Dear Sake Lover,
Welcome to the 113th Issue of America’s sake-centric Newsletter. In this “Hot Sake Month” issue we say good bye to one of the really bright lights in the sake world – Bob Kantor, look in on a special hot sake experience in Kobe, learn how to heat sake properly, gasp at the Top Ten Heating sakes at True Sake, discover who serves really good hot sake in San Francisco, check out what you should be drinking for the Super Bowl, read about a stunning Niigata sake for warming in the Beau-Zone Layer, come to the True Sake Hot Sake Throw Down, find out where I have been tasting sake for the past decade on the sly, and say the Secret Word to get the newest sake on the block for warming from the makers who produce Kubota (Asahiyama).
In this issue:
Hot Sake – A Memory From Kobe
A long long time ago – in a universe far far away – I was taken to an izakaya in Kobe that specialized in sake, so much so that when I went for the first time there were four kuramotos (owners of breweries) also imbibing. This amazing house of sake has been mentioned before in numerous Newsletters, because quite frankly it’s the best sake-centric destination that I have ever had the fortune to visit.
When I went I was placed right in front of the owner/chef/sake god who’s workstation was set below the tables so you could watch him perform. The tables were above and the counter was on level with his pit. My seat was at the counter right in front of the tiny, bald, and wonderfully wrinkly old sake soul with Jack O’ lantern teeth and a smile that could warm sake from across the room.
Okay – here’s the “scene” that had such a big impact on me. (And crap I wish that I had my camera or smart phone but they didn’t exist back then – yes the camera did – I am not that old). There was a large hot water bath that looked like a chaffing dish on steroids. It was very long and could hold a lot of sake tokkuris and open heating vessels that have handles on them to keep the heat off of your fingers. He looked at me – smiled – and showed me three different heating vessels that all looked different. He placed them in the water at the exact time and removed them at the same time. He then poured each sake into a cup and handed me a tray of three warmed sakes. I tasted all three. They were wonderful and different. Each sake was delicious, but they were each unique.
Mr. Smiles-a-lot said, “Which is your favorite?” Damn I thought to myself. This is a test. I know it. I’ll bet one sake is durge and he just mopped it up off the floor before he heated and poured it for me. I’ll bet the other sake was from North Korea, and the last sake was probably made down the road in Kobe and was the owner’s favorite. Crap. I really didn’t want to blow it. I liked them all, but I picked one and said this! He smiled and asked why? I said it tasted a little softer and I like the way it felt in my mouth. He smiled, but a smile that looked like I had missed something. Damn! I then asked, “Okay so what three sakes are these?” He smiled the biggest smile yet and said, “They are the same sake of course!” DOH!
That’s when the lesson began. “Why?” “I don’t get it!” “Tell me why?” Then it dawned on me. “Aha! I got it,” I said. You poured me the same sake, but each sake is from a different bottle one that was opened a long time ago, one that was recently opened and one that you just opened! He smiled and held up one bottle. “No!” “All three from this bottle.” Damn! So now I was really curious. “Did you shake them?” “Did you dilute them?” “Did you………. Arrrrggggghhhh!”
After a little while and after several more tastes he was ready to share. He picked up the three warming vessels and set them in front of me. “This one is tin” “This one is steel and this is pewter.” My mind said “So – and?” (I think my head tilted – and? My eyebrows raised – and?) He then explained that the three metals warmed the sake differently. If I recall the tin heated quickly, the steel less, and the pewter was the slowest to warm. So I had watched him pour the three and set them in at the same time. It was baffling. It was amazing and I was hooked!
Since that day I have purchased several of these warming vessels and have tried my own experiments. I don’t have the same Las Vegas panache that he displayed that dreary but splendid day in Kobe. But I have opened several eyes and I am fascinated to this day how there are so many expressions to explore in the heated sake arena.
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Sake Secrets – How Best To Warm Sake
If you are reading this then you obviously know that hot or heated sake is beuno! You have not been tricked into the notion that hot sake is garbage, and that only garbage sake makes for garbage hot sake. For years we at True Sake have been telling people who “hate” hot sake that it’s not the heats fault, it's the sake! We have to explain time and time again that hot sake is actually awesome, especially on cold and chilly nights. But we always get the follow-up line, “But hot sake takes so much time and preparation that it’s easier to drink cold or room temperature sake.” Lame!
