Have you ever heard of a sake sommelier?
Well such a thing exists, and at Victoria’s E:Né Raw Food and Sake Bar there are three staff members who hold such a distinction, including our host today, bar manager Anton Ihl.
If you want to know more about the subtleties of rice wine, Anton is your man. An enthusiastic and knowledgeable artisan, he explains to Monday publisher Ruby Della Siega and myself that sake has four classifications. Each uses a different process to go from rice to sake, and each creates an end product with distinctly different flavour profiles and purity levels.
E:Né (which translates to two thumbs up!), tucked next to its sister operation Nubo Japanese Tapas, has only been in full operation for a year, but it already has a claim to fame, notes Anton.
“We now have over 80 varieties of sake, and we’re heading toward 100,” he says. That makes them the largest sake bar in Canada, measured by volume.
But it’s not just sake here: there are numerous Japanese whiskys and other spirits available. After we sample some of the sakes – E:Né also offers sake and whisky flights – Anton makes us a couple of mixed drinks.
Mine, called Light Vader (it’s a long story, ask Anton), is a tangy blend of Dassai 50 sake, simple syrup, lime juice and pickled ginger juice. A great first tasting for me. Ruby is offered a Toki Sour, which uses Suntory Toki whisky, sour cherry tea simple syrup (from Silk Road) and lemon juice, a nice refreshing cocktail, she says.
Other popular drinks here are the fruity Japanese 75 and the floral-tinged 8th Barrel, the Nigori sake-based cocktail which has its own mythical story worth hearing Anton tell.
|A selection of Japanese spirits from Suntory is among those available at E:Né Raw Food and Sake Bar.|
But without further ado, let’s hear more from our host:
Your claim to fame/best up-the-sleeve trick or technique? I’d have to say having the largest sake selection in Canada, and having a sake sommelier certificate are my claims to fame. It definitely sets us apart in the city. It opens up the door to use various Japanese flavours in my cocktails. Yuzu sake, and green tea plum wine are my two favorites right now.
What’s hot right now? We are launching our new pairing boards. They will feature four kinds of sake and three kinds of Japanese tapas. I know these are going to be a big hit. Our flights are already and this is the next step. For a cocktail, the Toki Sour has been a nice summer addition.
What traits make a good bartender? I enjoy connecting with the guests. When you are genuine and care about the service, real relationships develop, which brings back the type of people that make your job easy. It’s important to be entertaining, but just as important to have those regulars who come in that challenge you and push you to the next level.
What’s your signature drink? The Escape Goat and shaft bomb are two takes on the shaft that I’ve been playing with. The Escape Goat is basically a shaft in a shot consisting of three layers. For a cocktail, the Kumamoto is my version of an Old Fashioned.
What are you drinking these days? I’ve been drinking Driftwood Shokunin ale and looking for other sake beers. I’m thinking there is a good opportunity for a brewery to focus on a hybrid style of brewing sake and beer.
Best memory from behind the bar? Our grand opening had to be my favourite event and night behind the bar. I invited hotel concierges, foodies, breweries, industry reps, the Chamber and Destination Greater Victoria. We broke a sake barrel and had the guests do a toast. This is traditional in Japanese culture and made for an exciting way to kick off the opening of our restaurant. I was later nominated for the Young Entrepreneur of the year award from the Chamber and managed to win. That has to be one of the greatest accomplishments and experiences of my life. I’m excited to be a part of the industry and community and can’t wait to see what the future brings!
737 Pandora Ave.
Also read in this series:
BEHIND BARS: Nothing common about this place
BEHIND BARS: Get ready to be Empressed
BEHIND BARS: Taking a trip down Mexico way
BEHIND BARS: Creating concoctions on a little corner of Victoria’s downtown