Tonari Gumi Premium Sake Tasting

Last night, Jax and I attended a premium sake tasting event put on by the Tonari Gumi Japanese Community Volunteers Association.  My colleague (thanks pmo!) has been going for years, and really hyped the event up.  How could I not go to an event which features some of Vancouvers top Japanese restaurants, and of course, an unlimited sampling of sake?!

This is the 14th annual event, and there were two types of tickets available: A regular general admission to the main event, and a VIP ticket which included an informational seminar about how the sakes are produced, as well as access to sample more varieties not generally available here in town.  You can guess which one we went for!

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Getting to the event 15 mins late (thanks to our mayor’s infatuation of removing street infrastructure, causing traffic chaos) the seminar had already started.  Roughly 20 people were already seated, however the tasting had not yet begun.  We didn’t feel too bad, as 10 more people showed up after we did.  By the time we sat down, it was perfect timing to try the first sake.

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The setup was quite well thought out.  Every person had an information sheet, and a pen to take notes.  5 glasses were infront of each seat, with an individual plate of appies for every guest to pair with each sake.  There was a video presentation giving quite good insight into the production, and as well what to look for when sampling.

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The highlight though, for me, was the tin cup from madeinjapaninteriors.  I’m definitely going to have to go out and get a set of these beauties!

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Featuring a gold crescent emboss on the bottom, these had an immediate impact of the wow-factor.

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After the presentation was done, it was time to switch rooms, and go to the main tasting area.  Another perk of the VIP tickets was that we were given early access to the tasting room, and didn’t have to fight through any crowds!  The layout was functional — the outer perimeter were all of the sake vendors.  There were a couple pods in the middle which has the restaurant stalls serving the samples, and right in the centre was the silent auction area.

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There was a decent cross section of Japanese items in the auction.  Jax put a bid on an item, but didn’t win.

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When 7:00 PM rolled around, it was officially opened up to everyone, and then opening ceremony included a taiko drum performance.  No matter how many times I see and hear them, I’m always impressed!

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I won’t go into a review of the sake’s as it’s quite subjective, and lets be honest, after 5 or so glasses, how effective of a reviewer would I be?  After 15 samples, I think they all started tasting good.  After 30?  Well lets not talk about that …

These are just a small sampling of what was available.

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Most sake’s were served chilled, however we did find one stall that was serving it warm.

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There were more than a handful of women dressed in kimono’s!

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Everyone got a glass as they entered, and were served by each vendor.  The pours were as large as you wanted.

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The woman below was the one who gave the presentation about how sake is produced, and what to look for.  She was extremely knowledgeable and helpful!

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Some of my favourites of the night were a sparkling sake, and this bottle of Choya Umeshu.

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One of the main draws to this event is the food!  Minami, Octopus Garden, Hapa Izakaya, and Forage were all there, creating fresh hand crafted food on the spot for guests.  There was also food from Azuma Foods, and even the Tonari Gumi volunteers had a spread!

The Tonari Gumi table also had a punch, which I was highly grateful for at the end of the night!

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Azuma Foods had a do-it-yourself style lineup, where you grab a piece of seaweed, and then add whatever toppings you wanted.  This group was highly professional — they had signs, allergy alerts, and nutritional info all posted!

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Forage had a beautiful presentation to their offering.

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They had a team assembly line, each placing an item down one at a time before serving.  One person prepped the cracker, one handled the tuna, etc.

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Hapa Izakaya wowed with it’s serving size.  They did not skimp out.

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The food highlights, however, were from Octopus Garden and Minami.

Octopus Garden had a couple things going on — they had ‘Sada’s Own’ uni and quail egg shooters, that were epic good.  That is exactly my favourite type of dish to order at a Japanese restaurant.

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The one problem was that the little plastic cup made it hard to eat — rice would get stuck at the bottom, and I looked like an idiot trying to suck it out.

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The chef was also there making a custom cone to order.  The lineup for this was massive!

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Minami decided to go with their specialty — aburi!

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Lets just say, that I lined up more than once for both Octopus Garden and Minami!

The atmosphere there was great.  There was a DJ in the corner spinning some laid back progressive beats.

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Even though the event was sold out, and jam packed, I never felt like I was fighting with anyone to get a sample.  Everyone was super friendly, and it drew a good cross-nationality of guests and vendors.  Even a noob like me was able to learn quite a bit, and have alot of fun.  It was a well run event, that I have now marked on my calendar to go back to next year!

Take note people looking to raise funds:  Make an event people want to attend, and they will be more than happy to donate to your cause.  I didn’t even know this volunteer association existed before, but now I am more than happy to pimp them out!

At the end of the night, they were thoughtful and provided public transit tickets.

Protip: Get there on time!

Protip #2: Order your tickets in advance, and get the early bird special pricing.

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