Sake Kontor

Peggy Schatz explores Berlin’s premier sake shop…

In the mouse-grey surroundings of the Ostkreuz train station lies a lit-up splash of colour where the first shop in Europe for premium Japanese sake recently opened its gates.

You might be asking yourself why such an exclusive business didn’t set up shop in Mitte. Probably partly to do with the more affordable rents in this area, but the main reason is simply that there’s more space for storage and office spaces required by the online-shop.

The impressive showroom serves additionally as a place for lovers of premium sake to pick up the wares they’ve ordered online, to taste-test and even partake in some training.

The story goes that Susanne Rost, the business owner of Sake Kontor Berlin, fell in love with a Japanese man, his homeland, and sake—in that order. On her first trip to Japan with her husband Mitsuyoshi (who teaches Japanese martial arts in Berlin) a friend offered her a drink in a wine glass.

“It was a clear liquid, looked very pure and had a subtle aroma of fruit and flowers,” she recalls. “I took a sip and was completely fascinated by the beautifully soft and smooth texture and the pure, fresh taste and aroma. It was a glass of sake of the highest quality (Daiginjo). I could hardly believe that something so fine could be made with just water and rice.”

That was back in 2004. Although she already had a career, Rost could not forget the experience. Noting there were few high quality sakes available in Germany and that knowledge about sake was also sparse Susanne started with the online shop, selling only premium sake. Sake Kontor was born.

At first the sales were run through other importers, but by 2006 were coming directly from Japan. The main deliverer today is the Akashi Sake Brewery, whose sake is still only available in Germany through Rost’s store.

There was training involved too—specifically, a intensive two-year training course with John Gauntner, an American living in Japan who teaches in English.

For sake is a complex thing. Made out of special rice (sakamai, whose grains are bigger than those of cooking rice), the outer layers of the grain that negatively influence the taste are polished away, leaving the center, which is concentrated with starch.

The ‘polishing percentage’ is the percentage of grain that remains after polishing. The smaller the percentage, the finer the sake. One differentiates between standard sake (Futsushu), which may have alcohol added to it, and premium sake, which has a higher value.

There are six different types of premium sake—Junmai, Honjozo, Ginjo, Junmai Ginjo, Daiginjo, Junmai Daiginjo—the quality of which can be measured according to polishing percentage, additional alcohol and method of fermentation.

Today, Susanne runs introductory courses for people working in the hospitality industry. “I’m always available as a point of contact,” she says. ‘There are basics to get across. For example, the different levels of quality and the way that premium, Japanese sake is produced. We also offer samplings for customers.”

In the open, friendly ambience of Sake Kontor the grains of rice are strung up together according to type. The room is lined with Asian kiri wood, whose characteristics (light-weight, breathability) add to the room in a wonderful way. Every detail fits. The small handwritten boards describing the sakes, the clear lines, the lighting. The labels on the artworks, which are partly calligraphic masterworks.

The space at the windows is also lovely. The undecided can sit here and familiarise themselves with Susanne’s own book Sake. Das Getränk der Götter (Sake. Drink of the Gods) or sample different types in peace. Never has shopping for alcohol felt so Zen.

For more info, check out the shop’s website

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