Joy of Sake: Drink Sake and Help Set a World Record for a Toast
This year’s Joy of Sake combines hundreds of different sake, local chefs and a chance to help set a new record for the largest kampai.
This year’s Joy of Sake event hopes to break the world record for number of people toasting and shouting, “Kampai!”
Photos: Courtesy of Joy of Sake
At 8 p.m. on Aug. 4, a new Guinness World Record may be set—as 1,500 people raise their glasses at the 17th annual Joy of Sake and shout, “Kampai!”
For Japanese sake aficionados and enthusiasts, the annual Joy of Sake at the Hawai‘i Convention Center represents a dream come true. Hundreds of junmai, ginjo and daiginjo sakes, many not otherwise available in the United States, are available to sample alongside small sake-inspired dishes from top local restaurants.
The annual festival kicks off its world tour in Honolulu on Friday, Aug. 4 with 382 competition-level sakes including dozens of gold-award winners, 190 premium daiginjo sakes and 217 labels not available in the U.S.
Since 2001, this public tasting event has followed the U.S. National Sake Appraisal where 11 sake judges conduct a blind taste test and award gold and silver recognition to top brewers from throughout Japan and even a few from the United States. They’ll try nearly 400 sakes over two days and, when it’s all over, the judges turn fresh bottles of each label over for festival-goers to sample. Half the selection includes super-premium polished daiginjo, as well as varieties that aren’t available otherwise in America.
“The Joy of Sake has really grown. In the first year, I believe it was just 124 sakes,” says Joy of Sake spokesperson Huy Vo. “As the popularity of sake has grown in Hawai‘i and around the world, there became more and more brewers submitting sake for consideration. Today, the event is enormous.”
If you’re keeping track, the previous kampai record was set in March 2015, when a thousand people toasted the launch of a Shinkansen (bullet train) rail line in Japan. But, if there’s anywhere that might be able to rally greater numbers of sake drinkers outside of Asia, that place is Hawai‘i.
In addition to the impressive drink selection, this year’s Joy of Sake offers an extended Izakaya Alley of food pairings from Hawai‘i restaurants, many of which just opened this past year and two that are brand new: Calabash by former Top Chef contestant Sheldon Simeon, which will serve miki noodles with ham hock, moringa leaves and egg; and Basalt, offering lemongrass-and-sake-cured salmon gravlax with crème fraîche, lavosh and micro greens. Other offerings include sake toro and ikura with cold lemon shio, scallion and bonito rice from Forty Carrots at Bloomingdale’s, penne arrabiata with grilled bratwurst and Parmesan cheese by Chez Kenzo Bar & Grill, sake-soy-braised pork belly with pickled kai choy and dried ʻōpae okayu from Roy Yamaguchi’s Eating House 1849, and chef Michael Mina’s tuna tartare with Asian pear, mint and pine nuts from Stripsteak.
Twenty-one Honolulu restaurants are participating in this year’s event, with dishes inspired by sake. This is the sake-soy-braised pork belly with pickled kai choy from Eating House 1849.
Basalt, which recently opened in Waikīkī, is offering lemongrass-and-sake-cured salmon gravlax with crème fraîche, lavosh and micro greens.
“Kasujiru” Shot of sake lees with Atlantic salmon and eggplant from Teppan & Sushi Kaiwa.
“People who aren’t familiar sometimes think sake only goes with sushi or izakaya-style Japanese food, which is why all these different types of dishes being sampled is so important,” Vo says. “Choose a dish you’d like to try first [at Joy of Sake], then follow it up with an appropriate sake pairing. For example, if a dish is a little on the light side, try a lighter sake.”
Whether you’re focusing on the dishes, looking for the award-winning top sake (marked with gold and silver stars) or just hunting for rare bottles (check out our insider’s guide on how to do the Joy of Sake like a pro), just be sure to get tickets quick. Vo warns that the Joy of Sake has a history of completely selling out a day or two before the event each year.
The Joy of Sake, 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4 at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. Tickets are $95 in advance, $105 at the door. Buy tickets at joyofsake.com.