Monday, April 27, 2015

Rant: A Single Country Wine List

Consider this: You dine at a new Italian restaurant and while you peruse it's wine list, you see that they only carry Italian wines. There is no California Chardonnay or Australian Shiraz.  You see listings for Chianti and Prosecco, but you also find wines with unfamiliar grapes, like Grillo, Frappato and Arneis. Does this situation bother you because you can't find the California wines you enjoy?  Does this situation bother you because you don't know much about many of those Italian wines? Or are you pleased with the wine menu, relishing the adventure of exploring the list?

There are restaurants which choose to limit their wine list to a single country, to fit their ethnic cuisine, though locally, they are in the minority.  Most wine lists try to cater to diverse tastes, not willing to take the risk of a single country list. They fear offending some of their customers by not having certain types of wines. Their wine list might be predominately from one country, but there will be a percentage from at least several other countries. Is that really necessary?

I respect a restaurant willing to create a single country wine list, and I know I'm sure to find plenty of wines that will enjoy. I also savor the adventure of exploring such a list, trying wines that are new to me. Sure, wines from all over the world can pair well with Italian cuisine, but if an Italian restaurant only wants to offer Italian wines to pair with their cuisine, I am fully supportive of their desire. It is a way to expose more consumers to the diversity and wonders of Italian wine, to helping to broaden their palates. 

You wouldn't go to an Italian restaurant and expect to find Australian meat pies or Southern-style fried chicken, so why expect to find wines from places other than Italy? You are going for the experience of Italian cuisine, and wine is actually food. Thus, it makes sense that Italian wine is served as part of the Italian cuisine. This applies to any ethnic restaurant which chooses to limit its wine list to the country of it's cuisine. 

For many restaurants though, it is a matter of money. There are consumers who would object to such a singular wine list. They are too set in their ways, and want to be able to get their California Chardonnay no matter what restaurant where they dine. If a restaurant has a single country wine list, they won't attract these type of customers, and that could have negative economic consequences for the restaurant. 

We need to give our support to those restaurant brave enough to have a single country wine list, to dine at such restaurants and enjoy their wine choices. 

What are your thoughts on restaurants with single country wine lists? Do you have any favorite restaurants with such a list?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.. **********************************************************
1) Pastoral Chef/Owner Todd Winer invites guests to learn Italian cooking techniques during his Todd Teaches Sunday School cooking classes which take place monthly. The next class will take place on Sunday, April 26 from 4pm until 5:30pm and the theme is Meatball Madness. Students will learn the basics behind making meatballs. The class is $40 per person and includes wine, samples of the finished dishes, and recipe cards to take home. Space is limited and can be reserved by logging onto Eventbrite.com.

Upcoming class include:
Cooking With Mama- May 10th
Vegetables Steal the Show- June 14th
Fish Feast- Italian fish prepared in Neapolitan style
Knife Skills- how to properly carve poultry, filet fish, chopping vegetables
Italian Casseroles- Learn how to make Lasagna, Mac & Cheese and Eggplant Parmesan

For more information and reservations, please call (617) 345-0005 or visit www.eventbrite.com.

2) In an effort to discover who will be mixing up the Seaport District’s best sangria this season, the Seaport Hotel is introducing the first-ever Seaport Sangria Smackdown. Bartenders from various Seaport District establishments will come together on May 13 from 6pm-8pm at Seaport’s state-of-the-art Action Kitchen, where they will bring their sangria A-game; whether an existing recipe from their eatery or a new twist on an old classic. Guests will be the final judge of who will be dubbed the Seaport Sangria Smackdown champion!

For $20 per person, guests will enjoy sangria tastings and light hors d’oeuvres; they are encouraged to vote for their favorite sangria, with one restaurant being crowned the Seaport Sangria Smackdown Champion. Participating restaurants include: City Bar, Empire Restaurant and Lounge, Legal Test Kitchen, MC Spiedo, Sam's at Louis, TAMO Bistro & Bar and The Barking Crab.

TICKETS: Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased online at: www.sangriasmackdown.eventbrite.com

Sake News

Kanpai! Here is another short list of some of the interesting Sake articles that have been published lately. It is great to see more and more coverage for Sake, though I recommend that anyone seeking to publish a Sake article check it at least a few times for accuracy. A few basic errors continue showing up in introductory Sake articles, and those errors would be easy to eliminate if you had a knowledgeable Sake person check your facts. Let us also hope that we see more than just introductory Sake articles in the future. Sake has many depths and all those varied facets make great material for articles.

