Just before Covid conquered the world, small to large-scale tasting events in hotels, restaurants, and bars were gaining great popularity. Manila’s bar scene was experiencing a renaissance, with major alcoholic brands flying in their ambassadors, master distillers, brewers and winemakers to host well-funded events geared at enticing more distributors, food and beverage establishments, consumers and local media to support their products.
But with Covid and Covid-related restrictions, hosting events, socializing outside one’s tiny bubble, unnecessary travels and other activities that promote social mobility still remain curtailed. So I am more than grateful that the local beverage and hospitality industries together with the always thirsty, drinking crowd have started to reinvent their events. They recreate the camaraderie that was strongly felt right before Covid — in bars, restaurants and other local tasting venues — via virtual tastings. Because one thing I confirmed after more than 18 months of being faced with the dilemma of not having people to drink with is that drinking is really more fun with others.
I’ve had my fair share of virtual tastings, or e-numans, ever since Covid-19 crash landed on the local bar scene and made get-togethers a no-no. These virtual events are usually hosted by either a wine or spirit distributor but there are also independent groups that organize fun, thematic drinking events like The Tasting Club.
Founded in New York by Kevin and Adrienne Charuel in 2016, The Tasting Club is a no-membership-required group, which makes all the events they organize open to the public. The duo looks at the club as a platform where they can share their “knowledge about fine wine, spirits and craft cocktails together with delicious food pairings in a social and friendly atmosphere.”
It’s a promise they were able to deliver, albeit virtually, when I attended my very first The Tasting Club event called “Keep Calm with Sushi and Sake.” Since the pandemic started, The Tasting Club has had virtual tasting events with different themes featuring a huge variety of tipples paired with food.
For the Sushi and Sake Night, the group approached Tsukiji Restaurant and Ralph’s Wines and Spirits to collaborate, with the purpose of demystifying the craft of sake and finding Japanese traditional specialties to pair it with. Together, the three entities came up with a well-organized virtual tasting soirée that included an impressive tasting kit delivered to the participants a few hours before the event kickstarted.
The sake served during the Zoom gathering was hand-picked by Raymond Lim Joseph, one of the owners of Ralph’s and Director of Sales and Marketing. He also happens to be one of the very few non-Japanese sake educators in the country. During the tasting, Mr. Joseph, who is also the founder of Sake Society PH, a sake appreciation group you can find on Facebook, did an excellent job explaining the basics of sake using terms even those with no prior sake knowledge would understand.
Joseph guided us in tasting three different styles of sake, all drank cold, starting with a Gekkeikan Junmai Sake (Red) to represent a 100 percent pure rice alcohol sake; a Gekkeikan Daigingo Sake (Black) to represent a sake with added alcohol; and a Gekkeikan Nigori Sake (White) to represent an unfiltered sake, my personal favorite sake style.
Complimenting the sake selection was a special sushi bento box filled with the most delectable sushi spread—assorted sushi (Amaebi, Hamachi, Maguro, Salmon, Negitoro), Futomaki, Tamago Yaki, Nimono Vegetables, two different seasonal Japanese appetizers, Hamachi shioyaki, and a clear soup sachet. The assortment was curated by Chef J Gamboa, Tsukiji’s executive chef, together with Tsukiji Master Sushi Chef Toshiro Okajima.
“Chef Oka and I selected this menu to provide the guests with a varied selection of Japanese flavors, textures and umami,” said Chef J. “As all the ingredients are fresh from Japan, the guest will be able to experience these as intended and may also explore the sake pairings on their own.”
After the guided sake tasting with sushi pairing, a brief question and answer session followed, with Chef J and Joseph answering our questions, sharing their knowledge together with Kevin Charuel of The Tasting Club. We were more than 50 participants who attended this Sushi and Sake night, trying all the possible sake and sushi combinations from the comforts of our homes — reassured by one of many major takeaways that night from Raymond Joseph: “There is no such thing as a bad pairing, just a better pairing.”
For more information about The Tasting Club and its events, visit https://www.thetastingclubmanila.com/events
Tsukiji Restaurant is open for take-out and delivery 11AM to 9PM Tuesdays to Sundays. Text your order to 0966 634 5792 or call 8810 8735 and 8810 2763.
To learn more about Sake, join Raymond Joseph’s Sake Society PH group on Facebook, and to buy the sake served at the virtual tasting visit www.ralphs.com.ph/
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