In the Portland area, we are very fortunate to have one of the few US makers of sake in our back yard. A Japanese Tea group recently toured the Sake One facility. I learned so much! First, sake is NOT "rice wine." Technically, wine involves fermented grapes or other fruit, and there is no fruit in sake. In fact, there are only four ingredients: Water, Rice, Yeast and Koji.
Water We learned that the reason Sake One is located here is because of the great water we are fortunate to have. In Japan, most sake breweries are located near springs. Here, the water used has a similar character in that it is "fresh" water coming from the Coastal Mountains. It's lacking any heavy minerality of water that has been underground for a length of time.
Rice Sake One uses rice from our neighboring state of California, the Calrose brand. Several members of our group said, "Oh, that's the rice my family used when I was growing up." Being a Midwesterner, this was an unfamiliar brand to me, but I appreciate the fact that the sourcing is regional. The rice is first polished and then washed, steamed and cooled.
Bags of rice waiting to be processed
Koji - Next, koji is applied in a special cedar room. Koji is a mold spore that digests the starch and converts it to sugar. A cedar room is used not only for the subtle aromatic properties it imparts to the sake, but also because its natural resins are anti-bacterial making an incredibly clean environment.
Yeast - Water and yeast are added and fermentation occurs.
We finished our tour with a tasting and food pairing. We sampled five different sakes and enjoyed nibbles. If you come to the area, it's a fun and educational tour! Keep in mind that sake has a higher alcohol content than wine, and plan accordingly.