Sake Superstar Tours San Francisco
When: 6:30-8 p.m. Monday; 6-8 p.m. Tuesday
How much: $40 Monday; $40 advance, $45 at the door Tuesday
In the tiny world of English speakers who love sake, Philip Harper is a superstar. Next week you have two chances to taste his wares.
An Oxford graduate who moved to Japan in 1988 to teach English, Harper fell in love with sake the traditional way: by drinking it. He took a job at Ume no Yado brewery in 1991 and worked there for 10 years, getting only two days off: one for his wedding, another for his honeymoon. He broke his hand in a car accident one day and still showed up for work.
Using his time during the nonbrewing season, Harper published The Insider's Guide to Sake in 1998. It remains one of the best English-language books on Japan's traditional beverage.
In 2001, he became the first -- and still only -- non-Japanese person to pass the exam to become a toji (master brewer). He left Ume no Yado that year and bounced around like a ronin through breweries in three prefectures.
When the toji for Kinoshita brewery in Kyoto prefecture died in 2008 after 45 years in the job, the owner considered closing the brewery; there's a shortage of young tojis in Japan (no wonder, with two days off per decade). Instead, he hired Harper.
Now that Harper is in his third year, Kinoshita's sakes completely reflect Harper's vision. He'll be pouring and talking about them at events on Monday and Tuesday.
We don't know if the sakes will be the same, but we do know the food will be different. On Monday, Ozumo will offer Japanese-style appetizers, including kushiyaki (grilled pork belly, octopus, beef, shishito peppers), oyster shooters, fresh tofu, smoked Wagyu beef tongue, homemade tsukemono (pickles), and temarizushi (ball-shaped sushi). Buy advance tickets here.
On Tuesday, La Mar's food will be Peruvian (of course): ceviche, empanadas, and anticuchos. La Mar's event is a benefit for Japan Earthquake Relief. Buy advance tickets here.
If you miss him both days, he'll be at Ozumo's Oakland location on Wednesday before packing his sakes for Southern California.
Follow SFoodie at @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.