlos Espinoza Pablos, says Ultramarino was born, “from a series of visits to Japan, and a love for Japanese culture.”
Espinosa says, “Sake doesn’t have appellation of origin, and the culture is really about sharing. We thought it was perfect to bring to Mexico.”
While sake is available in many Japanese restaurants in Mexico, its market penetration is low and few consumers are familiar with the wide variety of sakes available. For sake to grow in the Mexican market, producers and distributors will have to overcome several myths. While many people assume that sake is very strong, in fact it usually has about 15 percent alcohol content, and a particularly strong sake hits 30 percent. Compare this to mezcal, wildly popular in Mexican fine dining today, which is at least 40 percent alcohol content.
Many people also think of sake as a drink that can only be paired with Japanese food. Ultramarino is out to prove to consumers that sake is delicious with all kinds of cuisine. Baja Californian fish dishes are particularly well-suited for sake, but so are meat and vegetable dishes. Rokai, a Japanese restaurant in Cuaúhtemoc, served chicken, beef, calamari and beet skewers, and Campobaja, located in Roma Norte, had an eye-catching spread of tuna tostadas, oysters and sea urchin.
NAMI’s signature sake was showcased in two different cocktails at the launch. One was a crisp and slightly-sweet cocktail with Chartreuse liqueur, basil, lime and sake, which can be paired with fish and ceviches. The second cocktail was a “dessert drink” with a tea reduction, a milk mix and sake.
Fernando Morales, Director of Sales, explained that NAMI has been in operation for two years and currently produces about 1,200 liters of sake per month. Their Junmai sake is semi-dry and fermented with rice that is 55 percent polished. Rice used for sake has to be polished before fermentation begins, and sakes with more-polished rice tend to be cleaner and more refined. Jumai can be up to 70 percent polished, whereas Ginjo sake is up to 60 percent and Daijingo is up to 50 percent.
The sake production process, much like mezcal, has been refined over centuries and the slight variations in the type of rice, the polishing and the yeast, result in different flavors, scents and dryness.
Ultramarino imports from five Japanese sake houses, in the center, north and south of the country. They currently sell to some of the best-reviewed restaurants in Mexico, such as Pujol in Polanco, and with NAMI seek to expand to mid-market restaurants.
Mexico has several rice-producing regions, and Espinoza explains that while sake is fermented from specific rice varieties, there are no climatic barriers to producing it in Mexico. They have imported these varieties to grow in Mexico and when comparing NAMI to sakes produced in Japan, he says, “All that changes is the zip code.”
While mezcal has dominated the drink market in Mexico City of late, don’t be surprised if you start to see sake popping up in more bars and restaurants. To be prepared to order the perfect sake, study up on Jumai, Ginjo and Daijingo and houses such as Akita, Kozaemon and Hinomaru, and you won’t be disappointed.
Order from Ultramarino online, with free shipping throughout all of Mexico.