Tuesday, April 21, 2015

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

The sale and manufacture must be a source of great profit, for it is consumed in enormous quantities and on every possible occasion in the realms of the mikado and is shipped extensively to all parts of the world where his subjects find abiding places.”
--Sake, The National Booze of the Japanese by Mary Ogden Vaughan (San  Francisco Call, December 18, 1910)

When was the first Sake brewery established in the U.S.?  Currently, there are approximately twenty or so Sake breweries in the U.S. that already exist or are in the works to open in the near future. The oldest of these breweries was founded in the 1970s yet the first American Sake brewery, which is now defunct, was established over one hundred years ago.

On my first trip to San Francisco, about ten years ago, I visited the Tasting Room and Sake Museum of Takara Sake USA, Inc. in Berkeley. It was a fun experience at the time, especially seeing some of the historical artifacts and information on 19th century Sake brewing, but I was unaware that Berkeley was also the site of the first U.S. Sake brewery. Most of the articles and books I had previously read mentioned that the first Sake brewery was in Hawaii, the Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewery Co. Many people still believe that to be true but I have learned otherwise.

Through my recent research, I've found that is not actually the case, and that the Hawaiian brewery might actually have been the fourth or fifth Sake brewery established in the U.S. However, the Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewery Co.  was more successful and left a much greater legacy than any other of the early Sake breweries in the U.S. In fact, for many of these first breweries, we know little more than the most basic of information, such as their name and location. The Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewery Co. wasn't the first but I don't think anyone will argue that it wasn't the most important.

As few people know about these early Sake breweries, I wanted to explore the history of these first Sake breweries as well as to 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. However, I'm sure you find plenty of information which is new to you, and which will broaden your understanding of Sake.

When did Japanese Sake first arrive in the U.S.? We might never know the exact answer but we can speculate. The first Europeans likely to have tasted Japanese Sake were two to three Portuguese merchants whose ship, in 1542 or 1543, was forced, by the weather, to land on the island of Tanegashima.. Lord Tanegashima Tokitaka feted these men, and it seems logical that the sailors were presented Sake. During the next several years, other Portuguese merchants came to Japan and around 1547, Captain Jorge Alvares wrote a report on his visit to Japan, mentioning Sake, and that might have been the earliest European record.

As for the U.S., the odd Sake container might have shown up 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 that occurred. There is some evidence that Sake was being 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. One source claims that the first major showing of Sake outside of Japan might have occurred in 1872, at an international exposition in Australia. However, it seems more likely it occurred at the 1879 Sydney International Exposition.

In 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 the late 1840s, sugar became a major crop on Hawaii, but there was a shortage of laborers needed to work on the sugar plantations. This was compounded by a significant death rate for Hawaiians, due to foreign diseases, which essentially halved their population in a thirty year period, from around 1831 to 1860. To help their labor situation, Hawaii passed the Masters & Servants' Act in 1850, which allowed them to hire foreign laborers for their plantations.

The Chinese, in 1852, were the first people to be brought to Hawaii under this new Act. but within ten years, few Chinese were interested in this contract labor so Hawaii sought elsewhere, including Japan. In 1868, the first Japanese immigrants, the gannen mono, arrived in Hawaii aboard the Scioto, a British ship. 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. Though they wanted 350 laborers, only about 148 Japanese actually stepped forward, including 140 men, 6 women (who accompanied their husbands), and 2 teenagers. 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 be 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. After some intense negotiations, his efforts were eventually successful and he granted better terms for future Japanese immigrants, including increased pay, medical care, and a food allowance.

Japan would also be more selective in their choice of immigrants, seeking more people with farming experience, so as to not perpetuate the prior problems. It should be noted that Kalākaua was the first foreign ruler to ever shake hands with a Japanese Emperor, and he was also given a gift of a silver Sake set. It seems probable that Kalākaua also received some Sake to take home with him, and if so, it was probably of the highest quality.