Heating sake is a snap! You can do it so many different ways from the ancient method of warming sake between your seated legs or throwing your brew in the microwave. (In Japan they have some cans of sake that have a disposable portable heating system in the bottom of the can. You twist it to activate the heating device and then voila a can of hot sake!)
I have canvassed the sake industry, touched base with the pros and have come up with a consensus choice for the best way to warm sake. Drum roll please! Most folks take a pan filled half way, bring the water to a boil, then put a tokkuri in the hot bath and then turn off the flame. That’s it! And it’s sooooooooooo laborious. It’s sooooooo difficult! A lot of people then ask – how do you know when it is ready? And therein rests the secrets to the trade. Most tokkuri have concaved bottoms. When placed in the hot water these concaved bottoms create an air pocket that keeps the hot water from touching the tokkuri. If you try to gauge the temperature of the sake by touching the sides of the tokkuri you get the temperature of the water. But if you lift the tokkuri out of the bath and touch the concaved bottom then you get the temperature of the sake within. Aha!
Heating sake can be done as crudely as placing sake into a tea kettle – electric or otherwise, microwave, emersion hot water heaters, or the oven. (This last summer I heated sake in Kikusui funaguchi cans placed near a fireplace) Just don’t put that metal tokkuri in the microwave, if you do please send a before and after photo. The point is to get the sake to the temperature that creates the best flavor in a heated state. And yes there are different temperatures in the category known as “hot sake.”
Serving Temps For Sake:
- Tobikiri-kan – Very Hot (131-Over)
- Atsu-kan – Hot (122-131)
- Jyoh-kan – Warm (113-122)
- Nuru-kan – Luke Warm (104-113)
- Hitohada-kan – Body Temperature (95-104)
- Hinata-kan – Sunlight Warm (86-95)
- Suzu-hie – Cool (50-59)
- Hana-hie – (41-50)
Thank You Jessica from Ozumo!
I prefer the zone called Nuru-kan, because I have never liked hot beverages. I don’t drink coffee and it takes a lot of blowing to drink tea, so that tepid zone speaks to me. But there are several tricks to luke warmed sake, because it is easier to have the sake fall from that temperature zone than let’s say hot sake. There is a little more room for error. If you lightly warm a sake and then pour that gently warmed brew into a cold o’choko then the sake falls from the nuru-kan point quickly. I always pre-heat my o’choko in hot water. Also, I usually don’t fill a tokkuri up when making nuru-kan sake because by the time you sit and pour a little it’s already cooled down. (Sounds crazy I know, but I am a purist at heart)
What about overheating sake? Yes you can overcook a brew for sure! Heat does kill the beast. Too much and it’s toast, it chemically changes the sake. Too much heat and it’s like a third pasteurization, which creates an entirely different sake.
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Sake List – The TOP TEN Warming Sakes
Hot sake sucks right? No you freakin’ idgit! Bad sake makes for bad hot sake, but good sake makes for good hot sake! Get it? It’s cold this time of year and nothing warms the cockles like a warm cup of brew! Talk about therapeutic – when you are sipping on great warmed sake it’s like your doctor and masseuse are both working on your bod. Herewith are ten amazing sakes that drink superbly warmed for those cold nights, those hot tub sessions or those nights when you are making soups or stews.
10) Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai
9) Tenzan Junmai Genshu
- This is one of the dry warming sake old faithfuls! A can’t miss heating brew that speaks to those who like nice rice tones on a gentle dry flow. Easy and balanced and does well heated with food.
8) Yoshinosugi no Junmai Taru
- Generally fruit forward sakes don’t warm that well per se, but this undiluted and powerful brew comes to life with heat and releases all sorts of cooked fruit tones. Definatley speaks to those who don’t like hot sake because it’s too dry. This is perhaps a nigori drinkers hot sake!
