Crafting Japanese Tradition in America – Made in USA Sake on Rise

Last updated: May 27, 2017 

sake flight, sake tasting, sake pairing by Sequoia Sake in San Francisco
Sake Flight (photo by Sequoia Sake)

Do you remember the very first sip of sake you experienced? Did it taste too strong or different? Did you feel it strange to drink alcohol hot? Well, you’re not alone. Many Americans say their first encounter with the fermented rice wine was “unpleasant” but they gradually got used to it as a companion to Japanese food.

In the course of acceptance, sake has branched out to new scenes in the United States and grown out of Japanese tradition. A good and classic example is “Sake Bomb,” a beer-sake cocktail invented in West Coast for party entertaining (watch video), which people in Japan have no idea of. More recently sake is often paired with non-Japanese food such as cheese, chocolate and carpaccio, making a great addition to the East-Meets-West culinary culture.

In contrast to Japan where sake consumption has been in decline for decades, the U.S. shows increasing demand for the alcohol. The country imported $50 million worth of sake from Japan in 2015 with 21% increase from the previous year (*1), and the domestic consumption is estimated to have tripled for the last decade (*2). To quench America’s thirst for sake, local breweries (called sakagura in Japanese) are now on rise boasting of “Made in USA” brands.

The following sakaguras, all independently founded in the U.S. within a decade or so, produce premier labels for new sake experience. So let’s learn about “Made in USA” sake and how they are fitting into American dining scenes.

*As for types and varieties of sake, please refer to this page.

1. Sequoia Sake (San Francisco, California)

FEATURE:
Sequoia Sake is a California brewery specialized in nama (live and unpasteurized) sake produced with rice from Sacramento Valley, water from Yosemite, koji mold and yeast that blend perfectly with the local ingredients. It contains no sulfites or tannin and is 100% gluten free. Sequoia Sake is keen in contributing to sake literacy, with such activities as brewery tours, unique sake tasting events and even educating other local brewers.

PRODUCTS:

The Deer
Sequoia Sake Deer Type: Nama (unpasteurized)
Taste: Versatile, lively, tangy, fresh fruits
ALC: 14-15%
SRP: $18 (375ml), $33 (750ml)
Pairing: Specialty dark chocolate (70% Ambanja, Madagascar), particularly from Dandelion Chocolate
The Rooster
Type: Genshu (undiluted)
Taste: Full-strength, dried fruits, spice, rich and deeper taste
ALC: 17-18%
SRP: $19.50 (375ml), $36 (750ml)
Pairing: Specialty dark chocolate (70% Mantuano, Venezuela), particularly from Dandelion Chocolate
The Bunny
Type: Nigori (unfiltered)
Taste: Versatile and lively, tangy, mild and slightly milky
ALC: 14-15%
SRP: $18 (375ml), $33 (750ml)
Pairing: Specialty dark chocolate (70% San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic), particularly from Dandelion Chocolate

SAKE SCENE

Izakaya Rintaro is San Francisco neighbor Japanese style bar and restaurant
Sequoia Sake Hosting Japanese Night Life at Izakaya Rintaro in San Francisco

2. Gaijin 24886 (Denver, Colorado)

FEATURE:
Colorado’s first sake brewery, Gaijin 24886 was founded by Marc Hughes and Keith Kemp in 2014. After falling in love with brews in Kyoto, they learned the traditional techniques on sake production for years and conducted numerous experiments only to craft high-quality sake made with local ingredients such as Rocky Mountain snow and rice.

PRODUCTS:

Queen City of the Plain
Type: Ginjo (40% rice polished, distilled alcohol added)
Taste: Dry, fruity, hints of lychee and melon
ALC: 15-17%
SRP: $20-25 (720ml)
Pairing: General table sake, good for new sake drinkers
El Colorado
Gaijin24886's GInjo Sake, El Colorado Type: Ginjo (40% rice polished, distilled alcohol added)
Taste: Bit acidic, cidery, savory
ALC: 15-17%
SRP: $20-25 (720ml)
Pairing: Ramen, spicy chicken dishes, tacos. More for whiskey fans
LSQ (Leadville Snow Queen)
Made in Colorado Sake LSQ from Gaijin24886 Type: Ginjo (40% rice polished, distilled alcohol added)
Taste: Made with snow melt in Colorado, dry and fruity
ALC: 15-17%
SRP: $20-25 (720ml)
Pairing: Ramen, spicy chicken dishes, tacos. More for whiskey fans

3. SakéOne (Forest Grove, Oregon)

Sake brewery in Oregon SakéOne
Oregonian Crafts from SakéOne (photo by SakéOne)

FEATURE:
SakéOne started its business as a sake importer in 1992. The company has been crafting strictly junmai ginjo quality sake since 1998 at its state-of-the-art brewery in Forest Grove, the heart of Oregon’s craft beer-brewing and wine-making mecca. The following is a part of the Oregonian handcrafted sake lineup. SakéOne also creates a variety of sake cocktails and food pairings, which can be explored on its website.

SakéOne PRODUCTS:

g saké – g joy
g joy from SakeOne Oregon Type: Junmai Ginjo Genshu (60% rice polished, undiluted)
Taste: Bold, full fruit and earth flavor tones with hints of ripe melon, pear, plum, cinnamon, cardamom
ALC: 18%
SRP: $10 (300ml), $20 (750ml)
Pairing: Rich flavor dishes like pork belly, sweet egg, tri-tip brushed with smoky spiced barbecue and peperoni pizza
g saké – g fifty
g fifty from SakeOne Oregon Type: Junmai Ginjo Genshu (50% rice polished, undiluted)
Taste: Notes of grape, pear and mint
ALC: 18%
SRP: $12 (300ml), $25 (750ml)
Pairing: Grilled meats, seasoned veggies, rich fish, creamy pasta, or hard cheeses

SAKE SCENE

g saké Served with Street Food

Whether you are already into sake or never even had a sip before, it sure is worth trying these local brews and following suggestions of the American sake masters. You may discover a new way of enjoying the rice wine or expand your pairing options!!!

Source:
*1 National Tax Agency of Japan: 2015 Trade Data on Liquor Export (Report in Japanese)
(Japan exported 18,180 kiloliters of sake in 2015, and the United States is the top importer accounting for 35.7% of the entire export sales in the world)
*2 JETRO: Sake Consumption in US (Report in Japanese)