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The Guide to Drinking Saké in Denver

Because there is life beyond beer, cocktails, and wine

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Saké is to rice wine as apples are to oranges. Or rather, saké is to rice wine as apples are to unicorns—because there’s no such thing as wine fermented from grain; wine is by definition a product of grapes. (Even "fruit wine" is a misnomer, if a convenient one.) Saké’s actually closer to rice beer—but close is no cigar, either, as the production method differs significantly.

So what is saké, then? Don’t ask the Japanese, because they’ll really complicate matters: according to John Gaunter in The Saké Handbook, the word "can refer to all alcoholic beverages in general." When they want to discuss the one brewed from fermented rice in particular, "the word nihonshu is used." Better just to call it yummy, yummy booze and be done with it.

Saké is, however, comparable to beer and wine when it comes to tasting, especially if you order it cold. (Though "warmed saké definitely has its appeal," writes Gauntner, most "premium saké is served slightly chilled" so you can "observe it unfolding and changing" as it approaches room temperature.) Assess it as you would any farmhouse ale or Chardonnay. What aromas and flavors do you detect: nuts, bread, flowers, fruits, herbs? Is it dry or sweet, acidic or bitter? How does it feel in your mouth—crisp, rough, viscous?

Of course, you’ve got as many opportunities to hone your palate as there are Japanese restaurants in Denver. If you can’t make The Birth of Saké screening and tasting at the Sie FilmCenter tomorrow, consider visiting a few of our favorite spots—budget and blowout—to immerse yourself in what you will never again call rice wine.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
501 E 17th Ave
Denver, CO 80203
(303) 800-7705
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If you seek a sacred commune with your saké, you’ve come to the wrong place. Unfiltered, fruity nigori in pink bottles; unpasteurized, fortified and full-throated honjozo namazake in yellow cans: Ace is all about the funky, easy-drinking stuff for washing down a plate of tiger wings in style.
Adam Larkey

2. Bones

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701 Grant St
Denver, CO 80203
(303) 860-2929
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The short but sweet list at Frank Bonanno’s noodle bar leaves just enough room to choose your own adventure. Kick back with a poppy sparkling saké, compare and contrast different styles with a flight, or treat yourself to a bottle of junmai ginjo (unfortified saké featuring rice polished so that only 60% or less of the grain remains), which noted expert W. Blake Gray calls “the most wine-like” category.
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3. CHO77

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42 S Broadway
Denver, CO 80209
We’re not saying happy hour at Lon Symensma’s Southeast Asian tavern is for saké connoisseurs. We’re just saying $1 shots and $3 bombs are nothing for anyone to sniff at, ever.
Courtesy of Cho77

4. Izakaya Den

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1487 S Pearl St
Denver, CO 80210
(303) 777-0691
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Well, duh. For sheer variety as well as quality, it’s hard to beat Izakaya Den (or Sushi Den, take your pick), especially considering the savvy of the staff when it comes to recommendations. Of course the bar makes some killer saké cocktails as well
Adam Larkey

5. Ototo

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1501 S Pearl St
Denver, CO 80210
(303) 733-2503
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The same goes for Ototo, naturally, whose list is a bit quirkier than that of its Den siblings; though it's well-annotated, for a guided tour of the highlights, it’s worth the outlay to attend one of the saké dinners held here monthly.
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6. Sushi Ronin

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2930 Umatilla St
Denver, CO 80211
(303) 955-8741
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As this newcomer is already earning major kudos for its attention to detail, you bet the well-trained staff can walk you through its carefully edited selection with ease.
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7. Sushi Sasa

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2401 15th St
Denver, CO 80202
(303) 433-7272
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Along with the Den group, LoHi's Sasa’s arguably got the highest-end selection in town—eclectic for its size and generally splurge-worthy.

