Sake’s been on the rise in NYC over the past several years, and the quantity of rice wine flowing into this city has doubled in the past decade. No surprise there: These days, it seems that just about every restaurant has at least one sake selection on its beverage list, and some of the more venerable Japanese spots roll deep in the stuff. That’s spawned a circle of sake geeks, but it’s also intimidated drinkers who know no difference between junmai and honjozo or ginjo and daiginjo. No matter which side of the spectrum you fall on, you might consider buying tickets to next week’s Joy of Sake Festival, where you’ll be able to taste hundreds of varieties of the drink side by side.
The festival celebrates its 10th anniversary in NYC this year, and organizer Chris Pearce, who worked with famed sake master Takao Nihei in Hawaii before launching the International Sake Association, says the selection is better than ever, “There’s been quite a renaissance in sake-making over the last few years,” he explains. “It’s getting better and better in Japan.”
For proof, he points to two sakes that netted perfect scores in blind judging during this year’s selection process. “These are severe and authentic judges,” he says. “And we had two sakes with perfect scores from all 10 judges this year.” A number of the sakes at the event are renditions you can’t find in the U.S., and all of the sakes will be served in perfect condition: Pearce says they were shipped in refrigerated containers and will be opened at their peak. Moreover, many Japanese brewers will be at the festival, which gives you opportunity to get a little education straight from the source.
The sake selections–which Pearce says are self-serve–pair to food from wd~50, Brushstroke, Bond Street, Hakkasan, and 15 East. “Restaurants came up with individual appetizers that aren’t on the menu,” Pearce explains.
And where should you head in the city to get a sake primer before or after the event? Pearce recommends three places: Sakagura–“the original deep sake bar,” he says–SakaMai for the staff’s knowledge and enthusiasm, and Sakaya, an East Village shop that specializes in the drink.