1) Ever hear of Sake Jelly? In an article on Eater,Timothy Sullivan discusses how Sake brewers have recently started to make a new product, Sake Jelly, which he describes as such: "Imagine a drink that pours out like a soft jelly, is mostly clear, sweet and usually has a low alcohol content around 1.5 percent, although certain brands go higher." The article mentions that the Kamotsuru Brewery makes an unflavored version while Ozeki makes a Peach version. I'll note, though it is not in the article, that Ozeki also makes Sparkling Sake Jelly in two flavors, Peach and Berry Mix. Though Sake Jelly isn't available widely in the U.S., Timothy provides a recipe for you to make your own. It's easy to do so you have no excuse not to try it.

2) A Sake brewery coming to the United Kingdom? The Newmarket Journal has recently reported that a Japanese company is hoping to open a Sake brewery in the village of Fordham in Cambridgeshire, England. The company, Dojima, purchased the Fordham Abbey, and is planning to invest plenty of money into the endeavor, ensuring the beauty of the area is retained. Everything is in the beginning stages right now, so it is a story I'll keep an eye on.

3) All-you-can drink Sake? Now that sounds like a fantasy I'd love to see fulfilled, and if I travel to Tokyo, it will become a reality. Rocket News 24 reported that a new spot, the Kurand Sake Market, has opened in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood where you can drink all the Sake you want, from a selection of about 100. The restaurant was set to open on March 10, For a mere $25 (3000 yen), you get unlimited refills and you get to choose from one of six different types of cups, though you can change your selection at any time. It is a self-service place, and they serve a few different bar snacks, though you can even bring your own food with you. Just know that you must stand at this restaurant, so be careful you don't drink so much that you fall down. Unfortunately, we'll probably never get such a place in the U.S.

4) New York City & Sake? Edible Manhattan published an intriguing article about the development of the Sake scene in New York City. In just over 20 years, the city has transformed, from a place where there were few Sakes, and mostly low quality, to a place now where you can find around 800 different Sakes, The article talks about the restaurants and importers which helped to bring about these changes to the city, supplying more artisan Sakes to tantalize and delight their customers. Check out this article to get all of the details.

5) Sake in Arkansas? The Japan News recently highlighted Ben Bell, an Arkansas native, who is currently interning at the Nanbu Bijin Sake brewery. He once worked at a liquor store, and promoted Sake there. Ben's plan is now to eventually start a U.S. Sake brewery. You can also read another article about Ben in the Asahi Shimbun which gives more details on his Sake experiences. I only know Ben online but he seems to have a true passion for Sake and I wish him all the best.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Historical Tidbits About Sake In The U.S.

While researching my article on the early Sake breweries in the U.S., I discovered a number of other fascinating historical stories and tidbits about Sake. They didn't necessarily fit into my article but I still wanted to share these seventeen items as I know some of my readers will find these matters quite interesting. I have organized them by date, from the earliest in 1859 to the latest in 1926, and I hope you enjoy this look into American's early views on Sake.

1) The oldest California newspaper that I found that mentioned Sake was from July 1859. A Sacramento newspaper wrote "The Japanese are very hospitable, and when you enter their houses not only offer you refreshment, consisting of cake, confectionary, sakee, or tea,..." It is interesting to note that the term "sakee" is not defined in the article so it seems assumed that their readers would know its identity. With the recent opening of Japan to trade by Matthew Perry, it seems likely that many people were discussing aspects of Japanese culture, and Sake started to become known to the general public. It could have been mentioned in earlier newspapers or books.

2) Another California newspaper article from November 1877 discussed the home life in Japan, stating that “At this time probably a majority drink sake in greater or less quantity. The drink is brewed from rice, and contains from two to eight per cent, of alcohol.” I suspect the information about the alcohol content is erroneous, as Sake is usually is in the double digits, and other newspaper articles in the near future mention the potency of Sake.

3) In June 1886, a California newspaper wrote about two aspects of Japanese etiquette, the tea-party and the wedding. In the wedding section, there was a discussion of sansankudo, the ritual where both bride and groom sip from three cups of Sake during the ceremony.

4) Some interesting information on now Americans view Sake brewing is provided in a newspaper in April 1887. It is said that malt is made from rice called koji, and that the rice is steamed to make it gelatinous in consistency. Once cooled, yeast is added and it is then fermented, being frequently stirred. Water is added and it is fermented for 5-6 days, when it is then filtered and becomes available for consumption.

5) It is interesting to note that a California newspaper in January 1892, quoted a writer from the American Antiquarian, claiming Sake drinking was "one of the great curses of Japan." However, no additional details were given to explain that conclusion.