7) Kirin Zan Junmai Ginjo
- For those who have a taste for days gone by this cedar sake would speak to you in a very warm way! Good spicy cedar elements come forth with heat and the aroma is to die for. Great warming sake for those wanting to pair with exotic stews and dried meats.
6) Masumi Okuden Kantsukuri Junmai ”
- I was blown away when this amazing Junmai Ginjo arrived in the States two months ago because it drinks great chilled like all Niigata Ginjo sake, but on the back label it said that warming this sake is recommended. So I did and it is really really nice and speaks to those who are afraid of the booziness in hot sake. This guy drinks clean, dry and easy and look at that bottle!
- You think it gets cold in Nagano Prefecture? You brrrrrrr bet your bottom yen, and don’t you think they would know a thing or two about drinking hot sake on frozen nights? This brew is a traditional warming sake from that region with a smoothness and array of flavors that does hot sake proud.
5) Harushika Nama Junmai Ginjo Genshu
4) Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai
- Did you read that right? A nama in a top ten warming sake list? You bet! This bombastic extremely fruity nama warms up like a heated cocktail in your cup! Fat and smooth and extremely flavorful it speaks to all of those who like a sweetness in the their sakes – Yes I am talking to you nigori people. An amazingly complex but super easy drinking hot sake experience.
3) Suehiro Densho Yamahai Junmai
- This is one of “those” kinds of warming sakes where the tuning fork sings in perfect hot harmony. A great feeling warm sake that tastes smooth and velvety in the mouth with a lot of heated umami to boot! Chewy and plump rich flavors coat the pallet in a warm winter blanket of goodness.
2) Kamoizumi Shusen Junmai Ginjo
- So you think all hot sake is jagged, edgy, boozy and acidic? What if I said the words creamy and soft to you? What if I told you that there was a sake that drank smooth like a sweet rice cocoa with lots of whip cream! Behold one of the smooth and gentle sakes for heating that speaks to all of those who are sick of the boozy and sharp hot sakes.
- Arguably one of the best warming sakes on the planet this baby is like drinking liquid amber. Think deep rich earth tones with a dash of shitaki and gentle sweet rice elements. For connoisseurs this sake is not only appreciated but valued as it is an amazing stepping stone sake to get people to actually like hot sake. It is the ultimate “See I told you would like hot sake” sake!
TIE) We have a tie for numero uno!
1) Kenbishi Honjozo
1) Nihon Sakari “Gokun” Honjozo
- This pride of Kobe is a sake that was meant to be warmed. It was put on this great earth to take heat and to warm your insides. Liquid richness meets a gentle sweetness that flows in a lava-like movement across the palate. It is a very layered hot sake that has elevator levels of flavors that present themselves at different temperatures. About as solid as a warming sake can be, and that is alright with me.
- Don’t take our word for it! This brew is a multi-gold-medal winner in the Japan warm sake national competition, and is considered the number one warming brew! It is soft and sweet personified with an amazing smoothness that lasts on the lips and tongue. Think about liquid nougat smooth and marshmallowy warmly passing over your palate, and you have captured the essence of this tremendous warming sake that is priced to perfection
*****Honorable mention goes to one of my absolute favorite warming sakes of all time – Nishinoseki Junmai from Oita Prefecture, which is one of the smoothest and most balanced warming sakes out there. It is perfection in warm liquid form. But, it is too expensive to carry in the store as just a Junmai sake. Sadly they have priced themselves out of our inventory, and that is a bummer! BUT – we could always special order some bottles for you if you have the heating fever!
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Hot Sake Spots – Who Pours Good Hot Sake In SF
Since we are talking hot (atsukan) sake I thought I’d call around and ask some friends what hot sakes are gracing the menus of some of the better sake spots in SF. As you know most sushi restaurants that are not passionate about sake pour either Geikkeikan, Ozeki, or Sho Chiku Bai which are made right here in California. (I’m not saying that these are bad sakes, but there are far better warming sakes coming from Japan.)
