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San Diego Sake Festival is Back, Introduces SD Sake Week

This year, sake sommelier Ayaka Ito is back to host the annual festival’s 2022 iteration with nonprofit organization Japan Society of San Diego
Courtesy of San Diego Sake Festival

By Ligaya Malones

sake fest, hero

sake fest, hero

Courtesy of San Diego Sake Festival

It’s hard to calculate just how much money the sake bomb cost the most respected sake brewers in the world, but it’s probably millions. Origin stories are often murky (the inception of the hamburger has at least four birth narratives), but the one that seems to make the most sense is that American G.I.’s invented the sake bomb during or after WWII.

The sake bomb is, of course, when you teeter a sake o-choko (most think of them as the tiny shot glasses) on two chopsticks rested over a half-full beer. Bang the table, the chopsticks drop the sake into the beer… and chug.

The intimation being, of course, that sake tasted so bad that its taste had to be drowned in a more acceptable beverage. They treated this Japanese art form like Jaegemeister. Ouch.

It took decades for sake connoisseurs to combat that notion. Thankfully, San Diegans are no strangers to the fermented crafts (beer! Wine! Kombucha!) Plus, we’re home to the county’s only Kikisake-shi, or sake sommelier, Ayaka Ito.

This year Ito, of Be-Shock Ramen restaurants in East Village and Carlsbad, is back to host the annual sake festival’s 2022 iteration with nonprofit organization Japan Society of San Diego and the merrymakers at ItsFarOut events. That’ll happen at Ruocco Park on October 8th, overlooking San Diego Bay near Seaport Village and The Headquarters. There will also be events throughout the county beginning October 1, and all are part of San Diego Sake Week.

More than 50 Japanese and American-made sake labels will descend upon the park next Saturday. Ticket holders who don’t want to miss a chance to sample some cedar-infused sake should arrive before 4pm for the Kagami Biraki traditional sake barrel opening ceremony, Ito says. Outside of Japan, “It’s hard to find in the U.S.” For food, Swagyu, Rice or Death, and HiBites will be slinging fare for purchase.

sake fest

sake fest

Courtesy of San Diego Sake Fest

Unless guests snag a VIP ticket, in which case food samples from each are included, as well as an hour head start before all of the general admission action, plus a dedicated, shaded seating area. There will also be live music throughout the afternoon, and a taiko drumming performance to close out the festival.

And while American-made sake may not be as culturally intuitive stateside as beer or whiskey for example, Ito says that producers’ creative freedom over the sake-making process makes local brews unique.

“U.S. producers don’t have so much restriction on what they can do. Japan is more strict,” Ito says. If a sake brewer deviates from the ingredients (rice, koji spores, water) or process even slightly, “You can’t call it sake,” Ito says.

For example hometown sake brewers Setting Sun Sake in Miramar makes a style infused with Citra hops. Arizona Sake, another sake festival participant, makes theirs with greenthread (or Navajo tea), a plant native to the West and Southwest.

For the purists, there will be tastes of Japanese sake, such as from the Gikyo label. Its sake is made from coveted Yamada Nishiki rice strain that comes from paddies in the Tojo district of Hyogo prefecture. Those paddies produce A-grade rice—almost like the Holy Grail in the sake world. According to Ito, only a dozen or so sake brewers in Japan have access to these rice paddies.

Ahead of the sake festival, a week’s worth of separate events and restaurant promotions, from chef’s dinners to exclusive sake tastings and pairings, will take place throughout the county as part of San Diego Sake Week. Beginning October 1, Setting Sun will host a tasting event at the Japanese Friendship Garden with a range of local and visiting craft beverage labels, including 3 Punk Ales, Newtopia Cyder, and Resident Brewing Co.

Throughout the week, restaurants including Azuki Sushi, Cowboy Star, Cloak & Petal, Hinotez, Ototo Sushi, and others will offer exclusive sake tastings or pairings.

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