In time for International Sake Day on October 1, Pabu's master sake sommelier Tiffany Dawn Soto—one of only three women in the world to hold the title—talks about her career, how she promotes the rice wine, and what she thinks of Baltimore.
Soto will also be hosting sake classes at Pabu throughout October, including complementary mini sessions during happy hour on Thursdays. The restaurant, which has 105 sakes on hand, will feature a sake-influenced satori menu during the month and a special Kubota sake dinner on October 10. For a complete list, visit Pabu's website.
Soto, a Las Vegas native, moved to Baltimore almost two years ago to be the beverage manager at the Four Seasons Hotel in Harbor East. "My husband happened to be going to law school here, and this opportunity came up," she says. "Now, we absolutely love Baltimore."
The 31-year-old sommelier is also the mother of two daughters, ages 11 and nine months, and is a big fan of the Ravens and O's.
Here's what else she told us:
Who first introduced you to sake?
There's a man named Eric Swanson, a sake supplier for a distributor in Las Vegas, and I requested a meeting with him. I was teaching wine classes, and I had students asking me about sake. I ended up speaking with him and went to Japan, where I studied at The Sake Institute and The Sake Research Institute. I wasn't trying to be a master, but then I just got to be one.
How would you describe sake to someone who has never tried it?
Everything you think you know about sake is false. It should be sold cold, it's not for shots, but it's for sipping, and it's only 15.5 percent alcohol, just like red wine. It has a very delicate taste. Around 18,000 different sakes are produced.
What is your favorite kind of sake?
I like Niigata sake. They are my favorite for sure.
How are you incorporating the taste of sake into a culture that's accustomed to beer and wine?
It hasn't been that hard actually. People who like alcohol actually just like alcohol. We have a lot of private sake classes. I have eight or nine before the end of the year.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as a master sake sommelier?
I have reached a point where I am comfortable teaching others. I feel more like I am ambassador for sake. I'm a cultural educator.
What has overseeing the beverage programs at Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore taught you?
People used to talk about Baltimore as a beer town and that sake would never make it, but it's not what people think. I think Baltimore's undergoing a renaissance since there is so much cocktail innovation, sake innovation, and even wine innovation. This town might have been born a beer town, but it's more than that.
When you go home after a long day, what is your drink of choice?
I have the perfect cocktail, and, in my opinion, it's a mojito. It has to be done right. My husband and I happen to make very good mojitos.
—Suzanne Loudermilk and Danielle Moore