Top 10 tips for maximum sakesfaction

The Honolulu Joy of Sake is finally upon us! Now that you’ve bought your tickets, we’ve come up with these helpful ways to maximize your sakesfaction. (We’d come up with cleverer puns, too, but how much can you get from a word like ‘sake’?)

WHAT: Joy of Sake Honolulu
WHEN: Friday, July 20 from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
WHERE: Pier 2 Cruise Terminal Hall, 521 Ala Moana Blvd. on Channel Street across Restaurant Row
TICKETS: $80 online at until 12 noon on July 20; after that, $90 at the door

Tip #10. Say hello to Pier 2, right in town at Honolulu Harbor. Scroll down to next blog for details. And then hand off your car to our valet service or find parking on Channel Street in metered stalls or one of the lots, or across Ala Moana in Kakaako.

Tip #9. Get there early. The party starts at 6:30, but you won’t want to miss opening ceremonies at 6:10 and the bursting thunder of Kenny Endo’s powerful taiko.

Tip #8. BYOC&C. We’re going green this year with biodegradable plates, forks and oh-so-ecofriendly ti leaves. Help the planet by bringing your own sake cups and chopsticks — and if you can, please carpool.

Tip #7. Pace yourself. With a record 360 sake and 16 restaurants this year, pacing is key. Head for your favorite sake table (elegant daiginjo A? The more varied daiginjo B? Fruity and floral ginjo, earthy junmai, sweet and funky yamahai …?) or a sake-friendly appetizer from one of our food booths, and go back and forth through the evening, reveling in the intense interplay of sips and bites.

Tip #6. Questions? We’ll have a Sake Info table this year staffed by experts and judges from the U.S. National Sake Appraisal. Ask them anything you want to know about sake. Ask about food pairings. Ask for their personal recs.

Tip #5. Get into the hypnotica. That’s Soul-Kyo playing live onstage, the trio of koto, bass and synthesizer drawing from roots in R&B. You’ll know you’re really into it when you start composing your own haiku.

Tip #4. Stay hydrated. We’ll have plenty of water for you.

Tip #3. Sakebrate the Joy (see earlier note on puns) with logo T-shirts and tanks featuring our green-lipped sake beauty, a handmade sake cup from one of the potters’ tables, and icy drinks from one of our sponsor booths.

Tip #2. Yelp all about it! If you’re seeing red, you’re staring at the Yelp photo booth. Get yourself snapped with all the riotous sake paraphernalia you can imagine.

Tip #1. Eat and sip responsibly. After all, it’s all about the Joy — and many more to come! See you at Pier 2, Honolulu!


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Friday’s Joy: All about the where

Joy of Sake moves to a brand new spot in Honolulu this year, prompting us to bring you this impromptu Q&A highlighting every bit of useful info we could think of. But first, the 411, then we’ll open the floor to questions.

WHAT: Joy of Sake Honolulu
WHEN: Friday, July 20 from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
WHERE: Pier 2 Cruise Terminal Hall at 521 Ala Moana Blvd.
TICKETS: $80 at the Sake Shop, Marukai Markets, Fujioka’s Wine Times and The Wine Stop, or online at

Q: Where is Pier 2 Terminal Hall?
Right in town at Honolulu Harbor. Go down Ala Moana Boulevard, turn toward the ocean at Channel Street across from Restaurant Row, and Terminal Hall is at the water’s edge. Pier 2 is NOT at Aloha Tower.

Q: How come I’ve never heard of Pier 2 Terminal Hall?
It’s brand new (see first sentence above). Actually it’s been there for years, but was closed to the public and mostly greeted cargo ships and barges. In June the state unveiled a massive renovation that transformed the interior: new art, lighting, flooring and wall finishes, with escalators going up and up to a high lanai overlooking the water.

So Pier 2 is brand new as a venue for public events, and Joy of Sake is Pier 2’s inaugural event! See what we mean by brand new?

Q: Where’s the parking?
We knew you’d ask! Valets will be on hand at Pier 2, and you can also self-park in lots on Channel Street and in the Foreign Trade Zone, as well as in metered stalls on Channel. There’s also Restaurant Row across the street (not free) and street parking in the area.

Q: Is the hall air-conditioned?
Excellent question! It is most definitely air-conditioned, which means a better serving temperature for the sake. In fact, we’re bringing the sake to Pier 2 in refrigerated trucks and will place them on the tables as close as possible to the start of the Joy.

We like to serve sake cool for pleasurable drinking — not chilled to where they’ll have a bite — and through the evening they’ll come to air-conditioned room temperature, the ideal state for connoisseurs interested in discerning every quality of a sake.

Any more questions? If so, please post them in the comments here, or on Facebook (Joy of Sake) or on Twitter @joyofsake.


