Portland is known for nerding out over its love for beer and wine. But sake? Despite Portland’s long-standing connections with Japan, there aren’t any dedicated sake bars in the city, and the city’s only known sake bottle shop, Sunflower Sake (107 SE Washington St), was just opened in Southeast Portland by Nina Murphy, in December 2022. And for the past few years, ever since the massive Sake Fest ceased due to the pandemic, there hasn’t been a sake festival in Portland. That’ll change on Saturday, January 21, when Sunflower Sake hosts its first Fuyu Fest, a sake-focused event with demonstrations, speakers, food, and activities.
The event includes more than 50 different sakes available to taste and purchase, with various sake distributors, importers, and a couple sake makers talking about their products. Murphy’s particularly excited about a sake from Tsuji Honten’s Gozenshu brewery called bodai moto. “It’s a very nerdy sake,” Murphy says. “It’s based on a thousand-year-old brewing method that was developed by Buddhist monks. The method had been lost to time, and this brewery came across a manuscript and figured out how to do this brewing method.”
Another intriguing sake, ine mankai, comes from the woman-run Mukai Shuzo brewery near Kyoto. It’s made with red rice, which is traditionally used for festivals but not for sake. Brewer Kuniko Makai worked with a university professor to create this ruby-red sake that Murphy describes it as “a little bit viscous, extremely complex, with briny olive notes and full, fresh floral notes, and raspberry.” When heated up, Murphy explains, it takes on a completely different flavor profile.
There’ll also be speakers talking about sake pairings, the sake industry and education, and sake brewing in the Pacific Northwest. But the event isn’t solely about sake; fuyu means winter, and other wintertime food, drinks, and activities will be involved. Snow Peak, the Japanese outdoor company whose US headquarters is in Portland, will also be demonstrating how to warm up sake using its gear while camping or enjoying the outdoors. Electrica, the new Japanese-Mexican coffee and tea shop, will be serving Mizuba green tea and strawberry milk, Yellow Heart Sunshine Bakery will offer pastries, and vegan Japanese restaurant Obon will serve onigiri and kenchinjiru, a miso vegetable stew. There’ll also be an opportunity to learn about Japanese ceramics and purchase ceramic ware meant for drinking sake. Sunflower Sake is donating 20 percent of proceeds from ticket sales to Ikoi no Kai, a Japanese American organization in Portland that serves lunches to seniors and the community.
Ultimately, Murphy wants Portlanders to know that sake is more than just a drink. “There are so many different ways you can engage with it, and there are so many different stories it can tell,” she says. “It adds to the way you interact with food, the table, with friends.”
Tickets are $55 until January 14 and $55 afterward; a $70 ticket, which will increase to $75, gets you a handmade ceramic sake cup. The event takes place from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Olympic Mills Building, 107 SE Washington St.