Sommelier Eric Swanson of Shibuya - Biography

Las Vegas, NV

June 2009

A night job bartending in Oita, Japan opened up an unexpected career for Eric Swanson: sake sommelier. He first went to Japan at the invitation of a friend after graduating from the University of Florida with an anthropology degree. After spending four years there he decided to come back to the U.S., and followed up on his new-found interest by picking up something to read on the plane: Guide to Sake by John Gauntner, the world’s leading non-Japanese sake expert.

This was the match that lit the kindling. Swanson spent a few years honing his service skills in several New York restaurants, including Nobu and Tribeca Grill, and then returned to Japan for a year. When he next hit New York in 2002, it was not as a bartender, but as a consultant, creating cocktail lists for several of the new Asian restaurants there, Riingo and Masa among them.

When the MGM Grand in Las Vegas wanted a sake sommelier for their new, modern Japanese restaurant, they called on Swanson. Here he had the opportunity to with John Gauntner, the man whose book brought his interest in sake to life, and together they created one of the largest and dynamic sake menus in Las Vegas.

As sake sommelier, Swanson oversees Shibuya’s beverage program and opens up the world of sake to his guests. His sake list includes food pairing recommendations and ideal serving temperatures for each sake, as well as Japanese microbrews and signature cocktails that combine sake with other Japanese ingredients and Western liquors. Tokyo and Las Vegas are both cities known for their dazzling neon skyline; Swanson’s sake program brings them that much closer together.