Riingo, chef Marcus Samuelsson's new trendy American/Japanese spot in NYC, is on a mission—to make sake more accessible to the masses. "Americans are very intimidated by sake, so we wanted to find a way to make it less intimidating," says general manager Robert Kingsland.
By breaking its sake list into flavor components like "light, clean, clear; fresh, fruit, sweet; and complex, bold, assertive"; and by calling each sake by its translated American name like "happy fortune, cherry blossoms, and drunken heart," Riingo has been successful—the Japanese wine currently accounts for about 25% of total liquor and wine sales.
Riingo customers are also drawn to the innovative, but familiar, sake cocktails. "With the cocktail list, we wanted to start with the American side," says Kingsland. "So we took classic cocktails that we really like, and then basically put an Asian spin to them."
For example, the Kumquat Sour, made with kumquat shochu and citrus is based on the Tom Collins; Riingo's take on the apple martini is the Red Apple, made with apple sake, apple vodka, and pomegranate; and the Raspberry Julep, made with raspberry sake, bourbon, and a mint rim is its take on the Kentucky classic Mint Julep.
Another successful tactic—sake cocktails account for about 30% of total cocktail sales.