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The Joy of Sake 2008 Tasting: October 23, San Francisco

joy_of_sake_07.jpgI absolutely love the fact that we've reached a point in this country where I don't need to explain why a sake tasting in San Francisco might be an enjoyable way to spend an evening. In the five years since I've been writing this blog, sake has gone from obscure to obvious, hardly known to hip. The availability and visibility of sake in the US has blossomed, driving by fine dining establishments and the increasing popularity of all things Japanese.

Despite this, however, the average wine lovers' knowledge of sake is extremely limited, mostly by virtue of not having tasted very much sake side-by-side in comparison with one another. And that of course, is where the Joy of Sake comes in. This tasting event, the largest public sake tasting outside of Japan, is much more than just an opportunity to compare a few sakes. Nowhere outside of Japan do consumers have the opportunity to sample so many different, and so many high quality sakes as they do at this event. For anyone truly interested in sake, this tasting cannot be missed.

Hundreds of different sakes are on offer, including the scores of gold and silver medal winners from the annual U.S. National Sake Appraisal, a competition held each year in Hawaii. Dozens of local restaurants serve up sake friendly food to accompany the brews, which are sampled by attendees using the traditional eyedroppers to fill their glasses.

The one difference between the Joy of Sake tasting and a normal wine tasting event has to do with the information that is available to the curious taster. While there are volunteers whose job it is primarily to make sure that the reservoir cups of sake don't run dry, these folks have an extremely inconsistent knowledge of what they're actually pouring. Unlike a large public wine tasting where the folks behind the table are informed about their particular wine, there is little or no information available about these sakes, should you fall in love with any of them, or have questions about what you are tasting.

Despite this lack of information, the event can be an incredible education to the attentive palate, and is always a great reminder to me of just how much great sake there is out there to be experienced.

Joy of Sake 2008
October 23 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM
The Galleria Design Center
101 Henry Adams Street
San Francisco, CA 94105 (map)

Tickets are $75 per person and can be purchased in advance online. The price goes up to $85 at the door.

Sake tasting is even harder work than wine tasting, as sake is higher in alcohol, sometimes higher in acidity, and much more subtle in flavor. I recommend snacking your way through the tasting to keep your palate fresh. Also be advised that some vendors regularly run out of food, so eating early and often is also advised to get your money's worth.

Comments (11)

Anonymous wrote:
10.19.08 at 12:32 PM

Can you explain your comment on sake being "sometimes higher in acidity" than wine? I am not aware of sake san-do higher than 1.5 grams per liter which is less than 25% that of your average Chardonnay. I have tasted hundreds of sakes over the years, but never one that remotely approached the acid levels of wine. Now within sakes at meals I have perceived differences in dryness, but drop in a white wine and pow, all you taste is the wine's acidity.

Arthur wrote:
10.19.08 at 8:26 PM

I have to chime in on the first comentor's question.

I have been exploring sake and trying to pair it with food and have found that it tends to be softer/lower in acids than any wine I try to compare it to.

Alder wrote:
10.19.08 at 10:37 PM

Yes, in terms of absolute pH, my statement is misleading. Nearly all wines have a lower pH than sake. I do find some sakes, however to be much sharper in acidity than others, and in some cases that quality makes them harder to drink on their own (versus with food, which smooths over some of these rough edges).

mojowrkn wrote:
10.20.08 at 9:19 AM

YOu mean the country of California right?

Alder wrote:
10.20.08 at 9:48 AM


Ah, if we could only be our own country.... But seriously I do mean the whole country -- sake is big in many of the top dining destinations around the country.

amy atwood wrote:
10.20.08 at 5:38 PM

I do find that people are surprised when I mention that sake has varying levels of acidity and many different flavor profiles. Most consumers have only had hot, table grade sake and therefore remember the pure alcohol fumes ( which also mistakenly leads them to believe that sake is high in alcohol).
Any time I introduce an array of premium chilled sakes to friends or colleagues, they are invariably impressed.

Arthur wrote:
10.20.08 at 5:47 PM


So my question is: how is a neophyte to know which sake to heat up and which one to chill?

Additionally, what is a normal ABV range for the sakes you are thinking about? I have seen 16% in my limited experience.

From a stochiometric perspective this makes sense: rice is primarily starch - complex, but fermentable carbohydrate and thus has higher potential alcohol. Additionally, where is the acidity coming from? I can imagine some proteins being broken down to acids during fermentation, but even in this scenario, it is hard form me to imagine there being enough protein to make substantial amounts of acidity.
What am I missing?

Joe wrote:
10.21.08 at 9:18 AM

Sake is wonderful and I drink it more than wine. This event is not a good introduction to sake because the food does not pair and eye-dropper samples are in plastic cups. Get a wine glass and try a few Junmai Ginjo styles. Save $75 on this event.

Alder wrote:
10.21.08 at 10:13 AM


Thanks for the comments, and for the reminder. I highly recommend that serious tasters bring their own glass to this event.

Alder wrote:
10.21.08 at 1:04 PM


1. There are two (and a half) factors to consider when warming sake:

a. The grade of sake. Generally the higher grades of sake (ginjo and daiginjo) are quite delicate in flavor and suffer (rather than benefit) from warming. Lower grades of sake (which can sometimes have rough edges) benefit from warming, which makes them more smooth.

b. The flavor profile of sake. Sakes with earthier, gamier flavors often benefit from being served at room temperature or slightly warmed (e.g. 5-10 secs in the microwave). Yamahai sakes (those made with some wild yeasts in the mix) for instance are better warmed.

c. Whether you want something warm to drink. When its cold outside, warm sake is great!

Like all things in wine, rules are for the priggish. Try things out, and see what you like.

2. Regarding acidity -- I'm not a fermentation scientist. I'm sure, like with beer brewing, acids are created along the way. Lactic acid is also added to the rice mash as a way of halting fermentation in most brewing scenarious, so that probably plays in the mix as well.

andy abraham wrote:
10.26.08 at 4:36 AM

Thank you for sharing this information on sake...

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