Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.. **********************************************************
1) Chef/restaurateur Michael Schlow is setting his sights on opening a new Greek inspired restaurant called Doretta Tavern at the 79 Park Plaza location. The restaurant is set to open in the Fall in what has been Schlow’s ode to rustic Italian cooking, Via Matta. After 13 years, he plans to close the restaurant at the end of May.

This is a bittersweet time” says Schlow. “While it’s with great sadness that after so many years we are closing Via Matta, we are really excited for this new chapter. Boston has so many talented chefs and we’ve become one of the best food cities in the country; the time is right to take this great opportunity and create a restaurant that showcases the beauty and simplicity of Greek cuisine.”

Doretta Tavern will be designed by Michael Nadeau and Andrea Morton. The two have teamed up to take Schlow’s vision and turn it into reality. The space will take on a completely new look and feel with an emphasis on reclaimed woods, beamed ceilings, stone, and worn leather; highlights of the new design include a new center bar, action food stations, a new entrance, and a raw bar.

In true Mediterranean spirit, the cooking will rely on the best quality olive oils, fresh vegetables, ripe fruits, and locally sourced fish and meats. Guests can expect a vast array of raw bar selections, Mediterranean spreads, homemade warm flatbread, interesting small plates, grilled seafood, and slow roasted meats. Schlow will be paying homage to his wife Adrienne’s Greek heritage and will be offering some of the recipes passed down to her from generation to generation. The beverage program will be an interesting mix of traditional and craft cocktails, local beers, and an international, well-chosen wine list.

I'm hoping to see plenty of delicious Greek wines on their list.

2) This May, Anna’s Taqueria continues its commitment to charitable organizations in the Boston community by partnering with Red Sox Pitcher Craig Breslow’s Strike 3 Foundation. Baseball season has arrived and now Anna’s guests can take a swing at childhood cancer when they order the special “Breslow Burrito.”

During the month of May, $3 from every Breslow Burrito purchase will be donated to Craig’s Strike 3 Foundation, which heightens awareness, mobilizes support and raises funding for childhood cancer research. The Breslow Burrito was created by Craig and features Grilled Steak, Cheese, Rice, Black Beans, Salsa, Guacamole and Crumbled Tortilla Chips (no substitutions).

COST: Standard burrito pricing: Regular $5.45 & Super $6.25

3) On Saturday, May 23, from 12pm-4pm, the Cheese Shop of Concord will hold the Battle of the Butters, a free sampling of 8 fresh butters and attendees get to vote for their favorite. Who will prevail as the Top Butter?

The contestants include:
European Style Cultured Butter with Sea Salt Crystals (Cow’s Milk)
Vermont Creamery – Websterville, VT
Inspired by traditional French butter making, VC cultures the freshest, high quality cream from St. Albans Cooperative, a coop of 500 family farms in Northeast Vermont. Churned in small batches, the cream becomes a rich European-style butter with 86% butterfat content and a unique farm-fresh taste. Taking perfection one step further, it’s then topped with Celtic sea salt.

Cultured Butter, Unsalted (Cow’s Milk)
Ploughgate Creamery – Fayston, VT
Marisa Mauro, who’s been in involved with dairying since she was 15, makes this cultured butter at Bragg Farm, which she purchased from the Vermont Land Trust in 2012. Marisa makes both salted and unsalted butters, from St. Albans Cooperative milk. By autumn 2015, she expects to have a herd of 10 cows at the farm, so butter will be produced solely from her own proprietary milk.

Beurre de Baratte, Unsalted (Cow’s Milk)
Isigny Ste Mère - Normandy, France
Isigny butter has been renowned since the 16th century. By the 19th century, the population of Paris alone consumed 800 tons of butter annually. Isigny’s terroir has the advantage of a mild, moist climate near the ocean and enjoys the benefits of nearby marshes. Cows that graze there feed on grass rich in iodine, beta carotene and trace elements. The quality of buttercup yellow Isigny butter is amazing; it is rich in vitamin A and has a faint taste of hazelnuts.

Parmigiano Reggiano Butter, Unsalted (Cow’s Milk)
Delitia, Parma, Italy
This butter, with its fragrant and delicate flavor, is called "Burro di Parma." It is produced with pasteurized creams from the milk collected from family-owned farms in Parma and Reggio Emilia. Its quality is without equal because of extraordinarily rigorous production discipline in those regions. The burro is dense but smooth and spreadable, tastes “clean,” has a uniform color, and melts readily on the tongue.

Buffalo Milk Butter, Unsalted (Buffalo Milk)
Delitia, Parma, Italy
Like its widely known sibling, Mozzarella Di Bufala, the making of this high quality butter is very traditional. Basically, it is made from the cream left behind from the production of cheese. It tastes best when consumed plain, on rustic bread or melted over vegetables, but is also ideal for making cakes or custards. It is pale porcelain in color and intense in flavor.

