TOO OFTEN, SAKÉ COMES AWKWARDLY DRESSED IN A DRAB BOTTLING that does no justice to the smooth and ripe Japanese rice wine.
“You’re never going to be a premium brand if the packaging is not attractive, and frankly I think that’s a bit of the problem with saké. Because it’s photo-sensitive, it often comes in green or brown bottles that are not particularly attractive,” says David Innerdale, co-founder of Four Fox Sake. It’s why Innerdale, together with business partner Neil Hosie, brought Vancouver-based Carter Hales Design Lab on board to design the bottle for their premium junmai daiginjo.
It’s a far cry from the muddy brown or murky green shades you’ll see on the shelves.
The delicate glass bottle is draped in a silvery chrome sheath that not only looks good, but also protects the saké from that dreaded light exposure. An embossed Katana Samurai sword surrounded by four foxes protecting a shrine gate forms a bottle crest that alludes to Japanese shinto mythology. An LED light is fixed just behind said crest for dramatic effect, particularly in a club setting.
“It’s a solidly upper-end, very high-quality product but it remains accessible,” says Innerdale.
The idea to launch their own saké brand started from a beachside campfire in Amanpulo Resort, Philippines. The two senior bankers recall opening a bottle of saké — the last alcoholic beverage in their stash — and starting a conversation on how saké was never a go-to drink, even at a Japanese restaurant.
“At the time, particularly in Hong Kong, Japanese whisky was going crazy, it was sold out everywhere,” says Hosie. “This started a conversation on how saké is a beautifully crafted product, why it has not taken off, and where would you drink it?”
The two bankers roped in former colleague Tsubasa Nishitani, whose bilingual abilities proved handy when the team found themselves cold-calling all of 96 saké producers around Niigata prefecture on the northwest coast of Honshu.
“From the start we realised we would need a bit of an edge, so we thought about using snow for the saké to make it as pure as possible,” says Hosie, explaining their focus on a part of Japan renowned for producing sake with snow.
Four Fox Sake also uses the highly–milled gohyakumangoku rice, earning the label the highest official grade of Junmai Daiginjo.
“While it’s a glamorous bottle and the intent was to have something for high-end bars, the hope is that once people drink Four Fox, they’ll realise sake is not what they thought,” says Hosie. The silky Japanese rice wine can, in fact, look as good as it tastes.
Hosie remains cautiously optimistic. “First they have to drink it; once they do, then we think they will become repeat customers.”