October 1 marks the beginning of the traditional saké brewing calendar in Japan and increasingly, it’s gaining speed as International Saké Day—a day to celebrate, taste and learn about this mostly underappreciated yet remarkable Japanese libation.
This year, kick off the Saké New Year with these top five reasons for why you should drink saké and some suggestions on how to get started.
1. If you don’t like saké, you probably don’t know saké at all. If your last experience with saké was (A) a shot submerged from two chopsticks into beer or (B) generic, hot “house saké” at your local all-you-can-eat sushi joint, you haven’t experienced premium, artisanal saké. From dry to sweet and sparkling to cloudy, there is a multitude of quality saké styles to fit every flavor profile. Whether your penchant is for aromatic white wines or rustic, earthy reds, there’s a saké that’s waiting to be discovered.
2. Saké is versatile. Saké is the only alcoholic beverage that can be enjoyed at almost every temperature—ice cold to piping hot, with an array of flavors and aromas at each temperature range. Furthermore, an open bottle of saké has incredible longevity. If kept refrigerated, high-quality saké can maintain its aroma and flavor for well over a week.
3. Saké pairs with everything. Saké isn’t just an accompaniment to sushi. You can enjoy it outside of the Japanese restaurant context. Try it at home on a Tuesday night, or with friends at your next dinner party with anything from pasta and pizza to tacos.
4. Saké is gentle on the body. Unlike wine, there are no sulphites (natural or added) in saké, nor does saké contain common allergy triggers like tannins and only trace histamines. For those suffering from acid reflux or sensitive tooth enamel, with just 1/5 of the acid content of wine, saké is a soft, gentle alternative.
5. Saké is one of the last bastions of mystery in the beverage world. Everyone has a know-it-all wine geek, whiskey snob, or craft-beer expert in their life, but how many people can boast even a tidbit of saké knowledge? By picking up some basic saké facts, you can instantly wow your friends with your newly found saké expertise.
Where to Start?
Whether celebrating Le Nouvel An de Saké at the Paris residence of actor and saké lover, Gérard Depardieu, or at New York City’s The Joy of Saké, here are some prime venues to kick off your Saké New Year in style.
The Joy of Saké: This is the biggest annual saké event in the United States, with over 300 of the world’s finest sakés available, including gold-award winners from the 2012 U.S. National Sake Appraisal, plus over 200 sakés not commercially available in the U.S. A selection of appetizers from 14 New York City restaurants including WD-50, Brushstroke, Sushi Samba and Bond Street are also available.
September 20: The Joy of Sake in New York City; The Altman Building, 135 W. 18th Street; 6–9 pm, $90
Le Nouvel An de Saké à Paris 2012: Here, you can experience over 100 varieties of saké, shochu and awamori, while mingling at the home of actor and Japanophile, Gérard Depardieu. Le Nouvel An de Saké à Paris 2012 is a three-day tasting and educational event open to both the beverage industry and the public. The event features workshops on saké pairing and tasting along with a selection of hors d’oeuvres.
September 29–30 (public tasting); October 1 (industry only): Le Nouvel An de Saké à Paris 2012 in Paris; 95 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006; €30
Sake Day: Meet brewers, take in music from a live Okinawan band and taste more than 100 varieties of saké while nibbling on dishes from San Francisco’s famed izakaya, Nombe. San Francisco’s seventh annual Sake Day celebration benefits the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.
October 6: Sake Day in San Francisco; 1840 Sutter Street; 5–8 pm; $80, early bird special, $65
Urban Sake Tasting Club Inaugural Event: October 8 is the inaugural meeting of Sake Samurai and expert Timothy Sullivan’s Urban Sake Tasting Club, a regular series of tasting events aimed at helping beginner saké enthusiasts learn about and taste saké in a relaxed environment. The first event takes place at Sakagura, one of New York City’s hottest saké restaurants. Cost of admission includes a flight of three genshu, or undiluted saké, an appetizer and educational handouts.
October 8: Urban Sake Tasting Club in New York City; Sakagura, 211 East 43rd Street; 6:30–8:30 pm, $34