Cover Photo: Zaki Janamajina / Unsplash

Sake sommelier Tadeo Chua is obsessed with the Japanese rice wine and wants you to fall in love with it, too

Tadeo Chua’s love affair with sake was far from love at first sight. “I never paid it much attention,” admits the sake sommelier, recalling his long-term infatuation with Japanese whisky. One fateful evening, while curating a beverage list for his modern izakaya, Chua took a leap of faith and tasted several bottles of sake with varying profiles, one after the other. “[It] was like tasting each colour of the rainbow,” he fondly describes. From then on, Chua’s fixation with the Japanese rice wine has only bloomed—or in his words: “Much like a kabarkada you always hung out with in a group setting, but never really talked to, only to find out much later that he/she is the coolest.”

Sake is at once an unpretentious and complex indulgence. Dangerously easy to drink, it is a seamless addition to any occasion, whether warmed, chilled, or somewhere in between. However, the humble tipple is actually the result of a wildly intricate process. “A slight change in time, ratio, temperature, or variant of ingredient can change a bottle’s profile drastically,” Chua muses, “it’s crazy work.”

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When asked what it is he loves about the beverage, Chua instantly waxed poetic. “I love how sake is never too acidic or astringent. I love how one bottle can be so different from another, despite using essentially the same four virtually tasteless ingredients (water, rice, koji, and yeast). I love how a bottle can taste like a glass of soft sweet water, a bouquet of flowers, a basket of fruits, a rack of spices, or even a shot of soy sauce.” The list goes on.

Since opening YOI—Manila’s first-ever sake bar that has now pivoted to offer virtual tastings, pairings, and even educational classes—in 2018, Chua enthusiastically observes that the Philippines’ sake scene has dramatically flourished. Not only has the pool of sake importers grown, but their standards have soared and their portfolios have drastically broadened (an exciting development, considering there are about 1500 sake breweries in Japan). Similarly, both Japanese and non-Japanese restaurants have fortified their beverage programmes with sake, and a handful of sake bars have popped up throughout the metro.

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I love how a bottle can taste like a glass of soft sweet water, a bouquet of flowers, a basket of fruits, a rack of spices, or even a shot of soy sauce.
Tadeo Chua

“Interest in sake grew so much that I often get requests to hold online tasting classes and food pairings,” beams Chua. “People have become open to pairing sake with cuisines other than Japanese, too.” Always ready to pull newcomers into the wonderful world of sake, the passionate sommelier shares five surprising pairings to kick off your own romance with sake:

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1. Daimon 45 + Kinilaw na Tanigue

We were having kinilaw na tanigue for staff dinner at YOI, and I was just craving for sake. I always paired this bottle with fatty fish, so it was a no-brainer to grab this one and have a sip. I knew it would work, but it was a perfect marriage. The spicy nose of the sake with the chilli in the tanigue, the elegant sweetness of the sake with the natural sweetness of the fish, the umami in both the drink and the fish, and the acidity in both of them, in the same temperature…they assisted and complemented each other, they were one. This pairing gave us a whole new kinilaw na tanigue experience, and left us wanting more.

See also: Kinilaw And Kilawin: What’s the Difference?

2. Tsuki No Katsura Nakabuki Sparkling + Sichuan Hot Pot

We always have different kinds of chillis at home as we are huge fans of spicy food. One chilli that’s never missing in our kitchen is Sichuan peppers. We felt a little too brave one night and added a little too many Sichuan peppers for our hotpot. We were laughing at ourselves because of how spicy our dinner was, and because it was still fun for us. One of us was looking for beer, another was looking for soda, but we had neither. Luckily though, we had a bottle of Tsuki no Katsura Sparkling Junmai sake. The fullness of its body and the sweetness of the rice that coated our palates were comforting, and the effervescence was refreshing. [It was a] fun dinner!

See also: 8 Restaurants For Hot Pot and Shabu-Shabu in Metro Manila

3. Ozeki Yamada Nishiki + Kesong Puti

I was crafting a pairing menu with very traditional Hyogo sake bottles to pair with Filipino food. Pairing the rest of the bottles was easy, but Ozeki Yamada Nishiki posed a challenge for me. This bottle has a balanced taste, a savoury profile with much umami, and some perceived saltiness. It was hard to find something that would not overpower this. Kesong puti, with its very light saltiness, and much umami worked perfectly with this bottle—a full-on umami experience.

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4. Gekkeikan The Shot Daiginjo + Nori Cookie

I really wanted to include this bottle in one of my online classes, as it looked really interesting. The profile of the bottle, being aromatic and sweet, was begging for something as fun as it is. I thought, a cookie is always fun, and then I remembered a cookie-crazy friend’s nori cookie recipe. I tried his cookie with this bottle, and it was like a sunny afternoon.

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5. Kubota Senju + Barbecue Ribs

Kubota Senju is a smooth, dry, clean sake, with little acidity. It has very short notes of cocoa bitterness and has a smoky finish. It’s straightforward and really easy to drink. Pairing it with barbecue ribs or even sweet Pinoy barbecue gives a similar experience to barbecue and beer.

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