IWC Announces 2023 Sake Champions 

On the 4th of July in London, the International Wine Challenge (IWC) announced its three biggest sake award winners, including the IWC 2023 Champion Sake, this year’s overall winner. 

This year, for the first time since the pandemic and its associated travel restrictions, the world’s 65 most respected sake experts gathered from 15 countries and judged a staggering 1,601 sake entries under strict blind-tasting measures and multiple group examinations. 

The IWC sake competition has nine categories; Futsu-shu, Honjozo, Ginjo, Daiginjo, Junmai, Junmai Ginjo, Junmai Daiginjo, Koshu and Sparkling sake. The results were announced progressively over three months. The medal winners and trophy winners were announced in April and May, and the overall winners of the competition were announced on the 4th of July at the IWC Awards Dinner at the Hurlingham Club in London, attended by the finalists, judges and world press. Ten sake makers flew from Japan to receive their awards and trophies this year.  

The winners of the three IWC Sake awards, the IWC Champion Sake, the IWC Champion Great Value Sake, and the Sake Brewer of the Year were as follows: 

IWC Champion Sake 2023 

Sponsored by Kyosei Bank for the first time, the 2023 IWC Champion Sake (regarded as the most influential award and known as The Oscarof the sake industry) went to: 

16th Kurouemon Junmai Ginjo Miyamanishiki by Yukawa Sake Brewery Co., Ltd from Nagano Prefecture.  

This is the second championship victory for Nagano prefecture since 2021. This Junmai Ginjo sake stood out for IWC judges, and was noted as a versatile, classic sake with refreshing acidity, and fine aroma of rice pudding, peach, and fresh nuts. It has a soft texture and will make a great food companion’. 

Founded in 1650, Yukawa sake brewery is located in the village of Kiso at 936 meters above sea level, and is said to be a brewery between the stars and heaven. The 16th generation current family owner, Naoko Yugawa, and her team won this champion sake title with their signature sake using locally grown Miyamanishiki sake rice and bountiful water derived from the Kiso River. Nagano sake obtained GI (Geographical Indication) status in 2021 to guarantee their brand globally. 

When the Champion was announced, executive director Mr Shinichi Yugawa who serves as Toji (brew master) received the award on stage. 

The finalists for the Champion sake in each category were; 

  • Futsu-shu Trophy winner

Kiku-Masamune Shiboritate Gin-Pack by Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewing Co.,Ltd (Hyogo prefecture) 

  • Honjozo Trophy winner

Atagonomatsu Senretsu Karakuchi by Niizawa Sake Brewery Co.,Ltd. (Miyagi prefecture) 

  • Junmai Trophy winner

Atagonomatsu Tokubetsu Junmai by Niizawa Sake Brewery Co.,Ltd (Miyagi prefecture) 

  • Daiginjo Trophy winner

Yoakemae Daiginjo by Ono Shuzo-ten Co.,Ltd (Nagano prefecture) 

  • Junmai Ginjo Trophy winner

16th Kuroemon Junmai Ginjo Miyamanishiki by Yukawa Sake Brewery Co.,Ltd (Nagano prefecture) 

  • Junmai Daiginjo Trophy winner

Hiwata Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo by Hagino Shuzo Co.,Ltd. by Hagino Shuzo Co.,Ltd. (Miyagi prefecture) 

  • Koshu Trophy winner

Hanahato Kijoshu Aged for 8 years by Enoki Shuzo Co.,Ltd (Hiroshima prefecture) 

  • Sparkling Sake Trophy winner

Chikuha Binnai Koh Hakko Junmai-shu by Kazuma Sake Brewery Co.,Ltd. (Isikawa prefecture) 

IWC Champion Great Value Sake 2023 

This award, sponsored by the Sake Samurai Association (the Chairman Mr. Kazuhiro Maegaki) went to the best quality sake available at the most reasonable price. To qualify for a Great Value Award, entries must receive a Gold or Silver medal at the competition, have a minimum production volume of 100,000 bottles and be available nationwide for less than 1,200 Yen (approximately £7) for a 720 ml regular bottle size. 

This year, the Champion Great Value Sake Award was won by Kiku-Masamune Shiboritate Gin-Pack of Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewing Co.,Ltd from Hyogo prefecture for the second time since 2019. This sake presents a light and fruity style with delicate notes of white flowers and apples. It is well-balanced, clean, sweet, and long on the finish. Kiku-Masamune was founded in 1659 in Nada, at the heart of largest sake brewing district in Japan and has a longstanding reputation as a household brand throughout the country.  

IWC Sake Brewer of the Year 2023 

Finally, sponsored by Gurunavi (Shanhai) Inc, the highly coveted IWC Sake Brewer of the Year award was announced. This award is equivalent of the Winemaker of the Year award and is awarded to the brewer with the highest consistency of results across their entries. The award went to: Niizawa Sake Brewery Co. Ltd from Miyagi Prefecture for the second consecutive year.  

This year, Niizawa Sake Brewery has not only repeated its success as sake brewer but has also set a new record for the award by winning 2 category Trophies, 3 regional trophies, 10 gold medals, 17 silver medals, 8 bronze medals and 11 commended medals. 

Niizawa Sake Brewery in Miyagi is known for its hugely innovative and challenging approach to sake making such as the appointment of the youngest 22-year-old female Toji (brew master), Miss Nanami Watanabe. At the award dinner, Miss Watanabe collected the award on the stage. The brewery was destroyed completely by the Tohoku Tsunami disaster in 2011 and Mr Iwao Niizawa and his team rebuilt a brewery from a scratch in a new area with their pioneering spirits.