The thought of spending several hours sipping at sake may seem daunting to those accustomed to the stringent-tasting, steaming-hot beverage served at sushi restaurants. But according to Marnie Old — the spokesperson for Sake Fest, as well as a wine writer and sommelier — the sake that most of us are familiar with is, essentially, the cheap stuff.
“If you’ve experienced the world of craft beer, you know there’s a huge rainbow of style out there, from light-bodied to full-bodied, dry to sweet, white to black and so on,” Old says. “Sake is very much the same way, but most people have only tasted one style. The warm sake served in sushi restaurants is really a very modest, inexpensive one, so it’s the equivalent of only tasting Coors Light.”
Philadelphia’s sixth annual Sake Fest will offer dozens of varieties of the alcohol frequently referred to as “rice wine,” although Old insists sake has more in common with wheat beers. “There are some sakes that have that uncommon, fruity quality that we associate with wine,” she says. “But if you’ve ever tried a German Hefeweizen and gotten a sense of that spicy, fruity, yeasty, bready taste that we associate with those wheat beers, it’s not a big jump to the yeasty flavors that you find in rice-based sake.”