6) There is an interesting article from June 1893 discussing the type of shops, including a Sake store, you will find while touring a Japanese city. Interestingly, the author refers to Sake as a "rice whisky." The article mentions how you can usually identify the shop as it has a branch of cryptomeria or a cluster of cypress outside. Most people buy Sake and take it home with them, though a few will buy a tiny cup of Sake and drink it there. The shelves have wooden tubs of Sake, each marked with a character and picture.You might see the word "Dai" meaning "best" of "first-class," or "Santokusbu," meaning "the three virtues of flavor, strength and purity." It is also noted that sweet Sake, which is allegedly drunk primarily by women and children, especially at some holidays, is often advertised with a picture of Mount Fuji.

7) The legend of Saru-zake, monkey Sake, is explained in a newspaper article in October 1893. First, the article mentions that Sake is drunk warm and tastes similar to a mild Sherry. That comparison to Sherry is raised numerous times in later newspaper articles. It is also claimed that westerners can drink plenty of Sake without getting drunk, while the "vegetarian Japanese" get drunk much easier with Sake.

The article then discusses a legend that apes first discovered Sake. It is said that apes stole rice from some human homes, and took that rice back into the mountains. After devouring some of the rice, they left the remaining rice in the crook of a tree. Later, rains came that soaked the rice and later, when the sun came out, it warmed the rice, starting a fermentation process. Thus, Sake was created. I have read of this legend in other sources, though usually the tale involves fruit that accidentally ferments into alcohol. This is the first time I have heard the tale where rice is involved.

8) In April 1894, a Hawaiian newspaper noted that a Japanese ship, the Aikoku Maru landed i Hawaii and the Custom Authorities seized 20 cases of Sake from the ship as they were not listed on the ship's manifest.

9) In December 1896, a Los Angeles newspaper noted,  "Sake is a natural beverage of Japan, and until recent years was the only fermented liquor known in that empire. It is obtained by the distillation of the best kinds of rice. In appearance it resembles very pale sherry w.me, though in taste it is somewhat acid. The best sake is white, but there are many varieties, and the poorer people in Japan have to content themselves with a turbid sort."

10) In August 1900, another California newspaper referred to Sake as "rice brandy" and in July 1901, a San Francisco newspaper article also referred to it as "rice brandy". This seems to me as if they considered Sake to be more similar to a fortified wine, with a higher alcohol content.

11) The Los Angeles Herald, in March 1904, published an article, China Collecting In Los Angeles, which concentrated on Sake cups, kettles and bottles. It is worth a read. The article mentions that Sake kettles were usually made of iron with a bronze lid while Sake bottles were usually made in the "pilgrim gourd" style. Most of the article talks about Sake cups, and their styles, decorations, and more.

12) In February 1907, a San Francisco newspaper reported on a deadly fight, allegedly caused by the effects of Sake. A number of men, who had been drinking heavily, were out on the street when they came upon two other men, T. Yeoka and H.Torogama. For some reason, not mentioned in the article, a terrible fight broke out, and the drunk men pulled out knives. Yeoka was killed and Torogame received serious wounds. I was unable to find any additional information about how this incident turned out.

13) In August 1908, there were about forty Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles, and they usually served alcohol. However, they often don't possess a proper liquor license, which would cost $60, as they claimed it was too expensive. The police commission has been considering the matter, speculating that maybe they should lower it for Japanese restaurants, down to only $20 for a license. The police noted that it was tough to convict these restaurants for license violations as the restaurants catered almost exclusively to other Japanese, who wouldn't testify against each other. These Japanese restaurants were not seen as competitors to other restaurants, so the police commission doesn't think lowering the license fee for them would lead to protests from other restaurant owners.

Apparently the police commission eventually decided against lowering the liquor license fee, and chose instead to take a more aggressive stance. In May 1909, the police raided the various Japanese restaurants, finding that none of them had liquor license on record, though many had Geisha girls serving Sake and beer to their customers. The records also indicated that three Chinese restaurants in the city had liquor licenses, which now cost $75. The raids seemed to accomplish their purpose as the next month, 26 Japanese restaurants applied for liquor licenses, though only 12 received them. The police felt that 12 licenses were sufficient to meet the needs of the Japanese community. However, by October, a total of 20 Japanese restaurants had secured the proper licenses.

14) The San Francisco Sunday Call, on December 18, 1910, ran one of maybe the first major articles abut Sake in English. The extensive article, Sake, The National Booze Of The Japanese, was written by Mary Ogden Vaughan, and is well worth reading. It touches on many different aspects of Sake, from customs to legends.

I want to highlight some information on pricing during this period. Vaughan states, "A good sized cask of the best— and the best comes from the great rice fields in the region of Osaka, near the Inland sea — costs between $3 and $4 in Japan. In this country the wholesale price is at the rate of $1.25 a gallon."