8. Tokio

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2907 Huron St
Denver, CO 80202
Experts will tell you that the traditional wooden sipping boxes called masu interfere with your ability to judge the saké therein. But just as the aesthetics of drinking Champagne from a flute sometimes outweigh your concern for evaluating it, so masu have their time and place—and that place is amid the charms of Tokio, which also provides better range and bang for the buck than most.
Andra Zeppelin

9. Zengo

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1610 Little Raven St
Denver, CO 80202
(720) 904-0965
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Whether it’s a just-for-fun novelty like plum-infused saké, a tokubetsu (“special”) find made from estate-grown rice or a top-of-the-line junmai daiginjo (in which the grains have been milled down to 50% or less of their original size), Zengo does a nice job of annotating its offerings in concise layman’s terms.
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10. Matsuhihsa

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98 Steele St
Denver, CO 80206
This stunning sushi emporium launched in Cherry Creek with its top notch fish and hospitality. The sake list ranges from easy mellow warm junmai that goes for $30 for the small carafe to the floral and fruity 35 Dai-Ginjo that goes for $120 for the same quantity.

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1. Ace

501 E 17th Ave, Denver, CO 80203
Adam Larkey
If you seek a sacred commune with your saké, you’ve come to the wrong place. Unfiltered, fruity nigori in pink bottles; unpasteurized, fortified and full-throated honjozo namazake in yellow cans: Ace is all about the funky, easy-drinking stuff for washing down a plate of tiger wings in style.
501 E 17th Ave
Denver, CO 80203

2. Bones

701 Grant St, Denver, CO 80203
Facebook
The short but sweet list at Frank Bonanno’s noodle bar leaves just enough room to choose your own adventure. Kick back with a poppy sparkling saké, compare and contrast different styles with a flight, or treat yourself to a bottle of junmai ginjo (unfortified saké featuring rice polished so that only 60% or less of the grain remains), which noted expert W. Blake Gray calls “the most wine-like” category.
701 Grant St
Denver, CO 80203

3. CHO77

42 S Broadway, Denver, CO 80209
Courtesy of Cho77
We’re not saying happy hour at Lon Symensma’s Southeast Asian tavern is for saké connoisseurs. We’re just saying $1 shots and $3 bombs are nothing for anyone to sniff at, ever.
42 S Broadway
Denver, CO 80209

4. Izakaya Den

1487 S Pearl St, Denver, CO 80210
Adam Larkey
Well, duh. For sheer variety as well as quality, it’s hard to beat Izakaya Den (or Sushi Den, take your pick), especially considering the savvy of the staff when it comes to recommendations. Of course the bar makes some killer saké cocktails as well
1487 S Pearl St
Denver, CO 80210

5. Ototo

1501 S Pearl St, Denver, CO 80210
Facebook
The same goes for Ototo, naturally, whose list is a bit quirkier than that of its Den siblings; though it's well-annotated, for a guided tour of the highlights, it’s worth the outlay to attend one of the saké dinners held here monthly.
1501 S Pearl St
Denver, CO 80210

6. Sushi Ronin

2930 Umatilla St, Denver, CO 80211
Facebook
As this newcomer is already earning major kudos for its attention to detail, you bet the well-trained staff can walk you through its carefully edited selection with ease.
2930 Umatilla St
Denver, CO 80211

7. Sushi Sasa

2401 15th St, Denver, CO 80202
Along with the Den group, LoHi's Sasa’s arguably got the highest-end selection in town—eclectic for its size and generally splurge-worthy.
2401 15th St
Denver, CO 80202

8. Tokio

2907 Huron St, Denver, CO 80202
Andra Zeppelin
Experts will tell you that the traditional wooden sipping boxes called masu interfere with your ability to judge the saké therein. But just as the aesthetics of drinking Champagne from a flute sometimes outweigh your concern for evaluating it, so masu have their time and place—and that place is amid the charms of Tokio, which also provides better range and bang for the buck than most.
2907 Huron St
Denver, CO 80202

9. Zengo

1610 Little Raven St, Denver, CO 80202
Facebook
Whether it’s a just-for-fun novelty like plum-infused saké, a tokubetsu (“special”) find made from estate-grown rice or a top-of-the-line junmai daiginjo (in which the grains have been milled down to 50% or less of their original size), Zengo does a nice job of annotating its offerings in concise layman’s terms.
1610 Little Raven St
Denver, CO 80202

10. Matsuhihsa

98 Steele St, Denver, CO 80206
This stunning sushi emporium launched in Cherry Creek with its top notch fish and hospitality. The sake list ranges from easy mellow warm junmai that goes for $30 for the small carafe to the floral and fruity 35 Dai-Ginjo that goes for $120 for the same quantity.
98 Steele St
Denver, CO 80206

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