The Periodic Table: Design & Construction. Drinks Now Pouring.

The Periodic Table is open! This is practically old news at this point--it's been over two months already. As usual, construction seemed plodding; it started slower than expected and then there was an unfortunate setback when a contractor ordered (and partially installed) the wrong long-lead-time tile just as things were starting to move. That cost us at least a month. Not a huge deal objectively, but not great for our mental state. We were feeling almost desperate to reverse the cash flow situation, with all the capital outflow this year opening two stores, plus the slower summertime business and the drag of road construction on our business in Public Market.  Finally, at the end of August, about a year after starting the project, the construction barricade came down to reveal a stunning little space.

Photo: Eric Rorer

Photo: Eric Rorer

Functional Design

Coming in at under 400 square feet, The Periodic Table is a compact operation. Perhaps the most important feature is the pass-through window to Shiba Ramen's kitchen. Being "contiguous" with Shiba Ramen allowed us to use the same alcohol license for both storefronts. The Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control ("ABC") told us to build TPT in the next kiosk and "knock a hole in the wall." On one side, Shiba Ramen Corporation does business as Shiba Ramen, and on the other as TPT. We couldn't have done TPT as a standalone bar, because the kinds of alcohol licenses that allow minors to enter the premises (the kind we need in a food court) require a significant percentage of sales to be for food.

But to do this bar in such a small space, we couldn't lose any square footage for food prep. We also didn't want to increase our construction and labor costs by investing in another serious food service operation; i.e., we absolutely did not want to build another kitchen (of course, we could have followed the brilliant suggestion of ABC and gotten a "panini machine" or a "soup kettle" to satisfy the food requirement). The whole point was to piggyback on the infrastructure we already had in place, allowing us to focus on alcohol sales and devote as much space as possible to customer seating.  

Shiba Ramen is "Adjacent Tenant."  You can see the pass-through window under the back bar.

Shiba Ramen is "Adjacent Tenant."  You can see the pass-through window under the back bar.

Every effort was made to pack maximum functionality in the bar area: a back bar cooler for beer kegs with a 12-tap beer tower, a display fridge for bottled beer and sake, a small fridge with worktop for food/drink prep, a dishwasher, and the various sinks needed for code compliance. A hot water heater is stacked on top of a mop sink in a discreet little closet in the back corner. The main bar itself seats 6-7, with another 10-12 seats at the counter that wraps around the room's back and side walls. All the food prep, except for a couple of cold plates, is done in the Shiba kitchen. Above the back bar is a wood lattice shelving unit, where we display bottles and other things.  As I discussed on this blog recently, we put a TV in the back of the room.

The compact nature of the project created a real challenge for our architecture and food service design team. Not only did they have to make sure all the functional needs could be accommodated, they had to make sure everything was code-compliant, and that the final product looked great. Needless to say, they made it happen, and without too many hiccups. We successfully deflected an uninformed eleventh-hour demand by the city that we install a grease trap in our essentially grease-less space, the inclusion of which would have disrupted the careful balance created over months of back-and-forth among the many stakeholders in the project. In a science fiction world, perhaps we could have fit a grease trap in the extra dimensions contemplated by string theory; in the real world, we were completely out of space.

Photo: Eric Rorer

Aesthetic Design

We wanted TPT to be a real standout space, so we hired the folks at Oakland-based Arcsine, who had recently done some excellent restaurant work with Agave Uptown and Calavera. The design process was a low-stress, streamlined collaboration. Arcsine began by interviewing us at some length about the concept and our design goals. We were looking to build off of the modern Japanese-influenced design used at Shiba Ramen, while incorporating references to chemistry, science, and alcohol. The use of geometric patterns and shapes would allow us to act on each of these goals simultaneously, given the prevalence of geometric motifs in both Japanese design and chemistry. As with Shiba Ramen, we wanted tile and lighting to be feature elements.

Arcsine presented us with a set of three concept boards: one emphasized traditional Japanese design, one had a chemistry/industrial theme, and one was more playful with extensive use of color. In response, we suggested combining elements of each theme. We want TPT to present sake outside the usual sushi restaurant context, and we want to steer clear of shoji screens, brushstroke kanji, and the like. But we were excited to incorporate wood and Japanese geometric patterns. Similarly, we did not want to create the kind of sterile, monotone space that could result if we tried to make TPT into a chemistry lab. We viewed warmth and color as essential attributes of the space. The next time we sat down with Arcsine, they presented us with the refined composite concept slide below. We were totally on board. 