In early February 1885, once the ban was lifted, the first group of 943 Japanese immigrants (676 men, 159 women and 108 children) 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.

Most of the early Japanese immigrants were single men, and drinking became a common activity. For some, they used alcohol as an escape from the difficult plantation work and their separation from their homeland. 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 by November 1894, the California wine industry claimed that they were having difficulty in Hawaii competing with Sake imports. In 1893, Hawaii imported only about 3400 gallons of Japanese Sake  and around April 1894, it still imported only about 626 gallons that month. However, that exploded to 16,000 gallons in July and 13,000 gallons in August, with a total amount of imports for 1894 being about 83,000 gallons. That high amount of Sake imports continued so that in February 1896, Hawaii imported 18,672 gallons; of Sake.

In response to California's complaints, Consul General Ellis G. Mills investigated the matter, eventually filing a report with the State Department that concluded there were no actual grounds for concern. As for California wine, they exported about 103,000 gallons to Hawaii in 1893 and 125,000 gallons in 1894. Mills concluded that California wine exports to Hawaii didn't decrease due to Sake imports, and actually grew. This report though didn't stop the California wine industry from continuing to complain, fearing Sake would hurt their market in Hawaii.

By March 1896, the largest market in Hawaii for California wine was the Portuguese, who enjoyed their sweet wines. At this time, California wine and Sake were paying the same duty, 15 cents a gallon. to export to Hawaii. However, 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. As Sake would not be affected by this proposed duty, it would make it far tougher for California to compete with Sake imports. Obviously, California wine makers were upset with this proposed duty change and tried to defeat this measure.

Somehow they succeeded in not only defeating the duty, but 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 Hawaiian 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. As the average Sake was 16% alcohol, then they would be charged the $1.00 duty, twice what the originally proposed duty had been for wine.

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 or evidence, 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 in July 1897 when the new duty went into effect, Sake became an expensive luxury that they could only purchase infrequently. By December 1897, newspapers were noting a significant decrease in Sake consumption in Hawaii, though they also mentioned that there were other contributory reasons. Due to Japan's war with China, and an economic change from a silver to a gold basis, the price of Sake basically doubled. With such a drastic price increase, and the added duty, that made Sake imports into Hawaii even more expensive.

During the first three months of 1898, only 2983 gallons of Sake were imported into Hawaii. This meant that annual Sake imports had decreased to what was once imported in a single month. Interestingly, though California had hoped that the decrease in Sake consumption would lead to a significant increase in wine consumption, that didn't occur. Sake lovers, who couldn't afford to buy Sake, were generally not seeking out California wine as a replacement.

As Sake was so pricey, but still greatly desired, it led some Japanese in Hawaii to chose to illegally brew their own Sake, risking arrest and potential fines. One enterprising Sake brewery in Japan also 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 and took advantage of 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 to 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 appears 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 Shurui 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 but will continue researching this intriguing matter.

Though many 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 Berkeley, 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 secretary and manager of the brewery was S.K. Mitsuse.

The West Berkeley location, at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and University, was the site of the former Hofburg Brewery, which had been open from 1888 to 1899.  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 Sake brewery.

The lease for the building was signed by Yin Sino 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." Fortunately, this was one of the only such negative articles that I found.

By 1905, the brewery was producing about 90,000 gallons annually, and was exporting Sake to Hawaii, the Philippines and even Japan. It must have been doing something right if even 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 foreclose on a $1000, mortgage, 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 President and Manager of the Honolulu Brewing & Malting Co. 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 as the choice of wood affects the flavor of the Sake, 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. In 1903, Kinzo Yasuhara came to California and two years later opened a Sake brewery on Jackson Street in Los Angeles, which appears to have closed around 1917. There was also a Sake brewery in Watsonville, the Tamasaki & Murata Sake Brewery (during 1907), and another in San Jose in 1916, the Nippon Sake Company which was located at the corner of Jackson and Seventh Streets .By the mid-1910s, there was also the Kawaguchi & Ida Sake Brewery (or alternatively known as the Iida Sake Brewery), located at 665 North 5th Street in San Jose and the K. Hayashi Sake Brewery (1916) also in San Jose.  I haven't yet been able to find much information about these breweries, and there might have been others too.

