Eric Swanson: Sake in the Desert
Las Vegas, NV
By Jim Clarke
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. Eric 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 Eric. 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, Eric 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; Eric’s sake program brings them that much