For Sake's Sake

When it comes to understanding the drink, Seattle is woefully in the dark.

Seattle lags far behind Portland in sake sales, and sake advocate Marcus Pakiser says distributors bear the blame.

"In Seattle, there's not enough education," says Pakiser, sake sommelier for Young's Columbia Distributing Co. "There's no one really educating restaurateurs. Distributors don't know anything about sake."

Even restaurateurs who've gotten the message that sake pairs with everything (except maybe sushi, which is traditionally accompanied by green tea) often don't realize that an opened bottle will last up to six months if properly refrigerated. And because they're reluctant to pour sake by the glass, they tend to list small bottles at prices that discourage experimentation. "The cheapest bottle will be $35," says Pakiser, ticking off the various excuses restaurant owners give for not diversifying their by-the-glass sake selection, such as limited customer interest or storage difficulties. "Bullcrap. They're lazy."

Pakiser, who led an introduction-to- sake session at Feast Portland, has been instrumental in pushing sake toward the mainstream in Portland. Food and wine magazines perennially run features touting the suitability of sake for the Thanksgiving table: "It's much more versatile than wine," Pakiser promises. "Think Mexican food. Think cheese." (Or, based on the tasting session following Pakiser's talk, think specifically about cave-aged Gruyère with a chilled Yuki No Bosha.) But only in Portland, which leads the nation in per capita sake consumption, do non-Japanese restaurants offer sake flights and regularly serve the beverage with food that's not remotely Asian.

"Portland gets it," says Stella Parker, western regional manager for Joto Sake. "Portland gets it more than anywhere. I've just gotten back from Vegas and L.A., and they have a long way to go to catch up with Portland."

Still, Pakiser cautions that even in Portland there are drinkers who mispronounce sake and insist on drinking it hot.

"We have a long way to go, but we're ahead of the curve," he says.

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