March 14, 2023
Become a True Sake Sommelier
Indulge in an unlimited selection of sake
By Taylor Bond
Sake may as well be the national drink of Japan—after all, it’s a tradition that’s been around since essentially the advent of rice cultivation over 2500 years ago. Since then, sake brewing has been refined and developed, with an official brewing code of practice being established by the Japanese Imperial Court in the 8th century, and commercial sake brewers documented as early as 1425AD. Now, modern customers can savor a range of flavors and styles of sake—from junmai to daiginjo, classical to contemporary, clear to cloudy.
However, as any liquor aficionado knows, investing in bottles adds up over time, and adventuring into ordering outside of your standard can sometimes leave you with a jug filled with a flavor profile not suited to your tastes. Or, simply expanding your flavor profile can require a large time commitment, as you hop from bar to izakaya in search of specific sake. Also, all-you-can-drink deals aren’t always affixed with the best of reputations. The average nomihodai experience (all-you-can-drink) frequently features watered-down selections and low-quality liquor. Sake Market, an in-store experience operated by alcohol distributor Kurand, caters to customers who want the best of both worlds with their sake hunt—quality and quantity.
Kurand’s online site features a collection of drinks available to purchase by the bottle. Divided by region, some notable choices range from sweet honey mead brewed in Tochigi, to melon fruit liquor produced in Nagasaki. With selections stemming from every prefecture and styles ranging in ingredients, production methods, alcohol type, occasion, and a whole other range of specifications, making the final decision on what bottle of brilliance is coming home with you can be staggering. After all, without a chance to sip and sample every variety, determining the flavor that best suits your unique tastes is nearly downright impossible.
That’s the beauty of the Sake Market.
Sake Market is a location designed for the ultimate gourmand, who dreams of comparing and contrasting an intense variety of different selections. A visit to their store is like ordering a flight of drinks, to the extreme. Rather than sample only a handful of different options, the Kurand Sake Market offers customers up to 100 varieties of sake, umeshu, and other domestically brewed drinks to indulge in at their own leisure. Customers have the chance to browse, select, and experiment with an expansive range of creatively-crafted liquor. All of the bottles are displayed freely in the store’s refrigerators, allowing guests to explore at their own leisure. Whenever you’re ready for the next sake to sample, simply head up yourself and make your selection. Or, ask the staff to craft you a sake cocktail with some of the specialty mixes available.
Visitors are encouraged to limit themselves to three glasses of alcohol at a time, then wash and reuse the glasses when they choose their next bottle. Divided into clear sections of flavor profile and alcohol type, customers can quickly determine what style suits them best, whether it’s rich and dry sake, sweet potato shochu, or fruity dessert liquor. Then, after copious amounts of free-flowing sampling, customers can commit to a sake style to add to their own personal collection by making note of the brand and ordering from Kurand.
The layout of the store is largely industrial. Cement walls, wooden high-top tables, and neutral tones keep the store’s aesthetic minimalistic and clean, yet the inviting atmosphere and ability to self-select new drinks from the line-up of refrigerators ensure that customers are comfortable and capable of fully enjoying the experience.
Pricing is by time rather than glass, ensuring that customers can freely sip a broad range of tastes without a second thought on price. Currently, a 30-minute tasting session for people just looking to wet their whistle is ¥1,500, while a 90-minute session is ¥2,500. Of course, for the truly dedicated sake devotee, ¥3,600 will guarantee unlimited drinks without a time limit from the Sake Market’s dinner hours until closing (18:00-23:00; last order at 22:30). Guests with a penchant for day drinking can make the most of the daytime reduced rates on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, which offer unlimited drinking between 12:00-16:00 for just ¥2,500.
As the name suggests, Sake Market is all about sake. There are no frills or false pretenses of focusing on anything but the drinks. In fact, visitors are encouraged to BYOF (the lesser-known counterpart to BYOB, bring-your-own-food). While Sake Market has small snacks available for purchase by the register, including options like ready-made canned food or slices of duck and ham, customers hungering for larger dishes can bring their own food in with them, or deliver food straight to the restaurant. Sake Market describes it as the comfort of drinking in your own home, equipped with microwaves, plates, and utensils for easy eating and sharing among friends—if your own home had its own private sake bar, of course.
There are two locations in Tokyo—one in Shinjuku and one in Akihabara. Both major hubs are centers for business and tourism, as well as primely located on key city train lines, including the Yamanote. Reservations are not required, but are highly encouraged. Since both Sake Market branches are open seven days a week, it makes them easily accessible for customers finishing up a long day of work looking to unwind, or travelers aiming to expand their exposure with flavors of the local liquor industry.