Although there will no doubt be some that scoff at big chain stores selling premium sake, the fact remains that one of the easiest places to try a wide variety of different sake is that ever present fixture of a Japanese city: Aeon Mall. Recently, many of the larger stores have been fitted with those fantastic Enomatic machines that wine drinkers will no doubt be familiar with. These devices dispense small samples of wine or sake, at the same time preserving what's inside the bottle. Unfortunately, the price one pays for this clever technology puts it out of the reach of many of the smaller retailers. However, big companies like Aeon, which of course enjoy huge customer foot-fall, are able to cover the initial costs of instalment and have numerous bottles open at anyone time.
The device you can see in the picture above is located in the recently opened store in Okayama city. The machine actually extends outwith the boundaries of this picture, but can hold around 40 standard size 720ml bottles at any one time. Of course the buying power of Aeon also means they have a superb collection of sake to choose from, with a particular focus towards local jizake.
The system for using the machine, is also very simple. Basically, you purchase a pre-paid card with an amount of your choosing, at which point you will be given a wine glass. The price depends on what size of measure you want, and of course how expensive the sake is. Although most 200ml servings will cost you around 200 yen (about £1.30), expect to pay double that for a daiginjo or famous brand name. This is still very reasonable when you consider that seating areas are also provided for you to relax and enjoy your chosen drink.
Now I'm not suggesting for a minute that the surroundings of a very large shopping mall will ever be a substitute for the vibrant atmosphere of a well stocked izakaya or specialist bar. But for the sheer variety that can be sampled so inexpensively at one of these devices, I would say its hard not to give them a look-in if you are in the market for a nice bottle of sake. Trying before you buy is such an important aspect for the modern consumer. Furthermore, it surely allows brewers to reach a larger audience that perhaps might otherwise have overlooked their products. This at least is one good aspect of big chain stores taking an interest in jizake.