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Kids, cover your eyes …

Wow, we had no idea when we posted our last trivia question how hard it would turn out to be! What was the original inspiration for the name ‘Joy of Sake’?

Dingdingding! The winner’s bell and Joy of Sake T-shirts go to WILL AULD and LEIGHTON LIU for the correct answer: The Joy of Sex. The groundbreaking book came out in 1972, stayed on the New York Times bestseller list until 1974 and was re-released in 2008. It was fun and helped redefine a generation’s attitude toward, um, another pleasure. Which makes the connection easier for some veteran sake fans, while newer sake fans, now you know!

We are at Joy minus 4 days in Honolulu, with prep and activities filling every day leading up to our public sake-tasting celebration on Friday. Today: day 2 of our Sake Sensory Training Seminar, which gives a small group of sake professionals intense training in defining nuances of taste and aroma.

Tuesday and Wednesday, U.S. National Sake Appraisal, with 10 judges flying in from Japan and the entire U.S. to blind-taste and award gold and silver medals.

Thursday, sake brewers converge on Honolulu.

Friday, 6:30 sharp, Pier 2 at Honolulu Harbor: We taste 360 of the finest sake in the world! Bring your open palates and empty stomachs, sake lovers near and far, we will see you there!

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What to eat, what to drink

The beauty of sake often intensifies in the joyous interplay of bites and sips.

Tako carpaccio with wasabi-style vinaigrette
Suggested pairing: Ginjo
Thai-style oxtail soup with bihon noodles, cilantro and Hawaiian chili water
Suggested pairing: Junmai

Big Island abalone with sake soy butter and dry miso with chives
Suggested pairing: Daiginjo A

Green tea-smoked sous vide pork tenderloin with togarashi-spiced Fuji apples, shiso and crispy garlic chips served with miso-braised daikon
Suggested pairing: Daiginjo B

Ahi with shiso-ginger vinaigrette
Suggested pairing: Ginjo

Kampachi tartare with orange-shallot jam, edamame guacamole, sake lees tahini
Suggested pairing: Ginjo

BLT Steak
Local New York strip tataki with bacon popover, jalapeno mash and Ho Farms tomato salad
Suggested pairing: Junmai or a daiginjo A with some bite

Mentaiko pasta in kombucha cream sauce with nori and julienned cucumber garnish
Suggested pairing: Junmai or a ginjo with more body, less aroma

Deep-fried smelt in chilled tangy sauce with pickled vegetable garnish
Suggested pairing: Junmai or ginjo

Ribeye steak, enoki mushroom and asparagus wrapped in yuba and served in wafu-dashi fondue
Suggested pairing: Daiginjo B
Panna cotta with fennel marmalade and coffee salt
Suggested pairing: Daiginjo A or B

Ume macarons, azuki-filled green tea macarons
Suggested pairing: None! Think of these as a sweet intermezzo

Sake-braised pork with garlic risotto
Suggested pairing: Junmai

Temaki hand-rolls: lobster, spicy ahi and California
Suggested pairing: Ginjo

Glazed tender pork riblets served on sesame moyashi with horseradish aioli
Suggested pairing: Junmai, especially one with a high umami or high acidity and umami content
Tomato-marinated pa’i’ai on kalo tostone, taro stem ceviche, rice paddy herb garnish
Suggested pairing: Junmai, especially one with a meadowy taste
Tickets at


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Kampai! Quickie sake trivia question #6

Happy Thursday, sake lovers! And a thousand apologetic bows for our absence. With the Honolulu Joy only (gasp) eight days away, we are, how shall we put it … well, let’s just say we’re in the home stretch of preparations for sorting 3,500 sake, getting things ready for sake seminars and judging and pinning down final touches with our 15 restaurants and our Pier 2 venue for a joyous celebration with 1,000-plus sake lovers like you! In eight days!

Congratulations to KAYLA, our randomly picked winner from all seven correct answers! All correct because they’re in the same vein: A restaurant overpours sake to show generosity, welcome and appreciation to its customers. A beautiful gesture, wouldn’t you agree? Kayla, may your prize of two Joy of Sake cups always overflow — we’ll get them in the mail to you as soon as the Honolulu Joy is over.

Today’s trivia challenge may or may not be the last, because (gasp) we’re only eight days out! We will do our best. Meanwhile, because this may or may not be sake trivia’s farewell, we are awarding three (yes, THREE) Joy of Sake T-shirts for the correct answer to this question:

What was the original inspiration for the name ‘Joy of Sake’?

Have at it, people!


