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Pacific Rim event sakés it to you

Fourth annual festival brings drinks, dancers to Forest Grove Saturday


by: NEWS-TIMES FILE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Drummers provide rhythm during the 2012 Pacific Rim Festival, which drew more than 1,000.The words “This isn’t saké” are normal coming from first-time customers at SakéOne brewery in Forest Grove.

That’s because many people have tasted saké only when it was mixed with other things or have heard about such sour experiences from friends, said Joann Takabayashi, SakéOne’s tasting room manager.

But with the fourth annual Pacific Rim Festival coming to town Saturday, Aug. 24, the company is preparing to show doubters and lovers alike that its saké is the best of the best.

Last week a couple walked into the tasting room, a well-lit open room with colorful bottles of saké lining the walls. Takabayashi could see the girlfriend needed persuasion to try some of the evolving Japanese drink. Her scrunched-up face gave it away.

While the boyfriend tested the company’s “Ginjo,” or premium grade saké, the girlfriend commented that the drink was awful and disgusting. After some coaxing, she finally tried one sip of Moonstone, SakéOne’s fruit-infused saké. She was baffled and stubbornly demanded Takabayashi pour another glass so she could see it come straight from the bottle.

Takabayashi complied and laughed that SakéOne had converted another non-believer.

“It happens all the time,” Takabayashi said with a smile. “They came back an hour later and bought a bunch of bottles.”

Takabayashi was born and raised in Hawaii and is second-generation Japanese. When she moved to Portland, it was a culture shock.

“There’s a lot of culture, you just have to look for it,” said Takabayashi. “It’s all spread out and I wanted to bring the little pieces together.

“There isn’t another event that represents all the cultures together. And saké makes it happen.”

The brewery transforms into a cultural extravaganza for the annual Pacific Rim Festival. Performers, food and drink represent Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Tahitian cultures here in the Northwest. The represented nations make up the Pacific Rim and the festival demonstrates the individuality of each culture.by: NEWS-TIMES FILE PHOTO:  CHASE ALLGOOD - Dancers and their costumes offer one of the clearest expressions of cultural differences at the Pacific Rim Festival in Forest Grove.

Four large tents are hoisted up to shade seating, host demonstrations and house vendors like Abbey Creek Vineyard and nonprofits for the day.

But the focus is on entertainment.

The performances are as fresh as the saké because Takabayashi refuses to let groups come back unless they alter their show each year.

The first performer scares away evil spirits, she said. Giant red and yellow lion heads swing about for the lion dance, a Chinese ritual by Lee’s Association. There’s a hula performance by Keiki & Wahine Hula where the women dress in full traditional outfits.

“A true expression of culture is through dance and dress,” said Takabayashi.

There is Taiko drumming group Portland Taiko and you can feel the energy in the drums pounding, said Takabayashi, patting out a rhythm on her chest. An Obon dance group is back-to-back with a Tahitian dance group right before another hula exhibition. Then there’s a Kung Fu demonstration.

“Who doesn’t like Kung Fu?” Takabayashi asked.

There’s also a traditional Japanese dance and a Korean fan dance, both with elaborate outfits. Drumming group Takohachi Taiko will amp up the energy before Kama & The Back Line Band play live Hawaiian and Reggae music, getting everyone on their feet dancing — or is that the saké?

“Kama is so popular that we are flying him out from Hawaii to be here,” said Takabayashi.

For the more hands-on individuals, demonstrations of Japanese karate and Tahitian dance will be held throughout the festival. Lessons in origami and lei making will be available too.

The food is also diverse, with Hawaiian style poké bowls and spam musubi, Korean BBQ and Japanese style snow cones.

Takabayashi decided that the brewery in Forest Grove was ideal for the Pacific Rim’s happy collision of cultures.

“To see one of the performances is worth your seven dollars,” she said. “If you have food, drink and entertainment, what else do you need?”

SakéOne was the first American-operated saké brewery in the country and is still the only one in Oregon. The next closest saké brewery that has mass production for consumption — not cooking — is in Texas. After that, Minnesota offers the closest saké fix.

SakéOne is one of the leading producers of “Ginjo” saké, which isn’t what you’d find served hot at a local sushi joint. SakéOne produces premium Oregon Craft saké, intentionally served cold. Momokawa and G are two of its labels, but the company also produces Moonstone, which is infused with flavors like Asian pear, coconut lemongrass, raspberry and plum. Moonstone makes for delicious and popular sakétinis — martinis made with saké, says Takabayashi.

“We want to break people of the myth that saké gives you the worst hangover,” says Takabayashi. She explained that while saké is 80 percent water, gluten-free and sulfate-free, there’s still a stigma. “Some folks are scared of it, but there’s not a huge difference in alcohol content than wine. It’s a fighting battle.”

Takabayashi feels like she’s winning that battle when the company hosts the Pacific Rim Festival.

The first year, the festival drew 450 people. Last year there were more than 1,000 from across the nation — some coming from as far as Florida. Takabayashi estimates there will be 1,500 people this year. Many guests are SakéOne Club members, who pay to have saké, imported and domestic, delivered to them and to try out new flavors and recipes for SakéOne. The club consists of 600 saké fanatics.

“Military men have told me ‘I don’t remember it tasting like this,’” says Takabayashi. “We make good quality saké. It brings people to us.”



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