I thought that it might be interesting to look at Sake breweries outside of Japan. In many ways I think those inside Japan are more interesting but they cannot be fully cataloged in a humble site like this. A much smaller task, and one that can be accomplished here, is that of cataloging sake breweries outside Japan. Starting with the US, I will work through the breweries with a little information on each.
Honolulu Sake Brewery and Ice Co., Ltd:
I would like to start with the Honolulu Sake Brewery and Ice Co., Ltd. While not the first Sake brewery in the US, or even in operation, it is one of the most notable. Honolulu Sake Brewery was established in 1908 and survived through prohibition and the US shutdown of sake brewing during WW2 until the end of 1992. It survived these gaps in production by making ice during prohibition and soy sauce around the end of WW2.
The Honolulu Sake Brewery was the first sake brewery to produce kan-zukuri sake year round. It did this by being one of the first breweries to employ refrigeration, a technology that was only about 30 years old. In addition to refrigeration, Honolulu Sake Brewery was also one of the first breweries to master the use of the low foam strains of sake yeasts.
The next oldest and oldest surviving brewery, Ozeki Sake (USA), Inc. was established in 1979 so they just celebrated their 30th anniversary last year. Ozeki’s parent company in Japan is located in the Nada region and is more than 290 years old. Its name relates to a time when the winning sumo champion was given the title of Ozeki. Now the highest sumo ranking is Yokozuna, leaving Ozeki as the number two rank.
Takara’s establishment followed Ozeki’s in 1982. Takara established their kura based on the Numano Sake Ltd which began in 1977. This allowed Takara to begin with a complete brewery in place. Takara’s parent company from Fushimi, Kyoto got its start in 1842 making shochu. By 1990, Takara Sake USA had become the largest sake producer in the US.
The American Pacific Rim Sake Brewery started back in 1987 as the second brewery established by Take Numano. His first brewery was Numano Sake Ltd., which was purchased by Takara. Today this brewery is known as YAEGAKI Corporation of USA. This is one of the very few breweries that have a lady as their sake master.
Gekkeikan, founded in Fushimi in 1637, established in 1989 Gekkeikan Sake (USA), Inc. Gekkeikan is in Folsom, California, just outside of Sacramento the very heart of rice country.
SakeOne was founded as a joint venture in 1992 as Japan America Beverage Company (JABC) with Momokawa Brewing Japan. Momokawa had a great history of brewing going all the way back to 1856. Using Momokawa’s expertise JABC built the brewery and began brewing. However, in 1998, Momokawa was unable to continue in the joint venture. This is when JABC became SakeOne by converting the debt to Momokawa into non-voting preferred stock. From this point on, SakeOne has been completely American operated.
Established in 2008 after more than 5 years of preparation, Moto-I is the first Sake brew pub in North America. Blake Richardson, who also owns a regular brew pub around the corner, already knew the brew pub business. After studying sake and sake brewing with John Gauntner and SakeOne he was ready to open his own small brewery.
Next time I will see if I can get the rest of the sake breweries outside of Japan. These will include breweries in Canada, Norway, Australia, South America, South East Asia and China. If you know of any of these breweries I would like to hear from you.
In 2011 the Texas Sake Company was founded in Austin, Texas by its toji, Yoed Anis, to be completely organic. The first sake brewery in Texas uses locally grown rice that has roots that trace back to rice brought to Texas by a Japanese delegation back in 1904.
Cedar River Brewing Company (CRBC) is Seattle’s own Sake kura with Jeff James as brew master. CRBC has just recently started shipping their sake to a few restaurants and bottle shops. Initial shipments to restaurants were exclusively in 3 gallon buckets; pretty nice.
CRBC’s Junmai release party was held at the brewery and at Sake Nomi in December 2013.
Blue Kudzu is a small sake brewery that will most likely begin offering their sake in early 2014. However, Blue Kudzu is more than a sake brewery; it is also a restaurant with a large sake menu and a mission to teach others about sake. Blue Kudzu is located in Asheville, North Carolina.
Ben’s American Sake will live at Ben’s Tune up, an Asheville, North Carolina restaurant that is also planning to offer their own sake in early 2014. Jonathan Robinson will serve as Toji.
Blue Current is a micro-brewery in Maine. Dan Ford and John Sygowski own and run Blue Current. I don’t believe they are shipping sake yet but I have requested and update to provide more accurate information here.