True Sake – San Francisco, CA


True Sake
560 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA 94102-4214
(415) 355-9555

Most of the time, an establishment is somewhere you go to be served. Once in a while, you come across an establishment that you go to be educated. I get a great coffee education everytime i go to Transcend or Phil and Sebastians, a great wine education from Soif, and right in the heart of San Francisco, a great Sake education from True Sake.

The first dedicated Sake store outside of Japan, True Sake is an uncommon “liquor” store. First off, as the name suggests, they offer nothing but sake. Secondly, they are one part store, five parts school. Sake is not a very well understood beverage in North America- and with diversity and complexity similar to wine, there is a lot going on. In order to grow the market for their product, it is important that they explain, and educate users on the differences, and the diversity that is sake. Thankfully, they are both patient, and understanding.

The shop itself is clean, pretty, and simple. Sake is appropriately stored in a clean, simple environment.

A short primer on sake – also known Nihonshu in Japanese. Sake is made with rice. What makes it unique from other beverages is that before fermentation, they spend a tremendous amount of effort selecting and processing the rice. They polish, wash, soak, and steam the rice to achieve the cleanest, purest ingredients possible. The more the rice is polished, the more refined the sake.  After, they process and ferment the rice in a complicated process involving koji (mold), and time. Lastly, they will filter, pasteurize, age, and blend it. It really is part wine, part beer.

Sake is categorized based on how much polishing of the rice is done. Basic, unadulterated sake comes in 3 classifications – Junmai (30% polish), Junmai Ginjo (40% polish), and Junmai Dai Ginjo (50% polish).

Sakes that have brewers alcohol added to help accentuate and highlight flavours, are a different classification of sake – Honjozo, Ginjo, and Dai Ginjo (30/40/50% respectively).

There are many other types of sake – mostly special types with unique characteristics. Like a Nigori, which is an unfiltered sake, similar to a Hefeweizen. I havent learned them all yet, but hopefully this gives you enough information to start asking useful questions.

Unlike wine, one great benefit to sake is affordability. You can get some high quality stuff at a fairly reasonable price point of $15-$30. The best bottles top out between $80 and $120 – not unreasonable by any stretch of the imagination.

More importantly though, sake can pair with a wide variety of foods. If you look at a bottle at True Sake, the store has created an information blurb for each one. Name, district, type, sweetness and acidity ratings, taste descriptors, similar alcohol, and pairings! I find these incredibly helpful when trying to understand what a sake will taste like, and what it might taste good with.

All this information, courses, and a helpful owner – sake sommelier, Beau Timken – provide anyone in the area with a high quality Sake education. And the best part – you get to taste your way through school. It doesn’t get much better than that! If you’re interested in learning something new about sake, check out True Sake. It’ll be the funnest education you’ve ever taken.

Oh, our very own Shokutsu is also a very big fan of Nihonshu. Feel free to ask him any questions you may have!

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5 thoughts on “True Sake – San Francisco, CA

  1. Uncanny timing of your post foodosopher. As I was reading this on Friday in the G&M, an update to a previously run story on the local sake maker in Vancouver. It also touches on the importance of the rice being used, and an interesting development they are undertaking to get a stable and local source. On a side note, their product is not bad, just not ideal to do a direct comparison to something of good quality from Japan, as I can certainly note the difference.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/business-incubator/sake-maker-says-hes-brewing-the-next-big-thing/article1370779/

    You’ve pictured one of the best all-around, easy to drink ones there in the Dassai. Alas, my bottle of it has long been empty.

    Sounds like the Bay Area is a great place to establish a foodhold with an already enlightened populace with wine, which can hopefully translate seemingly easily to nihonshu.

  2. The first time I read about Masa making sake with Canadian rice I thought “What!? You can grow rice in Canada?” I have had his sake – easy drinking, buttery, chardonnay-like. I also had a bottle of their sparkling sake – which seems to be the “thing” these days. This one was more crisp and flinty.

    There is a fairly solid rumour that a Japanese sake maker has quietly set up shop in Richmond a few months ago…I’m to trying track this one down now.

    • I had the same thought. Rice growing is a tedious, difficult and highly environmentally-sensitive growing operation. I’m curious to learn how it works out. If you find any news on that alleged Richmond operation, please do share….

    • Well, just like coffee, i’ve come to realize what a fantastically complex and interesting drink Nihonshu is – it is in my interest for more people to get it so it becomes more widely imported! :)

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