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Your Shout •
Most Kiwi blokes are happy with a cold beer, but Queenstown
adventurer Craig McLachlan is best known for his love of good
Japanese sake. He and his two Japanese guided hiking business
partners have teamed up with Japanese hotelier Yoshi Kawamura,
of The George and Hotel Montreal in Christchurch, to launch New
Zealand’s first sake brewery in Queenstown. Yoshi, who splits his
time between Tokyo and Christchurch, owns a sake brewery in
Vancouver and serves on the Japan New Zealand Business Council.
Best known for climbing the Hyakumeizan, Japan’s 100 Famous
Mountains, in 78 days, Craig is also an accomplished travel writer,
writing Lonely Planet Guides for more than 15 years. He met his
Japanese wife, Yuriko, in 1988, after a stint studying karate and
teaching English in Japan.
Between them the four Zenkuro Sake Brewery partners, who’ve
all spent many years in Japan, have done “30 years of research”
drinking sake, grins Craig. Since December, last year, they’ve
been turning out a high-quality junmai-shu product.
WHY DID YOU AND YOUR PARTNERS LAUNCH ZENKURO SAKE
BREWERY AND WHY IN QUEENSTOWN?
Sake is becoming a trendy drink around the world with sake
bars opening up in cities like New York, San Francisco, London
and Paris, and it’s also now being made all around the world.
It seemed like a no-brainer – we’ve all been drinking sake for
years, so what better place to make it than our hometown of
Queenstown! The 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympics will
be in Japan, so we see it as a great opportunity.
WHAT’S BEEN THE MARKET RESPONSE SO FAR?
Everybody is interested, because it’s a first for New Zealand. In
our first month of trading we were supplying four local Japanese
restaurants. There’s interest from Kiwis, some who haven’t even
tried sake before, from Japanese living here, and from owners
of souvenir shops wanting to sell it to Japanese visitors to take
home to Japan. We can’t make the stuff fast enough, which is the
biggest problem we’ve run into – demand is exceeding supply.
WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT ZENKURO SAKE?
We’re making hand-crafted junmai-shu, a sake made from
special Californian sake rice polished down to 70 per cent of its
original size, leaving only the best ingredients. We add time-
tested, sake-making methods from Japan, some pure Southern
Alps mountain water and we’ve got a quality product that sake-
lovers are finding highly drinkable. We use pure mountain water
to dilute the sake down to the desired alcohol level.
WHAT DOES YOUR BRAND NAME ZENKURO MEAN AND HOW
DID YOU COME UP WITH IT?
The character zen means ‘all’ or ‘entirely’, while the character
kuro means ‘black’ – a combination that we thought embodied the
image of New Zealand in Japan really well. We came up with it
during a brain-storming session with a couple of bottles of sake!
It seemed like a great fit.
WHAT MAKES GOOD SAKE AND WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO
The best sake is made from special sake rice polished down to 70
percent, or less, of its original size, and is served chilled. It goes
well with everything from fine cuisine to whatever comes straight
off the barbeque. Best of all, you won’t get a hangover from good
quality premium sake. Sake has a lot less acid than wine too, so
it’s much easier on the stomach.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF JAPANESE SAKE AND
HOW SACRED IS SAKE TO THE JAPANESE?
Sake is something uniquely Japanese that Japanese people
are extremely proud of and have been drinking for centuries.
It’s intrinsically linked to Shinto, Japan’s native religion, and
is consumed at ceremonies and festivals throughout the year.
Japanese are extremely proud that foods such as sushi, tempura
and ramen have become popular worldwide, and equally, there is
pride that sake is becoming popular too.
WHAT’S BEEN THE BIGGEST SURPRISE ABOUT HOW RAPIDLY
THIS NEW VENTURE HAS TAKEN OFF?
How positive Japanese people have been about it. Making sake
has been a bit of a ‘closed shop’ in Japan for years, but now it
is seen as possibly becoming like sushi, a Japanese food that
is consumed all around the world. There’s a positivity from
everyone we talk to. It’s very encouraging. We were even invited
to the World Sake Competition in Japan this coming May, but
decided that Dave Joll, our brewer, should head along as an
observer this year – with the idea of possibly entering next year.
Dave has spent a fair bit of time training in Japan and Canada.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS FOR EXPANSION
OR TASTING ROOMS?
Yes, a couple of years down the track, it would be fun to have a
Zenkuro Bar in Queenstown, serving our own product. At this
stage however, the biggest thing to focus on is to make increasing
quantities of a quality product, without losing that quality. n
– Craig McLachlan
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