TPT Concept.PNG

Over the next few months, we sat down with Arcsine for a series of conversations as they fleshed out the design (the images below include a refined concept collage and an interim material palette). We started with the floor plan, making sure the space had all the necessary technical and code features, arranged efficiently and usefully, all while maximizing customer seating. The main bar terminates with a bump-out in the shape of a half-hexagon, creating an intimate space for conversation, either between patrons or with the bartender. The wraparound bar along the back and side walls contains two more half-hex bump-outs, providing additional focal points for conversation and design features. There are low (34") segments of the main bar and the wraparound bar, both necessary to meet ADA accessibility requirements.  

The ceiling is closed off above the bar, with a half-hex soffit mirroring the bar bump-out, and oak slats running in parallel from the back bar wall to the front of the bar. The area above the customer area is open, allowing light from the Market's skylight into the space. The oak slats in this area run from front to back, perpendicular to slats behind the bar.

The walls are primarily done in oak veneers, with a couple of exceptions.  The bump-outs on the wraparound bar feature gorgeous laser-cut oak screens from Lightwave above the bar, in a custom Japanese tortoiseshell pattern. Below the bar, the screens are mirrored by half-hex tiles from Clayhaus, teal blue with white accents, arranged in the same tortoiseshell pattern. The same tortoiseshell tile mosaic runs along the entirety of the main bar die wall, and is used again, although in plain white, as the backsplash behind the bar. The countertops are deep blue, made from a unique paper-polymer composite material called Richlite. The signature copper-coated beer tower has twelve taps. Butcher block is the countertop material on the back bar. The barstools are plastic/steel in a cool muted blue, from Normann-Copenhagen.  

Image: Arcsine

Image: Arcsine

The space also has two features that are direct inspiration from chemistry. The oak shelving lattice behind the bar is comprised of parallel rows of square openings, suggesting the periodic table of elements itself. The reference is an explicit one, with some of the openings covered in colored fabric squares printed with chemical element symbols (H for hydrogen, O for oxygen, Cf for Californium, Nh for Nihonium), a graphic representation of the platinum atom, and our ethanol-molecule logo, among other things.  In front of both laser-cut screens are sets of pendant lamps shaped like Erlenmeyer flasks. The lamp is appropriately called "the Erlen," so its designers clearly had chemistry in mind when they developed the product. Side note: this was the one piece of the design Hiroko and I took direct responsibility for, exhaustively scouring the Internet for chemistry-themed lighting. Today we are serving sake by the glass in actual Erlenmeyer flasks.    

* * * * *

So the space is pretty amazing. Arcsine came up with a striking design, which UpCycle Builders executed beautifully. The finishes and the carpentry are exemplary (and so are the drinks, by the way). I love spending time there, and I hope other people do too. It would be pretty sad if I didn't, though, because--brace yourself--this little room cost about $350,000 to design and build, financed through a combination of a Small Business Administration loan, cash, and landlord tenant improvement funds. Then add $40,000 for equipment. Total capital investment close to $400K. That's the cost of doing a tiny designer bar space in the Bay Area. The shock of these costs has worn off to a degree after three projects, but it still seems kind of appalling. There are still a few improvements to be made before the space is really complete, but we'll get to them when we get to them. We're working on some graphic educational collateral about our products for the wall, and we need a better sound system. 

We obviously need to sell a lot of booze, so if you're reading this please come and drink ASAP, and bring some friends! The burger is great, and you can eat ramen and wings at the bar. Here's where we are with the drink menu: 20-25 sakes, 10 draft beers, bottled Japanese beer and California ciders, a growing selection of Japanese spirits, including whisky, shochu, gin, and vodka, and a small cocktail menu. The food menu is minimalist at present, but likely to grow soon. We have cheese, charcuterie, and house-made pickle plates, all great drinking foods. Sports are on the television. See you there. 

Sleek blade sign fabricated by Sweitzer Fixtures and designed by Misa Grannis.

Sleek blade sign fabricated by Sweitzer Fixtures and designed by Misa Grannis.

