Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sake One: Definitely Not a Sakery

rice, yeast, water, mold
it is neither beer nor wine
sake is sake

While sake may share little with wine, Sake One's facility is technically a licensed winery. It's also a brewery, well, traditionally it's referred to as a "kura" (sake brewery). One thing for sure is that it is definitely not a "sakery." That's just a silly made up word (that Sake One made up and then erased).

I couldn't help but become fascinated with this Japanese beverage that just happens to be brewed only minutes from my house. The number of kuras in the US can be counted on one hand and I wasn't about to miss this opportunity. While my knowledge of sake was minimal at best, Josh was more or less a clean slate. Off to Sake One we went!

if one wants sake
follow your spirit westward
its in Forest Grove

Upon entering the tasting room of Sake One, you immediately get familiar feelings of a traditional winery. That immediately changes when you belly up to the tasting bar. Josh and I were confronted with three different tasting flights and since we knew almost nothing about sake, we went for the one with the most options. I have a feeling we were a pretty typical customer for Sake One as everybody from their staff was incredibly nice about explaining what we were drinking. What Josh and I had originally perceived as sake, however, was quickly shattered as we entered our flight.

to know your sake
one must sample what you can
commence the pouring

Up first we tried the same sake twice (Momokawa Silver), although one filtered and one unfiltered. Our initial pour was their unfiltered offering that is actually served from a keg in their tasting room. You can even take home growlers of it! Josh and I unanimously agreed that this was our favorite. As you can tell from the photo, this stuff is pretty dang cloudy. In terms of wine profiles, think of this as a a dry riesling with a thicker mouthfeel and more of a booze kick. That doesn't at all do this brew justice, but I'm doing my best here. The filtered version, while the same brew, tasted drastically different. This one was much sharper, less complex in flavor profile, and is much more aligned with what one would typically think a sake tastes like. Awesome introduction into the world of sake so far.

sake is like snow
every flake is unique
some taste like soda

Once we thought we had a grasp on the flavor profiles of sake, things just got ridiculous. We tried a pretty damn sweet Organic Momokawa Nigori, their Moonstone Coconut Lemongrass infused sake (that tastes like a pina colada), and then something that would fool even the most expert of beverage connoisseurs. Follow me on this one, so first you start with sake. Then, towards the end of the brewing process, infuse it with plum. At this point you pretty much have their Moonstone Plum sake, but oh no, Sake One doesn't stop there. Sake One wants to completely destroy any preconceived notions you had of sake just to mess with your head. From here we take that plum sake, put it in a keg, and hook it up to some CO2! The end product? What I can only describe as a plum sake soda that kind of tastes like a popcicle. This stuff is delicious, goes down like water, is the perfect beverage for a hot day at one of their outdoor events, and is only available on tap in their tasting room.

So what did Josh and I learn? Not only did we know little about sake going into this endeavor, but we knew even less than we thought. Sake is very similar to beer in regards to the fact that the flexibility granted with its ingredients lends itself to some ridiculous flavor profiles. This isn't to say that wine doesn't have a wide flavor profile, but I don't see anybody hooking it up to CO2 tanks or infusing it with lemongrass.

At this point we know what sake tastes like, but how is it made? For this, we decided to take a tour of the facility.

thousands of years old
the tradition lives on here
blue shoe covers too

As you walk towards the kura, one can't help but notice this giant mural on the outside of the building

Upon entering, one must don the traditional blue shoe cover. I actually have no clue if the blue shoe cover is traditional, but it's the first time I've ever worn them and it's harder than you think after pounding sake for an hour. As you can see from the following photo, I'm an idiot and put mine on backwards.

Because I'm sure everybody asks how sake is made right up front, Sake One was smart enough to put up the following diagram.

You probably can't read every detail on that, so let me break it down for you. In short, brown rice is milled to a specific consistency and then cooked in a giant rice cooker. From there, yest and koji (mold) are gradually added to the steamed rice until you have the consistency of sake you desire. The facility looks almost identical to many beer breweries, except for one instrument that I have definitely never seen at a beer brewery:

If I remember correctly, this is an incredibly humid room where steamed rice is laid out and given the opportunity to ferment more rapidly. The entire room is made of cedar and is essentially a more technologically advanced version of what would be used in traditional sake brewing. The rice is hand raked as prescribed by the brewer and then transferred to another container when deemed ready.

I wrote six haikus
I am out of ideas
this post must now end

All in all, our trip to Sake One was absolutely incredible. Not only did we gain exponentially more knowledge about sake, but the people are incredibly warm and inviting. If you're ever out in Forest Grove, do yourself a favor and stop by. I guarantee there will be something you'll like and you'll learn way more than you ever thought possible about sake.


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