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Kampai! Sake trivia question #5

Phew, that question #4 was a toughie! Answers spanned a range of 5 to 26 percent. According to Chris Pearce, expert Japan-U.S. sake appraiser and founder of the Joy, entries in the U.S. National Sake Appraisal and Joy of Sake represent the top 15 percent of all sake brewed in Japan and include honjozo, junmai, ginjo and daiginjo.

Two answers qualified as correct, and in our random drawing one emerged supreme: Congratulations CHRIS W.! You win the complete package: a beautiful lady T-shirt, Joy of Sake cup and logo fan. We’ll be in touch!

Let’s ease up a bit (it’s Monday, after all): Today’s trivia challenge moves the difficulty level back to daiginjo-easy:

What does it mean when a sake server pours so much that your glass overflows?

Game on! Prize: Two Joy of Sake cups — and may they always overflow!


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The sake are here! Plus trivia question #4

Happy Aloha Friday, sake lovers! And congratulations to KEVIN IKEDA, the randomly picked winner who correctly answered yesterday’s trivia question: Who is the first and only non-Japanese to earn the title of toji?

The answer, as all who played correctly answered, is Philip Harper of England, master sake brewer at Kinoshita Brewery in Kyoto, creator of this lovely Tamagawa daiginjo and … drumroll, please … one of the judges at this year’s U.S. National Sake Appraisal. Which means that if you’re coming to the Joy of Sake in Honolulu and you have any questions at all about sake, the different styles and brewing methods, the life of a toji — anything at all — Philip Harper is your man.

Kevin, we’ll be in touch about your Joy of Sake T-shirt prize. And remember, if you’re coming to the Honolulu Joy on July 20, we’ll round out that prize with a Joy of Sake cup and our beautiful lady fan, so let us know!

Today’s trivia challenge comes to you with only a few minutes of Aloha Friday left because of all the sake goings-on with only 14 days left in our countdown. And besides … the bon dance drums of summer in Honolulu were calling so loudly we couldn’t resist! Gomennasai!


July 3. 17 days out: Sake arrive in Honolulu. Bottled and shipped from Japan in June, they will be only six weeks old and in peak condition when we get to taste them — all 360 of them — at the Joy.

July 6. 14 days out: Sake clear customs.

July 13. 7 days out: Sorting day. Dozens of volunteers descend on the Hawaii Convention Center to unpack, sort and repack nearly 3,500 bottles for different destinations: the U.S. National Sake Appraisal, Joy of Sake Honolulu, Joy of Sake New York on Sept. 20. The sorting takes up an entire ballroom and most of the day.

Can’t picture it? Here’s a time-lapse from last year:

July 17 & 18. 3-2 days out: 2012 U.S. National Sake Appraisal. Ten sake professionals from Japan and the U.S. blind-taste all 360 sake entries over two days, judging each on aroma, taste, balance and overall impression.

At the end of the first day, sake ranked in the top 50 percent move on to another blind tasting the next day. Those with the highest final scores win gold or silver stars; most win none.

Note: Judges taste the sake at room temperature — because it’s the best temperature to look for flaws.

July 20. Joy: Afternoon. Refrigerated trucks deliver the sake to Pier 2 Cruise Terminal at Honolulu Harbor. Joy of Sake marks the public debut of the giant hall, normally open only to cruise ship passengers. Chefs arrive. Fifteen top restaurants set up stations and begin prepping and cooking a wide array of sake-friendly appetizers.

Late afternoon. Armies of volunteers arrive for final briefings. They arrange the sake by category: Daiginjo A, light, complex and aromatic, brewed to competition ideals. Daiginjo B, created to showcase a brewery’s strengths and tastes. Ginjo, rich with the aromas of daiginjo. Junmai, full and ricey. And yamahai, a class of its own, sweet with a hint of funk.

Three-hundred-sixty eyedroppers are laid out, ready for tasters to help themselves. Volunteers and runners take up their posts.

6:30 p.m. Doors open. The beat of taiko drums thunders through the hall. The ceremonial giant sake cask is broken open. And for 1,000-plus sake fans new and old, the 12th Joy of Sake tasting celebration is under way.

Which brings us to today’s question: Most sake produced in Japan is futsuu-shu, similar to table wine, but the U.S. National Sake Appraisal and Joy of Sake bring in only premium brews. At the Joy of Sake you’ll be sampling the top what percent of all sake produced in Japan?

This one’s a toughie. If you have no idea, and no idea where to look, it’ll be like the jellybeans-in-a-jar game. The answer is a close estimation, so we’ll count anything within a plus or minus 5 percent range as correct.

Hint: The answer’s impressive. OK, that was no hint. But this question is such a toughie, the winner will receive the complete package of a Joy of Sake T-shirt, logo sake cup and our beautiful lady fan. And this question will stay up all weekend because, come on, we’ve got our bon dancing slippers on!


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