As sake sommelier Gaku Shibata popped the top off a glass of Ozeki sake, he reminisced about how this was his first alcoholic drink back in Japan. The co-owner of New York’s new Japanese pub, Azasu, Shibata has curated a list of imported whiskies, beer, shochu and sake—specifically a wide array of traditional and adorably packaged cup sake.
Cup sake, which comes in individual servings, can be a bit tricky to find in the US but Gaku and his wife and business partner, Christy Shibata, are out to change that. With hopes of converting “a new generation of sake drinkers,” they offer 20 varieties. According to the Shibatas, sake is starting to be considered an “old man drink” in their native Tokyo, with younger consumers gravitating toward wine. Enter Americans to pick up some of the sake slack. And cup sake could be just the thing that will encourage them to do that.
There is a cup for every palate, price range and aesthetic and, once you start drinking it, a “collect them all” attitude about the cups begins to take hold. In my first experience with cup sake, taking home a unique cup felt similar to finding an exciting toy in a very grown-up Happy Meal. The Shibatas say they love it when customers leave with a couple of glasses. Here, some of their coolest cups.