When did sake contests start? 

The most traditional and prestigious sake contest held today is “The Annual Japan Sake Awards,” organized by the National Tax Agency. The first sake contest was held in the spring of 1911, held annually (currently in May) excluding 1945, when the contest was canceled due to wartime damage. The venue of the sake contest is The National Research Organization located on Takinogawa street in Kita ward, Tokyo.   
The Gold and Silver prize is selected from new sake brewed that brewery year, delivered from sake manufacturers nationwide for assessment. The total number of exhibition sake entries exceeded 1,000 at one point. However, entries are now limited to only one per sake manufacturer. Exhibition sake entries are narrowed down to approximately 700~800 and assessed, from which approximately 100 sake selections are awarded the Gold prize. After the assessment, the awarded sake selections are announced. Sake brewers, wholesalers, sellers, and beverage shop owners visit to taste the recognized sake selections, an event celebrated with great success each year. Approximately twenty members of the judging panel consist of technical officials and official appraisers of the National Tax Agency.   
Furthermore, the test facility was renamed as The National Research Institute of Brewing in 1995 and relocated to a new facility in Higashi-Hiroshima city. The first sake contest in Japan was titled “The First Japan Sake Awards,” held at the same National Research Organization, Ministry of Finance, in October 1911. The sake contest was organized by the Brewing Society (predecessor entity of the Brewing Society of Japan), formed by sake manufacturers nationwide and associated government officials of the Ministry of Finance. This sake competition is the “Fall Sake Competition,” held in the fall when sake ages, while “The Annual Japan Sake Awards” organized by the government is referred to as the “Spring contest.” Approximately 8,000 sake manufacturers were active in Japan at the time, with 2,137 entries submitted for the first contest.    
This sake contest evolved with each passing year, since organized every other year. For the fifteenth contest held in 1937, 4,991 sake entries were received. The award ceremony was held at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater. In 1939 however, the control of sake production started, and the contest was canceled. After World War II ended, in 1949, the Brewing Society of Japan renamed and revived the sake contest as “Japan Sake Contest.” However, the contest was held only three more times until it ended in 1951. In 1961, Tokyo University of Agriculture organized the “Japan Sake Food Contest” and held the contest fifteen times until 1976.   

So many sake entries were submitted to this contest because the recognition received at this contest was honorable and effective for advertising. Not only has this sake contest contributed to improve sake quality, but the reputation of quality sake brewed in Nada and Fushimi districts – both historically renowned sake brewing districts since the Edo period (1603-1868) - brought recognition to an unknown regional sake brand, a major by-product of this sake contest.  
なお、同試験所は平成7年に 醸造研究所と名称が変更され、東広島市の新施設に移転している。 ところで、わが国で最初の品評会は、これより前の明治40年10月、同じ大蔵省醸造試験所で「第1回全国清酒品評会」が開かれている。主催は 全国の酒造業者と大蔵省の関係官僚によって結成された醸造協会((財)日本醸造協会の前身)。この品評会は酒が熟成する秋に行なわれる「秋の品評会」であり、これに対して、国の主催した「新酒鑑評会」は「春の品評会」と呼ばれたという。当時、全国には約8000の酒造業者があったが、第1 回には2137点の応募があった。
この品評会はその後も1年おきに行なわれたが年を追うごとに発展し、昭和12年の第15回には4991点が 出品され、授章式は東京宝塚劇場で行なわれたほどだった。しかし、昭和14 年には日本酒の生産統制が始まり中止。戦後の昭和24年、日本醸造協会は 「全国酒類鑑評会」と名を改めて品評会を復活させたが、昭和26年まで3回 行なわれただけで終わった。昭和36年からは東京農業大学が「全国酒類調味食品品評会」を開催し、昭和51年の第15回まで続いている。 
これらの品評会に多数の出品があったのは、ここで受賞することが栄誉であるばかりでなく、抜群の宣伝効果もあったためとされるが、一方で、酒質の向上に貢献したと同時に、それまで江戸時代以来の本場、灘・伏見 の名声に圧されてまったく無名だった地方の酒が認められるという大きな副産物があった。