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Among those who love to travel to Japan, Fukui Prefecture is renowned for Echizen crab, eyeglasses and Born sake. Indeed, Born is also famous among locals, and the fact that it was chosen for serving at the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Showa is a solid stamp of endorsement. It can now be found in more than 100 countries around the world and even in Japanese embassies. Born is a story of how a brand from Sabae city become world-famous.
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“Born” is a meaningful name, representing “purity” and “telling the truth” in Sanskrit, while the Japanese pronunciation of the brand name coincides with its English name “Born” and has the meaning of “birth”.
Initially operating as a money exchange business a few hundred years ago, and as a bank nowadays, Katoukichibee Shouten would also receive rice from farmers as rent for their manor and farmland. With the aim of better using the rice it regularly received from the farmers, the sixth-generation owner decided to start the sake brewing business in 1860. From before the Second World War, the brand “Koshinoi” was used to represent its traditionally crafted sake, and only the highest-quality sake would use the name “Born”. It was only in 1963 (Showa 38) that the brewery streamlined all brands as “Born”, and then ventured out into the world.
The 11th-generation owner, President Atsuhide Kato, wishes to incite a feeling of “new birth” among the customers when they take a sip of Born sake, followed by an aspiration for a bright future. The brand name in Japanese has the same pronunciation as “Born” in English, and means birth. It also sounds similar to the French word “Bon”, which means “good”, echoing the brewery’s relentless pursuit of quality.
When Born made its appearance at the enthronement of Emperor Showa, it was the first time in history that a sake not from the Kinki region had been served at an enthronement ceremony. Since then, Born has always been on the list of sakes available at official Imperial Court events. The need to maintain its premium quality is, therefore, of utmost importance.
In addition to using subsoil water from 180m deep from the Hakusan mountain range and 100% local Japanese sake rice, Born has also introduced modern technology into its traditional brewing method, resulting in consistency in the quality of its sakes. The average polishing ratio of its sake rice is as low as 37%, leaving only the purest “shinpaku” (the core of the grain) for sake brewing. Born has its own sake rice milling facility to ensure that the rice polishing ratio adheres to these stringent requirements. Moreover, Born’s sakes are all in the “junmai” pure rice style, aged for 1 to 10 years at 0°C to -10°C, elevating the fragrance to the fullest, with a smooth, round mouthfeel. All these explain the unfailing popularity of Born’s sakes over the years.
Born is located in Sabae city, which is world-famous for eyewear manufacturing. The brewery has made use of the unique eyeglass manufacturing technology to produce artificial rice, which is placed it at the bottom of rice steamers to prevent the bottom layer of sake rice from overheating. It is an original technology developed by Born.
Thanks to the dedication and hard work of generations of owners, Born has moved a step further, from being served at high-profile local occasions to appearing on the international stage.
From the late Taisho to early Showa periods (roughly equivalent to the period between the two World Wars), Born received gold medals for four consecutive years at a local sake competition. When Emperor Showa ascended the throne in 1928, Born sake was served. And in 1968, it was one of the first generations of breweries in Japan to commercialise daiginjo. On the international front, the brand’s signature Wing of Japan was served at a state dinner when the president of the United States Bill Clinton visited Japan in 1996, and as the toasting sake at the Japan-hosted 2002 FIFA World Cup welcome dinner. In 2007, it became the official sake served on board government aircraft used by the Japanese prime minister and overseas government officials. More than a domestic brand, Born sake can be found in Japanese embassies worldwide and available for sale in more than 100 countries.
The 11th-generation owner, President Atsuhide Kato, has played a huge part in making Born a brand as well-known to overseas customers as it is today. When he took over the brewery from his father, he made it clear that he would position Born as “a brand that goes beyond domestic sales”. He believes that production of sake relies on well-trained technique and in-depth market understanding. And for a brewery to grow and flourish, it must possess the ability to satisfy its customers. In order to achieve these qualities, besides his role as the President, Mr. Kato became a qualified toji (master brewer) and is well-versed in the brewing craft. When he was training his son to become his heir, he asked him to start from hands-on brewing, to learn about and excel in the various positions. Over the years, Born has insisted on using traditional brewing methods in to maintain the highest quality, which is its first and foremost principle of sake brewing.
President Kato’s commitment to promoting Japanese sake on the world stage can be seen from his presence at city'super sake fairs. He often comes to Hong Kong to interact with local customers. He has also developed a cloud-based monitoring system that allows him real-time access to information on the brewing process, like temperate changes inside the koji fermentation room and the ageing container, when he is overseas. The craft of sake brewing is now highly systematic, and he can therefore ensure consistent quality through data analysis, which also helps in staff training.
All Born products are junmai-styled, free of distilled alcohol and matured at an ice-cold temperature, resulting in a rich, fruity nose followed by a smooth, delicate body. The brand names its products according to their different characteristics, which can be enjoyed alone or on a variety of occasions, paired with various kinds of dishes. Below are four of its signature sakes:
The brewery produced this junmai daiginjo to thank Mother Earth for the “pure water”. The bottle has a champagne-like cork, which pops when it’s open, making it ideal for parties. The 500ml bottle is designed to be enjoyed with that special someone. Its colour is as transparent and pure as spring water. It’s best served cold, which brings out a banana and white peach aroma with a refreshing, crisp finish. It is best paired with red king crab.
Award-winning, world-renowned Wing of Japan is made with a mix of Yamada Nishiki under two polishing ratios. It lives up to its name as Wing of Japan by being served on Japanese government aircraft, heading around the world from Japan. It is aromatic with a hint of umami and features a full mouthfeel with delicate flavours. It pairs well with Japanese uni pasta.
“Masayume” means “dreams come true” in Japanese. The light golden yellow daiginjo is contained in a trophy-inspired bottle, and the 1-litre volume symbolises that people who work hard to realise their dreams all have something in common. Aged at the ice-cold temperature of -10°C for five years, this junmai daiginjo has a complex aroma profile with a silky mouthfeel. Pairing it with wagyu can accentuate the complexity of its aroma.
Matured for five years at a low temperature, this golden-yellow junmai ginjo has a rich fragrance from the ageing process, which makes it so attractive that one forgets about the passing of time, which is what its name “Tokishirazu” means. The junmai ginjo is best served warm at 30-40°C to bring out the umami of the sake rice. Its acidity profile can balance out the greasiness of dishes like grilled sanma with salt or pan-fried salmon.
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