In order of who replied first:
Umi Sushi – Shamus Booth
Ozumo – Jessica Furui
- Koshi no Homare Junmai “Richer and deeper”
- Tsukasabotan Junmai “Dry, light, floral”
- Suigei Junmai
Nombe – Gil Payne
- Kamoizumi “Shusen” Junmai Ginjo “Smooth, floral, mushroom”
- Kokuryu “500 Mangoku” “Cocoa, banana, raspberry”
- Koshi no Kanbai “Muku” Junmai Ginjo “Peppermint, spice, plum”
- Masumi Okuden Junmai “Buttery, caramel, chamomile”
- Miyasaka Yawaraka Junmai “Butterscotch, mellow, silky”
- Nishida Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai “Woodsey, hazelnuts, vanilla”
- Shichi Hon Yari Junmai “Shiitake mushroom, spice”
Yuzuki Izakaya – Yoshi Sako
- Chokara Junmai “Bone dry!”
- Hakkaisan Honjozo “Alc forward and billowy”
- Tengumai Yamahai “Bold and high acidity”
- Kame No Taru Sake “Woody”
- Tsucasabotan Senchu Hassaku Junmai “Dry and mellow”
- Shichi Hon Yari Junmai “Woody”
- Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai “Earthy and full”
- Nishida Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai “Ricey and structured”
- Gunmaizumi Yamaha Junmai “Shitake mushroom and matured”
- Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo “Chocolate”
- Manibito Kimoto Junmai Ginjo “Caramel and smooth mouth feel”
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Super Sake – What Sakes To Pour For The Super Bowl
Huh? Drinking sake while watching the Super Bowl? You’re kidding right? Nope! No I am not! But before I mention some reasons and sakes to drink watching ye’ol grid iron’s greatest day let me go back to a point that I have been making for over a decade. I cannot die until the Japanese Sake Brewer’s Union makes a commercial that is featured in the Super Bowl – then and only then can I die (Well not yet – I can’t die until there is a sake offered on any menu that features wine and beers.)
How cool would that be to see a commercial that is funny and is about the greatest drink in the libation world? That would be awesome. I have been clamoring for it and one day it will happen, and then and only then will it be obvious that sake has arrived in the west!
But back to actually drinking sake on Super Bowl day! Why the hell not? How sick are you of your over-bloated beer belly sucking down a sixer or two on top of the chips and dips and fried oddities? And how sick are you of feeling sick on Monday because you loaded up on wine each quarter and at halftime? And for those real boozers who hit the cocktails how terrible do they feel the next day. Don’t do it to yourself! Drink the drink that you can enjoy without getting bloated, gassy, or over-acidic.
Since the Super Bowl is similar to a holiday then it is most definitely time to splurge!
Herewith is the “If I Were You” list of sakes to get for the Super Bowl:
1) Kirin Hizoushu Daiginjo
2) Gasanryu “Koka” Honjozo 1.8L
- Why this Daiginjo? Because it drinks great and it looks like a football!
3) The Dassai Three Step Program
- Why this honjozo? Because it is a gold medal sake that comes in 1.8L for the big party!! And check out the price!!
4) Dewasakura 4 bottles for 4 quarters
- Why these three sakes? As the clock winds down in the game you can taste down the sake milling system. Start with the Dassai 50 then hit the 39 and then in the end try the 23 and try to determine who is the champion.
5) Kirinzan Junmai
- Why these sakes? Well since a football game is four quarters it might be fun to taste a different sake from the same brewery each quarter! Start the first quarter with Oka Ginjo. Then go into the second quarter with Dewasansan. The third quarter would be good for the very dry Izumijudon. Then blow the fourth quarter away with the Mountain Cherry Daiginjo. And guess what? If there is Over Time you can pull out the Nama sake called Primal Strength!
6) The Sparkling Sake 4 Quarter Blow Out
- Why this Junmai? Well it sort of looks like a football right? Good enough for me!
7) The Four Cups For Four Quarters
- Why sparkling sakes? The Super Bowl is a major celebration right? So why not rock it with sparkling sake? Try Nene in the first quarter! Go for Tokimeki in the second. Poochi Poochi in the 3rd Quarter and go for Suzunne in the 4th.
