A lot of bars and restaurants in Japan offer special deals where you can drink as much as you like for a certain amount of time, usually about two hours. The downside is these packages often don’t give you access to the full beverage menu. While beer and basic cocktails are generally included, if you’re in the mood for sake, you’re generally restricted to whatever the house brand is.
So we were excited when we heard about a new watering hole opening up in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood that lets you pick from 100 different types of sake for its all-you-can-drink plan, and even better, there’s no time limit.
While beer microbrewing is still in its relative infancy in Japan, low-volume sake producers have been around for centuries. Many of them are family-run and, despite making truly delicious sake, simply don’t have the manpower to develop a sales and distribution network to get their products to the big city.
Looking to solve this problem is Japanese company Liquor Innovations, which operates the Kurand Sake Market in Ikebukuro. While the restaurant isn’t set to officially open until March 19, Kurand recently held a preview night for thirsty members of the media, and we dispatched two of our intrepid Japanese correspondents, Mr. Sato and Go Hattori.
Kurand charges a flat fee of 3,000 yen (US$25) per person. This gets you unlimited refills of any of the 100 varieties of sake kept on the premises.
▼ The very extensive sake list
Upon entering, the first order of business is to pick out a drinking vessel for your alcoholic odyssey from more than a half-dozen options (of you feel like a change of pace, you can swap for a different style later on).
Kurand operates on a self-service system, so once you’ve got your cup (or glass or box, depending on your preference), grab a bottle, pour yourself a drink, and get started on your sampling.
By the way, draft beer is also available for 200 yen a glass, but to be honest, if you’re craving a beer, you probably should rethink your choice of going someplace where the cover charge includes all-you-can-drink sake. Speaking of limitless booze, the Kurand staff recommends that you and your co-drinkers make a habit of periodically toasting each other with a glass of water to keep from getting too blotto too soon.
In contrast to its huge selection of drinks, Kurand has only a small spattering of food options, consisting mainly of Japanese bar staples like cheese, dried squid, and the like. On the other hand, the restaurant allows outside food, with the only restriction being that you refrain from bringing in something smelly that will bother the other patrons.
▼ Kurand’s dining options
Bearing in mind that there’s no time limit at Kurand, you might think the best way to see what its menu has to offer is to start with the first sake on the menu, then keep going until you’re at the end of the list. But even if time if time isn’t a limiting your factor, your ability to stay upright after 100 glasses probably is, since Kurand is a standing restaurant. So, to help you get the most out of your visit, we present the RocketNews24 introductory primer to Kurand’s sake selection, as prepared by Mr. Sato and Go.
▼ It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.
1. Zaku Masanochi Hattan Nishiki (Mie Prefecture)
Has a mellow flavor with a crisp aftertaste
2. Nanakamba (Shimane)
Dry, fruity, and smooth
3. Himeichie (Ehime)
Has the aroma of bamboo
4. Amabuki Fuyuiro (Saga)
Soooo crisp! It’s got such a natural flavor it’s like drinking spring water.
5. No. 6 X-Type (Akita)
At the instant you swallow it, you get a burst of deliciousness.
6. Kuroushi Shin Shiboritate Honnama Genshu (Wakayama)
An orthodox dry-type sake
7. Meikyo Shisui (Nagano)
Has a mellow dryness
8. Raifuku mellow (Ibaraki)
Wait, is this white wine?!
Time for a quick break and a quick bite. Like we said, outside food is allowed and encouraged at Kurand. Chopsticks and paper plates are provided, and the staff will also pop anything in the microwave that you want warmed up.
▼ Mr. Sato and Go’s 7-Eleven-sourced provisions: hokke (a type of mackerel), edamame (soy beans), takoyaki (octopus dumplings), dried squid, and a Garigari-kun popsicle.
▼ You wouldn’t think popsicles would go well with sake. You’d be right.
We should point out that while bringing in outside food is fine, outside alcohol is not allowed (and really if you’re not satisfied with the 100 types Kurand is offering you, it might be time for your friends and family to stage an intervention). Also, Kurand is entirely no-smoking, allowing everyone to breathe deep and savor the flavor of their sake without their palate being marred by second-hand smoke. Finally, customers are requested to not hog the bottle; no matter how delicious that particular sake is, put it back after you’ve poured your cup so that others can give it a try, then go grab a refill after you’re polished off your pour.
And now, back to the drinking!
9. CEL-24 (Kochi Prefecture)
Fruity and sweet
10. Kijushu (Saitama)
Mellow and smooth
11. Sanuki Cloudy (Kagawa)
Fruity, like drinking Calpis
12. 19 Junmai Ginjo (Nagano)
13. Shirakawago Nigorishu (Gifu)
Super thick and milky!
14. Morino Kikukawa Nigorishu (Miyagi)
Ultra thick and milky!
15. Yuzu no Osake (Miyagi)
Tastes just like yuzu citrus fruit.
16. Ukiuki Lemon (Hiroshima)
So smooth that it’s like drinking juice
Two hours and 16 kinds of sake later, Mr. Sato and Go realized that while their spirits were willing, their flesh, and also now probably their livers, were weak, and thus decided to call it a night. Amazingly, even if they stick to their impressive pace, it’ll still take them six more trips back to Kurand before they can make the complete circuit of the sake list, but thankfully, with the awesome value the restaurant’s all-you-can-drink deal represents, that’s actually a pretty budget-friendly project.
Kurand Sake Market
Address: Tokyo-to, Toshima-ku, Nishi Ikebukuro 3-27-3, S&K Building, 4th floor
Open 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
Photos © RocketNews24