Little Tokyo is home to one of LA’s premier Craft Beer bars, Far Bar. They recently expanded into the space next door, where you will now find Far East, a restaurant aimed at becoming one of LA’s premier Sake and Whiskey bars. John and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Far East/Far Bar proprietor Don Tahara to get the scoop on what they will be serving. Don has been hard at work procuring high end whiskeys and sakes from America and Japan and aims to have an incredibly diverse menu. There is a surge in the Japanese whiskey market, but sake sadly is on the decline. Don explained that Japan’s sake dilemma is being too entrenched in tradition and not being able to think outside the box. Most of these sake breweries have been making the same sake for hundreds of years without leaving any room for experimentation. In a time where Craft Beer, and crazy craft beer at that, is becoming the norm, it makes sense that people may be looking for more. That being said, Don poured us some tastes of some of the more interesting sakes he has on hand.
*Sake tastings were done with single malt whiskey glasses. Don has done extensive comparisons with his staff with all types of glassware, and this is the one that he feel showcases sake’s nuances the best.
Mugen Kurozake – Los Angeles Ale Works (Home Brew Concept)
There are currently only 2 bottles of this sake left in existence. This is the first sake concept from Los Angele Ale Works and is a straight black rice Genshu sake clocking in at 25% ABV. The black rice lends a very distinct rose/cherry blossom pink to the color and an earthy rice graininess to the aroma and flavor. Notes of strawberry, rice, and slight umami make this a perfect choice to pair with red meat.
Nama Sake – Shinmai Shinshu Funaguchi Kikusui Ichiban Shibori
Nama Sake, for those unfamiliar, is an unpasteurized sake. Much like craft beer (and sake is a beer, not a wine) it may have live and active components in it depending on how finely it was filtered or finned. This particular offering was, as Don mentioned, sessionable. Although at 19% ABV you have to be aware of the strength, as the smoothness of the this sake hides the alcohol overtones. Our tasting revealed notes of sweet rice mochi, strawberries, Japanese white wedding cake, and a clean un-muddled aroma. It’s clear why you want to come back to Shinmai for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th helping. Nama has a refreshing quality to it that other sakes do not. I would argue that this may be a perfect summer sake to have on a hot day and would pair well with dessert of light fish.
And now we come to the most interesting of the three sakes we tasted. Taru-Sake spends a short aging period in traditional sake barrels. Unlike European spirits, the traditional wood used in transporting and handling sake is cedar, which lends a unique peppery quality to this sake. This particular sake doesn’t have a long age, but some other sakes can spend significant time in barrels and can end up tasting more like American style whiskeys. Taru-Sake reminded me of stepping into a rustic sauna. The cedar notes dominated the aroma and flavor. The body was light, like distilled water, but had a delicate sweetness and chalkiness that dried out the tongue on the finish. I have to admit that I haven’t had a sake like this before, but I would be interested to try more from this style, as it’s very complex and interesting.
Don is no stranger to whiskies of the world so it’s only appropriate that we conclude our journey with some of Don’s new stash. On the table was an 18 year old Elijah Craig Single Barrel Bourbon and young Brekenridge Bourbon Whiskey. Tasting a young and old Bourbon side by side can be an eye opening experience. Although these two bourbons were from different makers, the flavors directly related to age were apparent. Elijah Craig had a very mellow combination of maple sugar and vanilla ending with a piney resin, while Brekenridge was more straightforward. For me the alcohol dominated. It was hot all the way through, so I let it open up. After some time on the table it mellowed out, and I enjoyed it immensely. Similar notes of maple, turbinado, and vanilla were found here, but the resin character was missing. Due to its relative youngness and short contact with the wood, it’s of no surprise that this was missing. For a whiskey connoisseur both of these option are a great choice, although I prefer the older stuff – more distinguished just like Sean Connery.
Don promises to expand his Sake, Bourbon, Rye, and Japanese Whiskey selection even more in the next few months. He wants Far East and Far Bar to be a Craft haven for not only beer, but spirits as well. It’ll be exciting to see Far East grow, and I’m looking forward to trying more great sake in the company of a true Sake aficionado.The Far Bar / Far East 347 E 1st St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
T. 213.617.9990 E. firstname.lastname@example.org *Far East has had a soft launch so there hasn’t been an official grand opening, but that will happen soon and we’ll make sure to let everyone know well before hand so you can attend.