Televised Sports in the Restaurant; or, Embracing Your Inner American

Alcohol and televised sports are, I cannot stress enough, inseparable corollaries of one another.  This may be news to you, progressive Bay Area millennials, but it is about as newsworthy as the fact that the Ford F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in the United States by a wide margin.  To put it another way, the line between America and ‘Murica is a fine one indeed, and you’d be wise to keep stock of the side on which you are standing. When it comes to sports, you’d be even wiser to appreciate that there might not be a line at all. 

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The Agony of Summer; or, Where's My Money?

I've had enough of summer. The sunshine is all well and good, but I'm ready to move on. I don't mean to be a scrooge about the whole thing, but I'm not finding it all that satisfying at this point. Summer is bad for business. And I'm cooped up all the time. I can't even get out and enjoy the season. Not that it's all bad. Tomato season is almost here, and that's something to look forward to. I'm also into my garden. Amazing plants out there. 

I used to revel in the summer sun, so in that sense you could say I was a devotee of Apollo. But the Sun God and I have diverging interests, I'm somewhat surprised to find out. I'm generally one to follow my interests, so I pray to the Fog Gods now. Hope stirs when I see the first tendrils of fog creep over Twin Peaks; I am #blessed when it consumes the Golden Gate and barrels into the East Bay. Let it last through lunchtime tomorrow, and if afterward it should go away, let it be back by happy hour.  

The principal deities in my pantheon are the Rain Gods. Praise be unto them! Let us give sacrifice! The greater gift to the God of Cold Drizzle, the lesser to the God of Torrential Downpours. It is of great concern should the latter giveth too much. Biblical floods are bad for business, as is commonly known. I'm in the ramen business. Cold drizzle is the manna falling from my skies.  

I take solace in the fact that, as people are now wont to say, winter is coming.  Too bad it's only the beginning of August. There are still September heat waves to endure, a back-to-school slowdown, more of the massive, slow-burning construction outside our Emeryville store.  At least there isn't a realistic threat of baseball playoffs this year--the A's and the Giants are both terrible. Let's just get to the rainy season relatively unscathed, and then maybe we can start making some money, at least until the Warriors steal the attention of every jump-on-the-bandwagon fan in the East Bay, every other night for two months of literally endless NBA playoffs. Seriously, I never heard the word "Warriors" in my first decade in the Bay Area. Now they're great and every fucking person is walking around draped in blue and gold. It's bad enough that I'm a Cavs fan, but what I really can't abide is the impact of all this greatness on sales. 

The Warriors' victory parade went right by Shiba Ramen. 

The Warriors' victory parade went right by Shiba Ramen. 

So this is what's become of me. Shiba Ramen has been in operation for twenty months, and I now view everything, every public event and every shift in the weather, in terms of the likely impact on sales. I hypothesize about the influence of morning clouds on lunch volume. I'm an armchair psychologist.  Does commuting in dark conditions positively correlate to lunchtime ramen consumption, as compared to commuting under clear skies? Does the answer change depending on the season? Do clouds have a bigger impact in summer (i.e., to what degree do you have to correct for expectations about weather)?? 

I imagine myself as a SuperFriends arch-villain, some diabolical Doctor Drizzle. I'm building a giant machine on a remote volcanic island, capable of controlling Earth's climate. My sinister goal is to create a perpetual state of Perfect Ramen Weather,  all to increase ramen sales, so as to accelerate the moment at which I can finally take a fucking vacation, and buy a car on which both side mirrors haven't been knocked off. I actually have such a car. The engine light has been on since 2015, and it's wearing a spare tire. 

What is money, and why is it needed? 

Money is something I do not have. I used to have it. Unfortunately, I still require it for things like "eating," which I must continue to do if I want to remain alive long enough to get my money back from Shiba Ramen. I want to get my money back from Shiba Ramen. I also require it for things like "shelter" and "preschool."  In a year, mercifully, I will enroll my child in public kindergarten. Even so, I will likely still need money.  

Where is the money? 

People took it. More accurately, I gave it to Shiba Ramen Corporation, which in turn gave it to people in exchange for goods and services. The number of such "people," defined to include corporate entities, to whom I regularly give money is staggering. Everybody gets in on the action. The many heads of the governmental hydra are first in line, followed closely by insurance companies, banks, and landlords. The employees eat the most, though, by far, and the minimum wage keeps rising. There are contractors, subcontractors, architects and engineers. And just when you've paid them, the government swings by for another bite, this time for some tax you didn't know you had to pay. Your last dollar goes to Waste Management, which charges a rate that reeks of noncompetitive bidding and municipal corruption.   

