Many of the guests of Dallas' first Sake Festival can consider themselves fortunate as they now have begun their journey into the Age of Enlightenment. As least, as far as sake is concerned.
Thursday night's event took place in the banquet room at Kenichi, located in Victory Park, and was led by chef Hung Nguyen, one of the world's 58 Level 2 Sake Masters. On hand were dozens of representatives of the rice brew, offering samples of more than 50 varieties, and pleased to discuss the value, history and quality levels of sake.
Each guest was given a rating card for notes and a small cup to sample the sake, not unlike what you might find at a wine event. Making my way around the room I was a bit overwhelmed at first, but was greeted at each table with a smiling face and a short story to explain the importance of each brand.
Much of the sake sampled that evening came from small family-owned breweries. As you make your way from northern to southern Japan you will fine nuances in the products, which are controlled by the water, quality of the rice grain, and selection of yeast that aids in the fermentation.
Chef Hung was quick to put our minds at ease. Certainly, there is a lot to learn, much like there is with wine, but the Sake Master seemed pleased to guide us through and demystify each brew.
As the night progressed, we continued to sample and select what we thought were the most pleasing to our particular tastes, some making copious notes, others simply enjoying the company. Waiters strolled through the room with assorted sushi rolls, presumably to cut against the effects of consuming 50 sake samples.
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Some of the sake had a clean aftertaste; some had floral or citrus notes. The sake made from the waters of Japanese rivers seemed to take on a softer mouth-feel. Other sakes were headier with higher alcohol percentages that escalated to 20 percent. Compare that to wines that might sport between 9 and 16 percent alcohol by volume.
This might account for the many smiles pasted across the faces of the guests.
"I am very pleased with the turnout," Hung beamed. "This evening Dallas makes a turn down a path that will take us to the level of interest like that of the East and West coast where sake has been a mainstay for many years."
Many of the high-end varieties of the sake served can be found at finer liquor stores throughout Dallas; Whole Foods has started to carry some quality sake. But when it comes to the education and pairing of sake, it is best to seek out the Master. But be careful on the journey. You can still pick up a DWI on the road to Enlightenment.