We've all had our share of wine tastings and too many flights of craft beer and whiskey to count. Care for something different?
Of course, there's absolutely nothing new about sake. The low-alcohol, fermented rice drink is so ancient and prevalent in its native Japan that the country is apparently over it, but that's not stopping Western importers from bringing it over by the boatload.
And while most sophisticated Bay Area foodies have long since moved beyond the notion that sake must be served hot (the good stuff is always chilled), sake is still often reserved for pairing with sushi. But the Japanese have a saying: Nihonshu wa ryori wo erabanai. It means, "Sake doesn't get into fights with food." In fact, the drink's high amino acid content is known to enhance the umami in dishes, which makes sake a great choice of pairing with a variety of cuisines.
Want to learn more about one of the world's oldest craft beverages? Get schooled at a local sake store, tasting and even a brewery.
(Courtesy of Sequoia Sake)
Hidden away in the industrial outskirts of Bayview is San Francisco's one and only craft sake brewery. Sequoia Sake was founded by Jake Myrick and Noriko Kamei, a married couple on a mission to make the freshest sake outside Japan. Here they use just four high-quality ingredients to create their nama (unpasteurized sake): Sacramento Valley rice, Yosemite water, koji (a mold used to ferment the sake), and yeast. Try it paired with pickles or Dandelion Chocolate at the brewery's public tastings and tours on Saturdays. // 50 Apparel Way (Bayview), sequoiasake.com
Since 1982, Berkeley-based brewer Takara Sake has been crafting its specialty Sho Chiku Bai sake with the best of California bounty—pure snow melt from the Sierra, and rice from the fertile Sacramento Valley. At Takara's gorgeous tasting room, take in the Japanese-meets-contemporary-Californias design while you share a flight of sake with your friends, and don't miss the onsite museum to get a better understanding of the production process. Don't forget to take home a bottle for further at-home education. // 708 Addison St (Berkeley), takarasake.com
The Periodic Table
A sleek new addition to Emeryville's Public Market, The Periodic Table was the idea of Jake Freed and Hiroko Nakamura, married PhD organic chemists and aficionados of Japanese cuisine and culture. The bar focuses on educating American customers on the experience of drinking sake outside of the sushi dinner. Guests can choose from more than 25 sakes by the glass, bottle or flight, and can also go the extra mile at events such as this month's Umami Experience, an educational tasting led by chef Danny Keiser ($65 tickets at Eventbrite). // 5959 Shellmound St (Emeryville), theperiodictable.bar
Free sake tastings by a beautiful Japanese koi pond and garden? Count us in. Gekkeikan Sake's Folsom brewery offers self-guided facility tours that end with complimentary tastings of five locally produced varietals. Established in 1637 in the small Japanese town of Fushimi, Gekkeikan offers a variety of both local and imported sakes to take home. // 1136 Sibley St (Folsom), gekkeikan-sake.com
The first sake specialty store in the United States, Hayes Valley's True Sake is the OG, founded by Beau Timken, who first encountered sake when he met a group of Japanese fishermen drinking the libation in Capetown, South Africa. It was love at first drink. Now a licensed master sake sommelier, Timken has made it his life's passion to educate us all about sake. Today, True Sake is "one part sake museum, one part sake shrine, one part sake school, and one part sake fascination institution," offering more than 250 kinds of Japanese rice wine. Don't know what you like? This is the place to ask and learn. You can even pick up a sake starter kit to host your own tasting party at home. // 560 Hayes St (Hayes Valley), truesake.com