8) Kikusui Funaguchi “Monster Can”
- Why one cups? Why not? Pick four of our many “one cups’ and try one each quarter. Start the game with Oyaji in the first quarter. Try Bambi Cup in the second quarter. The third quarter would be >great for the fisherman’s cup. Finish the game with our new dry cup.
9) Kikuhime “BY” Daiginjo
- Why this potent brew? Well, some people like to tie one on during the Super Bowl and this baby gets that job done
10) Ichishima Competition Daiginjo
- Why BY? Because this is the sake that I will be drinking during the Super Bowl
- Why this Daiginjo? First it has “Competition” in the name and the Super Bowl is just that. Secondly it is the most expensive sake in the store so why not go big?
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True Sake now delivers!
Did you hear that? We deliver! Why drive in traffic? Why risk road rage? Why get that dirty look from the guy on the bike in the bike lane? Why look for parking? Why get that parking ticket? Why get out of your pajamas? (You do drink in your pajamas right?)
Just think – the entire inventory of True Sake is at your fingertips! Did you hear that? You can start the new year without even leaving the house!
Call us at 415-355-9555 and we'll take your order and even provide some helpful recommendations. So if you've seen something in this newsletter you just have to have, JUST CALL!
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Beau-Zone Layer – Kirinzan
From Niigata Prefecture. Junmai Ginjo. SMV: +4 Acidity: 1.3
Aha! Psssst! Come here sake drinkers! Come here! I found one of “those” sorts of sakes that are truly sneaky in the best sense of the word. At first blush this brew tastes very soft aThis Month’s Beau-Zone Layer sake is a celebration of Hot Sake Month at True Sake. But wait! Isn’t this sake a Junmai Ginjo sake from Niigata? One of those light and dry sakes?
You bet! But guess what? This baby warms like a dream. It makes for a very balanced and smooth hot sake experience. Look for rice tones and hint of milk chocolate in the thin but round flow. What is new for me is on the label where I have not seen many Junmai Ginjos being recommended for warming. It gets pretty darn cold and snowy in Niigata this time of year, so they should know what tastes good heated up. The bottle is pretty darn awesome too!
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New Store Arrivals – Tamagawa + Kirinzan + Kirin + Ichinokura + More
Tamagawa “Time Machine” Junmai “Vintage Amber Sake”
Tamagawa Yamahai Muroka Nama Genshu
Kirinzan “Kagayaki” Daiginjo
Kirinzan Junmai Ginjo
Kirin “Koshihikare” Junmai Daiginjo
Ichinokura Junmai Daiginjo “Shozanten”
Gansanryu “Koka” Honjozo
Homare Strawberry Nigori
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Sake Demonstration – True Sake Hot Sake Bonanza
When: January 17th 4:30-6:30
A hot sake throw down. Come taste several sakes hand selected to warm your cockles and bring you new appreciation for all things warmed rice and water.
Why: Because it is “Hot Sake Month” Doh!
How much: FREE!
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True Sake's First Film Noir Tasting!
Come on now! Who doesn't like a good Kurosawa film or two shown in one of
the best theaters in SF? And who doesn't like having some delicious sake
while watching those films? True Sake is sponsoring a tasting table and we
want you to be there! Good Films - Good Sake - Good Times - Join Us
When: January 26th - between shows beginning at 6:00pm
What: Noir City Film Festival - Kurosawa night
Where: Castro Theater, San Francisco
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Sake Tours – Visiting a Brewery Is the Best Way To “Get” Sake
Okay people! It’s quite simple. The best and most incredible way to get the full sake “effect” is to go to the source and actually watch sake being made in a brewery in Japan. So what is keeping you from taking that next step? You don’t know what brewery to approach? How will you get in? How will you get around? All of these questions have been answered by my friend Etsuko Nakamura, who wisely started a business that takes people to amazing breweries all over Japan. She takes care of all of the logistics and you do is watch, drink and learn! How cool is that?
