True Sake – San Francisco, CA
560 Hayes Street
San Francisco, CA 94102-4214
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!