Your 15-Second Guide to Sake

In San Francisco’s Japantown, learn about the world of the revered beverage.

When people come into O Izakaya Lounge on Post Street, chances are pretty good that they haven’t tasted sake (a drink made from fermented rice), says beverage director George Dombrovski. The lounge in Hotel Kabuki is where many hotel guests dine. They may come from places where Japanese culture isn’t as prominent as it is in San Francisco, and are less familiar with the alcohol.

“They’ll try it, and they may like it,” Dombrovski says. “But even if they don’t, that’s okay. That’s what makes travel so great. You take the memories of a new experience back home.” About 20 bottles and two sake flights are on the lounge’s menu. Dombrovski shares his knowledge…

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What’s the most basic thing to know?

Sake is graded by how polished the rice grain is. The more polished, the more desirable the sake. The belief is it is cleaner. Also important are the quality of the water and the experience of the brewer.  Premium grades from low to high are: Junmai; Ginjo and Daiginjo; and Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo.

Cold or hot?

Cold.

How much should you spend for a decent bottle?   

“The most popular bottles fall in the $30 to $40 range,” Dombrovski says. Divine Droplets is O Izakaya’s most expensive at $132.

Divine Droplets? Great name!

“There is real poetry in the names… Bride of the Fox, Nothingness, Hawk in the Heavens, and Living Jewel are others. A lot of it has to do with the history of the brewing location and local fables.”

Surprise on the sake list?

“We currently carry a sake made in Vernon, California (Yaegaki). We will soon be carrying a sake made in Berkeley (Takara).”

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At Hotel Kabuki, the bar pours two different, complimentary sakes for guests from 4 to 5 p.m., Tuesdays and Fridays. Sip and compare.

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