Since the Joy of Sake only comes around once a year, the next best alternative is to check out the Genius Lounge and Sake Bar in Waikiki. The Genius Lounge is easy to miss, it only has a small sign and is on the 3rd floor of a clothing store. And what is sake? Sake (pronounced sā-kay) is Japanese rice wine. However unlike wine making, the fermentation process is more complex and similar to brewing beer. Oh, and the alcohol content of sake is much higher. Typical alcohol content for sake is about 15% to 18%.
The Genius Lounge is located at 346 Lewers Street in the heart of Waikiki. This place is open everyday from 6:00 pm to 2:00 am, food service ends at 12:00 am, and, here's the best part, there are over 50 different varieties of sake. Street parking is non-existent so I'd recommend taking a cab. The only parking is in the parking structures, which can get expensive. I'd also recommend taking a cab since that's a lot of sakes to drink and you won't be able to drive. If you are thinking about going to another bar for sake, wait. No other bar (at the time of this writing) has as many varieties.
The entrance is on the side of the building marked by the small sign by the stairs. Notice the sign, Happy Hour is everyday from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm and selected drinks are half-price. The building and bar has Spanish influences with a lot of wrought iron bars, probably because this was an apartment building before converting to a clothing store and bar.
You have to walk up three flights of stairs. As with the different flights to get sake, the brewing process takes different steps to achieve sake. In wine making, the conversion is from starch to sugar, then from sugar to alcohol is in two discrete steps. In sake those steps are simultaneous and making the process more complicated. Sake making starts with rice. The rice used for sake production is different from the rice used for cooking. The starch for sake rice is concentrated in the center, so milling away the exterior removes fats and proteins that will react poorly during the brewing process. This prevents any unwanted or strange flavors in the final product. Usually the higher the rice is milled or polished, the higher the grade of sake.
They also serve food here to go with the sake. It's izakaya (tapas) style Japanese-Italian fusion. I haven't tried the food, though I'm told it's decent. Just be aware of what you order. Unless you're from Japan, you wouldn't like the natto spaghetti. If you don't know what natto is, don't worry about it and don't order it. That stuff smells bad....unless you like natto. For the rest of us mere mortals, try the mini-filet mignon, pork and vegetables skewers, or banana cake with vanilla bean gelato. If you want to know more, check the menu.
You can sit inside or outside on the patio with a street view of Waikiki. The Genius Bar doesn't take reservations, if you're coming with a large group on the weekend you should come early. This place gets crowded.
They serve wine, champagne, liquor, beers on tap, house-made sangria, and of course, sake. With all the varieties, what do you choose?
And what better to try sake than with a sampler? The sampler is like a wine flight with three 2-oz glasses. The serve three different samplers: sweet and light, medium, and dry. I can't remember what sampler I tried, I just remember it was good. Just remember the different grades of sake are determined by how much of the rice was milled away. And what does good sake taste like? One food critic, John Heckathorn, said it "tastes like moonlight." I'm not sure I'd use those words to describe it, but it tastes good.
Thirsty? Want to know more? Check out their website at Genius Lounge Hawaii.