Les Prés Salés Camargue, Salted (Cow’s Milk)
Belgium
After churning fresh cream from cows that grazed on the plateau of the Ardennes mountains in Belgium, this butter is blended with large salt crystals from Camargue, a region of the Rhone delta in France, known for its exceptional, hand-harvested sea salt, long prized by gourmet cooks. The crystals remain intact within the butter, allowing for savory bites as they dissolve on the tongue. Perfect for accompanying seafood, meat, fish and cheese.

Lenker Butter (Cow’s Milk)
Switzerland
There is no way to compare commercial butter to the taste of artisanal "kaeserei” (dairy butter). This butter comes from a dairy in Lenk, in the Bernese Alps. The milk is from cows that spend the winter in the valley, which of course, is still in a mountain zone. In the summer, they graze in the alp meadows at even higher altitude. As a result, the quality of the milk is very high, and the butter changes in color and taste according to the seasons.

Goat Butter (Salted)
St. Helen’s Farm – Yorkshire, England
At this farm, a delicious goat butter is made by churning goat cream inside a large stainless steel vessel, which drains off the buttermilk and thickens it. A small amount of carotene color is added for appearance (0therwise it would be snow white), and salt is added for improved shelf life. The butter is then carved into distinctive D-shaped rolls and wrapped in foil prior to shipping.

4) On Tuesday, May 19,  at 6:30pm, Legal Oysteria will host a wine dinner with the Maculan winery. For over three generations, the Maculan family has been selecting and vinifying the best grapes in Breganze, an enchanting village at the foot of the Alps in Italy’s Veneto region. The winery provides the theatre for a marvelous combination of antique traditions and modern techniques using the latest winemaking technology. The fusion of tradition and innovation results in a selection of fresh and fruity whites, well-structured reds and delicious dessert wines.

Legal Oysteria will team up with Owner, Angela Maculan, to host a four-plus-course dinner and the menu will be presented as follows:

HORS D’OEUVRES
Spring Pea & Fava Bean Crostini
Grilled Pizza with Panna, Smoked Salmon, Scallion
Sausage-Stuffed Peppadew Peppers
Maculan Pino & Toi, Veneto, 2013
FIRST COURSE
Sautéed Sole (Ramps, Asparagus, Roasted Potatoes)
Maculan Chardonnay, Breganze, 2013
SECOND COURSE
Herbed Grilled Tuna (Fresh Shell Beans, Dandelion Greens, Coppa)
Maculan “Brentino” Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, Veneto, 2011
THIRD COURSE
Grilled Beef Tagliata (Arugula, Roasted Tomatoes, Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Maculan Fratta, Veneto, 2010
DESSERT COURSE
Bônet alla Piemontese (Mocha-Cinnamon Custard, Pine Nut Brittle)
Maculan Dindarello Moscato, Veneto, 2012
Maculan Torcolato, Breganze, 2008

COST: $85 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservations required by calling (617) 530-9392

5) Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson, Chef de Cuisine Alex Saenz, Sommelier Peter Nelson and the restaurant’s talented team pay homage to France’s sustainable and organic wines in the next installation of “Wine Wednesdays”. Puritan offers guests a taste of France’s finest wines which includes a multi-course dinner prepared by Chefs Will Gilson, Alex Saenz and their talented culinary team.

Sommelier Peter Nelson has selected five chemical-conscious old vine vintages to accompany five courses of Puritan’s signature seasonal New England fare.

WHEN: Wednesday, May 6,. Arrival is 6:45pm and Wine Dinner starts at 7:00pm
COST: The Au Naturel wine dinner is $95 per guest
Reservations are required so please call (617)-615-6195

6) The beverage team at Foundry on Elm is rolling out an eclectic new cocktail menu comprised of signature sparkling, aromatic and sour concoctions. Known as “Cocktails & Angels,” Foundry on Elm’s menu is developed by a unique process that challenges their bartenders to create thoughtful, well-made cocktails each season.

Under the direction of Beverage Director Manny Gonzales, the bartenders’ names are entered into a tin and fourteen key ingredients are added to another such as a spirit, smoked lager or wine. In a third tin, Gonzales adds in styles of cocktails from their three signature categories: sparkling, aromatics and sours. Each bartender crafts two cocktails based on their draws, ensuring that the base alcohol is greater or equal to any other ingredient used and that no additive ingredient is used more than once on the menu. From there, the best cocktails make it onto the menu ($10 each):

