Sake delights wine lovers at The Koji Club

Sake served at The Koji Club.Handout

No matter what you like to drink, Alyssa Mikiko DiPasquale has a sake for you. At The Koji Club, her new bar, the Advanced Sake Professional is showcasing the range and versatility of the brewed rice beverage. (Spoiler alert: It’s every bit as pairable with food as your favorite wines.)

DiPasquale is a proprietor of The Koji Club, Boston’s first bar dedicated to sake. For a dozen years, she worked as sake pro and director of communications for Cushman Concepts, Tim and Nancy Cushman’s restaurant group that includes sushi mecca O Ya and izakaya Hojoko. After The Koji Club as an online pop-up throughout the pandemic, she opened the brick-and-mortar location in February at The Speedway, a new marketplace in Brighton.

If your only encounter with sake predates the Reagan era — back when the drink was likely introduced as “rice wine,” — it’s time for a refresher. “In terms of [beverage] families, it’s a closer cousin to beer, because it’s fermented from rice and not from a fruit,” DiPasquale explains. The process at its most basic starts with the microbe known as koji (Aspergillus oryzae), which breaks down the starch of special sake rice into sugar. Yeast eats that sugar, turning it into alcohol.

While the raw materials and range of techniques used to craft sake result in a unique spectrum of aromas and flavors, you don’t have to be an expert taster to enjoy the drink. DiPasquale and her staff will ask what your usual bar order is, then pour you sakes that echo the characteristics of your favorite beverage. They hope you’ll feel free to share what you think. “In the beginning, when someone is being introduced to something for the first time, there should be no boundaries set on them as to what something can or cannot taste like,” she says. “They should use their imagination to tell us what they think something tastes like, so that they can create a connection with it.”

Visitors to the bar make plenty of imaginative connections. After sipping a sake full of umami-nutty flavors and sampling the cheese plate, one guest likened the combination to traveling near the French-Swiss border. “He goes, ‘Alyssa, it tastes like wine from the Jura. It tastes like savagnin! And that’s why it pairs so beautifully with the Comté.”” Another guest — who loves pét-nat — put her nose in a glass and declared, “It smells like Costco!” DiPasquale doesn’t miss a beat. “Maybe it’s Costco on a day when there are free samples, which is the best day to be at Costco,” she muses.

As you journey toward your own “aha” moment, start with two premium sake from Fukucho, a Hiroshima brewery owned by Miho Imada, one of only 30 female master brewers in Japan. Taste both selections at The Koji Club, then go pick up bottles at shops that resonate with DiPasquale’s motto, “More sake for everyone, all around.”

Fukucho “Seaside” Junmai Sparkling Sake This pale yellow junmai (made only with rice, water, koji, and yeast; crafted with rice grains milled to 70 percent of their original size) offers soft, yeasty aromas reminiscent of milk bread and Botan rice candy. Gentle effervescence conveys flavors of lemon cake and pineapple jam. Delicious with white fish crudo. 13 percent ABV. Distributed by Ruby Wines. Low to mid-$30s for 500 ml. At Malden Center Fine Wines, Malden, 781-497-6900; Pemberton Farms, Cambridge, 617-491-2244.

Fukucho “Moon on the Water” Junmai Ginjo Sake Silvery in hue, this junmai ginjo (made only with rice, water, koji, and yeast; crafted with rice grains milled to 55 percent of their original size) offers scents of steamed rice, Asian pear, pineapple, and gardenias. Polished, elegant, and tangy with a weighted lactic quality. Excellent with dark chocolate. 16 percent ABV. Distributed by Ruby Wines. Low $20s for 300 ml. At The Wine Press, Brookline, 617-277-7020; Marty’s Fine Wines, Newton, 617-332-1230.

Ellen Bhang can be reached at [email protected]


Ellen Bhang can be reached at [email protected]

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