The world’s largest sake festival outside of Japan, the Joy of Sake, offers sake aficionados the opportunity to try premium Daiginjo, Ginjo, and Junmai sakes. Featuring nearly 400 bottles for sampling -- including 217 not otherwise available in the U.S. -- plus dishes from some of New York’s top Asian restaurants, The Joy of Sake is a must for sake drinkers and foodies alike. This year’s festival will take place at the Metropolitan Pavilion on Wednesday, Sept. 27.
To learn more about the Joy of Sake, I spoke to representatives of participating restaurants: Oka, En Japanese Brasserie, Insa, Ivan Ramen, and Momofuku Ssam Bar. The event’s organizer, Chris Pearce, also tackled some questions, providing an interesting answer as to where the popular festival’s name comes from. Tickets and other information related to The Joy of Sake are online.
The Daily Meal: Where did the idea for The Joy of Sake come from?
Chris Pearce, Joy of Sake: For the last 113 years, an annual sake appraisal has been held in Japan during which awards are given to the entries that receive the highest marks. After the judging, there is a public tasting event that a couple thousand people attend.
In 2001, when the first U.S. National Sake Appraisal was held, it was decided that similarly a public tasting event should follow. That’s how The Joy of Sake began -- an opportunity for enthusiasts a chance to taste the best sakes in the world, as determined in a two-day blind tasting of 10 judges.
As for the name, it comes from The Joy of Sex, a classic manual in its field. We sought to likewise provide a form of fun that everyone can enjoy.
How would you describe The Joy of Sake to someone who has not yet attended?
Pearce: I’d say it is the best sake event in the world. Even in Japan, you won’t find one that features 400 sakes and brings in top chefs from each city to create delicious, and often quite original, sake appetizers. The sakes were all submitted for tough competition: the Appraisal. They're in peak condition and guests can experience sake at its best.
How did you get involved with The Joy of Sake?
John McCarthy, Oka Owner: I opened a restaurant in Hudson, New York, called The Crimson Sparrow. At the time, my friend Andrew Richardson was working for World Sake Imports, and still does. We worked together at WD-50. I relied on Andrew and World Sake to build our opening sake and shochu list. I have continued to work with Andrew, Chris Johnson, and the whole team at World Of Sake to ensure that my lists at The Crimson Sparrow, and more recently OKA, include some of the finest sake available. At The Crimson Sparrow, I incorporate sake into our beverage pairings, and at Oka I have an extensive sake and shochu list to pair with izakaya-inspired dishes.
Yong Shin, chef at Insa: We got involved with the Joy of Sake after working with Andrew Richardson from World Sake Imports. Besides being a great supplier, we enjoy his storytelling about the breweries and his company.
Matthew Rudofker, chef at Momofuku Ssam Bar: Sake is an important part of our beverage program. Although we do not have an extensive list, it is important to us that it is well-curated. I have always felt that sake pairs extremely well with my style of food.
Abe Hiroki, chef at En Japanese Brasserie: We have been attending JOS for very long time. Basically we cannot say no to whatever Andrew asks us. He’s great!
Ivan Orkin, chef and owner at Ivan Ramen: I’ve always been interested in any NYC and Japanese connections; naturally, when I heard about Joy of Sake I wanted to come onboard. It’s a great opportunity to get people together to celebrate two great food cultures.
What will you be serving at The Joy Of Sake?
McCarthy, Oka: The dish will be tuna, anchovy cream, masago, and smoked egg bottarga.
Insa – Chef Yong Shin: Insa will be serving our take on Yukhwe: Korean-style beef tartare, with Asian pear, fried capers and puffed shrimp rice.
Rudofker, Momofuku Ssam Bar: We will be serving pork ribs that have been brined, smoked, and slow roasted before being glazed in a gochujang sauce.
Hiroki, EN Japanese Brasserie: Miyazaki Gyu Aburi, lightly-seared A5 Wagyu from Miyazaki. The best!