This is from Etsuko:
We are very excited to announce two new destinations in 2014 to Okayama (January 27th - 31st) and Niigata (February 17th – 21st). There’s something special about these two destinations. The Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association is supporting part of the cost. They invite all sake enthusiasts to really experience Japan through sake with their help. This is a one-time opportunity you cannot miss! The Okayama tour especially highlights sake and cultural activities that even locals do not have access to. Some very memorable experiences you will find only with us are: a session with Omachi sake rice grower, hands on rice field plowing, private Kagura dance performance, private Shiki Hocho knife ritual once performed only for the emperor, hands-on guinomi sake cup making experience with Bizen artists, observing art of sword making and more. On the last day, simply relax at the hot springs by the river far away from the city, in the snow. Find more about the tour at http://saketours.com/tours/okayama
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Sake Images – Is Now truesake on Instagram
So there have been a lot of requests on how to follow me and my, let’s call it, unique eye for sake-centric photography. There are two ways. First you can follow me directly at truesake on Instagram, which is a really fun format to show off your creative side. Secondly, you SHOULD be following me at truesake on Facebook.
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ASK BEAU – “Where do you taste sakes?”
This question was asked of me a long time ago, but it has a certain relevance because one of my favorite places to taste sake just closed after 49 years and 6 months in business.
For the past 15 years I wrote most of my sake reviews at the corner counter of the sushi bar at Toraya Sushi in Japan town. It was the highlight of my day to close up shop and take a bottle or two to Toraya. The amazing owners Scott and Tomi and their wonderful daughter Mina would prepare my space for the tasting by placing out three empty glasses of different sizes and a glass of water. Sometimes I would forget my sake notebooks and Scott would give me restaurant stationery from way back.
That corner seat helped me define and refine my sake pallet. I learned so much of what I know about sakes in that seat. Basically it was my home away from home and that seat also taught me a lot about life. That seat helped me through a long and rough divorce. That seat was a big part of me.
In the past decade at True Sake I was asked a million times “Where do you go for good sushi?” and I would never say Toraya. It was my secret and I had Scott and Tomi’s blessings to not tell everybody, because Scott didn’t want their place to be too busy! It was hard for me not to spill the beans. But it was worth it all the times that I was the only guy at their sushi counter.
I was incredibly sad when they announced their retirement, but I am incredibly happy for them and their new life! That seat has a very special place in my heart and in a sense that seat and that comfortable feeling was the juice that replenished my sake soul. Thank you T3 – you are a very big part of True Sake!
Please send your sake specific questions to
askbeau2 @ truesake.com. (This
address is not for general questions and I only review the questions
once per month. All other correspondence should use
info @ truesake.com.)
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The SECRET WORD
Ah, at last we have reached the end of this Newsletter and that of course means that we have come to the now-famous SECRET WORD. To those who are new the SECRET WORD is a chance for you to try a sake of note for half of that sake's original price. Just for reading this Newsletter. It is our way of saying thank you for trying to understand the wonders of sake.
Please remember the rules: only one bottle per reader, and don't tell your buddy at the moment if he/she isn't a Newsletter subscriber, always use a hushed or secret agent voice when saying the SECRET WORD, and lastly for those who have their sakes shipped we can only include the SECRET WORD sake in a four-pack purchase - meaning you must buy three other sakes.
This month’s Secret Word sake is a from a very famous brewery in Niigata called Kubota – yes you know it! – and this brew is especially nice for warming. So in honor of Hot Sake Month at True Sake come and say the Secret Word and get Asahiyama Junmai 720ml for $15. And the Secret Word is...
...check your email inbox - we only give out the SECRET WORD in the mailed Newsletter! So sign up for the Newsletter now!
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Thank you for reading!
TRUE SAKE: America's First Sake Store.
True Sake is very sad to announce the passing of one of the really “good guys” in the sake world. Bob Kantor (Owner of Memphis Minnie's Bar-B-Q on Haight) was a very strong supporter of my efforts at True Sake and he put in so many kind words for me. I am indebted to this man – this lovely man – who did sake right because sake made him smile – always! Rest in Peace brother it’s lonely down here without you.
True Reward Program
Frequent Buyers. Earn 20% Off!
How it works:
Earn one star per visit when you purchase at least one regular priced item. Limited to one star per day.
Five stars gets you 20% off towards your next visit! (Excluding sales items and the secret word sake)
Name & Phone Number
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info @ truesake.com
Sake - A Modern Guide