A gotouchi (regional) KitKat Pairing Bar is currently at Roppongi Hills Arena in Tokyo as part of CRAFT SAKE WEEK which runs until Monday April 29. The pop-up bar features personalized recommendations from an AI bartender for pairings of KitKat chocolates and sake from among 1,650 combinations, giving customers a new way of enjoying chocolate.
Nestle Japan takes pride in its total of 350 KitKat flavors and over 40 regularly offered varieties developed using regional specialties and ingredients. They are exclusively sold at local souvenir shops across Japan. These KitKats have become a standard souvenir, both domestically and abroad.
When you arrive at Roppongi Hills Arena, you pay 3,500 yen which gets you a tasting glass and 11 “Craft Sake Week Coins” (the payment system for the whole event). At the KitKat bar, you use a different tasting glass and pay two coins.
After answering five questions, the AI bartender determines your preference and suggests one type of sake out of 150 daily combinations and one local KitKat for you to purchase.
The sake being offered at the KitKat bar are brands carefully selected by Hidetoshi Nakata, a former national soccer player, who has been promoting sake’s appeal to the world.
Speaking at the opening of the bar, Nakata said the theme for this year’s CRAFT SAKE WEEK is nawa (rope), which dangles from above in the arena. "Last year it was bamboo, but we wanted to fill the air this year and so we chose nawa which has a deep relevance to sake. Also, we chose restaurants from many different countries so that customers can enjoy a new way of sake paring.”
Nestle’s managing executive officer Cedric Lacroix says, “Wine and chocolate pairing is very very well known. But pairing with sake is very new. Probably after sushi and matcha, sake is a new trend. It’s a new way for Japan to express its craftsmanship and its skills and passion beyond Japan. For us it’s a privilege to leverage Nakata-san’s knowledge and to be able to pair the beautiful sake world and chocolate.”
Nakata adds: “KitKats are famous around the world and they are better received by my foreign friends than my Japanese friends. Pairing of alcohol and chocolate has a very long history, so there’s no doubt that sake and chocolate would go well. The belief that sake only goes well with Japanese food is a delusion.”
At the opening event, Nakata tried the AI bartender’s recommendation after answering a few yes-or-no questions,
AI: “I go on domestic trips at least once a year.”
Nakata: “I go at least once a week, so no.”
AI: “My overseas souvenirs tend to be snacks.”
Nakata: “I believe Japanese snacks are the best, so no.”
The relevance of these answers to sake-pairing for each individual is unknown. Nonetheless, twice in a row, the AI bartender recommended sake-flavored KitKats for Nakata. Then he gave it another try. The third suggestion was a pairing of Amaou strawberry-flavored KitKat from Fukushima Prefecture with Gunma’s Mizubasho sake.
“Mizubasho is very dry, so it pairs very well with this sweet strawberry flavor. But then again, it will be different for every taste bud, so please give it a try,” said Nakata. “I’m all about instinct, and my intuition usually never changes.”
He concluded by saying, “In this internet society, the general idea of a country will sooner or later fade away. I believe it’s important for us to dig deeper in regional cities and raise awareness of the value that each local culture holds.”
Other KitKat flavors being offered include plum wine, purple yam, roasted green tea, wasabi, apple and red bean.
In addition to the sake pairing bar, CRAFT SAKE WEEK offers different sake brands from 10 different kura (breweries) each day and 15 restaurant stands.
Open daily from 12 noon until 9 p.m. through April 29.
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