Interview: Chris Pearce and the Joy of Sake

jos.jpgThe annual Joy of Sake tasting event is considered the “not to be missed” sake event of the year. Luckily, there is still time to get a ticket for this veritable sake-palooza, which is happening this year in New York on Sept 25th. I’ve enthusiastically attended the Joy of Sake for the last few years, but I knew little about how this mammoth sake event came into being. I caught up with Joy of Sake founder Chris Pearce to find out more…

Q: Chris, how did you get involved in the sake world?

Chris Pearce: I met Takao Nihei, the brewmaster of the Honolulu Sake Brewery, in 1982. He was a product of the heyday of Japanese brewing research in the 1950s and was one of the great brewers of his day. His most famous accomplishment was the discovery in Honolulu of “awanashi kobo,” a non-frothing yeast that enabled brewers to greatly increase the amount of sake they could make in a given vat. He took pity on the small group of sake enthusiasts in Hawaii who started the International Sake Association in 1986 and acted as their mentor until he passed away in 1994.

2.jpgQ: What is the “Joy of Sake”?

Chris Pearce: The Joy of Sake is often referred to as “the largest sake tasting outside Japan.” It is based on the “ippan kokai” or public tasting event that follows the Japan National Sake Appraisal every year. In the case of the U.S., The Joy of Sake follows the U.S. National Sake Appraisal, which was held in Honolulu on August 26-27. This year 327 entries were submitted, and these are the sakes that can be tasted at
The Joy of Sake this week in New York. The entries were all submitted in peak condition, and as a result the quality is impeccable. And to make the event more fun, as sake-sipping certainly should be, thirteen of New York’s top restaurants prepare complementary sake appetizers. It’s an educational sake event on one level, but on another it’s one of New York’s best parties of the year.

Q: How did the Joy of Sake Event come into being?

Chris Pearce: It started in 2001, when the first event was held in Honolulu. At that time, ginjo and daiginjo sakes were just beginning to become available, and interest in sake was picking up. But there were no accepted criteria on what a good sake should taste like. Various commentators, often inexperienced, expressed their subjective opinions, which were then taken up by the media. The members of the International Sake Association felt that there should be a serious assessment of sakes available in the U.S. by qualified judges, based on criteria that were developed in Japan over the last 100 years. And since the International Sake Association had a lot of experience throwing parties, the idea from the start was to make The Joy of Sake a fun event by bringing in food and entertainment.

3.jpgQ: Any recommendations for the first time visitor to the Joy of Sake?

Chris Pearce: It can be overwhelming the first time. No one can taste all of the sakes, so I’d suggest that people spent no more than ten minutes at one table before heading over to another. There are sections for Daigianjo A (polishing ratio 40% or less), Daiginjo B (polishing ratio 50% or less), Ginjo, Junmai and Kimoto. This year we’ve made a big effort to enlist the help of experienced sake servers in New York. Around thirty of them will be stationed at the tasting tables to answer questions. And there will be roving “sake guides” to share information and steer people into interesting areas. The event is at Webster Hall, and there are three different environments to explore on the three floors.

Q: An event of this size must be a lot to manage! How do you select the sakes that are served?

Chris Pearce: There is no selection involved. All of the sakes were submitted as entries to the 2008 U.S. National Sake Appraisal. All we do is keep them under refrigeration from the time they leave Japan until the time they are delivered to Webster Hall.

1.jpgQ: I’ve noticed several sakes served at the Joy of Sake are designated as gold and sliver award winners. What is the connection of the US National Sake Appraisal and the Joy of Sake?

Chris Pearce: As I mentioned earlier, The Joy of Sake is the public tasting event for the U.S. National Sake Appraisal. Why should the ten judges be the only ones to taste these wonderful sakes? The Joy of Sake gives enthusiasts in New York, Honolulu and San Francisco a chance to spend three delightful hours in their company.

Q: Any new developments for this year’s event? Where can readers learn more and get a ticket for the event?

Chris Pearce: You can get tickets at Sakagura, Sakaya, Union Square Wine and Spirits and several other places around town. But most people buy them on-line at or call the Sake Hotline number at 888-799-7242. The Joy of Sake is different every year. The venue at Webster Hall is amazing. This is the fifth year for The Joy of Sake in New York City and we think this will be the best event yet.


Wow, thanks Chris! I know you’re incredibly busy with all the details and logistics for this years Joy of Sake tasting, so I really appreciate you taking the time for an Urban Sake interview. I’m so happy to learn more about how this great event come into being. See you at the Joy of Sake! Kanpai!

Event Details:
Joy of Sake New York
Sept 25th, 6-9pm
Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
$80 per person

Joy of Sake San Francisco
Oct 23rd, 6-8:30pm
The Galleria Design Center
101 Henry Adams Street
$75 per person