When everyone has finished eating, there are no leftovers. Well, sometimes there are leftovers, other times there aren't. Sometimes you have to pay just to have the privilege of feeding everybody. Also, technically, most of the above-identified diners never really stop eating. The contractors do if you stop building things, but everyone else will be back for breakfast tomorrow.

This is what happened to my money. I assume similar things happen to other people's money.  

Below: Summer hasn't been without highlights. Shiba Ramen had a stall at Umami Mart's matsuri festival, and the Shiba Party was incredible. 

Where can I get money? 

I have the sense that the more I seek money, the less of it I will have. That's certainly true as a historical statement over the past three years. But I'm at my limit of being able to live like this, and my personal flow of dollars to the business needs to stop. It isn't sustainable.

The good news is that a year of non-stop real estate development is wrapping up by the end of the month. I'm not sure what exactly we were thinking last summer when we signed two leases at the same time. Naturally, we underestimated how much it would all cost and how long it would take for everything to come together. That's how these things go. If your initial estimate is accurate, you might scare yourself out of taking a risk, and you might miss a good opportunity! You need to indulge in a bit of sugarcoating if you want to get anything big done. 

A year after signing the lease, The Periodic Table is just a couple weeks from opening. Finally. I hope we'll sell a lot of booze, but I don't know how long it will take to get the word out and start drawing people to Public Market to drink and spend time in the evenings. We're investing in a big PR push starting this month to promote the concept. We also decided to sell a burger (something the Market currently lacks) as a means to get some lunch traffic while we work on driving alcohol sales. We had been planning to only offer a few small-plate sides, but it's imperative that we capitalize on the crowd that makes up the bulk of the Market's traffic.

Dinner in the garden is pretty nice, too. Grilling tai snapper, with oysters and great beer.  

Dinner in the garden is pretty nice, too. Grilling tai snapper, with oysters and great beer.  

The other good piece is that labor costs are going to be way, way lower than Shiba Ramen. Almost nothing has to be prepared in advance. The bad news is that we have to start paying the bank that financed The Periodic Table. We just got the last disbursement from our credit line, so the company has to pay the final contractor invoices itself just when we start getting the bank's bill.  

Whatever. I plan on selling good alcohol, and I'm confident in the capacity of humankind to seek out and consume good alcohol. The most significant thing is that the rainy season is only two months away, and that points to a coming renaissance for ramen sales. The summer days are getting shorter, back to school is in the air. Some evenings, when the fog comes in, you can almost believe it's October. October is the first rain, and October is what I'm shooting for. October is also when the worst of Public Market's construction is scheduled to be over. October can't come soon enough. 

   

Learning the Sake ABCs at Japan's Oldest Brewery

Let's learn about sake. Are you ready? I am. I'm also interested in drinking some, but that's beside the point. I have a beer in my hand, so I'll have to give myself a raincheck, for at least the next half hour.

I'm going to go through the sake-brewing process, from start to finish, with a case study based on our trip last fall to Kenbishi, Japan's oldest sake brand. Kenbishi, located west of Osaka in Hyogo Prefecture, has been brewing sake since 1505. The name Kenbishi means "sword diamond," and they've used the same iconic sword-diamond logo for hundreds of years. You can actually see it in some old Edo-period woodblock prints, like the famous Utamaro print below, now at the New York Met.. This is sake with history, a classic brand paired with centuries of technical expertise. The product itself is bold and distinctive, and made a real impression on me even before our trip there. 

Kenbishi's current owners--the fourth family to own the brewery--are dedicated stewards of a half-millennium tradition. Masataka and Noriko Shirakashi generously spent four hours with us, giving us a private step-by-step, room-by-room tour of the entire sake-making process, followed by a sake tasting. It was an incredible experience, and a surprisingly intimate one. We learned a ton, not only about how sake is made, but also about how well it pairs with Western foods like cured meats and cheeses. Because they let us bring our camera along for the tour, we have a great photo record to accompany the sake story, and hopefully make it easier to follow.

Sake Brewing Basics

Before we enter the kura (sake brewery), let's make sure we understand some basic sake principles. Sake is a drink made by fermenting rice, which has been milled to remove the outer layers. The fermentation process used to make sake is known as "double-parallel" fermentation. This means two types of fermentation are necessary to make sake, and they happen in the same pot at the same time. First, the starches in rice must be converted into simple sugars. This process is carried out by a fungus, known as koji. Second, as with other alcoholic beverages, yeast (also a fungus) is used to convert sugars to ethanol. 

