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December 16, 2018

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World Sake Day is Thursday; Sushi Roku provides 411 on popular Japanese alcohol

Sushi Roku


Blue crab tartare with uni and caviar at Sushi Roku in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.

Sushi Roku

King crab lettuce wraps at Sushi Roku in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Launch slideshow »

2013 UNLVino: Sake Fever at The Mirage

2013 UNLVino's Sake Fever honoring Masaharu Morimoto with the Dom Perignon Award of Excellence at The Mirage on Friday, April 19, 2013. Launch slideshow »
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Melissa Nguyen, Level II sake sommelier, at Andrea’s in Encore Las Vegas.

Around the world this Thursday, Japanese restaurants, chefs and food fanatics mark World Sake Day as an annual event that traditionally sets the starting date of sake production in the Asian country. It’s a tribute to sake, the Japanese alcohol made of fermented rice.

It used to be only a national event in japan, but as the popularity of sushi and sashimi spread around the globe, Sake Day has became a global event. There’s no question that sake as a drink also has exploded around the world.

To understand the drink a little better, I put a dozen questions to Johnny Seo, general manager of Sushi Roku at the Forum Shops of Caesars Palace. Sushi Roku is part of the Boa, Katana and Robata Bar family of Innovative Dining Group restaurants with venues in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Newport Beach, Pasadena, Los Angeles and Santa Monica in California.

Sushi Roku combines fish from waters around the globe with artistry that can only be provided by a mature sushi chef, ensuring superlative traditional sushi with a splash of California innovation.

Said Johnny: “Sushi Roku is a pioneer of contemporary sushi incorporating diverse, nontraditional ingredients from Latin America (e.g. jalapenos) and Europe (e.g. olive oil) into its edible works of art. This unique culinary experience that bridges past and present is the result of an eagerness to embrace new ideas and a profound respect for tradition.

Sushi Roku’s bold and diverse menu also offers an array of hot and cold specialty appetizers and an extensive selection of exotic entrees.”

Why has sake become a popular drink?

Sake became more palatable in the last 30 years, and more wine-like lately, as Japanese cuisine has become much more popular in general.

How far back in history does sake go?

There is a record talking about sake that dates back to the 3rd century. However, the current style of sake has been made for the last 1,200 years.

How best to order sake?

You need to know what kind of style you would like — Junmai or Ginjo. If you would like a dry, earthy and full-bodied sake, go with Junmai. Ginjo style is cleaner and fruitier.

How best to serve sake?

Modern-style sake is best served in white wine glasses to enjoy the delicate aroma.

Please explain the different sakes.

Clear would be Junmai or Ginjo on the label. Creamy is Nigori. Sparkling is usually on the label.

What sake goes best with what Japanese food?

Junmai (earthy, dry, full-bodied) sake pairs well with cooked or grilled meats and dishes with umami flavors. Ginjo (lighter, cleaner and fruitier) sake goes best with sushi, sashimi and lighter appetizers.

When did sparkling and sweet sake arrive on the scene?

Sparkling and sweeter sake arrived in the last 15 years. The younger generation of Japanese people doesn’t drink alcohol as much as we used to, and they think sake is an old man’s drink. The sake industry is trying to promote sake to younger generations with the sparkling and sweeter sakes.

How is sake made? What is the process?

Sake is made similar to beer. Starting with the rice grain:

1. Polish rice to remove unwanted materials

2. Steam rice

3. Spread enzyme to convert starch to fermentable sugar

4. Add yeast

5. Ferment 2 to 4 weeks

6. Remove sediments

7. Press

8. Filter

9. Pasteurize

10. Bottle

Are there different vintage years? Aging?

Aged sake, koshu or kijoushu are becoming popular in the U.S. You will get great quality of sake from any vintage year. You will see sake aged 2 to 10 years in Las Vegas.

How long to become a sake sommelier? Is it more difficult than a wine som?

Depending on how far you want to go, the process is nearly the same as a wine som. To get an entry som job, you should get the first-level Sake Professional certification or Sake Advisor certification. You will need a few months to study to get the first level. Or you need to work under a great som.

How much sake is consumed in Japan — and now in the USA?

Six liters per person is average in Japan per year. About 3 percent of sake is exported from Japan, and about half of those exports comes to the U.S. In the U.S., sake is around a $9 billion business, and we’re seeing about a 10 percent increase every year.

What’s the correct way to toast or say cheers in Japanese when drinking sake?


A guest column by Melissa Nguyen, Level II sake sommelier at Andrea’s in Steve Wynn’s Encore, was posted July 13 while I was away in Italy. The Level II certification, presented by the Sake Education Council, signifies a substantially “higher level of understanding of and familiarity with all things sake, including production methods and their variations.”

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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