by: Shawndra Russell
Brewers in America are discovering a new world ripe with potential, and these futurists are bringing playfulness and innovation to an industry steeped in tradition—with an expected dedication to sourcing ingredients locally. While ‘rice wine’ often accompanies sake descriptions, the process is more akin to brewing beer. Four main grades differentiate its quality, yet most Americans have only tasted bottom shelf sake, served hot or cold with their hibachi.

Blue KudzuThe spirit of experimentation that makes craft breweries and micro-distilleries so appealing drove Texas Sake Co. owner Tim Klatt to venture into brewing sake. “The current sake market reflects the equivalent of how light American lager once dominated the beer market until the craft brewing revolution. We feel that a craft sake revolution is primed, and long overdue,” he says. At Cedar River Brewing Company in Seattle, owner Jeff James is doing his part by releasing Taru, adding an American twist by using Western Red Cedar instead of Japanese Cedar.

As with many artisanal products, a healthy sense of community-building competition fuels the sake industry. That spirit led Cat Ford-Coates to open Blue Kudzu Sake with friends in 2013. She explains, “Asheville was at the height of a “Beer City” poll war with Portland, Oregon. When we found a bottle of sake brewed in Forest Grove, Oregon, we said, ‘Well, if Oregon has a sake brewery, why don’t we?’ Being long time bartenders, diving into a seemingly untapped beverage was exciting.”

Like the craft beverages before it, sake’s pairing possibilities bring another level of intrigue. Phyllis Ford of Blue Current in Maine says, “Sake is perhaps more easily understood as an alternative to, say, a Pinot Grigio—serve it chilled in a white wine glass, keep it in the fridge for about as long as you do wine, pair it with chicken, pasta and other light food.” Did we mention it’s gluten and sulfite-free?

These visionary sake brewers can thank SakeOne in Oregon for forging America’s sake journey in 1992. After perfecting their processes, they now offer flavor-infused sake varieties and recently released an organic sake “in a keg, which is becoming a favorite in bars, restaurants and even where growlers are filled,” shares Director of Marketing and certified sake professional Valerie Fayette.

Keep an eye out for this versatile, sophisticated drink that just might be the last great frontier in booze.