Nadine Leong

Jo McGarry photo

Sake Educator and Co-owner of The Sake Shop
1461 S. King St.

What sparked your passion for sake? I think it was really started in 2006 after a trip to Japan. My husband and I enjoyed it so much that we started to think about opening a store where people could learn about the amazing sake that is available now.

One of the cool things about your store is that you focus so much on educating and helping customers. Yes, we definitely wanted to encourage people to come in and ask questions and not be intimidated. And now we have tastings regularly and invite sake brewers to talk about their craft.

Are more people drinking sake? Yes, there’s an increase every year in the number of people who enjoy sake. I think people have so much more knowledge now, and that exposure gives them confidence to ask more questions and try new things.

It helps that Honolulu is host to the biggest sake festival in the world! Yes, the Joy of Sake, held this year in August, is incredible. It allows people to taste so many sakes that they would never usually see outside of Japan. Many gold-medal sakes are never tasted outside of Japan, so it’s amazing to see them – and the brewers – in Honolulu. This year there will be 16 local chefs at the event, too.

Sake has the ability to pair so well with food. Do people drink it like wine sometimes? It is like wine, in a way. It has about a third less acidity, contains no sulphites, and it’s a very pure spirit. It goes so well with food.

What do you drink when you’re relaxing? It’s funny, because I’m not a big drinker (laughs), but I really, really enjoy sake when I’m eating. I like to pair it with any kind of hearty, rustic dishes like stews or beef dishes or pork. It doesn’t have to be Asian or sushi. You can do ribs and pizza with sake and it’s fabulous!

Do you have a favorite? (Laughs) That would be impossible to say. At the end of the day, I like something that’s balanced and smooth with a good body, dry and with a hint of sweetness.

Are the old days of drinking hot sake gone forever? Nowadays there’s no need to heat sake. A lot of brewers are polishing to a premium level, and the sake is very good chilled. It was a little rougher in the old days, and the heat helped!