Nestlé Japan kicked off celebrations for the upcoming nationwide release of their luxury Ume Sake KitKat at the opening of a special limited-time-only ‘KitKat bar,’ produced by former soccer star Hidetoshi Nakata, in Tokyo on Thursday.
The CRAFT SAKE WEEK @ KITKAT BAR, located in the CITAN hostel in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district, gives visitors another early taste of the plum-wine Ume Sake KitKat (KITKAT Umeshu Tsuru-Ume), which will go on sale nationwide from September 18, after prototypes of the new flavor were given a first airing at the Craft Sake Week held at Roppongi Hills in April.
To create the new KitKat Nestlé teamed up once again with Nakata, after the pair enjoyed success with the 2016 release of the Japan Sake KitKat which employed a variety of sake produced in Toyama Prefecture, western Japan.
This time around Nakata, who since retirement has gone on to become something of a sake connoisseur, turned his eyes further south, to Wakayama Prefecture, a major production region of Japanese plums and home to the Heiwa Shuzou brewery who he approached about the project.
“Nakata-san already knew us well through umeshu. He visited our brewery many times.” said Norimasa Yamamoto, the brewery’s Representative Executive Director during the opening of the bar.
Since hanging up his boots in 2006 Nakata has visited some 350 sake breweries around Japan, acquiring an exhaustive knowledge of Japanese liquor in the process.
Yamamoto recalled that it was one or two years after retirement when Nakata first visited Heiwa-Shuzou during his travels in region. The former Serie A star contacted the brewery about a week before but Yamamoto wondered if he really would come.
“Nakata-san, if you had to say, doesn’t really appear in front of the media. He has a kind of mysterious image so we wondered what kind of person he was. He was really easy to talk to though. But he’s a really committed person with clear opinions about what’s good and what’s not so good. Even when he drank our own sake, if it was delicious, he would say so, but if he thought it wasn’t, there would be a silence.”
After the nihonshu KitKat proved to be popular Nestlé and Nakata had talked about wanting to make the next version.
“During those talks they recognized that foreigners like to drink umeshu so they decided to go with that. Once they made that decision, Nakata approached us.” recalls Yamamoto.
In fact, with the export value of Japanese liquors such as plum wine having more than doubled over the last six years, and the Wakayama region boasting a rich history of umeshu production (Wakayama Prefecture is home to around half of Japan’s plum-growing areas) the decision to team up with Heiwa Shuzou seems to be have been a clear one for Nakata.
Despite the rich history and tradition behind Japanese sake seeming to offer a stark contrast to the pop-cultural stylings of something like the KitKat though, Yamamoto recognized that his brewery, the KitKat makers, and Nakata, had the same goals.
“Of course KitKat has a pop element to it, but we thought that if, through this, we could convey that sake is interesting and fun, that would be good, which is exactly what we were all thinking.”
Hopes are high that the global appeal of KitKat can be a medium through which to further spread word of Japan’s sake culture, be it nihonshu or umeshu, among overseas visitors. But Yamamoto also sees potential in the collaboration for domestic tourism.
“Through this if people feel they want to go and see Wakayama’s plum production areas, that would be great.”
And on the taste of the new KitKat..
“It’s really delicious. It’s more like umeshu than I thought it would be.”
Perhaps the pièce de résistance then of the CRAFT SAKE WEEK @ KITKAT BAR will be two original cocktails designed to compliment the new Ume Sake KitKat in what promoters are calling the world’s first cocktail - KitKat pairing.
Creation of both the ‘Kishu Tonic’ and the ‘Suppai-Colada’ have been overseen by bartenders from Tokyo’s Bar TRENCH, which ranked at No. 16 in the Asia 50 Best Bar awards 2018.
As well as the showpiece KitKat, Nakata is also behind the production of the bar, with the former Japanese international having carefully selected 16 kinds of nihonshu and umeshu, all of which have been stored in The Cellar “Sake Master,” the world’s first sake cellar, co-created by Nakata and Japanese engineering group Altekna Co., Ltd.
And Nakata’s influence doesn’t stop at the beverages -- the bar’s interior design (headed up by celebrated Japanese designer Yasumichi Morita), sake cups, and special souvenirs have all come under his careful scrutiny.
CRAFT SAKE WEEK @ KITKAT BAR will be open through to September 24. Menu items also include West-Japan Flood Disaster Relief Sets in support of the those regions recently hit by disaster.