The end product results from controlling an astounding number of variables: the variety of rice, the amount of rice milled, the rice cooking process, the rice moisture content, the species of koji and yeast used, the quality of the water, filtration, pasteurization, aging, and much more. The dedication to the craft, the attention to detail at every step in the process, is the hallmark of sake-making. At Kenbishi, the commitment to traditional methods is on full display. Instead of using synthetic, off-the-shelf ropes for its sake barrels, Kenbishi makes its own ropes in-house. It still manufactures its own rice-steaming barrels and wooden warming elements, just as it has for hundreds of years. No corners are cut, the commitment to the craft drives every step of the process.  

We visited Kenbishi's primary kura, one of four. Incredibly, Kenbishi saw huge damage in the 1995 Kobe earthquake. At that time, they had eight kuras. Only one survived. A devastating loss, and one that could easily spell the end for a business. But with 500 years of tradition, the strength of its brand, and the quality of its product, Kenbishi pulled itself up and rebuilt. Today it is thriving. Across four brewing sites, Kenbishi has about sixty permanent employees. During the winter months, peak brewing season, that number doubles with the addition of seasonal workers. 

Rice Milling

The first step in making sake is milling the rice down to its starchy core. The milling strips the outer layers, which contain proteins, fats, and other impurities that can compromise the taste of the final product. The process is performed using a milling machine like the one shown below. The powdered outer layers are not discarded; they are used in various cooking applications, for livestock feed, etc. 

If you've seen the terms ginjo or daiginjo on a menu, they are indicators of the percentage of rice milled.  Ginjo means the sake uses rice milled to at least 60% of its original volume; daiginjo to at least 50%. Often sake is referred to as being "premium" the closer it gets to a daiginjo. The important thing to understand, though, is that this doesn't mean a daiginjo sake is better, or that you'll like it more. It just means (a) it costs more to make because less of the rice grain is used, and (b) it's likely to have a cleaner taste with more of the grain's outer impurity-containing layers having been removed.  In other words, ginjo and daiginjo refer to manufacturing styles (and, relatedly, Japanese regulatory and labeling distinctions) rather than to the rank of the sake.

Kenbishi only mills its rice to a bit over 70% of its original volume, and the sake has a big, complex taste. They adjust the exact milling rate each year to make the best use of the rice harvested that year.

Rice Steaming

Once the rice is milled to the desired level, it has to be steamed. Remarkable care is taken to control the steaming process, because the ultimate moisture content imparted to the rice is critical for the success of subsequent fermentation processes. Kenbishi, with its focus on traditional methods, steams rice using large cedar barrels, called koshiki.  They believe the wooden koshiki is a superior vessel, because it prevents condensation and absorbs excess water.  They steam their rice in the very early morning, to take advantage of cold air coming down from the nearby mountains. It helps with temperature control. 

Amazingly, Kenbishi's wooden koshiki are all made by an in-house craftsman, using traditional methods. This particular craftsman is the only person alive today with the know-how to make these things. As it turns out, he's quite old, so for the past five years, he has been training others at Kenbishi to carry on this craft tradition after he's gone. Now Kenbishi is in a position to keep its historical brewing methods alive into the future.

Koji

Once the rice is cooked, a portion is used to make koji. This is done in a special room, which feels a lot like a sauna or a steam room. It's essentially a huge cedar box, kept at elevated temperature and humidity. The brewers begin the process by working the koji spores into the rice by hand. This painstaking manual procedure is necessary to achieve uniform coverage across all grains of rice. The rice is then placed into little open cedar boxes, which are moved around the room four times a day for 4-5 days. This constant rotation is necessary to make sure all the grains of rice are exposed to the same environmental conditions, to promote uniform koji growth. When the growing process is complete, the koji rice is set aside for use in the fermentation tank. 

Somewhat surprisingly, we were allowed into the koji room during our tour. It was steamy in there, and you get the sense of how demanding it must be for the brewers to spend so much time in this hot space working around the clock to assure optimal distribution and growth of the koji fungus. We were invited to touch and taste the finished koji rice. You can see in the picture how the look of the rice has changed; it appears to be covered in a matte-opaque white material, and has become a bit clumpy. The taste was pleasant, sort of sweet, and the texture a bit chewy. 

