Social Encore: Sippin’ on sake
BY JERMEL-LYNN QUILLOPO / Special to the Star-Advertiser
There are three types of fermented alcoholic beverages: beer, wine and sake. Last week, I was able to attend the 2014 Joy of Sake Honolulu Kickoff Party at Harbor View Center. I got a sneak peek of what you can expect at the annual gala tasting on July 18 at the Hawai’i Convention Center.
2014 JOY OF SAKE HONOLULU
» Where: Hawai’i Convention Center, 1801 Kalakaua Ave.
The Joy of Sake event dates back to 2001 when the International Sake Association was inspired to create a sake event similar to the Japan National Sake Appraisal, held annually since 1910.
“We requested assistance from Japan’s National Research Brewing,” said International Sake Association founding president Chris Pearce. “The National Research Brewing of Japan sends over two judges each year.”
According to Joy of Sake coordinators, Honolulu has more sake-serving restaurants per capita than any other city in the country. As the Joy of Sake event heads into its 14th year, there are a few exciting changes. This year it will be held at the Hawai’i Convention Center; with 20 percent more space, there will be a whopping 370 different types of sake up for sampling.
Another addition is Izakaya Alley, a section that will feature upscale street food and sake, bringing a bit of summer in Japan to Honolulu. The food lineup alone is amazing, rounding up some of the islands best chefs.
From Bravo’s “Top Chef,” season one contestant and Koko Head Cafe head chef Lee Anne Wong will serve up a “rocking noodle dish.”
Flying in from San Francisco, Haight Street’s Memphis Minnie’s BBQ Joint will hand out samples of their 18-hour slow-smoked Texas Beef Brisket in tribute to their owner, Bob Kantor. Kantor loved sake with his meats and would always have junmai and ginjo sake on the menu.
By popular demand, Gokujo Sushi will be back serving a Gokujo Spicy Ahi Bowl with unagi tare and Salmon Nori Tacos with New Zealand king salmon, sweet Maui onion and wasabi aioli.
Making a premiere at the Joy of Sake is Buho Cocina y Cantina, a new rooftop lounge in Waikiki. They will serve slow-cooked pork belly tacos with pineapple pico and achiote aioli on housemade tortillas.
Inside the ballroom, you’ll have Vintage Cave’s Chris Kajioka and “Top Chef” season 10 contestant Sheldon Simeon representing Migrant Maui along with “Food Network Star” contestant Philip “Ippy” Aiona from Three Fat Pigs in Waikoloa.
When it comes to tasting sake, entries are judged based on four different criteria: balance, taste, aroma and overall impression. Entries for the U.S. National Sake Appraisal are judged during a blind tasting by 10 participating judges (five from Japan and five from the U.S.).
Pearce said when it comes to judging sake, he has noticed that the Japanese have a cultural practice of looking for the sake’s faults and believes Japanese judges do the same thing.
“They have a negative mindset, they look for the faults,” he said. “If they don’t find a fault, they will try it again.”
HONOLULU RESIDENT Kevin Okasaki attended the Joy of Sake event for years and said even though he is of full Japanese decent, his family was never into sake. By learning about it, he has a deeper connection with his cultural roots.
“Hawaii is a melting pot of cultures and the Japanese culture has played a big part in Hawaii culture,” he said. “People around the world enjoy sake and events like this help spread awareness and knowledge.”
Honolulu resident John Tanfaka said he is fairly new to the sake game but is growing to appreciate the different varieties as he continues to learn.
“You think ‘Okay, I’m just going to go and try some sake,’ but you come to appreciate the different varieties, you can taste the difference of where it’s made, what rice is in it and the distinct taste of the different breweries,” he said. “You even start to realize what types of sake the breweries make. It has given me a better appreciation of the different sakes and types.”
I also learned a thing or two at the preview. There were two classes of daiginjo sake served. Sakes labeled “Daiginjo A” have a directive to satisfy a certain customer/taste a brewery is trying to obtain.
“Daiginjo B,” on the other hand, allow for breweries to be more creative during the brewing process, letting their personality shine — also making it the most expensive.
I tasted several different types of sake. One of the first I tired was the Masumi “Sanka” Junmai Daiginjo Sake from Nagano. It had a sweet aroma of apples and honeydew and Pearce said it was perfect for appetizers.
My favorite had to be Saura Brewery’s Urakasumi “Zen” Junmai Ginjo Sake. It was light and fruity, a perfect pick for me since I have a sweet tooth. Not all sakes were sweet, however. Sake like the silver-winning Dewazakura “Dewasansan” Junmai Ginjo had a balanced, yet strong aftertaste. Many sake lovers at the event said that the Dewazakura Shuzo brewery is very popular amongst aficionados.
“I would say go and learn because there will be 370 different types of sake and this gives you a chance to try different things,” Okasaki said. “You may find that you really like it or don’t care for certain ones as much. I still think that if it’s all about trying.”
Jermel-Lynn Quillopo is a multi-faceted, energetic individual with experience in both print and broadcast journalism. “Social Encore” aims to tell diverse stories about Hawaii’s food, events and people; share your tips with Jermel via email or follow her on Twitter.