Back to the Future: Sake Adventures in Berlin

Berlin 1986

Not many people know this, but I had a secret life before I got into sake. In 1986, when I was 16 years old, I lived in West Berlin for one year as an exchange student. At that time, the Wall was still up, East Germany was going strong and the cold war was chilly as ever.

I stayed with a wonderful family there, attended a German High School and studied the language. The experience made such an impression on me, I went on to live for another year in Germany and study German Language and literature at University. All these years, I have stayed in contact with my Host Family from way back when and we trade off visits between Berlin and New York.

I was long overdue for a visit to Berlin to visit my host family. But since I was last there in 2003, I’ve changed careers and joined the sake world and boy was I excited to check out the sake scene in a city I knew so well. So we booked a non-stop on Lufthansa and before I knew it we were touching down at Tegel airport. Willkommen in Berlin!

Sake Kontor

At Sake Kontor

My first stop in Berlin is really sake central for all of Germany: Sake Kontor Berlin. Run by owner Suzanne Rost, Sake Kontor is Germany’s only retail sake shop and also a home base for the sakes imported and distributed by Rost.

I visited the shop on a rainy, cold January Berlin day but Suzanne welcomed me warmly. She carries over 40 styles of sake at the shop. There were many sakes represented but three brands stood out, Akashitai from Kobe, Masumi from Nagano and Takenotsuyu from Yamagata.

Sake Kontor is an oasis of sake in a country deeply entangled in wine and beer. It’s a great home base for any Berliners looking to get into sake. Suzanne has a great balance of offerings, too. There is a full range of prices as well as everything from Sparkling nigori to Yamahai Junmai to aged Koshu. I think Berlin is lucky to have it’s own sake shop!


Sake at Sasaya

After being away from New York City for a few days, Scott and I were starting to crave Sushi in a major way, but where to find sushi in Berlin? We settled on Japanese Restaurant Sasaya. I heard this was a Japanese-run restaurant which is a sure way to avoid falling into the pan-asian-fusion sushi trap.

I was surprised by the full sake list which included the likes of Urakasumi, Tomio, Kikusui and Shirakawago. I especially enjoyed my glass of Tomio Junmai Daigino. The sushi itself didn’t blow us away by our New York City Japanese-food-snob standards, but it certainly was tasty and this was a great place to have some sake and authentic Japanese food in Berlin.

Sake Dinner

Introducing Tsukinokatsura

On one of our last nights in Berlin, my German host parents Heribert & Dagamr, who own a really charming bio-organic cafe in the Wannsee neighborhood called the Hofcafe, offered to put on a special dinner for about 20 friends and made Japanese food for everyone, but only if I agreed to introduce and pour some sake! It’s on like Donkey Kong!

I arrived at the dinner anxious to showcase sake in it’s best light paired with my Host Mother’s wonderful cooking. I poured about 7 sakes including a wonderfully clean and dry Junmai from Masumi, a delicious and popular Junmai Ginjo from Takenotsuyu and a sake that was even new to me, a Zuikan Aigamo Junmai Daiginjo from Hiroshima – this last one was the crowd favorite. With the matcha ice cream dessert, I served a wonderfully sweet sparkling Nigori sake from Tsukinokatsura in Kyoto. I think the sake was a big hit and I felt good doing my little part to introduce sake to forward thinking, food friendly Berliners. Fun!

Well, they say you can’t go home again, but a trip to Berlin for me will always take me back to the future. Some parts of my time in 1986 Berlin I will remember as the happiest of my life; Some other parts of my exchange year were the biggest challenge I’ve ever dealt with. However, to return this year and to be able to marry past and present, German Language and Sake education, made for a wonderful, fulfilling experience. I know sake won’t overtake beer or wine at the German dinner table any time soon, but we’re off to a good start. All this and I was able to leave my Deloren at home.

Japanese Restaurant Sasaya
Lychener Strasse 50
10437 Berlin
(030) 447 17 721

Sake Kontor Berlin
Markgrafendamm 34
10245 Berlin
(030) 212 37 601

Hofcafe bei Mutter Fourage
Chausseestr. 15 a,
14109 Berlin-Wannsee
(030) 805 83 2 83