Little sips, lots of sake


POSTED: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This year's Joy of Sake tasting event will be a multifaceted experience, thanks to its latest venue at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

The academy houses some of the nation's finest collections of traditional Japanese art, and works depict Japan's culture through the centuries. Much of that culture includes sake.

“;The demimonde of Japanese society—kabuki, ukiyo-e (woodblock printing), haiku—are all imbued with sake,”; says Chris Pearce, founder of Joy of Sake. “;That's what the academy is all about. (Their collections) present sake culture.”;

As such, the academy will open Gallery 21, which houses Japanese art, for the crowd. The rest of the event will be spread among the museum's courtyards and gardens.

The evening's lineup includes 271 different sake, of which 129 are unavailable in the U.S. All are top quality.

“;The sake is shipped under refrigeration, and they're in peak condition,”; Pearce says. “;This is competition sake that's been well cared for. Joy of Sake is a way to find out what's really going on in the sake world.”;

The sake featured is ranked according to three main categories: junmai, ginjo and daiginjo. Junmai, the most down to earth of the trio, is hearty with a fuller rice taste. Ginjo is lighter, crisper and cleaner. Daiginjo is state-of-the-art sake, the creme de la creme of the sake world.





        » Place: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St.

» Date: 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 21


» Tickets: $70 advance, $80 at door


» Call: 532-6099, 222-0195 or visit www.honoluluacademy.org, www.joyofsake.com


Ginjo and daiginjo sake have fruity or floral aromas made with specific yeasts brewed at low temperatures. These play a big part in the scene today.

But sake is only part of the tasting experience.

“;Sake by itself is pretty lonesome. Cuisine that goes with it is part of the overall culture,”; says Pearce.

Joy of Sake addresses that facet proficiently as well with the help of 14 restaurants, the likes of which include Hoku's, Lewers Lounge, Chai's Island Bistro, Nobu Waikiki, Town and Cakeworks. Each venue will serve one dish; not surprisingly, most of the dishes are Japanese themed.

Joy of Sake is in its ninth year. The event has its roots in Hawaii Sake Brewery, which operated from 1908 to 1994. The outfit's last brewer, Takao Nihei, got a crowd of Hawaii people interested in sake in the early 1980s, and that group contributed to the formation of the International Sake Association in 1986.

Informal sake tastings were held in Hawaii, Pearce says, but there was no criteria to rate them. “;It was all just subjective.”;

In 2001 the association was schooled by judges of national appraisals in Japan, where public tastings follow the Japan National Sake Appraisal each year. Likewise, the inaugural Joy of Sake followed the U.S. National Sake Appraisal. The U.S. judging panel features five judges from the U.S. and five from Japan. This year's appraisal garnered 271 entries, and each will be spotlighted at Joy of Sake.

There's nothing to fear in the face of that much sake, Pearce says. Each visitor will carry their own “;janome,”; or tasting cup, along with a miniature siphon that picks up just 10 milliliters, or one-third ounce, of sake. It's such a small amount that one could get quite far into the 271 variations without worry.

“;That's why Joy of Sake is so fun,”; he says. “;You can get pretty far without intoxication.”;


» Shredded green papaya salad with poached prawn and tamarind vinaigrette (Chai's Island Bistro)

» New-style tuna tataki: garlic chips, sweet onion, kaiware, wakame with garlic aoli ponzu (Doraku)

» Okinawan sweet potato and haupia pie (Gyotaku)

» Ume-dare somen noodles with okra, young ginger, poached chicken and dashi gelee with sour plum dressing (Hakkei)

» Organic kale and Kula strawberry salad with sesame, cashew and tofu dressing (Hale Macro)

» Sous vide of short ribs with star anise and local greens (Lewers Lounge)

» Fresh sashimi: hamachi with grilled shishito pepper, ahi tataki with bonito aioli and soy gel, snapper with grapefruit brulee, salmon gavloy with celery and chiso salad and chef's special ochazuke (Hoku's)

» Steamed abalone with dashi gelee (Kaiwa)

» Yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno (Nobu Waikiki)

» Shichimi-crusted scallop salad with yuzu sea salt foam, okara with clams and vegetables, pork belly and bamboo shoots with bonito (Joy of Sake Izakaya)

» Braised Kulana oxtail, yaki orisotto and hot mustard (Town)

» Tako sunomono—octopus salad with wakame and summer cucumber (Yoshi-ya)

» Ahi yuke—marinated ahi on cucumber nest with Fuji apple and quail egg (Zenshu)

» Candied ginger ice cream sandwich (Cakeworks)