SPARKLING
--The Dizzy Dame
DSP CA 162 vodka, GrandTen Distillers Angelica liqueur, Lillet Rouge, honey, cava
AROMATICS
--Eurotrip
Barr Hill gin, Alloro liqueur, Bärenjäger, dry vermouth
--American Beauty
Mezcal Amarás, Cocchi Americano, Meletti 1870
--Summer in Algiers
Camus VSOP, Combier, Imbue Bittersweet vermouth, Bittermen’s Citron Sauvage
--Lost in Translation
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 Year Old, Arancione liqueur, Cynar, Orleans bitters, salt
--Oaxacan on Sunshine
Glendalough Single Grain Irish whisky, mezcal, Galliano, agave
--Calculated Risk
Ken Kelly 14 Year Tennessee whiskey, BroVo #4, Aperol
SOURS
--Jim’s House Sangria
--Carson Punch
Bully Boy vodka, Meletti 1870, Cherry Heering, lemon
--Crazy Legs
Legs Diamond white whiskey, Vermouth del Professore, Aperol, strawberry, lemon
--On Fleek
Tequila Ocho Plata, St-Germain, Averna, grapefruit, lime, mint
--Fuzzy Bunny
Wigle Ginever, Green Chartreuse, carrot juice, cucumber
--A.P.B.
Ford’s gin, FRUITLAB Jasmine liqueur, sweet vermouth, lemon, honey
--Voodoo Doctor
house rhum blend, Yellow Chartreuse, pineapple juice, lime juice
--Thyme Out
Novo Fogo Cachaça, Lillet Blanc, thyme-infused vermouth, lemon
--The Neck
Downeast cider, Catoctin rye, Gran Classico, BroVo #14, ginger beer, pickled apple

7) From May 13 through June 11, MET Restaurant Group will host its Tenth Annual Soft Shell Crab Festival serving the delicious crustacean 30 ways in 30 days at MET Back Bay. Hailing from Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, soft shell crabs have tantalized the taste buds of seafood lovers across the globe. The MET has explored a variety of flavors and techniques that reveal the best of this culinary creature and will offer a special soft shell crab dish each night from mid-May to mid-June.

Guests will enjoy some very unique dishes including Soft Shell Monte Cristo, Corn meal Crusted Crab with corn silk, favas and pea tendrils, Tempura Fried Crab with soy peanut sauce and cucumber noodles, and Chili Crab Pizza topped with fried crab, sweet chili and arugula. For the purist, soft shell crabs will also be available meuniére style daily.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Wine Connextion: Whiskey & Spirits

From Wine to Whiskey.

The Wine Connextion, a discount wine shop in North Andover, has recently expanded its offerings to include high end whiskey and other spirits. The Wine Connextion opened in 2009 and I raved about it then, praising its low prices. Since then, it has continually been one of my favorite discount wine stores, Now that they offer discounted spirits too, there is even more reason to journey to North Andover to check out this store.

As you wander down the aisles of their wines, you'll see some New Hampshire Price Buster signs, indicating the lower prices found at the Wine Connextion compared to the New Hampshire Wine Outlets. And as you see, the price difference can be significant, such as the $9 on the Stag's  Leap Cabernet Sauvignon.

In the rear left corner of the store, they have broken down the wall and added a small room where they display high end wines and spirits. They still have another, smaller room for some high end wines but this has expanded their space.

These shelves contain a variety of spirits, though heavy on the whiskey, and the prices are definitely better than you will find in most regular liquor stores. I saw plenty of my favorites, from Blanton's Bourbon to Balvenie Scotch. There is vodka and mezcal, vermouth to rum. As this section is still relatively new, I bet they will add even more products in the near future.

This new room also contains a number of large format wines, and Wine Connextion has the largest collection of large formats that I have seen at any other local wine shop. And you probably won't find better prices on these large formats either.

I checked out the new addition on the evening that they held a special East vs. West Whisky Tasting event. They sampled 12 whiskies, pitting 6 Scotches against 4 Japanese and 2 Taiwanese whiskies, and offered some meat, cheese and bread to help cleanse your palate and offset the alcohol. The tasting was well attended, plenty of people intrigued to taste all of these different whiskies. This may have been the store's first whiskey tasting but I'm sure it won't be their last.

The Asian whiskies included the Nikka Coffey Grain ($56.99), Nikka Miyagikiyo 12 Year Single Malt ($94.99), Nikka Taketsuru 12 Year Pure Malt ($58.99), Nikka Taketsuru 17 Year Pure Malt ($129.99), Kavalan Single Malt ($74.99), and the Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask ($74.99). Check out my prior review of the Nikka line as well as my prior review of the Kavalan Whiskey. The Nikka Taketsuru 12 Year Pure Malt remains one of my favorites, especially at its price point.

The only new whiskey to me was the Nikka Taketsuru 17 Year Pure Malt and it impressed. Silky smooth, complex and with a lengthy finish, the whiskey presented intriguing flavors with plenty of spicy notes, some red berry flavors and caramel notes. Highly recommended.