In addition, the article mentions that during the time of the samurai, they used to preserve the heads of their enemies in tubs of Sake. They would then present these heads to their liege for identification and also to show their martial prowess.

You'll also find a Japanese drinking song:
When you drink sake
You feel like the springtime,
And the loud cries
Of impatient creditors
On the outside
Sound in your ears
Like the voices of' nightingales
Singing most sweetly

15) In June 1911, a shipment of 1000 barrels of California table wine was sent to Japan, allegedly because it was said that the Japanese were starting to change their tastes, from Sake to wine. After California wine had previously dealt with competition in Hawaii from Sake imports, I'm sure they felt better that their wines were now being seen as competitive to Sake in Japan.

16) In New York in March 1912, the Sun newspaper published an article describing Sake, and it even refers to it as seishu, the legal name for Sake in Japan. It states Sake is unique, and though it resembles beer, wine and brandy, it is not any of those categories.It correctly notes that Sake is originally of Chinese origin.

17) In July 1926  a Sausalito newspaper reported on a “Dry" Village In Japan. "The young women residents of Takaso, a village in Japan, have refused to marry any young man who has not taken the pledge. The members of the Young Women’s association noticed that an abnormal quanlty of sake, the national Japanese drink, was being consumed by the “young bloods,” so they organized and voted unanimously to have nothing to do with any youth who drank sake." I haven't yet been able to find any more information about this pledge.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

An Expanded History of Sake Brewing in the U.S.

Sake is the most soporific of wines, and in its effects is something, like opium or hasheesh.”
--Mary Ogden Vaughan (1910)

Years ago, on my first trip to San Francisco, I visited the Tasting Room and Sake Museum of Takara Sake USA, Inc. in Berkeley. It was a fun experience, especially seeing some of the historical artifacts, but at that time, I was unaware that Berkeley was also probably the site of the first U.S. Sake brewery.

Currently, there are approximately fourteen or so Sake breweries in the U.S. that already exist or are in the works to open in the near future. The oldest was founded n the 1970s though numerous other Sake breweries have come and gone since the start of the 20th century. I want to explore the history of these early breweries as well as look at our country’s introduction to this intriguing Japanese alcohol. More research is warranted into this history so the following is more a peek into the past rather than an extensive examination.

When did Japanese Sake first arrive in the U.S.? We might never know the exact answer but we can speculate based on the evidence. The odd Sake container might have shown up in the U.S. as early as the 18th century, an oddity brought in by a merchant, missionary or world traveler, though I'm unaware of any documentary evidence to prove it. There is some evidence that Sake was exported to Europe, through the Dutch East India Company, during this time period but it seemed to still be more of a rarity than anything else. It seems that the first major showing of Sake outside of Japan may have occurred in 1872, at an international exposition in Australia.

As for the U.S., it seems logical that Hawaii, in the later part of the 19th century, might be the site where Sake first made its appearance as more than a mere curiosity. In 1868, the first Japanese immigrants, the gannen mono, arrived in Hawaii. Gannen mono means the “first-year people” as they traveled to the Kingdom of Hawaii in the first year in the reign of Emperor Meiji. Hawaii needed laborers to work on their sugarcane plantations and they sought out assistance from Japan. Though they wanted 350 laborers, only 148 Japanese actually stepped forward, including 140 men, 6 women, and 2 children. Their passage to Hawaii was fully paid and they were to receive a salary of $4 per month, including room and board, for a three-year period.

It seems reasonable that some of these immigrants brought Sake with them to Hawaii. Sake is an important beverage, one often used to celebrate special occasions and holidays. The immigrants would have wanted a slice of their home with them, and Sake could be such an element. Unfortunately, many of these immigrants had no knowledge of farming and the Japanese government received many complaints from them about their harsh treatment by the Hawaiians.  Ultimately the experiment was considered a failure and 40 of the immigrants returned to Japan.

The Japanese government decided to prohibit any further emigration to Hawaii, and banned it from 1869-1884. In 1874, Kalākaua, who would later become known as the Merrie Monarch, became the King of Hawaii, reigning until 1891. In 1881, King Kalākaua began a diplomatic tour of the world, and spent ten days in Japan, trying to form a better relationship and lift the ban on immigration. His efforts were eventually successful, after some intense negotiations, which granted better terms for future Japanese immigrants, including items such as better pay, medical care, and a food allowance. Japan also were more selective in their chose of immigrants, seeking those with farming experience. In addition, the Emperor gave Kalākaua a silver Sake set. We can suspect that Kalākaua also received some Sake to take home with him.

