The West's Growing Sake Tradition

Sake producers are starting to realize both cost and PR benefits by opening breweries within the United States

By: By Monica Poling

As sake’s popularity in America continues to grow, the wisest Japanese sake producers have realized that opening U.S. breweries would reap substantial cost and public relations benefits. By developing facilities in locations that offer an abundance of rice and meet the high air and water quality standards required to brew up the perfect batch of Japan’s favorite drink, sake breweries in the U.S. have been producing sake that rivals those developed in Japan. Travelers opting to forgo international travel this winter season, need go no further than the Western U.S. to sample some of their favorite sake drinks. True to brewery and winery traditions around the country, tastings at American sake breweries can be enjoyed for very little financial outlay.

Sake One
Oregon's outstanding natural environment makes it a perfect area for sake production, which is exactly why Sake One set up operations there. The world’s first and only American-owned Sake brewery, Sake One is located in Forest Grove, just a few minutes outside of Portland. The brewery manufactures a variety of brands, including Momokawa, Moonstone and G, and it also imports Murai Family products. Sake One offers 20 minute tours of their factory and their tasting room provides several sake flights, starting at just $3 for a tasting of four different brands. On the third Saturday of every month, the tasting room serves up Saketini Sunday where several saketini concoctions are served to adventurous guests.

Gekkeikan Sake
Controlling 25 percent of the American market, Gekkeikan is undoubtedly one of America’s most popular sakes. Capitalizing on this popularity, Gekkeikan opened its first American brewery in Folsom, Calif. Selected for its perfect climate and abundance of rice, Folsom has been serving up America’s favorite sake since 1989. Self guided tours of the factory are available weekdays and visitors tend to linger around the Japanese garden and koi pond. The tasting room offers complimentary samples of the Kobai Plum Wine, as well as many of the locally produced sakes.

Takara Sake
First established in 1982, in Berkeley, Calif., Takara Sake USA combines traditional sake-marking craftsmanship with Sacramento rice and Sierra Nevada snow to produce American sake that matches the high standards of Takara’s Japanese counterparts. The company is committed to environmental conservation, so most of the wood used within its U.S. structure is reclaimed; the granite floor tiles contain glass recycled from sake, beer and whiskey bottles.

While there, visitors can tour the sake museum or request to watch a video on the sake making process. Takara’s airy, 2,260-square foot Tasting Room feels more like a modern art sculpture and mixes traditional Japanese architecture with contemporary styles. It serves a variety of American and Japanese products, and tastings come in courses that cost $5. Visitors can select from a selection of tasting "courses," including the introductory Variety Course or a Connoisseurs Course.

Ozeki Sake
Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2009, Ozeki Sake USA is the oldest sake brewery in the U.S. (The Japanese headquarters, in Nada, Japan has been producing sake for nearly 300 years.) When coming to the states, Ozeki brewers were concerned with finding a location that matched Nada’s high air and water quality standards. With water filtering in from the Sierra Madre and rice from nearby Sacramento, Hollister California was deemed the perfect setting for Ozeki’s U.S. operations. The Ozeki name is historically linked with excellence, and traces its origins back to the traditional sport of sumo. Castle guards would gather to test their wrestling skills, and the Ozeki was the winner of these contests. In 1939, a special-grade sake bearing the name Ozeki was first released. Tours of the factory are available here, but both tours and tastings must be arranged by appointment.

Joy of Sake
True sake lovers must make the pilgrimage to Honolulu, New York or San Francisco each year for the annual Joy of Sake tasting event. Held between August and October, depending on the city, the Joy of Sake features tastings of more than 300 U.S. and Japanese sakes, including gold- and silver-award winners from the U.S. National Sake Appraisals. Local restaurants, Japanese and otherwise, prepare a huge variety of appetizers and bite-size dishes to accompany the sake. Tickets for this comprehensive event range from $70 to $80.