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.”
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.