Where to Celebrate World Sake Day in Denver

Where to Celebrate World Sake Day in Denver
Annie Dent / Osaka Ramen
Today is World Sake Day — and it’s not just another meaningless food or drink holiday to add to your calendar. October 1 marks the first day of sake-making season in Japan, the fermented beverage’s birthplace. “It marks the start of the fiscal year for a lot of breweries, but for most is an honorary day to celebrate sake and the people who support the industry,” says Peyton Walston, the resident sake expert at Uchi Austin, the Hai Hospitality restaurant that also has a location in Denver. Sake, sometimes referred to as rice wine, is an alcoholic drink made from rice, yeast, water and koji — a fungus widely used to make alcohol.

Drinking sake is an incredible experience and a journey that takes many turns, says Jason Kosmas, Uchi's beverage director. “There is so much to explore," he notes. "Once you think you know it all, sake teaches you something different. World Sake Day reminds us to learn something new.”

When choosing a sake, Kosmas notes, one thing to know is that price usually denotes level of quality, pointing out that if you’re opting for an expensive sake, you are usually getting something that took money to produce. “The fruity and floral sakes must be milled down, shedding their exteriors, hence yielding less,” he says. But, he adds, that doesn't mean you have to break the bank to have a good sake. “'Tokubetsu' on a label means the brewer has utilized a unique ingredient or process to make it special," he explains. "These sakes tend to have some umami and really go well with food."

Uchi looks for sakes that are of quality and tell a story, whether about the production or the brewer. It is also a necessity that the sakes on the menu work well with the food. “Usually, the ones we select invoke one of our dishes. For example, we taste a Daiginjo sake and say, 'This would be perfect with the Hama Chili,'" Kosmas says.

Walston, who is a Sake Education Council-certified advanced sake professional, says that when it comes to pairing sake with food, considering intensity is key. She likes to start her meal with a sake that mimics a fruity cocktail before moving on to richer varieties that stand up to heartier foods. “But, like wine, contrasting characteristics can be amazing, too,” she adds. “A sake with fruit characteristics can balance out an oily fish or fried chicken. The best thing is to taste until you find something amazing. And talk about it.”

Blue Sushi Sake Grill's goal is to provide guests an enjoyable sake experience that is approachable, too. This is done by offering a wide range of sake at different price points, a half-price sake bottle night on Tuesdays, cocktails made with sake, and sake flights that make it easy to sample a variety.

“We’re really hoping to continue to draw attention to sake and show our guests that there’s more to the spirit than simply sake bombs,” says Jordan Drake, general manager of Blue Sushi's Denver location. Sake is a wonderful spirit that serves as a fantastic pairing for sushi and other hot and cold dishes, Drake says, and it can be thought of as a very curated experience as opposed to a very gimmicky one.

Drake adds that you can really enjoy sake just as you would wine, with each kind of sake highlighting a unique experience for the diner. “We are inspired by tradition, of course, and then also have our own spin on the sake experience. We have a robust, diverse and quality menu that we love celebrating with our guests,” he says.

Here are ten places in Denver where you can enjoy sake and learn more about the Japanese spirit any day of the year:
click to enlarge This sparkling jelly sake is now on the menu at Osaka Ramen. - OSAKA RAMEN / ANNIE DENT
This sparkling jelly sake is now on the menu at Osaka Ramen.
Osaka Ramen / Annie Dent
2500 Lawrence Street

Each sake listed on the menu at Uchi comes with flavor descriptors to help sake newbies. Konteki has flavors of bananas, anise and truffle, while Wakatake Onikoroshi has notes of plum, spearmint and black pepper, for example. But the Otokoyama Tokubetsu is the most popular sake in Denver. “It is super crisp and clean and the quality is heavily influenced by the water source," Kosmas says. “It is an everyday sake.”

Osaka Ramen
2611 Walnut Street

General manager Caitlin Lapinel says one of her favorites from the happy hour selection at Osaka Ramen is the Chika Girl. “I was first drawn to the cute logo and the one-cup serving, and I was sold on the wide options for food pairings it allows,” she explains. Other happy hour favorites include the horchata, sho chiku bai, and snow maiden. In addition to the large variety of sakes, the restaurant recently added a "sparkling jelly sake" called Ozeki Ikezo to the menu that Lapinel says brings a “fun tasting experience to the table."

Hapa Sushi
Multiple locations
Hapa’s sake menu uses Nihonshu-do, also known as the sake meter value, which measures the sweetness of sake from very sweet to very dry. Guests can customize a sake flight to sample four varieties. Ginjo is described as slightly dry with flavors of green apple and pear while Sho Chiku Bai is unfiltered, robust, bold, and sweet. Specialty cocktails also include sake, such as the Mazinga Mule made with raspberry-infused sake, tequila, lime, and ginger beer.

Blue Sushi Sake Grill
1616 16th Street

The most popular sake at Blue Sushi is Yoshinogawa Winter Warrior, which is a junmai ginjo and is medium-bodied with tropical notes of melon and honeydew and floral aroma. The menu has descriptors, such as sweet, neutral and dry, which guests have found helpful in expanding their palates, says beverage directot Dustin Fox.

Bamboo Sushi
2715 17th Street

The sake selection here consists of both cold and hot options. Sakes are grouped by descriptions that include dry and earthy, smooth and expressive and cloudy with one to three options listed under. Sake also makes its way into a few of the hand-crafted cocktails like the carbonated sake sangria made with Hakushika Junami sake, Roku gin, apricot, rosemary and grapefruit bitters.

Mizu Izakaya
1560 Boulder Street

Mizu Isakaya’s menu is filled with fresh sushi sourced from a Japanese fish market and a large drink menu, which is fitting since an izakaya is a Japanese pub. The large sake list has varying price points per bottle ranging from $20 to $150. Mio Sparkling is sweet with flavors of lemongrass and honeydew and Moon on the Water has notes of yellow apple, pear and honeydew and is brewed by one of Japan’s only female sake brewery owners.
click to enlarge Denver is home to Colorado Sake Co., the state's only sake brewery. - JOSHUA MCELREAVY
Denver is home to Colorado Sake Co., the state's only sake brewery.
Joshua McElreavy
Multiple locations
Even though Motomaki is more of a fast-casual dining experience with rolls and bowls, the sake should not be skipped. There is a handful of cold sake options including Yaegaki and Oseki Nigori along with three hot sake options including a vanilla variety and Gekkaikan.

Colorado Sake Co.
3559 Larimer Street

Colorado’s first and only sake brewery creates both traditional sake, made with only California-grown rice, koji, yeast and Rocky Mountain water, and versions with a twist. The reinvented sakes are infused with a variety of ingredients, such as Palisade peaches, blueberries and hibiscus flowers. Try the Hawaiian Bonfire for a tropical treat with a little heat — it's infused with fresh pineapple, coconut and serrano peppers.

Multiple locations
Nigiri and rolls pair with a sake list that is entirely made in Japan at this conveyor-belt sushi spot. Flavors range from earthy and savory to sparkling and fruity and floral. The go-to sake here for most is the Sayuri Nigori, which is sold by both the bottle and the glass, and is cloudy and lightly sweet.

450 North Broadway

Choose from a variety of nine cold sakes to drink alongside a menu of eclectic traditional Japanese ramen. Go-to options here include Junmai Yaegaki, a dry, medium-bodied sake with a crisp acid finish, and Kikusui Nigori Perfect Snow, which boasts a full-bodied sweetness.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kristen Kuchar is a Colorado writer covering craft beer, food and travel. For Westword, she explores vegan dining and the state's artisan beverages, such as cider and mead.