In early February 1885, once the ban was lifted, the first group of 153 Japanese immigrants made the journey to Hawaii to work on the sugarcane and pineapple plantations. Their arrival is also the first known documentation of the presence of Sake in Hawaii. Upon their ship's landing, King Kalākaua organized a sumo wrestling exhibition at the Honolulu Immigration Depot. Forty immigrants were divided into two groups, the East and West, and competed for about an hour. The East won, and the King had arranged for 10 barrels of Sake to be awarded to the winners. With that much Sake, I’m sure everyone got to drink some, not just the winners. I wasn't able to determine though how and where the King obtained the Sake.

As other Japanese immigrants began to travel to California and other parts of the mainland U.S., it's likely they brought Sake with them. It didn't take long for Japan to begin actively exporting Sake to the U.S. and the rest of the world. For example, it is known that in 1887, the Kiku-Masamume Brewery starting exporting Sake to the United Kingdom, and two years later, started exporting to the U.S. too.  By 1890, Sake was readily available, as an import, in Hawaii and California.

Sake became so popular in Hawaii that in March 1896, the California wine industry claimed that they were having difficulty in Hawaii competing with Sake imports. The largest market in Hawaii for California wine was the Portuguese. At the time, California wine and Sake were paying the same duty, 15 cents a gallon. to export to Hawaii. A proposal was put forth to increase the duty on wine to 30 cents a gallon, if it contained less than 14% alcohol, and 50 cents per gallon, if it was over 14% alcohol. As almost all of the exported California wine was sweet, and around 20% alcohol, the duty would increase for them by more than three times, making it far tougher for them to compete with Sake. Obviously, California wine makers were upset with this proposed duty change and tried to defeat this measure.

Somehow they succeeded, and in a move that clearly helped to protect the California wine industry, the situation ended up in a major reversal. Rather than increasing the duty on wine, the duty was raised on Sake instead, and at an even higher amount than had been proposed for wine. In June 1896, over the veto of President Sanford Dole, the Hawaiian legislature approved “An Act To Increase The Duty on Liquors, Still Wines, And Other Beverages Made From Materials Other Than Grape Juice.” This raised the duty on still wines made of materials other than grape juice, of less than 14% alcohol, to 60 cents per gallon, and if over 14% alcohol, the duty became $1.00.

Though technically applicable to more than just Sake, it is obvious that it was specifically targeted toward Sake, raising the duty from four to almost seven times the prior rate. During discussions on the passage of this act, it was even alleged by some that Sake contained a large amount of poisonous methylic alcohol, so the legislature wanted to raise the duty to protect native Hawaiians. This allegation doesn't seem to have any support, and also doesn't appear to have been raised ever again. It seems more just a baseless justification to support the imposition of the prohibitive duty on Sake. If it had been a true threat, then Sake would simply have been banned.

At this time, most Japanese laborers were only earning $12-$15 per month, so Sake became an expensive luxury that they could only purchase infrequently. This also led some Japanese to chose to illegally brew their own Sake. One enterprising Sake brewery in Japan found a loophole in the new Act. The Kiku-Masamume Brewery realized that the Act’s oppressive duty only applied to Sake that was shipped into Hawaii from Japan. If they first shipped their Sake from Japan to California and then later shipped it to Hawaii, they didn't have to pay the increased duty. It is unclear whether other Sake breweries realized this loophole.

Besides Hawaii, the rest of the U.S. also grappled with the issue of the proper duty on Sake imports. Prior to 1894, Sake was classified by similitude to distilled liquor, and subjected to a duty of $2.50 per proof gallon. In July 1894, this classification was disputed by a Sake importer and that resulted in Sake being reclassified as more similar to still wine, thus decreasing the amount of its duty. The classification would be contested once again, starting in April 1903, by another Sake importer, W. Nishimiya, in the New York courts. On appeal, the Circuit Court decided that Sake was not similar to either wine or beer, and should be considered a nonenumerated manufactured article, which gave it an even more beneficial duty rate.

In November 1904, the Sake importer, T. Komada & Co. in San Francisco, filed a similar protest to the duty on Sake. They brought suit against the government to recover $500,000 which they had paid, under protest, as a duty on Sake. Though the lower courts followed the New York court's decision, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision stating that Sake was in similitude to wine. In December 1908, the Supreme Court of the U.S. granted the petition of .Komada & Co. for a writ of certiorari. In January 1910, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, stating “the Japanese beverage sake is properly dutiable under § 297 of the Tariff Act of July 24, 1897, c. ll, 30 Stat. 151, 205, as similar to still wine, and not as similar to beer.

Due to these battles over the costs of imported Sake, and a  number of other reasons, there was an impetus for some enterprising entrepreneurs to establish Sake breweries in the U.S. They knew it would be less expensive tto brew it here. I was fascinated to learn that the first legal Sake brewery in the U.S. was almost established in a very unlikely location: Chicago. Hawaii, California or another West Coast location would have seemed a more logical starting place, but it seems the nature of the person involved trumped location.