Orkin, Ivan Ramen: Otsumami daikon and cucumber “sandwiches” with shiso and umeboshi. These are sweet and salty refreshing snacks with great acidity that are a perfect match with sake. Pressed pickled herring sushi “battera” style, a great riff on the classic pickled mackerel-pressed sushi, and I just love the way the New York-style pickled herring works as a substitute.
What type of sake will pair well with your dish?
McCarthy, Oka: The dish is laden with umami and smoky notes. I think that it will pair with a variety of sakes but would first try a junmai such as Masumi Okuden Kantsukuri.
Shin, Insa: A junmai with lots of herbaceous, fruity aromas and a well-rounded structure would be a great option to complement the delicate flavors of beef tartare. Or perhaps to go in a different direction, an umami-forward Namazake would make an interesting combination! Layering umami on umami.
Rudofker, Momofuku Ssam Bar: I would traditionally pair this with a Honjozo or Junmai sake as the flavor of the ribs would overpower a more nuanced Daiginjo. A sake with a slightly higher alcohol content and robust earthy flavors will pair best with this.
Hiroki, EN Japanese Brasserie: Something full bodied, smooth, and dry. Junmai Daiginjo Kimoto would make a great pairing.
Orkin, Ivan Ramen: I chose a Daigingo to keep your palate fresh and clean. There are layers of green apple and subtle floral notes that ensure each bite will be as good as the last.
The Joy of Sake aside, what's coming up for your restaurant?
McCarthy, Oka: On Sept. 7, Oka hosted the president of [Japanese sake brewer] Tsuji Honten, and he provided a tasting of its sakes, which are not yet available in the U.S. The Crimson Sparrow did an event on Sept. 17 for Chefs for Clearwater, an event hosted by chef Terrance Brennan. Oka will also host Japanese distiller Iichiko Shochu for its return to New York. Oka will also do some tasting events with World Sake in the near-future as well.
Rudofker, Momofuku Ssam Bar: I've recently taken on a new role at Momofuku, now overseeing culinary operations for all of the restaurants. Right now, I've been helping out with the upcoming Los Angeles restaurant opening, amongst other projects.
Hiroki, En Japanese Brasserie: We are opening a second location in Hollywood at Chateau Marmont. We’d love to introduce wonderful Japanese food and sake there as well.
Orkin, Ivan Ramen: I am working on a new cookbook. I’m always developing new things at the shop and at home with my family, so there are a lot of new things to try. We’ve been featuring limited craft beers from New York City and beyond. We have a couple of special beer collaborations in the mix for the fall and the new year.
How has Americans’ view of sake changed since you started the event?
Pearce, Joy of Sake: I think the Joy of Sake has had a major effect in changing the way that Americans’ view of sake. It’s exposed thousands of people to sake in peak condition, providing entry to a world of enjoyment they didn’t know existed.
Chris, do you have any other events coming up besides The Joy Of Sake?
Pearce, Joy Of Sake: Leading up to the Joy of Sake, there are one-day JOS pop-up events at Ivan Ramen and Insa. In addition, The Joy Of Sake Tokyo is coming up on Nov. 1.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
McCarthy, Oka: This is the second year that I have been asked to do Joy of Sake, and I am incredibly honored. Only a handful of restaurants are invited to participate and to be among this roster of great chefs and restaurants is humbling. It is my hope that these events will push sake into the familiar for the public and they will know how wonderful it is. For chefs, I hope that they experience it as well and begin utilizing it for their beverage programs and pairings. Kampai!
Shin, Insa: People should not be scared of sake. It is delicious, makes for easy drinking, and is even more delicious with food!
Hiroki, En Japanese Brasserie: The day of Joy of Sake, Sept. 27, is our 13th anniversary! Please come and celebrate with us at En and don’t forget to check out my Instagram.
Orkin, Ivan Ramen: Come by the shop and try the new menu. We still have all of our classic dishes, but there are lots of fun new dishes that won’t last forever.
Pearce, Joy Of Sake: How about a haiku:
may it be snow and sand
you fall into from your horse:
drunk on sake