By Kimberley Player
The San Francisco Bay Area is famous for its Napa Valley wineries and, more recently, for an influx of craft breweries in the East Bay. But if you want a one-of-a-kind experience off the beaten tasting track, skip the wine and beer and go sake sampling in Berkeley!
Takara Sake USA is the name on the side of a large, nondescript warehouse that backs onto railroad tracks in a quasi-industrial West Berkeley neighborhood. You have to look closely at the sign on the door to see the “Tasting Room & Museum” addendum that hints there might be more to this place than a manufacturing operation. Once inside, you climb a staircase and are delightfully surprised by the zen-looking tasting room, where bird and leaf-themed mobiles spin gently in a light, airy space. The woodwork and decor are vaguely reminiscent of a Japanese temple… that is, if Japanese temples had well-stocked sake bars. The aura is respectful and serene with only an occasional train whistle piercing the mellow Japanese music and low-key conversations of other customers.
The friendly staff will direct you to two pre-tasting opportunities, a room where you can watch a 15-minute video about sake production, and a small museum. Both are well worth the time. The video provides a concise overview of the rice fermentation process unique to sake production. It manages to convey an appreciation of the technical expertise required of the “Toji,” or master sake brewer, without being boringly scientific. You can easily go through the museum in five to 10 minutes but it’s a quirky complement to the tasting room… where else are you going to see a traditional “Sakafune” (sake boat)?
Next it’s on to the sake tasting. Takara offers seven tasting menus, comprised of seven individual sakes each. These range from two “Variety” options recommended for those who want to taste a little of everything to specific Junmai, Ginjo, and “Very Sweet” flights. Mouth-watering descriptions highlight honeydew, vanilla, and earthy finishes, creamy and crisp options, and coffee, lychee, and Fuji apple flavorings, as well as alcohol content, rank on the Sake Meter (from very dry to very sweet), and recommended way to serve (chilled, room temperature, or warm). It’s hard to choose but the expert staff is available to answer questions and to provide you with your next very generous pour.
With only one limited edition exception, each tasting menu costs just $5. You can also buy bottles or cases of your favorites at extremely reasonable prices. This author walked out with two 300ml bottles of ShoChikuBai Rei Ginjo Draft and MIO sparkling sake for under $20.
Takara translates to “treasure from the rice paddy” and this establishment does a fabulous job of showcasing that treasure. Whether you’re a sake aficionado or simply want to try a new tasting experience, pay a visit to Takara Sake. Kampai!
Takara Sake is located two blocks south of the Fourth Street shopping area in West Berkeley and is open daily from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Reservations can be made online and are recommended, though not required, for weekend tastings. Street parking is easy and several parking lots are located to the north in the area of 4th Street and University Avenue.
Takara Sake Tasting Room & Museum
708 Addison Street
Berkeley, CA 94170
Phone: (510) 540-8250
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