The Japan America Society of Iowa is hosting a first-of-its kind event this week during which Iowans will learn about the beverage sake.

Yoko Tanaka, the organization’s executive director, says sake (pronounced SOCK-ay) is often referred to as rice wine, but it’s actually produced through a brewing process closer to that of beer. Tanaka says Iowans may have tasted the liquor, but the “Sake & Friendship” event is designed to be a cultural experience and exchange.

“People may enjoy it but they may not quite understand what is the best way to drink — warm or cold? — what to look for when you’re drinking sake, what will go with the food,” Tanaka says. “The best way is to get together and then we talk about it.” Officials in Iowa’s sister state in the Japanese prefecture of Yamanashi sent a case of sake to Iowa specifically for this event, but Tanaka says it was no simple process to get it here.

“Alcohol is very strictly regulated and then even after they gave us instructions, we had to receive an input code for each item that’s coming in,” Tanaka says. “And when the box finally came, when we opened it, two bottles were shattered.” Ten bottles survived the long journey and they’ll be opened and sampled during the event, along with other types of sake that are more readily available in Iowa, so people can learn about the different grades of the drink.

The sake tradition in Japan has an exceptionally long history and is believed to date back to the year 712. That’s not a typo.

“It was used in Shinto religious events and different occasions, and then it became more popular in daily life,” Tanaka says, “but the sake-making process hasn’t changed for so many centuries.” The gathering is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Allora Café in the Krause Gateway Center in downtown Des Moines.

In addition to the tastings, the event will include musical entertainment, greetings from the Consul General of Japan in Chicago, as well as from the volunteers in Yamanashi, live via Zoom. Advance registration is recommended at:

Radio Iowa