Gekkeikan’s Dessert-like Sake Liqueurs Can Be Enjoyed Chilled or Warm

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ikumi Motomura, left, and Shunsuke Aoki of Gekkeikan Sake Co. in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, pose with liqueurs that they developed.

Chilled and warm, a series of sake-based liqueurs made by Gekkeikan Sake Co. is enjoying a rise in popularity. The warmed drinks are especially comforting in the cold season. Three flavors — baked apple, toasted caramel, and roasted almond — are currently on sale.

The “Atatametemo Oishii” (Tastes good even warm) liqueur series is attracting health-conscious people warming themselves for better health. The practice of drinking at home, which became more widespread in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, is also contributing to its popularity.

The liqueurs are intended to be served warm but can also be enjoyed chilled or at room temperature, the company says.

Attracting new people

Shipments of sake, Gekkeikan’s main product, in Japan have been on the decline, from a peak of 1.7 million kiloliters in 1973 to 400,000 kiloliters, in 2021.

To increase its source of revenue, the company has been producing liqueurs, which were initially intended to be served chilled or at room temperature and had yet to expand its customer base sufficiently.

A team including Ikumi Motomura from the company’s product planning department began developing a sake-based liqueur that tastes good chilled or warm, a great feature of sake, around the end of 2019. A liqueur is a mixed liquor consisting of one or more brewed or distilled spirits blended with fragrant compounds such as fruits, herbs and nuts.

When development began, “onkatsu” activities to increase body heat were drawing attention in the media. Young people were sharing on social media about the deliciousness of warm beverages such as hot lemonade and cocoa. The team saw this as a chance for success.

Unique ‘baked apple’ liqueur

The development process took time. It was particularly difficult to perfect the blend between the distinctive flavor of warm sake and the aroma of fruits.

“If the fruit’s acidity is too strong, it doesn’t fit our concept for the new product. But if it’s too weak, the flavor becomes too simple,” explains Shunsuke Aoki of Gekkeikan’s product development department. “We were grasping our way to develop a satisfactory product.”

The company launched the first three liqueurs of the series: Amakuchi (sweet) Lemon, along with the dry and sharp Lime Ginger, and the unique Yaki Ringo (baked apple) in the autumn of 2020.

Sales got off to a good start, dominating the top three in the sake category of several mass retailers. To the surprise of Motomura, Baked Apple, intended as the curveball of the three flavors, was the most popular. It seemed that the dessert flavor was welcomed as a new way to enjoy alcohol.

The development team thought that offering more varieties could attract more people who like sweet drinks. They researched what the best-selling sweets in convenience stores and restaurants are and made more than 100 different flavor samples, including sweet potato and Mont Blanc cake.

Aoki revised part of the lineup’s alcohol content. The Roasted Almond flavor that launched in autumn contains 10% alcohol, lower than the conventional 13 % to make the sake flavor subtler, so that the aroma and sweetness of the roasted nuts can be sensed from the first sip to the lingering aftertaste.

Various combinations

After a partial revamp in autumn last year, the current lineup is baked apple, toasted caramel, and roasted almond.

The company provides recipes using the liqueurs on its website and elsewhere. For example, they recommend mixing milk with the roasted almond flavor at a ratio of two to one to enhance the almond flavor. In response, people who tried their recipes posted reviews on social media.

People have also shared their own ways of enjoying the product besides just drinking it. “Using it [Toasted Caramel] as sauce for ice cream brings out the caramel flavor and tastes good,” one user expressed.

Motomura and Aoki are enthusiastic about “staying on track with changing consumer tastes and trends and offering attractive products that are both fun and comforting.”

The alcohol content for the “Atatametemo Oishii” liqueurs is 13%, excluding Roasted Almond. A 720-milliliter bottle costs ¥1,188 and can be found at mass retailers and Gekkeikan’s online shop.