For the Scotch selection, they offered the GlenRothes Select Reserve ($47.99), GlenRothes Alba Reserve ($47.99), GlenDronach Single Cask ($84.99), GlenDronach 15 Year (($89.99), BenRiach 10 Year ($54.99), and the BenRiach 16 Year ($78.99).  Of these six, my two favorites were the GlenDronach Single Cask and BenRiach 10 Year.

The GlenDronach Single Cask, which is cask strength, is a powerful Scotch, with strong spicy notes, caramel and chocolate flavors, and a lingering, satisfying finish. It benefits from the addition of a little water due to its high alcohol content. This is something to slowly savor with some good friends. The BenRiach 10 Year is a peated whiskey, and I loved its smoky aroma. The peat is prominent but doesn't overwhelm, adding an interesting smoky aspect to its flavor, complementing its nutty notes. It is smooth and alluring, complex and bold.

Check out the Wine Connextion for both their wines and spirits, and find some of the best prices in the area. Attend one of their weekly tasting events, such as the Run for the Rosés on May 2 or Zins & Sliders on May 23. Maybe I will see you at one of their upcoming events.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Rant: A Single Country Wine List

Consider this: You dine at a new Italian restaurant and while you peruse it's wine list, you see that they only carry Italian wines. There is no California Chardonnay or Australian Shiraz.  You see listings for Chianti and Prosecco, but you also find wines with unfamiliar grapes, like Grillo, Frappato and Arneis. Does this situation bother you because you can't find the California wines you enjoy?  Does this situation bother you because you don't know much about many of those Italian wines? Or are you pleased with the wine menu, relishing the adventure of exploring the list?

There are restaurants which choose to limit their wine list to a single country, to fit their ethnic cuisine, though locally, they are in the minority.  Most wine lists try to cater to diverse tastes, not willing to take the risk of a single country list. They fear offending some of their customers by not having certain types of wines. Their wine list might be predominately from one country, but there will be a percentage from at least several other countries. Is that really necessary?

I respect a restaurant willing to create a single country wine list, and I know I'm sure to find plenty of wines that will enjoy. I also savor the adventure of exploring such a list, trying wines that are new to me. Sure, wines from all over the world can pair well with Italian cuisine, but if an Italian restaurant only wants to offer Italian wines to pair with their cuisine, I am fully supportive of their desire. It is a way to expose more consumers to the diversity and wonders of Italian wine, to helping to broaden their palates. 

You wouldn't go to an Italian restaurant and expect to find Australian meat pies or Southern-style fried chicken, so why expect to find wines from places other than Italy? You are going for the experience of Italian cuisine, and wine is actually food. Thus, it makes sense that Italian wine is served as part of the Italian cuisine. This applies to any ethnic restaurant which chooses to limit its wine list to the country of it's cuisine. 

For many restaurants though, it is a matter of money. There are consumers who would object to such a singular wine list. They are too set in their ways, and want to be able to get their California Chardonnay no matter what restaurant where they dine. If a restaurant has a single country wine list, they won't attract these type of customers, and that could have negative economic consequences for the restaurant. 

We need to give our support to those restaurant brave enough to have a single country wine list, to dine at such restaurants and enjoy their wine choices. 

What are your thoughts on restaurants with single country wine lists? Do you have any favorite restaurants with such a list?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.. **********************************************************
1) Pastoral Chef/Owner Todd Winer invites guests to learn Italian cooking techniques during his Todd Teaches Sunday School cooking classes which take place monthly. The next class will take place on Sunday, April 26 from 4pm until 5:30pm and the theme is Meatball Madness. Students will learn the basics behind making meatballs. The class is $40 per person and includes wine, samples of the finished dishes, and recipe cards to take home. Space is limited and can be reserved by logging onto Eventbrite.com.

Upcoming class include:
Cooking With Mama- May 10th
Vegetables Steal the Show- June 14th
Fish Feast- Italian fish prepared in Neapolitan style
Knife Skills- how to properly carve poultry, filet fish, chopping vegetables
Italian Casseroles- Learn how to make Lasagna, Mac & Cheese and Eggplant Parmesan

For more information and reservations, please call (617) 345-0005 or visit www.eventbrite.com.

2) In an effort to discover who will be mixing up the Seaport District’s best sangria this season, the Seaport Hotel is introducing the first-ever Seaport Sangria Smackdown. Bartenders from various Seaport District establishments will come together on May 13 from 6pm-8pm at Seaport’s state-of-the-art Action Kitchen, where they will bring their sangria A-game; whether an existing recipe from their eatery or a new twist on an old classic. Guests will be the final judge of who will be dubbed the Seaport Sangria Smackdown champion!

For $20 per person, guests will enjoy sangria tastings and light hors d’oeuvres; they are encouraged to vote for their favorite sangria, with one restaurant being crowned the Seaport Sangria Smackdown Champion. Participating restaurants include: City Bar, Empire Restaurant and Lounge, Legal Test Kitchen, MC Spiedo, Sam's at Louis, TAMO Bistro & Bar and The Barking Crab.

