An era came to an end – sort of – this summer when the Valley’s best-known BYOB restaurant, Hana Japanese Eatery, got its Series 12 liquor license and unveiled its very first beverage menu. “We started off easy,” reports chef-owner Lori Hashimoto. “Made it approachable, inexpensive. Not too fussy.” The task of curating beer, wine and sake that would do justice to Hashimoto’s splendid cuisine fell on co-owner Lynn Becker, who admits that going from zero to 60 has been a crash-course beverage education, particularly with sake. “[Previously] a lot of what I tasted was the stuff people brought into the restaurant, and it often wasn’t that great.” Translation: Forget that brown-paper-bag Gekkeikan you used to pick up at the corner liquor store. You’re in Hana country now.
Quoth Hashimoto: “No Kirin, no Sapporo, no Asahi.” Instead of that familiar troika, she and Becker offer a provocative selection of a dozen Japanese craft beers, including Echigo Weizen, a crisp white wheat ale (know it by the adorable lounging polar bear on the can); a saison from cult favorite Hitachino; and four ales from Kyoto Brewing Co., which is Becker’s new beer crush. “Oh, let me count the ways I love [them],” she coos.
Hana offers 12 sake selections, including its new house pour, Tsukinowa Blue Hue. Crafted by one of Japan’s few female toji (sake masters), it’s made using a rare technique that involves distilling a byproduct of rice fermentation and introducing the distillate back into the sake, not unlike a sherry. For a splurge, try Kikusui “Chrysanthemum Mist,” a semi-dry junmai (fine sake) just as ethereal and hauntingly floral as the name implies.
With a smattering of by-the-glass and bottle picks, the Hana list is a work in progress – but progress, it will. Becker tells us that FnB impresario (and PHOENIX wine columnist) Pavle Milic is programming a new top-to-bottom wine list for Hana that should be ready by November. “It will be sane,” Becker promises. “An aspirational bottle here and there… but mostly just good values.”
Becker authors a rotating list of four simple, seasonal cocktails, each based on sake or its distilled cousin, shochu. Currently, there’s a sake mule, made with local Big Marble ginger beer; and a bright, naturally sweet sake-pineapple cocktail that makes an unbeatable apéritif paired with a bowl of edamame. “I want to do something with apple for the holidays,” Becker muses.
Becker is evaluating Japanese whiskeys and – though it offends her inner purist – a people-pleasing cheap-o sake that she’ll serve warm, just in time for winter. “We’re not really a sake bomb kind of place, but I guess if someone was really motivated, they could do it.” Ah, progress.
Hana Japanese Eatery
5524 N. Seventh Ave. Phoenix
Beer of the Month
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. Double Picacho Pecan Pie
American Brown Ale/11% ABV
Though the recipe, presumably, has changed somewhat since the days when brew master Jonathan Buford “threw a whole pecan pie in the beer while making it,” as he told The Arizona Republic back in 2013, this AZ Wilderness offering remains a seasonal standard in the Valley of the Sun. Brewed with maple syrup, vanilla beans and dairy extracts sourced right here in Arizona, it’s candy in a can, and perfectly suited to the irresponsible sucrose consumption of the holiday season. So, tip one back, and observe a solemn moment of silence for the pies that died to bring it to you. azwbeer.com