Let's return to Hawaii. Around January 1902, there were approximately 60,000 Japanese living in Hawaii. Sake imports had increased from the lows of a few years prior. From July 15, 1901 to January 15, 1902, Hawaii imported 27,660 barrels of Sake (about 221,000 gallons), each priced at $8.50, and 6984 bottles, each priced at $2.80.

With this increased consumption, there was also a temperance movement in Hawaii, mainly women and priests, who claimed Sake caused terrible harms. They alleged that Sake consumption led to increased gambling as men tried to win money to buy Sake. They also claimed that Sake consumption led to physical violence against wives and children. In addition, they stated: “There was an average of one death a day among the Japanese population in Honolulu due to drink alone.” I have not found any evidence to prove that extraordinary claim. The temperance movement even thought that "Those who drink sake were sapping their moral strength.”

In 1899, a sixteen-year old Japanese immigrant from Hiroshima, named Tajiro Sumida, came to Hawaii and would eventually play a major role in the Sake industry, and not just in Hawaii. Five years later, n 1904, Sumida opened a general store, and started selling imported Sake at some point. Eventually, Sumida 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, Sumida and T. Iwanaga of Kimura & Co., opened the Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewery Co.. in the Pauoa Valley. Their corporation had an initial capital of $30,000 with 1500 shares valued at $20 each. The corporate officers and share holders included: T. Sumida as President (450 shares), S. Kojima as Vice President (200 shares), T. Iawanaga as Secretary and Treasurer (450 shares); K. Odo as Auditor (200 shares) and Y. Yamasato (200 shares). The main brewery building was built from Hawaiian stone, and when the Sake was ready for sale, it would be placed into large, 810 gallon tubs.

The incorporation papers stated they would not only produce and sell Sake, but also shoyu, soy, and miso. In addition, they would manufacture ice and establish cold storage and refrigerated warehouses. Besides the Sake, the additional items would serve the brewery well during Prohibition and World War II. Sumida and Iwanaga stated that this would initially be an experimental Sake brewery as they weren't sure if they could succeed or not. They needed to evaluate the conditions, to assess whether they were conducive to Sake brewing or not.

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.

Sumida wasn't the only one at this time who wanted to start brewing Sake in Hawaii. In 1908, C.G. Bartlett, the President and Manager of the Honolulu Brewing & Malting Co., also indicated interest in being able to produce Sake. This company was founded in 1898, as the Honolulu Brewing Co., and became the Honolulu Brewing and Malting Co. Ltd. in 1900. As Prohibition struck, it would close, and reopen in 1933 as the American Brewing Co. Ltd. and would remain in operation until 1962. The company started as a beer brewery and was most famous for their Primo Lager. They eventually ended up producing Sake though it is unclear when they actually started doing so.

Sumida and his brew masters, S. Fujikawa and T. Watanabe, encountered significant problems with the fermentation process due to the heat of Hawaii but they persevered and were still able to produce a brew in December 1908 which was named Takarajima, “treasure island.” In January 1909, a Hawaiian newspaper declared their “Sake Brewing is Great Success,” The article noted that "other Sake breweries in Hawaii have proved more or less failures” though those are not identified. It is possible these failed Sake breweries could have predated Sumida's operation.

The key to the success of Sumida was that they chose the right location for their brewery, a place with conditions conducive to Sake production. To handle the difficulties of brewing Sake in Hawaii's heat, Sumida eventually invented a refrigeration process to handle the 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.

