Portland’s first shop dedicated solely to sake is now open inside a speakeasy alleyway, serving varieties you’d never find at your average neighborhood sushi restaurant.
Sunflower Sake opened in late fall at 5427 NE 30th St., adjacent to Dame: the wine shop and eatery known for hosting pop-up kitchens in its dining room.
The sake store is stocked with a carefully curated selection of approximately 125 bottles, all available to purchase. Those who prefer to sample and then commit can also take advantage of the on-premises tasting room, where you can explore rice wine by the glass, carafe or bottle along with an assortment of housemade snacks. Takeout from the area’s concentration of restaurants is also allowed.
“I’m focusing on sake that is handmade, harder to find and has a unique story,” owner Nina Murphy stated in a press release. “Sunflower is a good next step for someone who has enjoyed sake in restaurants and wants to learn—and taste—more.”
An example of a unique sake accessible at Sunflower and few other places is hiyaoroshi, a style that is pasteurized once and then allowed to age over the summer before it is released in fall. The result is a rich and nutty drink, making it a natural partner for heartier autumn dishes, and the name itself refers to the onset of cold.
Expect to find a rotating seasonal lineup at Sunflower, since, as Murphy puts it, sake “follows a calendar like beer.” So just as you’d expect to find more Maibocks in spring, Märzens and fresh-hop brews in late summer and early fall and heartier stouts or barleywines come winter, sake also takes its cues from the change in temperatures and how that shift affects our palates.
Murphy is making a transition from wine to sake, having previously worked in sales for a small local distributor and serving as an intern in both harvest and viticulture in the Willamette Valley. She also plans on completing the Wine & Spirit Education Trust diploma qualification next year, a program that provided her with the knowledge to translate the nuances of sake to wine lovers.
“Guests rarely know what kind of sake they like, but most understand their wine preferences,” Murphy explains. “Sake and wine are different, but they have some shared attributes.”
The intimate retail shop opens up to heated and covered outdoor seating that is shared with Dame. Hours are limited—noon-7 pm Monday through Wednesday until March—but you can expect a number of Sunflower-hosted events throughout the greater Portland area, including a pop-up sake night along the South Waterfront, classes, and a Russian food night, which pays tribute to the cuisines of Murphy’s childhood.
“I’ve spent the last three years of my career intensely studying wine, but often feeling out of place or even belittled at wine shops,” she says. “Sake doesn’t have this baggage: It’s a clean slate, no gatekeeping, no rituals. Everyone is enthusiastic, curious and eager to learn. I’d love to see it stay that way.”