Wednesday, November 9, 2011
SakeOne: Craft Sake In Oregon
The kimoto style is very labor intensive, and monotonous, yet the workers depicted in the picture are apparently happy, taking pride in their labors. They understand the artisan nature of their work, and look forward to the wonderful sake that will be born of their labors. Such workers even sang while they worked, special brewing songs called sake-tzukuri uta. Not only did these songs help to relieve the monotony of some of their work, but they also assisted in proper timing, just as ancient mariners used music to help the timing of their rowers.
This picture, and three similar ones, are located on an exterior wall of the SakeOne kura (sake brewery) in Forest Grove, Oregon, about 25 miles west of Portland. As you enter the brewery, you cannot but help to think of these workers, their ancient brewing methods, and the artisan work that was once done. It is very inspiring.
SakeOne. How could any sake lover not want to visit a sake brewery? Plus, I was familiar with many of their sakes, though it had been several years since I had drank many of their Momokawa products except for their Organic Nigori. In fact, at a number of the sake tastings I have held during the past year, I selected their Organic Nigori as one of my choices.
I remained in Portland a couple extra days after the Travel Oregon press trip so that I could visit the brewery. Dewey Weddington, the Vice President of Marketing for SakeOne, personally led me on a tour of the brewery, as well as showing me some of the other sake sights of Portland (which I have previously written about). Dewey was a fine host, personable and down to earth, and he allowed me access to all part of the brewery as well as leading me through a tasting of their domestic sakes.
Momokawa Brewing Japan, a Japanese kura which has been producing sake since 1889. They began as an importer but eventually constructed their own brewery and in October of 1998, changed their name to SakeOne. Toji, sake brew masters, from Momokawa assisted in the design of the brewery. In addition, Yoshio Koizumi, the Executive Managing Director and Chief of Production of Momokawa, trained the SakeOne brewer, Greg Lorenz.
Unfortunately, I did not get to meet Greg as he was away during my visit. I did though get to meet Juan Hernandez, the Assistant Brewer, and watched him at work during part of the production process. He too was personable, showing me some of their work, and it was obvious the care with which he invested in the brewing process.
When the brewery receives its rice, it has already been polished by 10%, and then SakeOne uses its own machine mill to polish the rice about another 32% more, with a target of 58%. This means that all of their sake qualifies as ginjo grade, which requires at least 40% of the rice to be polished away. Their milling machine runs often, and is capable of milling to almost any rate, though the greater the milling, the longer it takes. For example, milling from 60%-50% takes twice as long as it does to get down to 60%. Having their own milling machine enables them more quality control over the final product. They would like to eventually produce daiginjo, the highest quality grade, and have been doing some experimentation, but have not yet been satisfied with the results.
When you polish rice, the powder that remains behind is known as nuka, and it is not wasted. Nuka has numerous uses, from pickling to beauty products. SakeOne sells their nuka for cattle feed, and those cows are used to make Tillamook Cheese. Kasu, the sake lees, are also a byproduct of the brewing process and it is not wasted either. SakeOne sells their kasu to hog farmers, which is interesting as it still has a little alcohol in it. Wonder if that affects the taste of their meat?
Now, onto the tasting room, which is located across the parking lot from the brewery building.
Many of their sakes, for a 750ml bottle, only cost $12 or $13, making them very affordable, and usually less expensive than imported Japanese sakes. One of the reason Japanese sakes are often more expensive is that there is an increased cost for imports, an extra cost that domestic sake does not incur. In addition, SakeOne's cost for rice is probably less than it is for Japanese breweries using sakamai, especially types like Yamada Nishiki. Rice is often one of the most expensive costs in producing sake. The low cost of the Momokawa line makes it a good choice for someone new to sake or for a party if you need plenty of inexpensive bottles.
It was actually fun to taste through their current portfolio, to reacquaint myself with their sakes and to assess how they have changed over the years. Overall, I was pleased with their sakes and believe they offer a good value for the price. They offer an excellent way to introduce new people to sake, especially with their infused sakes. Based on my experience to this point, I feel SakeOne is producing the best domestic sakes in the U.S., though I have not yet tasted the sakes of Moto-i or the Texas Sake Company. But, Moto-i is only about three years old and the Texas Sake Co. just opened last month. SakeOne has much more experience than either of these breweries.
G Joy sake so there is no need to repeat that here.
For the price, you won't go wrong with any of these very approachable sakes.
I tasted through their fruit infused sakes, the Moonstone line, which are intended to introduce newcomers to sake, to be a gateway to other sake. I would agree these are very consumer friendly products, and would also be great used in cocktails. These flavors include Asian Pear, Raspberry, Plum and Coconut Lemongrass. The Momokawa Silver is the base for these sakes, and they are generally sweet, though not overly so. My favorite was the Coconut Lemongrass, and I would love to try it in some Pina Colada style cocktails.
If you are in the Portland area, you definitely should visit the SakeOne kura, sake brewery. Their sakes are available all over the U.S. and it is well worth checking them out, especially at their price point. If you tasted their sakes years ago, but have not tried them recently, then give them another try. Consider using their infused sakes in cocktails, or give them to someone who claims not to enjoy sake and see what they think.
Kanpai to SakeOne!