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Elliot Faber’s ‘SAKE’ is a celebration of Japan’s national beverage

The founder of Hong Kong’s Sake Central poured some serious knowledge into SAKE, a compendium of the families, breweries and processes behind the 2,000-year-old beverage.

As the saying goes, successful people have the same 24 hours in a day that you do. I’m starting to suspect Elliot Faber manages to sneak in an extra 12.

The Sake Central founder and Hong Kong’s resident sake samurai — a real title bestowed by the Japan Sake Brewers Association Junior Council — decided to grab Covid’s proverbial bull by its proverbial horns, opening Awamori restaurant-slash-bar AWA AWA on Peel Street; restaurant-slash-future-F&B-superstar-incubator HATCH on Aberdeen; while hosting pop-ups, masterclasses and all sorts of collaborations with everyone from Co Thanh to Foxglove to Apothecary — all in the midst of, well, all this. He’s also been featured as a sake expert on Netflix, runs a little spirits and distribution outfit you might have heard of called Sunday’s, consults F&B venues with a focus on sake, and somehow, even manages to stay in pretty good shape.

Why not kick off 2022 with a book launch?

SAKE: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries

Faber is releasing the book this Saturday, 12 February at Sake Central with book signings, caviar pairings and a raffle with some seriously swanky prizes — tickets and details here. And for true sake heads, 300 special edition sets of SAKE are up for sale, packed with a limited edition Junmai Daiginjo Muroka Genshu (complete with gold flakes) from Sato Brewery. Both come backed in premium handmade denim totes by Hiro Yoshikawa, founder of WASHI and son of the 18-generation (!) Sato Brewery family. Needless to say, get ’em while they’re hot.

SAKE offers a full picture of the Japanese beverage — not a wine, beer or a spirit — through a variety of different lenses, from generations-old family breweries to the 2,000-year-old processes that go into each and every sip.

We caught up with Faber to talk sake the spirit and SAKE the book, and he shared five things that you may not know about sake.

5 things you may not know about Japanese sake

Sake producers have begun embracing technology — to an extent

“There was a long time where hardly anything changed, however the last 40 years or so have seen everything from systematic changes to the grading of sake to incredible technological advances. However, many breweries are constantly looking back to maintain, revive or celebrate the classic styles, rice varieties and cultural nuances that make sake so special.”

Here’s how much rice goes into a bottle of sake

“I once sat down with Mikihito Ibaraki from Ibaraki Shuzo, the makers of Sunday’s Sake to calculate how many grains of rice were in a single bottle of sake. We were able to conclude (thanks to his math, not mine), that his Daiginjo sake polished to 35% of its original size contains 102,040 grains of Yamadanishiki rice. I’ve never had the chance to count them but I’d love to try!”

There are different styles and flavours to match every palate

“A great rule of thumb is to find Junmai Daiginjo styles of sake if you like something sweeter with more fruit and floral characteristics. If you want more umami and savory components, try something simply labelled Junmai or Honjozo. There is a major price gap between these styles but one important lesson to learn right away is that price doesn’t tell you about the quality of a sake.”

Sake pairs well with all kinds of foods — not just Japanese

“People are often afraid that sake should only be enjoyed with Japanese food but in fact, sake contains compounds and nutrients that make it even more friendly for food pairing than a lot of the wines we try to pair with all sorts of flavors. If we can have wine with Japanese food, we can have sake with global cuisine!”

The beverage is on the decline in Japan, but you can help

“The sake world needs you! Ask questions, trust your local sake specialist, try different styles with different food at different temperatures; everyone’s sake journey is different but the craft itself is truly a national treasure and it is on the decline. If we can prove to the Japanese youth that sake is cool outside of Japan, I have no doubt they will embrace and reinvigorate this fragile craft industry.”

The launch of SAKE: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries will take place 12 February at Sake Central inside PMQ. Sessions will take place from 12:30pm-2pm, 2:30pm-4pm and 4:30pm-6pm. Tickets are HK$888 and will include one copy of the book, a tasting of 10 different types of sake, Nomad Caviar giveaways and more. For more information, click here. You can also order a copy of the book from Tanso Publishing here.

Nathan Erickson
Made in Seoul and based in Hong Kong, Nathan has covered food, fashion and music from New York to Paris to Oaxaca. He enjoys street photography, buying too many hooded sweatshirts and he'll never turn down a tequila soda. Catch him on weekends hiking trails all over Hong Kong in hopes of finding his idol, Chow Yun-fat.
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