TICKETS: Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased online at: www.sangriasmackdown.eventbrite.com

Sake News

Kanpai! Here is another short list of some of the interesting Sake articles that have been published lately. It is great to see more and more coverage for Sake, though I recommend that anyone seeking to publish a Sake article check it at least a few times for accuracy. A few basic errors continue showing up in introductory Sake articles, and those errors would be easy to eliminate if you had a knowledgeable Sake person check your facts. Let us also hope that we see more than just introductory Sake articles in the future. Sake has many depths and all those varied facets make great material for articles.

1) Ever hear of Sake Jelly? In an article on Eater,Timothy Sullivan discusses how Sake brewers have recently started to make a new product, Sake Jelly, which he describes as such: "Imagine a drink that pours out like a soft jelly, is mostly clear, sweet and usually has a low alcohol content around 1.5 percent, although certain brands go higher." The article mentions that the Kamotsuru Brewery makes an unflavored version while Ozeki makes a Peach version. I'll note, though it is not in the article, that Ozeki also makes Sparkling Sake Jelly in two flavors, Peach and Berry Mix. Though Sake Jelly isn't available widely in the U.S., Timothy provides a recipe for you to make your own. It's easy to do so you have no excuse not to try it.

2) A Sake brewery coming to the United Kingdom? The Newmarket Journal has recently reported that a Japanese company is hoping to open a Sake brewery in the village of Fordham in Cambridgeshire, England. The company, Dojima, purchased the Fordham Abbey, and is planning to invest plenty of money into the endeavor, ensuring the beauty of the area is retained. Everything is in the beginning stages right now, so it is a story I'll keep an eye on.

3) All-you-can drink Sake? Now that sounds like a fantasy I'd love to see fulfilled, and if I travel to Tokyo, it will become a reality. Rocket News 24 reported that a new spot, the Kurand Sake Market, has opened in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood where you can drink all the Sake you want, from a selection of about 100. The restaurant was set to open on March 10, For a mere $25 (3000 yen), you get unlimited refills and you get to choose from one of six different types of cups, though you can change your selection at any time. It is a self-service place, and they serve a few different bar snacks, though you can even bring your own food with you. Just know that you must stand at this restaurant, so be careful you don't drink so much that you fall down. Unfortunately, we'll probably never get such a place in the U.S.

4) New York City & Sake? Edible Manhattan published an intriguing article about the development of the Sake scene in New York City. In just over 20 years, the city has transformed, from a place where there were few Sakes, and mostly low quality, to a place now where you can find around 800 different Sakes, The article talks about the restaurants and importers which helped to bring about these changes to the city, supplying more artisan Sakes to tantalize and delight their customers. Check out this article to get all of the details.

5) Sake in Arkansas? The Japan News recently highlighted Ben Bell, an Arkansas native, who is currently interning at the Nanbu Bijin Sake brewery. He once worked at a liquor store, and promoted Sake there. Ben's plan is now to eventually start a U.S. Sake brewery. You can also read another article about Ben in the Asahi Shimbun which gives more details on his Sake experiences. I only know Ben online but he seems to have a true passion for Sake and I wish him all the best.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Historical Tidbits About Sake In The U.S.

While researching my article on the early Sake breweries in the U.S., I discovered a number of other fascinating historical stories and tidbits about Sake. They didn't necessarily fit into my article but I still wanted to share these seventeen items as I know some of my readers will find these matters quite interesting. I have organized them by date, from the earliest in 1853 to the latest in 1926, and I hope you enjoy this look into American's early views on Sake. Please note that the newspapers, into the early 20th century, used both Saki and Sakee to refer to this beverage.

1) The oldest American newspaper that I have found that mentions Sake is a North Carolina newspaper on November 7, 1853. In discussing one of the visits of Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan, there is reference to a "presents of saki and cake." Sake might have been mentioned in earlier newspapers and I am continuing my research.

2) An Ohio newspaper in July 1854 was a bit more explicit as to the nature of Sake, noting The extract from rice is now the only liquor known in Japan. It is called saki by them.” This article also dealt with the visits of Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan. On March 28, 1854, Perry made a treaty with Japan, essentially opening up the country to trade, so numerous people were starting to discuss aspects of Japanese culture, and Sake started to become more commonly known to the general public.

3) A Sacramento newspaper, in November 1855, discussed the role of Saki in Japanese marriage ceremonies. It states: "The formality of the marriage consists in drinking sake after a peculiar manner." It mentions how two young girls, referred to as a male and female butterfly, pour the Saki from susu, Saki jugs, which are each adorned with a paper butterfly. There is then a discussion of how the bride and groom drink the Sake, sipping three times from three different cups.