In 1883, Jokichi Takamine, a famous Japanese chemist, worked at the Japanese Department of Agriculture & Commerce and concentrated on Sake brewing. His mother's family owned a Sake brewery so that might have been the impetus for his concentration in this field. He wanted to know how koji transformed starches into sugars. In his researches, he eventually found a way to grow koji on wheat bran, rather than rice. This ultimately led to the creation of a process to transform starches into sugars, from any grain, that was cheaper and quicker than the usual malting process used by whiskey distillers.

In 1890, he was hired by a large distilling conglomerate to come to Chicago and then in 1891, he was relocated to Peoria, Illinois. He founded the Takamine Ferment Company in 1891 to market his new process, and try to create whiskey cheaper and quicker than it was currently done using malt. However he faced great opposition from the maltmen, which soon after led to a suspicious fire which destroyed the distillery. Though it was rebuilt, and some whiskey was produced, it never really caught on and ultimately was a bust.

These disappointments may have led him to consider a different option. In April 1892, a Pittsburgh newspaper reported that Takamine, businessmen from Yokohama, Japan, and some other interested Japanese businessmen in Chicago were planning to open a Sake brewery in Chicago. The President of the brewery would be Takamine and it would be named Takamine Shurm Jozo Kaisha. About half the financing had already been raised at that point. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, it seems plans for the brewery never came to fruition. I haven't yet been able to uncover additional information about this matter but will continue researching this intriguing matter.

Though some sources claim that the first legal Sake brewery in the U.S. was started in Hawaii, that is not the case and it was actually California. On June 10, 1901, the Japan Brewing Co. filed incorporation papers in San Francisco. The brewery was owned by H. Soejima, President of the Japanese Association of America, and it was located in West Berkeley, though they also had a business address at 209 Battery Street in San Francisco.

The West Berkeley location, at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and University, was the site of the former Hofburg Brewery, which had been closed for several years.  The former beer brewery had spent two years prospecting before they finally constructed two wells, each about 65 feet deep, which led to  pure gravel water. As water is so important in brewing Sake, this was an excellent choice for the new brewery.

The lease for the building was signed by Yin Slno for a term of ten years for $150 per month. They expected to employ about 100 men at the brewery. Not everyone was pleased with the idea of this new brewery. In July 1901, the Los Angeles Herald published a brief editorial, casting aspersions about the idea. The article stated that the Japanese company was "composed of little men" and that Sake "will hold its own. as a destructive agent, with brands of American whisky variously known as forty-rod, sure death, etc." It continues, noting that "one dose paralyzes and one bottle kills."

By 1905, the brewery was producing about 50,000 gallons annually, and was exporting Sake to Hawaii, the Philippines and even Japan. It must have been doing something right if people in Japan wanted to buy their Sake. There is some indication that the Japan Brewing Co. closed in 1906 but that might not have actually been the case. In January 1906, there was a brief news article that Soejima wanted to move the brewery to San Francisco to avoid having to pay a $200 license fee. Though there doesn't appear to be evidence of such a move, there is some evidence, in 1907, of a Japan Brewing Co. in Emeryville, which is close to Berkeley. It is possible the brewery moved to Emeryville, lasting for another year, but more investigation is needed.

Why did this brewery shut down? It may not have been financially successful and I'll note that in November 1907, a lawsuit was brought against the Japan Brewing Co. to recover $1000, alleging the brewery had failed to pay for equipment they purchased which was used to brew Sake. That was a significant debt, and could easily have been sufficient to cause the brewery to close. It is also interesting that the owner of the Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewing would later claim that the reason the Japan Brewing Co. closed was due to their cooperage, the wood they used to construct their barrels. The brewery used American white oak rather than the traditional Japanese cedar, and the choice of wood would affect the flavor of the Sake so this rationale may have some validity.

There is evidence of the existence of at least a couple other Sake breweries in California around this time, such as one in Watsonville during 1907 and another in San Jose in 1916. However, there seems to be very little information about these other breweries, and there might have been others too. It remains fertile ground for more research.

Let's return to Hawaii. In 1899, a sixteen-year old Japanese immigrant from Hiroshima, named Tajiro Sumida, came to Hawaii and in 1904, he opened a general store. Eventually, he decided that he could lower the price of Sake if he produced it himself so decided to open a Sake brewery, He knew that Sake brewing had succeeded in California, so thought it could work in Hawaii too. In 1908, the Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewery Co.. opened in the Pauoa Valley and their incorporation papers stated they would handle Sake, shoyu, soy, and miso, as well as manufacture ice. Besides the Sake, the additional items would serve the brewery well during Prohibition and World War II.

