Selling Sake And All That Goes With It
Wednesday - December 07, 2011
When Nadine Leong decided it was time to get back into the workplace after years spent as a stay-at-home mom, she was determined to do something she enjoyed. So she began a search that brought her and her husband Malcolm to a small store on South King Street the city’s only sake shop.
“I knew that it was important to find something we would really enjoy doing,” she says, “and after we made several trips to Japan, we noticed that there wasn’t really anywhere that specialized in selling only sake. That made us want to find out more.”
Turns out the Leongs found a niche in a rapidly growing market. Consumers in the U.S. have tripled their sake consumption in the past 10 years, while sales in Japan are on the decline. In Hawaii we’re particularly sake savvy.
“We found that, not only was there nowhere that specialized in sake,” says Nadine, “there was no one to really provide the kinds of choices customers wanted.”
Open for almost two years, the store is filling a niche and providing some much-needed sake education. There’s an immediate sense of hands-on family business when you enter the store. Nadine is enthusiastic and warmly greets customers as they enter, encouraging them to ask questions about the hundreds of sake bottles lining the shelves.
“We have brewers and sake experts who come by to share their knowledge,” she says, “and we want to pass that on to our customers so they can make informed choices about what they’re drinking.”
Tastings are held at the store a couple of times a month, and as word spreads about The Sake Shop’s variety, the tastings have grown.
“They’re casual and really great fun,” says Nadine of the complimentary events. “It’s a good way for people to try a lot of different tastes and then decide what they like.”
There are basically five different types of sake: Junmai-shu, Honjozo-shu, Ginjo-shu, Daiginjo-shu and Namazake, and Nadine is happy to explain the differences and offer suggestions. And while sake used to be thought of as a rough liquor, oftentimes needing heat to mask its unrefined flavor, today’s sakes have much more in common with wine, especially when it comes to food pairing.
“A lot of breweries make seasonal sakes that are made to pair well with food,” says Nadine, taking a variety of hiyaoroshi (sake pasteurized once instead of the usual twice) from a well-stocked refrigerator.
And if you’re looking for inspiration for Christmas gifts, the store has a delightful variety of glasses and masu wooden box cup that start at just $3-$4.
“Some people like the cedar wood masu because it imparts an added flavor to the sake,” says Nadine. “Other people prefer a simple, lacquered box.”
There’s even a customized carafe made to keep sake cool.
“The ice goes inside the carafe to keep the sake cold, but doesn’t touch the sake,” explains Nadine.
The store is open daily, and the next tasting is scheduled for Dec. 17. Details are on the website: sakeshophawaii.com.
“We have a lot of fun at the tastings,” says Nadine. “We might be small, but we have a lot to share.”
The Sake Shop 1461 S. King St. 947-7253
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