We think we have a lot of breweries in this country today, but there were some 4,000 in the late 19th century. Think that’s a lot? Around the same time, Japan had roughly 30,000! Of course, they were saké breweries. Despite being called “rice wine,” saké is brewed just like beer, but instead of using rice as a cheap adjunct, it replaces barley altogether. And sadly—no hops.
While we’re up to 1,800-ish breweries in the U.S., Japan is down to 1,200-1,400 saké breweries—kuras—today. On the flipside, the US is up… to eight. Five are in California, the brand new Texas Sake Co. is in Austin, Moto-I is a saképub in Minneapolis (first outside Japan), and then there’s the one I haphazardly found myself touring yesterday, SakéOne, in Forest Grove, OR, less than an hour from the wealth of brewpubs in Portland.
Just as Michael Jackson helped turn beer lovers onto premium whisky, living beer legend Fred Eckhardt has been trying to do the same with saké since he published the book, Saké, practically 20 years ago.
Of course, the best part of touring any brewery is the tasting, and the same is true for a kura. Just as some people think all beer tastes the same since it’s only made from malted barley, hops, water, and yeast, those people would be equally wrong to think the same of saké—made from rice, water, yeast, and koji which yields fermentable sugars from the unmalted rice. (Leinheitsgebot? Sorry.) As with all brewing water, appellation makes a huge difference and Momokawa Brewing Co. of Japan founded SakéOne in Forest Grove because of the quality of the water that resembled the homeland’s. (It is now American-owned.)
Not surprisingly, the genshu or cask-strength (about 18% ABV) sakés were my favorite. Once I tasted G (Joy) I understood why I caught Rogue runners Jack and Brett Joyce gifting Eckhardt a bottle of it. It tastes like creamy honeydew, as crafted by toji (sakémaster) Greg Lorenz.
Are you a fan of sakés? Think they’ll gain in popularity (and if so, among beer fans specifically?) How far off is the Great American Saké Festival?