Sparkle and Bling: Sake Makes Its Move

Nelly can’t be far behind.

I'm no girly-girl, but I do have an acute case of Japanophilia, with a big soft spot in my heart for anything kawaii (cute). So when I spied sparkling sake popping up around town, my giddiness got the best of me. I bought a bottle of every brand I could find and got to tasting. The packaging is far superior to any comparable American wine cooler. Hana Awaka from Ozeki ($5.69 for 250 ml) comes in a baby-pink bottle shaped like an expensive lotion. Hou Hou Shu, from Marumoto Sake Brewery, comes in a lithe, clear bottle screened with purple and blue flowers and decorated with a silver foil crinkled a la cupcake papers. Sooo cute! Gekkeikan's Zipang even reminds me of my favorite Japanese grapefruit soda, the bottle seemingly encased in aluminum, and it gets points for the greatest pull-tab ever. How do they taste? The Hana Awaka has a soft peach flavor and a true sake aroma, with moderate carbonation. The Zipang, the driest I sampled, has a smell that almost reminds me of lager yeast. Kizakura Stars has a mild, almost hidden sake aroma that's overridden by a punch of green apple. Hou Hou Shu seems to adjust all the highs and lows of the others into balanced, creamy, apple-flavored sake with the most aggressive carbonation of the lot. My husband showed a rare, spontaneous interest in the job—seriously, that's how cute the bottles are—and helped me knock the sakes back. "They look great, but they're kinda teenager," he said after swiftly polishing off half of each miniature bottle—big words from a guy who was once in a Zima commercial. Yeah, but they're Japanese teenager, right? Therefore they rank as way cuter than anything our teenagers would drink (Natural Light?). I can see the Japanese girls now, adorable and thin, slamming these back at the club like they were Orangina. I wanted to like the sparkling sakes, I really did. But while I may be a freak for Japan, I am also a stickler for value, and in the empty effervescent gestures of these charming bottles, I found none. Now I'm only weighing in so critically because the sparkling sakes cost a freaking pretty penny for what they deliver. Evaluate the prices of their itty bottles in terms of a full (750 ml) bottle, and they're not so cute anymore. The most affordable of the pack, Hana Awaka, comes to around $17 per regular bottle. This big girl could buy a bottle of Prosecco for that. The sparklers from Gekkeikan and Kizakura would be $22 per full bottle, and the Hou Hou Shu, the best of the four, costs out to nearly $48. My favorite small-producer Champagne costs $45, and for $22, I could get more than one bottle of the greatest lambic beer in the world. Sparkling sake: great idea. But in execution? I coyly cover my mouth and giggle. I'll take my bucks and spend it on two six-packs of Zima, a Zagnut, and a Zippo, with change left over. If this drink is a novelty, it should cost as such. If this drink is for stupid girls, then it's priced just right. This is one trend I want to squash like a pink, fuzzy, manga-eyed bug. I'll give second chances to anyone who can make a sake that tickles my nose—just make it dry and cheap.

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