The Joy of Rice Wine

Rice wine enthusiasts will scream out one loud kampai!

(Courtesy Joy of Sake)

Attendees already have a lot to cheer about at this year's Joy of Sake. But now there's one more reason: an attempt to break the Guiness World Record for the largest kampai, or toast, with more than 1,500 people. While many trends originate on the mainland and eventually make their way across the Pacific and then to our sunny shores, island residents can take pride in knowing that the popularity of sake first swept Hawaii, and then invaded San Francisco and New York. In 2000, many of the premium sakes began showing up in Hawaii to a point where some of them were difficult to find even in Japan. Perhaps the foremost authority on the subject locally, Chris Pearce has helped organize the “Joy of Sake” since its inception in 2001.

 “Sake has always brought people together for happy occasions,” Pearce, says. “There isn’t a much happier occasion than 1,500 people getting together to sip fantastic sake, so we thought why not celebrate with a giant, hearty kampai?” 

Over a two-day period, a team of five judges from Japan and five from the U.S, including Philip Harper who is the only western toji (sake brewer) in Japan, will evaluate aroma, taste, balance and overall harmony in each entry on a scale of one to five, with one being the best and five the worst. Scores will be tabulated and sakes with the highest scores will receive gold and silver awards.

“We bring in the leading authorities on sakes,” Pearce says. “No one knows what’s going on in the background but these guys do two tastings of up to 500 different sakes over the course of two days; this is not for the feint of heart.”

This year, the event will return to the Hawaii Convention Center on Friday, Aug. 4. The evening will showcase an extensive line of premium sake styles in the junmai, ginjo, daiginjo and kimoto categories, many of which are not otherwise available in the U.S. Other new features this year include an expanded Izakaya Alley of festive street foods, a new sake-themed creation from Onopops, a lounge where attendees can mingle with sake brewers and nine newcomers among the 21 restaurants. Two are brand new: Honolulu’s upscale Basalt and Sheldon Simeon’s Calabash, opening in Wailea this winter. Each restaurant has created a sake-inspired appetizer to enhance the pleasures of the cup. 

“Everyone has fun,” Pearce says. “We try to make this event as accessible as possible to the public.”

Tickets: $95 in advance or $105 at the door, available online at

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From openings and closings to chefs and trends, Inside Scoop will keep readers updated on the latest in the restaurant/food industry. Simplicio has covered the local dining scene for more than 15 years, providing residents a taste of the islands. Follow him on Twitter@simplicio

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