If there’s going to be a bright future for Japanese Sake, places like Kurand Sake Market are going to be the ones who help make it happen.
Your humble narrator pouring some very interesting sake
Located in Ikebuko, (Note: they recently opened a new location in Asakusa that we have not yet visited) Kurand is an all-you-can-drink standing sake bar. 3000 yen (before tax) will get you access to their selection of more than 100 brews for as long as you can remain upright and/or coherent. Upon entrance, you’ll be given a checklist (ok, maybe it’s more of a menu and our use of the term “checklist” is an indication of editorial bias) of the day’s selections, complete with regional origin and flavor profile. Kurand’s stated goal is to promote smaller, lesser known breweries, so you’re not likely to find heavy hitters like Dassai or Hakkaisan here. In fact, if you’re a clueless gaijin like me, it’s likely that you’ll never have heard of any of the breweries being represented, and that’s probably the best part.
Once you start tasting, its not at all unusual to encounter staff or even other guests eager to talk about the various selections, their personal favorites, and as the night draws on, your interest in post-drinks karaoke. In an effort to keep their clientele upright, Kurand has a very strict water policy. Every 30 minutes, all guests are required to put down their sake (and Kurand staff will get on the PA and let everyone know when it’s time), fill a glass of water (and they do keep pitchers of water filled at your table at all times), and have a grand toast (of water). I want to say that this was the result of excellent planning, but i suspect it’s more a reaction to some tragic incidents in the past.
One thing you should know going in, while Kurand does have a small collection of food items available, the expectation at Kurand is that you bring your own food. We saw groups of people enjoying tables full of dishes, practical sake-themed picnics. Unprepared parties (like ours) could find themselves attempting to subsist on chips and pastries from the local convenience Store. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
All of the bottles have color coded tags indicating flavor profile
When i started visiting Tokyo years ago, it often seemed to me like sake was an "Old Man’s Game.” The 20s and 30s crowd were all drinking beer and the majority of people I encountered drinking sake were elderly men in suits, which struck me as being somewhat unsustainable. Despite the loads of sake organized in fantastically efficient ways and an excellent and knowledgeable staff, the thing that impressed me the most about Kurand was the crowd. There were friends, couples, coworkers, both young and old, male and female, all eating, drinking, and being oh, so merry!
Note: Kurand is very busy these days, so if you intend to go, it’s probably a really good idea to make a reservation at their website. Lately, Kurand has also been promoting foreigner-focused “Sake Exchange Tokyo” events, featuring guided tastings.