4) A Baltimore, Maryland newspaper, on November 9, 1860, advertised an auction sale of "superb Japanese goods," including "sakee bottles." Though those bottles are not described, it seems likely it refers to tokkuri, commonly ceramic flasks used to pour sake.

5) In November 1868, a Sacramento newspaper called Sake the "bourbon whisky" of Japan. The article presented a negative image of Sake, stating: "Saki is a transparent, yellowish liquid, extremely sharp, extremely intoxicating, and particularly disagreeable and unpleasant to the taste." During the next 50-60 years, newspapers would vary in their descriptions, some claiming Sake was "extremely intoxicating" while others stating it was only mildly intoxicating.

6) A Hawaiian newspaper, on May 5, 1869, advertised an auction sale by Adams & Wilder for "a large variety of merchantable & desirable goods," including linens, soaps, tea, sugar, tobacco and "10 tubs of Japanese sake." The advertisement doesn't specify the size of those tubs.

7) A California newspaper in August 1869 discussed the silk culture in Japan, talking about the care of silkworms. There is mention that silkworms are fed with mulberry leaves, and sometimes those leaves are moistened with Sake "when the worms showed any signs of weakness."

8) Another California newspaper article from November 1877 discussed the home life in Japan, stating that “At this time probably a majority drink sake in greater or less quantity. The drink is brewed from rice, and contains from two to eight per cent, of alcohol.” I suspect the information about the alcohol content is erroneous, as Sake is usually is in the double digits. This article also runs counter to the article mentioned above in #3, which claimed Sake was "extremely intoxicating."

9) A Minnesota newspaper, in March 1881, published an excerpt from a book review of Unbeaten Tracks in Japan by Isabella Bird, an explorer, naturalist, writer and photographer. Mrs. Bird traveled to Japan and thought Sake was "insipid, sickly and nauseous." She also wasn't much a fan of Japanese cuisine.

10) The New York Tribune, in November 1882, published an interesting, albeit brief, article on the Sake brewing process in their Science For The People column. This seems to indicate an interest in Sake beyond the basic cultural items.

11) In June 1886, a California newspaper wrote about two aspects of Japanese etiquette, the tea-party and the wedding. In the wedding section, there was a discussion of sansankudo, the ritual where both bride and groom sip from three cups of Sake during the ceremony.

12) Some interesting information on now Americans view Sake brewing is provided in a newspaper in April 1887. It is said that malt is made from rice called koji, and that the rice is steamed to make it gelatinous in consistency. Once cooled, yeast is added and it is then fermented, being frequently stirred. Water is added and it is fermented for 5-6 days, when it is then filtered and becomes available for consumption.

13) In September 1887, a Sacramento newspaper claimed the Sake was "dangerous from the large proportion of fusil oil contained in it." Fusel oils are found in most alcoholic beverages, but if the levels are too high, they can make people sick. Later information does not seem to indicate that Sake ever had dangerous levels of fusel oils.

14) In November 1887, an Ohio newspaper, and a number of other newspapers across the country, published an article titled Drinks Of All Nations. The article discussed the drinking habits of numerous countries, from China to the Middle East, though the article was trying to prove the proposition that "The easily governed nations drink no strong liquors." It is an extremely condescending and racist article. For example, it says: "The Japs are the mos encouraging examples that the east presents of a nation progressing from Asiatic to a European plane of civilization."

As for Sake consumption, the article notes: “No nation in Asia drinks so persistently and steadily as do the Japanese. The average Jap consumes about half a pint of sake or rice beer with each meal—a pint and a half per day--saying nothing about further social indulgence in the evening. Both men and women drink sake by the pint daily, and think no harm of it, either.”

15) It is interesting to note that a California newspaper in January 1892, quoted a writer from the American Antiquarian, claiming Sake drinking was "one of the great curses of Japan." However, no additional details were given to explain that conclusion.

16) There is an interesting article from June 1893 discussing the type of shops, including a Sake store, you will find while touring a Japanese city. Interestingly, the author refers to Sake as a "rice whisky." The article mentions how you can usually identify the shop as it has a branch of cryptomeria or a cluster of cypress outside. Most people buy Sake and take it home with them, though a few will buy a tiny cup of Sake and drink it there. The shelves have wooden tubs of Sake, each marked with a character and picture.You might see the word "Dai" meaning "best" of "first-class," or "Santokusbu," meaning "the three virtues of flavor, strength and purity." It is also noted that sweet Sake, which is allegedly drunk primarily by women and children, especially at some holidays, is often advertised with a picture of Mount Fuji.

17) The legend of Saru-zake, monkey Sake, is explained in a newspaper article in October 1893. First, the article mentions that Sake is drunk warm and tastes similar to a mild Sherry. That comparison to Sherry is raised numerous times in later newspaper articles. It is also claimed that westerners can drink plenty of Sake without getting drunk, while the "vegetarian Japanese" get drunk much easier with Sake.