Sumida didn't have a monopoly on Sake brewing for very long though. As previously mentioned, the Honolulu Brewing & Malting Co. started Sake brewing at some point, and maybe even as early as 1908, and there is evidence they were brewing Sakeat least by 1913. In January 1909, the Hilo Sake Brewery, owned by K. Koizumi and located at the intersection of Omao & Kaumana Roads, started and hoped to be brewing by February. It seems their plans may have been delayed as they didn't file Articles of Association for the Hilo Sake Brewery, Ltd. until November 1912. With a capital of $30,000, their corporate officers and share holders included T. Machida as President, (70 shares), T.R. Saiki as Vice President (75 shares), C. Shimamoto as Secretary &/Treasurer (75 shares), S. Kido as Auditor (75 shares), and H. Kawashima (5 shares).

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. Their starting capital was $40,000 and their corporate officers included K. Ono, as President, A. Hocking as Vice President, D. Natani as Auditor, Y. Kimura as Secretary, and C.G. Bartlett as Treasurer. This Bartlett may have been the same individual who was also the President of the Honolulu Brewing & Malting Co. In 1915, this brewery was doing well enough that they expanded the size of their premises.

In 1916, it was estimated that the Sake brewing industry In Hawaii was generating about $200,000 in revenue. As of September 1917, there were four Sake breweries in Hawaii, employing over 300 men, and selling their Sake to at least 13 Japanese liquor dealers. It was also estimated that there was about $500,000 invested in the local Sake industry. It is also interesting to note that these breweries, to avoid cooperage problems, 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. That totals about 164 tons.

When rice is polished to make Sake, the remaining powder that is left behind is referred to as nuka. All of those tons generated a significant amount of nuka, which the breweries sold, for about one cent per pound, for use in stock or in chicken feed. It is also sometimes used to make soup or pickles.

And now, back to Sake. 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. Though Japanese representatives protested this ban, the Sake brewing industry in Japan had already been addressing the issue of the use of salicylic acid as a preservative. 

The Sake industry had long been concerned with trying to prevent Sake from spoiling, During the 1880s, they started to follow the advice of Oscar Korschelt, a German who taught at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Tokyo, and began using salicylic acid as a preservative. Eventually, the use of salicylic acid began to be questioned, with worries that it could have a deleterious effect on people. In September 1903, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued the “Regulations on Food and Drink Preservatives” which prohibited the use of salicylic acid in Sake, though the actual ban would not take place until October 1911.

As can be seen, the Japanese were already on top of this issue when the U.S. instituted their own ban on imported Sake containing salicylic acid. The breweries were already struggling to find a different way to preserve Sake. Gekkeikan, which has been producing Sake for almost 380 years, might have been the first brewery to create a preservative-free Sake which would not spoil. They also started labeling their Sake, “Noninjurious to Health; No Preservatives,” and that claim was tested and certified by the Osaka Institute of Hygienic Sciences.

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 Kanda Shokai, Inc  (1934-1935) was succeeded by the Fuji Sake Brewing Co. which lasted from 1935-1942 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. It was succeeded by the Asahi Wine Mfg. Co. (1935). 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 located at 291 Jackson Street, at the corner of North 7th Street) which was succeeded by 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 B & Y Sales Co. (from 1945-1947), which was located on 2845 Walnut Street. It was succeeded by the Colorado Sake Brewery (from 1947-1949). B & Y Sales Co. sold a brand named Hakumine, which was described as "refined Colorado sake" and had an alcohol content of 14%.

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, the Honolulu Sake Brewery 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.

(UPDATE: As of August 5, 2015, I've revised/updated this article.)

1 comment:

Tsuneo Kita said...

A message from Japan,

In Japan, it is usually said that Honolulu Sake Brewing in 1908 is the first US Sake manufacturer. I (and many Japanese who involved in Sake industry/history) don’t about the Japan Brewing Co. in Berkeley in 1901.

Your detailed description about Sake companies in LA and SF before/after WWII is also surprising. Some past papers and books in Japan indicates the existence of these Sake companies, but your description seems one of the most detailed one.

Anyway, it is really great work!

Tsuneo Kita, Osaka, JAPAN