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Friday, July 8, 2011

Sake Superstar Tours San Francisco

Posted By on Fri, Jul 8, 2011 at 4:23 PM

Philip Harper
  • Philip Harper

Where: Ozumo, 161 Steuart at Howard (Monday); La Mar Cebicheria, Pier 1 1/2 at Embarcadero (Tuesday)

When: 6:30-8 p.m. Monday; 6-8 p.m. Tuesday

How much: $40 Monday; $40 advance, $45 at the door Tuesday

In the tiny world of English speakers who love sake, Philip Harper is a superstar. Next  week you have two chances to taste his wares.

An Oxford graduate who moved to Japan in 1988 to teach English, Harper fell in love with sake the traditional way: by drinking it. He took a job at Ume no Yado brewery in 1991 and worked there for 10 years, getting only two days off: one for his wedding, another for his honeymoon. He broke his hand in a car accident one day and still showed up for work.

Using his time during the nonbrewing season, Harper published

The Insider's Guide to Sake in 1998. It remains one of the best

English-language books on Japan's traditional beverage.

In 2001, he became the first -- and still only -- non-Japanese person to pass the

exam to become a toji (master brewer). He left Ume no Yado that year

and bounced around like a ronin through breweries in three prefectures.


the toji for Kinoshita brewery in Kyoto prefecture died in 2008 after

45 years in the job, the owner considered closing the brewery; there's a

shortage of young tojis in Japan (no wonder, with two

days off per decade). Instead, he hired Harper.

Now that Harper is in

his third year, Kinoshita's sakes completely reflect Harper's vision.

He'll be pouring and talking about them at events on Monday and Tuesday.

We don't know if the sakes will be the same, but we do know the

food will be different. On Monday, Ozumo will offer Japanese-style

appetizers, including kushiyaki (grilled pork belly, octopus, beef,

shishito peppers), oyster shooters, fresh tofu, smoked Wagyu beef

tongue, homemade tsukemono (pickles), and temarizushi (ball-shaped

sushi). Buy advance tickets here.


Tuesday, La Mar's food will be Peruvian (of course): ceviche, empanadas,

and anticuchos. La Mar's event is a benefit for Japan Earthquake

Relief. Buy advance tickets here.

If you miss him both days, he'll be at Ozumo's Oakland location on Wednesday before packing his sakes for Southern California.

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W. Blake Gray


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