An Indian man from Singapore has been crowned the sake sommelier of the year

Photo: Sake Sommelier Association / Facebook
Photo: Sake Sommelier Association / Facebook

Third time’s the charm for Singapore’s own sake champ.

Joshua Kalinan, 52, won the Sake Sommelier of The Year award this past May in London, becoming the first ever Singaporean to do so. But it was not an easy road.

Kalinan, an inflight auditor/air sommelier with Singapore Airlines, took part in Sake Sommelier Association contest three times before taking home the top prize.

“The first time, I reached the semi-finals, and two years ago, I was named runner-up,” Kalinan told Prestige. “This year, I’m the winner.”

Kalinan is not the only one trading in his Tiger Beer for Japanese sake. Adrian Goh, marketing director of Singapore sake distributor Inter Rice Asia, says locals are increasingly embracing Japan’s national drink.

Singapore has a double-digit growth for sake consumption over the past five years,” Goh told Coconuts Singapore.

“Dedicated sake bars have been popping up, and sake is being seen in fine dining Western restaurants.”

Matching various dishes with the right sake vintage seems to be Kalinan’s forte — the man knows exactly what to pair with the likes of cream of mushroom soup, pan-fried foie gras, and even chocolate. But first, he had to get over the language barrier.

“I learn by looking at countless of labels,” he said to Prestige. “I may not know kanji but I managed to memorize the words, the different characters on bottles.”

In the competition, he had to decide which types of sake went best with different Chinese dishes, including deep-fried prawns and spring rolls.

Kalinan has big plans for bringing novel sake-cuisine combinations to a restaurant near you.

“I would love to pair sake with North Indian cuisine,” he told Prestige. “From tandoori chicken, which will go well with the earthy Kimoto-style sake, to creamy butter chicken, which can be paired with something sweet and slightly acidic. For the fried stuff, I’d choose dry sakes, which is refreshing — maybe a Junmai or Karakuchi.”

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