North American Craft Saké Makers
Outside of Japan, these saké makers are inspired by tradition, but forge a path of their own.
Greg Lorenz, SakéOne, Forest Grove, Oregon
At SakéOne, the first American-operated saké brewery in the United States, the techniques employed are thoroughly Japanese, but the brews are crafted for an international palate.
“Our saké accommodates a wide range of flavor expressions—everything from Japanese sushi and rice to American burgers and fries,” says saké master Greg Lorenz.
A scientist who specialized in plant tissue culturing for food products (specifically blue-green algae), Lorenz honed his skills under the mentorship of Japanese saké masters. Although he relies entirely on Japanese equipment, his saké, crafted from California-grown rice and local Oregon water, ranges from traditional Japanese styles to a contemporary line of fruit-infused flavors.
Originally established in 1992 as a partnership with Momokawa, a centuries-old brewery in Aomori, Japan, SakéOne is now the leading producer of ginjo, or premium-grade saké, in the United States. Highlights include his elegant and complex Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo and Momokawa Organic Nigori.
Masa Shiroki, Artisan Sake Maker, Vancouver, British Columbia
In Canada, where imported premium saké is scarce, Masa Shiroki, a native of Japan, established Artisan Sake Maker, a studio and tasting room in Vancouver focused on hand-crafted saké. Though his production is small, Shiroki’s enthusiasm for saké is infectious.
“Half of the people who come to our tasting bar think saké is a distilled spirit,” he says. “But saké is like wine, it’s supposed to be mild and tasteful.”
Shiroki uses imported Japanese saké rice in his product. In 2009, he began growing rice in Canada with the hopes of someday producing saké entirely from local sources.
Artisan Sake Maker offers a range from undiluted genshu to sparkling saké, but Shiroki’s kasu, the umami-rich lees left over from saké production, is also a rare treat. Traditionally used as a marinade, Shiroki incorporates kasu into fruit drinks, salad dressing and ice cream.
Blake Richardson, moto-i, Minneapolis, Minnesota
A longtime professional beer brewer and owner of The Herkimer Pub & Brewery in Minneapolis, Blake Richardson was blown away by his first sip of cold, premium saké at a newly opened neighborhood sushi restaurant.
Inspired to learn everything he could about saké, he quickly racked up an impressive resume of saké certifications and research trips to breweries throughout the U.S. and Japan.
In 2008, he opened moto-i, the first saké brewery restaurant outside of Japan. A play on the traditional Japanese izakaya, or pub, Richardson focuses his menu on draft pours of various styles of nama (zingy, freshly brewed, unpasteurized saké) served with his signature ramen noodles or morsels of kushiyaki, or skewered, grilled meats.
“It’s a classic beer brew pub,” Richardson explains, “except we’re making saké.”