Thousands of sake bottles are being sorted in preparation for the world’s largest sake sampling festival outside Japan.
On Friday, July 31, The Joy of Sake celebrates its 15th year at the Hawaii Convention Center with a record number of sakes and restaurants. More than 150 breweries across Japan and the U.S. have submitted 391 sakes (4,692 bottles).
The lineup represents every region and brewing style in Japan. Half the featured sakes are in the handcrafted, ultra-premium daiginjo category, made from the innermost core of sake rice grains. More than half of all the sakes are not sold in the U.S.
“The breweries that submitted these sakes that we’ll be drinking in Honolulu know that it’s a competition. Everything is in perfect condition and tasting as good as it could possibly taste,” said festival organizer Chris Pearce. “If you look at this sake, they all have bottling dates. All of these sakes were in Japan at the end of May and we’re having them here in the end of July. With sake, fresh is always best and these are really fresh sake.”
Accompanying the selections will be custom sake-inspired appetizers from 20 restaurants, including:
- Hale Ohuna, Lee Anne Wong’s upcoming noodle and sake bar
- Mission Social Hall & Café, Mark “Gooch” Noguchi’s new lunch spot
- Mud Hen Water, Ed Kenney’s just-opened Kaimuki gastropub
- SKY Waikiki, Lance Kosaka’s upcoming rooftop bar and lounge
- Former Vintage Cave chef Chris Kajioka’s venture with Anthony Rush, chef of Fera at London’s Claridge’s Hotel, slated to open in Kaimuki this fall
Returning restaurants include the Pig & the Lady, MW Restaurant, BLT Steak, the Halekulani, BuhoCocina y Cantina, Kaiwa, Banzai Sushi Bar and Migrant Maui.
Izakaya Alley, the popular outdoor venue of upscale street foods launched last year, expands this year with more restaurants, a namazake pour station and Onopops’ wackiest Japanese snack-themed pops, including a new umeshu plum sake pop.
The festival takes place in the Convention Center’s Kalakaua Ballroom, where live music will play throughout the evening and new displays will highlight the making of sake, Hawaii’s historic Honolulu Sake Brewery and tips on tasting sake; and in the adjacent patio area.
“Even if you’re not a big drinker, you can taste 20 or 30 or more sakes. So what most people do is they go to the tables and taste one type of sake, for example, go over here and taste another one, and go and get something to eat, get an appetizer, go back to the table and meet their friend and go outside and have onolicious shaved ice made with sake,” Pearce said.
The Joy of Sake is the public tasting event held just days after the U.S. National Sake Appraisal, which takes place in Honolulu each summer. Ten judges from Japan and the U.S. blind-taste each sake, recognizing exceptional labels with gold and silver awards. Gold and silver stars on sake cards at the event identify the winners.
After Honolulu, the Joy of Sake debuts in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace on Sept. 19, then moves on to Tokyo on Nov. 5. It is the only Hawaii-based event to stage a world tour.
Admission costs $145 for early Access at 5:30 p.m., and $95 general admission from 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available online here.