If a sake bomb is the extent of your knowledge of Japanese alcohol, then Imbibe Wine & Spirits Merchant has a lesson for you. As part of its ongoing mission to educate Bakersfield about fine liquors, the shop is hosting a sake tasting on Thursday

"That's a huge part of our business," said Imbibe co-owner David Dobbs. "Our whole wine bar is set up for education. The wines we put up there are ones you haven't heard of."

Dobbs said the business holds at least four to six liquor tastings per year, ranging from whiskey to tequila and vodka. Sake was a perfect addition as Dobbs said many people are well-acquainted with the nuances of the fermented rice drink.

"What do they know? Not much, myself included. I had a chance to do a tasting a couple of years ago. Good sake you drink chilled. It's complex and there is a lot going on."

For Thursday's event, Dobbs enlisted the expertise of Tamiko Ishidate, a sake sales manager and specialist for Young's Market Co. Estates Group, who conducts tastings throughout the year.

"My emphasis is always on the fact that sake is so easy to approach and more versatile than people think," Ishidate said via email. "(What I like best is) when I see people's eyes open wide and hear 'wow.' There are still so many people who have only had bad hot sake in their lives. What we offer are all premium imports, that are enjoyed chilled. There is a world of difference in one's experience of the beverage."

Selections will include sakes from Elko Fuji, Joto Junmai, Kanbara, Konteki, Tozai and a blue-berry infused junmai from Banzai Bunny Sparkling. Those will be paired with a bento box of selected foods. That may even include the surprising pairing of cheese.

"Sake has much more variation of acidity in it (a byproduct of brewing) than let's say wine," Ishidate said. "One of them is lactic acid, which makes a beautiful and natural match with cheese or any dairy product, especially when slightly fermented."

That may sound odd, but Ishidate said sake is extremely versatile: "There is a saying in Japanese: 'sake wa shoku wo erabazu,' which literally means 'sake doesn't choose food.'"

The sakes at the event will be available for purchase at Imbibe Wine & Spirits Merchant, 4140 Truxtun Ave. The tasting cost is $25, which includes food pairings and a $10 credit on the purchase of two or more bottles.

The event starts at 6 p.m. Thursday. As of last week, Dobbs said about a third of the 24 spaces were filled. Make reservations at 633-9463.

-- Stefani Dias, Californian assistant lifestyles editor

Drive through for good cause

If you like your lunch with a side of do-gooding, head downtown this Friday. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Salvation Army will hold its ninth annual Tri-Tip Fundraiser, held at the parking lot of First Presbyterian Church, 1705 17th St. For $10, Mossman's Dinner and Catering will be serving up a tri-tip lunch and sides. The best part? You can get it to go with the organized drive-through pickup. If you're really rushed for time, order ahead at 836-8438 or 836-1732 (fax). Proceeds will benefit children's summer camps put on by the Salvation Army.

-- Dias

Who's got the hottest pepper in Kern County?

The CSUB chemistry club will once again sponsor the hottest pepper of Kern County competition. Students will extract and analyze the peppers, and results will be disseminated at the Kern County Fair. Now is the time to start your pepper plants for a plentiful late-summer harvest. Growers are encouraged to submit peppers by Sept. 1. Entry forms are available by contacting Shaun Tobiasen at 654-3027.

-- Roy LaFever, professor of chemistry at CSUB

No-show charges?

Bakersfield has never been a big reservation city, but with many popular places you can't get a seat on a weekend night without one. And when you're a small dining room, it can be crucial to make sure all seats are filled. Now I've read a story in the Los Angeles Times about a new restaurant on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, called Trois Mec, which is selling nonrefundable tickets online for meals, as if eating in the restaurant were like a sporting event or concert. This after restaurants in Beverly Hills started charging $100 cancellation fees. The problem is that, like airline flights, empty seats on a busy night just cost a business too much in lost revenue.

-- Pete Tittl, contributing columnist

New and different

New offerings at Panera Bread include three pastas: tortellini alfredo, penne Bolognese and six cheese pesto Sacchettini ... The next wine-maker dinner at Valentien Restaurant & Wine Bar will be June 6 and feature Epoch Wines from Paso Robles. Call 864-0397 for tickets. ... El Pollo Loco is offering, for a limited time, Baja shrimp entrees, featured in tacos, salads and quesadillas. The shrimp entrees start at $2.99. ... McDonald's has introduced the Egg White Delight McMuffin. At 250 calories, the new breakfast offering features egg whites, white cheddar cheese and extra lean Canadian bacon, sandwiched between a new English muffin. ...Yogurtland is introducing two new flavors through May 12: Sticky Toffee Pudding and POG Sorbet. The new flavors are part of Yogurtland's Flavor Quest promotion that is bringing 10 new exotic and popular flavors from around the world to a cup near you.

-- Californian staff reports