The article then discusses a legend that apes first discovered Sake. It is said that apes stole rice from some human homes, and took that rice back into the mountains. After devouring some of the rice, they left the remaining rice in the crook of a tree. Later, rains came that soaked the rice and later, when the sun came out, it warmed the rice, starting a fermentation process. Thus, Sake was created. I have read of this legend in other sources, though usually the tale involves fruit that accidentally ferments into alcohol. This is the first time I have heard the tale where rice is involved.

18) In April 1894, a Hawaiian newspaper noted that a Japanese ship, the Aikoku Maru landed i Hawaii and the Custom Authorities seized 20 cases of Sake from the ship as they were not listed on the ship's manifest.

19) On December 27, 1894, a Honolulu newspaper the effect of Sake on the city, stating: "Saki, a liquor distilled from rice, is a 'pleasant sweetish tasting drink, and it is so intoxicating that it takes effect very quickly.' The saloon keepers of Honolulu are glad to buy it, as it is very cheap at wholesale, and they retail it (at a handsome profit to themselves) to the poor Hawaiians at a much lower cost than other liquors. The Hawaiians think it fine to get drunk at so cheap a cost." The article also mentions that they have read of a number of "crimes committed under the effects of saki." 

20) Another Honolulu newspaper, on February 22, 1895, advertised an "Auction Sale of Saki!" An unknown number of "Tubs of Japanese Saki," 7 gallons each, were offered and they were "Guaranteed in perfect order and condition." It is unknown whether a 7 gallon tub was a standard or not at this time.

21) The Salt Lake Herald, in April 1896, discussed an intriguing Sake legend, one I've never heard of before. “Well there is a tradition that if one drinks a great deal of sake one’s hair will become red, for a boy who once fell into a pot of it came out with a sorrell top." Has anyone heard this legend before?

22) A July 1896 article in the New York Sun discusses the price of Sake in Japan.  It is supposed to cost two Sen for a go, a 180ml serving of Sake. By the exchange rate at that time, that serving of Sake would cost only one U.S. penny. Based on the inflation calculator, that one penny would be the equivalent of a quarter in 2014, meaning it was an excellent value then.

23) In December 1896, a Los Angeles newspaper noted,  "Sake is a natural beverage of Japan, and until recent years was the only fermented liquor known in that empire. It is obtained by the distillation of the best kinds of rice. In appearance it resembles very pale sherry w.me, though in taste it is somewhat acid. The best sake is white, but there are many varieties, and the poorer people in Japan have to content themselves with a turbid sort."

24) A Sausalito newspaper, in February 1899, notes: "The little .laps are about as free from the vice of drunkenness as any people in the world. In fact, it is the rarest thing in the world to see an inebriated snbject of the mikado. The native drink, "saki," is used about as tea in this country, and it is but little more intoxicating."

25) In August 1900, another California newspaper, the Amador Ledger, referred to Sake as "rice brandy" and in July 1901, a San Francisco newspaper article also referred to it as "rice brandy". This seems to me as if they considered Sake to be more similar to a fortified wine, with a higher alcohol content. The Amador Ledger also stated that Sake was "fiery stuff and goes to one's head more quickly than our own brandy."

26) The Los Angeles Herald, in March 1904, published an article, China Collecting In Los Angeles, which concentrated on Sake cups, kettles and bottles. It is worth a read. The article mentions that Sake kettles were usually made of iron with a bronze lid while Sake bottles were usually made in the "pilgrim gourd" style. Most of the article talks about Sake cups, and their styles, decorations, and more.

27) In February 1907, a San Francisco newspaper reported on a deadly fight, allegedly caused by the effects of Sake. A number of men, who had been drinking heavily, were out on the street when they came upon two other men, T. Yeoka and H.Torogama. For some reason, not mentioned in the article, a terrible fight broke out, and the drunk men pulled out knives. Yeoka was killed and Torogame received serious wounds. I was unable to find any additional information about how this incident turned out.

28) In August 1908, there were about forty Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles, and they usually served alcohol. However, they often don't possess a proper liquor license, which would cost $60, as they claimed it was too expensive. The police commission has been considering the matter, speculating that maybe they should lower it for Japanese restaurants, down to only $20 for a license. The police noted that it was tough to convict these restaurants for license violations as the restaurants catered almost exclusively to other Japanese, who wouldn't testify against each other. These Japanese restaurants were not seen as competitors to other restaurants, so the police commission doesn't think lowering the license fee for them would lead to protests from other restaurant owners.