Yeast Starter

The next step is to make the yeast starter, also known as shubo. This is the first step that makes it clear alcohol is being brewed. The yeast starter is an oatmeal-like concoction of steamed rice, koji rice, and water, in which yeast propagates. This is where parallel fermentation takes place: the koji is breaking down the rice, converting the starch to sugar, while the yeast is simultaneously taking the koji-produced sugar and converting it to alcohol.  

At Kenbishi, the preparation of the yeast starter takes about a month. Most other breweries do it in about half the time because, unlike Kenbishi, they physically mash the rice during the fermentation process, exposing the interior of the grain to the koji enzymes. The process involves a traditional method of slow, indirect heating, using wooden jugs periodically filled with boiling water. Once again, Kenbishi is uniquely traditional here, because they employ the only craftsman in Japan who can still make these wooden jugs.

From a scientific perspective, a lot of cool stuff is happening in the yeast starter, which I'll write about in detail later. 

Fermentation Mash

When the yeast starter is complete, it is time for bulk fermentation. Now the process moves to significantly larger tanks, into which yeast starter, koji, steamed rice, and water are added in three intervals over a four-day period. The reason for the intervals is that the transfer to a bigger vessel with more surface area puts stress on the yeast, which need time to adjust to changed environmental conditions. The moromi mash is kept in the tank for about three weeks. At this point, it's time for final processing.

Finishing the Sake

With fermentation complete, the mash is filtered to remove residual solid particulates. There are a number of ways to perform the filtration; Kenbishi uses the press filtration machine in the image below. Be aware, though, that not all sake is filtered to clearness. You may have encountered niigori sake, which is cloudy as a result of filtration using a coarser mesh.  

Following filtration, the sake is pasteurized. Not only does this heating process kill bacteria, it stops enzymatic activity in the sake, which helps stabilize product quality. Some breweries also filter their products over charcoal, which helps remove organic impurities and clear up the sake's color. Finally, Kenbishi transfers the sake to large tanks, where they age it before bottling. Their popular kuromatsu product is aged for less than a year, but they have another product that's aged for up to fifteen years.  

So now we've gone through the entire sake-making process. It's safe to say the main contours of the process at Kenbishi are representative of how sake is made generally. The steps always include rice milling and steaming, the preparation of koji, and then the yeast starter, before moving on to bulk fermentation. The fine details of an individual brewery's processes, combined with variations in rice, water, microbes, etc., together contribute to each sake's unique characteristics. There are obviously more subtleties to Kenbishi's process, which are too detailed to go into here.   

Sake Tasting, With a Surprise

After our tour, we sat down with the Shirakashis for a sake tasting. We tried six products, each aged for different periods of time. Only a couple of them (kuromatsu and kuromatsu mizuho) are available in the U.S. Kenbishi's basic product, kuromatsu, is a bold, rich drink, but it was the lightest sake we tried. Most striking was a sake that had been aged for more than five years, taking on a golden hue and delivering a powerful sensory experience. Not quite a brandy or a liqueur, but trending in that direction relative to most sake out there.  

The most eye-opening part of our tasting was that Kenbishi paired its sake with Western foods--blue cheese, Camembert, prosciutto--in addition to some Japanese items, like pickled sea urchin and fermented squid (ika no shiokara). All of these cured or fermented high-umami foods paired well with Kenbishi's strong sake, with the richest sake pairing best with the richest foods, the blue cheese and the sea urchin.

The point is that Kenbishi chooses to showcase its products in an international context, drawing on food pairings best suited to the sake, and disregarding the artificial barrier between this Japanese drink and Western cuisine. Kenbishi is being forward thinking here. It realizes, as a matter of business, that the future of sake is a global one. At the same time the Japanese sake industry sees a shrinking market at home, sake is starting to gain a foothold in the uncharted West, with Americans and Europeans starting to drink it more seriously.  Perhaps not surprisingly, we just saw Shirakashi-san at the JFC sake expo in the Bay Area last month, and his Facebook feed says he's been in LA and Italy in the weeks since then.

Kenbishi reveres tradition when it comes to making its product, but it's positioning itself at the vanguard of sake's big extraterritorial expansion. For both of these things, we tip our hats and raise our glasses. Kanpai!