To the casual drinker, sake is generally thought of as an accompaniment to sushi dinners — most often downed hot or in a sake bomb. But the Japanese rice “wine” is a drink of incredible nuance with massive diversity in flavor, character and cost. From the clear and sophisticated junmais to the cloudy nigoris, the delightful beverage has a place at any number of celebratory occasions. Below is a list of the best places to explore sake outside of Denver’s many fantastic Japanese restaurants, with locations strewn across the city.
Where: 760 East Colfax Ave, Denver.
Hours: It is open Monday – Thursday 8 a.m. – 11 p.m., Friday 8 a.m. – 11:45 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Lowdown: Argonaut has long served as one of the city’s great institutions for all things alcohol. The massive selection of wine, beer and spirits have been well-explored and well-documented many times over. Their impressive sake selection — hidden in the back corner behind the sparkling wine — has yet to receive proper recognition for its diversity and breadth. Industry standards like Ty-Ku are there in abundance, with rarer bottles and Kikkoman cooking wine rounding out the multi-shelf display.
Where: 3601 West 32nd Ave, Denver.
Hours: It is open Monday – Thursday 10:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10:30 a.m. – 11 p.m. and Sunday 12 – 8 p.m.
Lowdown: This low-key institution in the highlands is celebrating 20 years in business this month. While the selection here may not be huge, everything on hand has been carefully curated. The attentive staff is full of some of the most well-versed wine aficionados in the city. Novice drinkers can expect well-considered recommendations and thoughtful and detailed explanations while more advanced consumers will be thrilled by the sophisticated options.
Where: 5809 West 44th Ave, Denver
Hours: It is open Sunday – Wednesday 9 a.m. – 10 p.m., and Thursday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 12 a.m.
Lowdown: The liquor superstore in Lakeside opened four years ago and has since been a staple for anyone in the area, and a worthwhile trek for all Denver residents due to its massive selection and solid pricing. The sake collection is stationed right at the front — store managers citing the beautiful bottles and intricate branding as a reason for the central position. The selection features a variety of massive low-cost bottles best designed for drinking hot or with beer, and an equally impressive list of more complicated sippers from across Japan. Single-serving cans and even juice boxes round out the selection.
Colorado Sake Company
Where: 3559 Larimer St, Denver.
Hours: It is open Thursday and Friday 4 – 9 p.m. and Saturday 4 – 10 p.m.
Lowdown: While most sake is crafted in Japan, often by groups that have been producing it in a traditional manner — sometimes for generations — The Colorado Sake company recently began churning out respectable variations from their facility in RiNo. While their products can be found on most of the shelves gracing this list, the best way to experience the delicious draught is in their taproom, tucked away in an alley near the Exdo Center. Their horchata nigori is by far their most daring departure from tradition and has been inspiring a great deal of fascination and derision. While there is a lot of experimentation going on, their American standard is good enough to satisfy even the more staunch purists.
Where: 5036 West 92nd Ave., Westminster,
Hours: It is open every day from 9 a.m. – 9:10 p.m.
Lowdown: For the absolute best and by far the largest selection of sake H-Mart Westminster is the undisputed champion. The massive Asian market just off 36 and Sheridan includes a separate liquor store located at the front of the building with a plethora of spirits from Korea, Japan, China and the United States. The sake collection fills multiple walls and is a real delight for any connoisseur. The sheer diversity can be a bit overwhelming for a casual drinker, but even those with limited experience will have a hard time not finding excellence, be it accidental or otherwise. Even though its something of a trek, H-Mart is without a doubt the city’s unsung hero of sake assemblage.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.