By ADELE BRUNNHOFER
“The most common misconception of sake is everything. Most people have only had it warm, and chances are they had way too much,” says Adam Snelling, sake sommelier and general manager of Ki Modern Japanese. Ki serves 41 varieties of Japan’s national fermented-rice drink. Bottles are imported from Japan, but the restaurant also pours American and Canadian sake. The majority are tokutei meishoshu, meaning premium sake.
As a sake-sipping venue, Ki has the requisite Pacific Rim charm featuring dark wood furnishings and plush, red accents. A cozy, street-level patio with cedar chairs and glass accents has a relaxed West Coast feel. Also fitting, the restaurant’s sushi and contemporary, regional Japanese dishes are both authentic and innovative.
The city’s hot economy has boosted its thirst for premium sake. “Calgary has a huge demographic of world travellers that have tasted delicacies from the four corners of the Earth,” says Snelling. “People in this city demand the best. Its up to us to offer it to them.”
Snelling compares the complexities of this delicate beverage to those of wine. He cites Goku Jo, a dry sake with soapstone mineral notes along the lines of a Sauvignon Blanc and the aromatic Mizuaoki Honjozo-shu, which is similar to a Gewurztraminer with notes of pear and mushroom. Like wine, it pairs well with food. Snelling suggests that chilled, crisp sake will balance white fish sashimi, while an aromatic sake lends itself to richer dishes such as ramen, yakitori and Japanese kabobs.
The beverage is served by the bottle, nine types can be ordered as three-ounce pours and house sake Futsu-Shu is served hot in five- and 10-ounce pours. With a high alcohol content between 15 and 19 per cent, a little goes a long way. For adventurous guests, Snelling suggests trying a flight of three sakes ($24), which he selects based on the diner’s tastes and preferences. The majority of the restaurant’s sake list is served chilled, however, some sakes are served slightly warm to bring out their specific flavours and aromas.
As for Calgary’s sake culture, Snelling says it’s developing slowly. “It’s not as aggressive as the beer craze over the past few years, but it is picking up steam,” he says. “Canada as a whole is purchasing a lot more sake, and major American distributors are reaching out to us as they see the potential of sake sales in our markets.” With Calgary adding several large-scale beer halls to its dining scene in the past few years, a similar sake revolution appears imminent.