At this time, about 500,000 cases of Sake were being imported into Hawaii, and their annual value, since 1900, ranged from $150,000 to $200,000. It's also important to know that there were only about 70,000 to 90,000 Japanese living in Hawaii at this time. In comparison, in 2013, the entire U.S. only imported about 516,000 cases of Japanese Sake. Sake imports to the U.S. evidently took a nose dive during the last one hundred years. Fortunately, the amount of Sake imports has been increasing in recent years, so Sake's popularity is at least on the rise.

The heat of Hawaii caused problems with the fermentation process, but Sumida persevered and was still able to produce a brew in December 1908 which he named Takarajima, “treasure island.” To handle the difficulties of brewing Sake in Hawaii, Sumida eventually invented a refrigeration process to handle the heat problem, and that innovation would later be adopted by breweries in Japan. In numerous other ways, Sumida was also a pioneer and innovator, being the first to use stainless steel tanks, the first to brew Sake year round, devising a method to use California rice, and also creating a yeast strain which reduced the foam created by fermentation, increasing the yield in a vat by 30%. These foamless yeasts are now used by a number of Japanese breweries.

By 1914, Sumida was making about 300,000 gallons of Sake annually and by 1920, he was the most successful Japanese businessman in Hawaii. He didn't have a monopoly on Sake brewing though, and his first competitor opened about a year later than him. In January 1909, the Hilo Sake Brewery, owned by K. Koizumi, started and hoped to be brewing by February. In May, 1913, Hawaii Seishu Kwaisha, Ltd was established, with plans to brew 10,000 gallons of Sake by the end of its opening month. Their brewing was supervised by K. Otake, a graduate from the Sake brewing department of the famed Tokyo High Industrial School.  As of September 1917, there were still only three Sake breweries in Hawaii, employing about 300 men, and selling their Sake to 11 Japanese liquor dealers. To avoid cooperage problems, they were importing cedar logs from Japan to craft their Sake tubs.

Let's discuss rice for a short bit. It is believed that rice first came to America, to Virginia, sometime before 1647. It later spread to South Carolina and then Georgia, and remained largely in the South. At the start of the 20th century, people in Sacramento Valley, California, thought that they too could grow good rice, and they started experimentation, with assistance from the government. Many different types of rice were imported from Asia and elsewhere, trying to determine which might be most suitable for Sacramento Valley. In 1909, Tokuya Yasuoka, a Japanese immigrant, was the first to successfully harvest 25-acres of rice in the valley.

Other farmers then followed his path so that by 1920, there were approximately 162,000 acres of rice grown in California. The rice variety that proved best to the area was Wataribune, and its descendant, known as Pearl Rice, still grows in the region. Wataribune could be used as an eating rice, and that was probably its main function in California, though it also could be used to make excellent Sake.

In August 1917, a survey was done of four Sake breweries in Hawaii, noting that they all used only imported Japanese rice, though there was an earlier newspaper account, from 1909, indicating the Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewing Co. used both Japanese and Hawaiian rice. They might have discontinued the use of Hawaiian rice by 1917. The survey also indicated the amount of rice each brewery used per month: Hilo Sake Brewery, 36,168 pounds; Hawaii Seishu Kwaisha, 100,000 pounds; Honolulu Brewing & Malting Co., 42,000 pounds; and Honolulu Sake Brewery, 150,000 pounds.

When rice is polished to make Sake, the remaining powder that is left behind is referred to as nuka. The breweries sell the nuka for use in stock or in chicken feed for about one cent per pound. It is also sometimes used to make soup or pickles.

Besides the issues of duty, imported Sake faced another significant legal obstacle in 1908, which may have contributed to a desire for establishing breweries in the U.S. Back in June 1906, the Pure Food & Drugs Act was passed, banning adulterated foods and drinks from interstate commerce. Two years later, in April 1908, the federal government stated they were going to ban the importation of any Sake that contained salicylic acid, a common preservative used in Sake. Though salicylic acid can be toxic in high doses, it naturally occurs in a number of foods, such as artichoke, broccoli and cauliflower.

The government ordered all Sake imports to be detained so that they could be analyzed by chemists for salicylic acid. Initially, several hundred barrels of Sake in San Francisco were examined and it was determined they were 90% adulterated. All further Sake imports were essentially prohibited as nearly all of them contained salicylic acid. Obviously this led to protests from Japan, and eventually the matter was resolved, though it is unclear exactly when and how that occurred. More research is needed to determine exactly what changes occurred to permit the importation of Sake once again which occurred within a short period after the prohibition.

