A Beginner’s Guide to Sake

Pabu’s Tiffany Soto reveals all about the wonderfully nuanced Japanese beverage.

By: Jessica Voelker

Tiffany Soto, beverage director at Baltimore’s Pabu, wants to make sake mainstream. Photograph of Soto by Scott Suchman.

The Japanese have been making sake for thousands of years, but its intricacies remain mysterious to most Americans. Tiffany Soto, a Las Vegas transplant who is beverage director at the new Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore, hopes to change that. She curates a program of more than 100 fermented-rice brews for Pabu, the hotel’s Japanese restaurant overseen by San Francisco chef Michael Mina.

Certified as a master wine sommelier, Soto also carries credentials from two sake institutes in Japan, making her one of this country’s top sake experts. Maybe it’s her fiery red hair or hyper-articulate conversational style—she’s the kind of woman some might call a “spitfire”—but she says everyone assumes raw aggression propelled her to the top of a male-dominated world. In fact, she says, “I did it the Japanese way, with a lot of patience.” That meant countless trips to the East to build relationships with brewers and other experts, plus hours and hours of study.

These days, Soto is busy spreading the sake gospel to Washington distributors and retailers to bring more and better bottles into the market. It’s similar to the work she did in Vegas—now one of the sake-richest cities in the country.

Curious about the world of sake? We enlisted Soto to help us create this primer.

Sake 101: