Joy of Sake: The biggest sake bash outside of Japan gets bigger

Scenes from last year's Joy of Sake. Photos courtesy of Joy of Sake.

One of the first sake breweries outside of Japan was right here in Honolulu: the Honolulu Sake Brewery, established in 1908. It survived for 80 decades, against all odds, including the warm weather (previously, sake could only be brewed seasonally, in cooler temperatures), Prohibition and the U.S. shutdown of sake brewing during World War II (along with other Japanese businesses).

"[The brewery] was very progressive and very respected in Japan," says Joy of Sake founder and sake distributor Chris Pearce. "They used to send observers over from Japanese breweries to see the technical innovations, to see what we were doing here. They had to make sake in warm climate and they had to make sake year-round. No one was doing that. They had to make sake with an eight-hour work day because it was against the law in Hawaii to work around the clock. In brewing season in Japan, they worked around the clock."

The brewery survived because of Takao Nihei, who resurrected the brewery after World War II. "He was the youngest, smartest, Renaissance sake guy in Japan," says Pearce. "He was a guy that was going to go straight to the top in the sake world." He left his career in Japan behind to run Honolulu Sake Brewery because he found that sake was essential to many Issei, first generation Japanese, who had come to Hawaii to work on the plantations. They found solace in sake, and Honolulu’s brewery provided it.

And so, in a way, the upcoming Joy of Sake, the biggest sake bash outside of Japan, is more than a trendy food and drink festival; for Honolulu, it's also a return to its roots. It's not a coincidence that this homegrown event that now tours New York and Tokyo was started in Honolulu. It's through Nihei's influence that Pearce started his sake distribution company and Joy of Sake.

This year, the event is bigger than ever, with 384 sakes, 224 of which are not normally available in the U.S. With 16 chefs and restaurants participating, some of them creating one-off dishes to pair with sake, it's one of the biggest and most exciting food and drink parties of the year.

The chefs and restaurants tapped to participate: 
– Sheldon Simeon, Wade Ueoka and Lance Kosaka are banding together for a special one-night collab
– Banzai Sushi
– BLT Steak
– Cakeworks
– Chef Chai
– Chez Kenzo
– Doraku
– Gyotaku
– Halekulani Hotel
– Hoku's
– Kaiwa
– Nobu Waikiki
– Pili Hawaii
– Pig and the Lady
– Umami Cafe
– Vintage Cave

Joy of Sake, August 16 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Hawaii Convention Center. Tickets are $85 in advance/$95 at the door. Buy tickets at or at The Sake Shop.