Prior to Prohibition, there might have been 9-20 Sake breweries in the U.S., though little is known about most of them, many which existed for only a short time. California and Hawaii seemed to be the primary location for these breweries.

In March 1916, Kenkichi Ono, the President of the Hawaii Seishu Kaisha brewery, was arrested for a violation of the Mann Act, the White Slave Traffic Act. Mr. Ono, who was married, was accused of transporting a young Japanese girl from Honolulu to Hilo for illegal purposes. The case seemed to drag on for at least a few years, though I was unable to determine the final resolution.

In March 1919, Hawaiian authorities raided a facility which was an illegal sake brewery. They found a bath tub with fermenting Sake as well as two, large wooden vats, each containing at least 500 gallons of Sake. The Sake was destroyed and two Japanese men were arrested, while they sought a third man.

Prohibition stopped all Sake brewing, which also contributed to some breweries having to close operations. The Honolulu Sake Brewery was one of the few able to survive as they changed gears and produced ice during Prohibition. It almost seems prescient that their original articles of incorporation noted that they would manufacture ice. In March 1921, there was a raid, including two federal Prohibition agents, near Everett, Washington, on an illegal Sake making operation.  Three Sake making devices were found, a quantity of Sake was seized and seven Japanese men were arrested.

Once Prohibition ended in December 1933, the Honolulu Sake Brewery returned to brewing, creating a few different labels, including Takara Masamune. Other new Sake breweries then arose too in Hawaii. For example, there was the Hilo Brewing Co. (from 1937-1942) and the Maui Sake Brewery Co., Ltd. (from 1935-1942). The Nichebei Shuzo Kabushiki Kaisha, Ltd. (from 1935-1942) may have been succeeded after World War II by a name change, to the Kokusui Co., Ltd. Brewery (from 1948-1957). The Fuji Sake Brewing Co. also lasted from 1934-1942 and then restarted after the war from 1948 to 1965.

After Prohibition ended, more breweries opened up California as well. There was the American Sake Brewery Co. (from 1934-1935), located in Los Angeles, which brewed 5146 gallons of Sake as of June 1934. Also in Los Angeles, there was the Central Sake Brewing Co. (from 1948-1950), the California Sake Brewery (from 1947-1949) and the Los Angeles Sake Brewing Co. (from 1947-1949). In San Jose, there was the San Jose Sake Brewery (from 1934-1935) and the Nippon Sake Brewery (from 1935-1940).

San Francisco saw its share of Sake breweries too, including the Aiji Matsuo Brewery (from 1934-1937) which seems to have been succeeded by Matsuo Sake Brewing Co. (from 1937-1941). There was also the Katsuzo Shioji (1934), which was seemingly succeeded by the San Francisco Sake Brewery (from 1934-1935), and the California Sake Brewery Co. (from 1934-1935), which was succeeded by the Nippon Sake Brewery Co., Inc. (from 1935-1937). There was even a brewery in Denver, the Colorado Sake Brewery (from 1947-1949).

In Hawaii, when World War II began, the existing breweries were producing annually almost 2 million gallons of Sake. However, a law was issued prohibiting rice from being used for anything except food, meaning it was now illegal to brew Sake. As with Prohibition, the Honolulu Sake Brewery found a way to survive, this time by producing shoyu, soy sauce, under the label Marumasa Soy and later Diamond Shoyu.

During World War II, the U.S. forced thousands of Japanese into internment camps, wrongfully believing they posed a threat to the country. The incarcerated Japanese were not permitted to bring Sake into the camps, so some smuggled Sake inside while others created illegal stills to produce it. Left over rice was used to home brew Sake, and it had to be carefully hidden from the guards.

At the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming, during the Spring of 1945, camp guards arrested internee Yasutaro Oku. They discussed that he possessed five barrels of mash, each equal to about 15-20 gallons, five gallons of Sake, and brewing equipment . He subsequently plead guilty to the offense of brewing Sake and was sentenced to 15 days in jail, though a judicial commission of fellow internees suspended that sentence. If that was the worst punishment internees faced for illegally brewing Sake, then it's easy to see why a number of them decided to risk it.

Once the war ended, and the prohibition was lifted, they began making Sake once again, continuing to operate their brewery until 1989, though it became a subsidiary of Takara Sake in 1986. Sadly, when the brewery closed, it was destroyed to make way for townhouses. There seemed to have been a large void, except for the Honolulu Sale Brewery, in U.S. Sake breweries, after 1950, for over twenty years. It wouldn't be until the 1970s that the next crop of new Sake breweries started opening, primarily in California but that is a tale for another time.

(Please note that this is an expanded/revised version of a prior article I wrote on this subject. This article will also be expanded/revised when I acquire new information as I continue my research.)