Drink of Distinction: Behind Four Fox Saké

Our journey officially began in 2015. Four friends in Hong Kong, with one collective dream. To create the world’s most recognisable saké brand, from deep in the heart of the Japanese Alps.

Call us crazy, but our irrational levels of optimism and positivity meant that we kept running through walls, culminating in Four Fox Saké being awarded a 94 point rating by Decanter Magazine in 2021.

Proof, if it were needed, that we had successfully married substance with style. We were in fact so busy trying to make things work that we didn’t even know about the Decanter accolade until someone told us about it 6 months later!

Rewind to 2015 and we had excitedly chosen Niigata as the ideal canvas on which to create our masterpiece. Considered the ‘rice bowl’ of Japan, with more snowfall than almost anywhere else, it supplied us with ideal brewing conditions for a snowmelt Junmai Daiginjo.

Unfortunately, the very same snowfall we coveted was threatening to prevent us from reaching the 100+ year old brewery in Tsunan village in the first place, killing our dreams along with it.

sake brewery trip in the snow

The seeds of this ambitious idea were in fact planted a year earlier in 2014 on a beach in Southeast Asia. As we were enjoying a particularly seductive Junmai Daiginjo we couldn’t help but ask ourselves:

“Why do we only ever drink saké in Japanese restaurants?
Why is saké not enjoyed in bars, clubs, and hotels in the same way other national drinks are (think Champagne, Tequila)?
And why, if you walk into a bar anywhere in the Western world, can nobody name you even a single brand of saké?

The reality is that there is a great deal of mystery surrounding Japanese saké that intimidates or prevents non-Japanese speakers from engaging with it. The labels generally have no English translation. Bottle designs are fairly uniform. Even if someone did enjoy a particular saké, they struggle to remember the name of the brand/brewery afterwards.

This is where we saw an opportunity. To design a brand that combined compelling storytelling and modern aesthetics, with Japanese craft. Could we create a saké that appeals to an international audience in a way that overcomes these barriers to entry and transcends category?

After several visits and plenty of tasting sessions we decided to use locally sourced Gohyakumangoku rice, rather than the more popular Yamada Nishiki. We wanted to create something that was honest to the drier style typical of Niigata. Something clean, pure, and devilishly easy to drink was the goal. Having created this completely new Junmai Daiginjo, we now needed the most stunning bottle in the world to house it in.

four fox sake owner visiting brewery

The traditional approach with saké has been to lead with education. We wondered if we could engage with consumers playfully, visually, and emotionally first. Which then creates a platform for them to be educated on the intricacies of Japanese saké afterwards. Which is why our bottle looks as dramatic as it does and was honoured with the Pentawards Gold Medal title of “Best Luxury Alcohol Packaging Design” in the world.

first ever four fox, at its Tsunan water source

We designed our bottle as a tribute to the Japanese god of saké, Inari Okami. In Shinto mythology, the shape-shifting Inari is also the god of rice and swordsmiths, and commands foxes to send messages on his/her behalf. In honour of those swordsmiths that Inari protects, our bottle has a katana blade carved into each side and a silver finish evocative of samurai steel. In today’s world with so many competing demands for your attention, if you aren’t substantially different you may as well be invisible. The LED in the base certainly helps!

four fox sake glow in the dark

Last but not least, a circular portal on the front of the bottle sees the Four Foxes (representing the four founders) standing in front of the Torii gates, with snowflakes overhead and rice fields at their feet - the two main ingredients in our saké.

This portal exists as an invitation to the modern drinker to try something new. To be open to the idea that saké is a drink to be celebrated and enjoyed anytime, anywhere, by anyone. Not simply within the confines of a Japanese restaurant.

Welcome to the new era of saké.

Michael Campion
Brand Principal at Four Fox Saké

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