Apparently the police commission eventually decided against lowering the liquor license fee, and chose instead to take a more aggressive stance. In May 1909, the police raided the various Japanese restaurants, finding that none of them had liquor license on record, though many had Geisha girls serving Sake and beer to their customers. The records also indicated that three Chinese restaurants in the city had liquor licenses, which now cost $75. The raids seemed to accomplish their purpose as the next month, 26 Japanese restaurants applied for liquor licenses, though only 12 received them. The police felt that 12 licenses were sufficient to meet the needs of the Japanese community. However, by October, a total of 20 Japanese restaurants had secured the proper licenses.

29) The San Francisco Sunday Call, on December 18, 1910, ran one of maybe the first major articles abut Sake in English. The extensive article, Sake, The National Booze Of The Japanese, was written by Mary Ogden Vaughan, and is well worth reading. It touches on many different aspects of Sake, from customs to legends.

I want to highlight some information on pricing during this period. Vaughan states, "A good sized cask of the best— and the best comes from the great rice fields in the region of Osaka, near the Inland sea — costs between $3 and $4 in Japan. In this country the wholesale price is at the rate of $1.25 a gallon."

In addition, the article mentions that during the time of the samurai, they used to preserve the heads of their enemies in tubs of Sake. They would then present these heads to their liege for identification and also to show their martial prowess.

You'll also find a Japanese drinking song:
When you drink sake
You feel like the springtime,
And the loud cries
Of impatient creditors
On the outside
Sound in your ears
Like the voices of' nightingales
Singing most sweetly

30) In January 1911, a San Francisco newspaper noted that about 250,000 gallons of Japanese Sake are consumed in the U.S. That is approximately 105,00 cases.

31) In June 1911, a shipment of 1000 barrels of California table wine was sent to Japan, allegedly because it was said that the Japanese were starting to change their tastes, from Sake to wine. After California wine had previously dealt with competition in Hawaii from Sake imports, I'm sure they felt better that their wines were now being seen as competitive to Sake in Japan.

32) Assault with a deadly weapon, a Sake bottle? A San Francisco newspaper, in July 1911, told the tale of an intoxicated Japanese man who allegedly assaulted a fellow wedding guest with a Sake bottle. The accused was eventually acquitted of a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

33) In New York in March 1912, the Sun newspaper published an article describing Sake, and it even refers to it as seishu, the legal name for Sake in Japan. It states Sake is unique, and though it resembles beer, wine and brandy, it is not any of those categories.It correctly notes that Sake is originally of Chinese origin.

34) In July 1926  a Sausalito newspaper reported on a “Dry" Village In Japan. "The young women residents of Takaso, a village in Japan, have refused to marry any young man who has not taken the pledge. The members of the Young Women’s association noticed that an abnormal quanlty of sake, the national Japanese drink, was being consumed by the “young bloods,” so they organized and voted unanimously to have nothing to do with any youth who drank sake." I haven't yet been able to find any more information about this pledge.

(Update as of August, 2017: I've added 5 new items to this list, including a newspaper article that is one year older than in the previous post.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

An Expanded History of Sake Brewing in the U.S.

The sale and manufacture must be a source of great profit, for it is consumed in enormous quantities and on every possible occasion in the realms of the mikado and is shipped extensively to all parts of the world where his subjects find abiding places.”
--Sake, The National Booze of the Japanese by Mary Ogden Vaughan (San  Francisco Call, December 18, 1910)

When was the first Sake brewery established in the U.S.?  Currently, there are approximately twenty or so Sake breweries in the U.S. that already exist or are in the works to open in the near future. The oldest of these breweries was founded in the 1970s yet the first American Sake brewery, which is now defunct, was established over one hundred years ago.

On my first trip to San Francisco, about ten years ago, I visited the Tasting Room and Sake Museum of Takara Sake USA, Inc. in Berkeley. It was a fun experience at the time, especially seeing some of the historical artifacts and information on 19th century Sake brewing, but I was unaware that Berkeley was also the site of the first U.S. Sake brewery. Most of the articles and books I had previously read mentioned that the first Sake brewery was in Hawaii, the Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewery Co. Many people still believe that to be true but I have learned otherwise.

Through my recent research, I've found that is not actually the case, and that the Hawaiian brewery might actually have been the fourth or fifth Sake brewery established in the U.S. However, the Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewery Co.  was more successful and left a much greater legacy than any other of the early Sake breweries in the U.S. In fact, for many of these first breweries, we know little more than the most basic of information, such as their name and location. The Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewery Co. wasn't the first but I don't think anyone will argue that it wasn't the most important.

As few people know about these early Sake breweries, I wanted to explore the history of these first Sake breweries as well as to look at our country’s introduction to this intriguing Japanese alcohol. More research is warranted into this history so the following is more a peek into the past rather than an extensive examination. However, I'm sure you find plenty of information which is new to you, and which will broaden your understanding of Sake.

When did Japanese Sake first arrive in the U.S.? We might never know the exact answer but we can speculate. The first Europeans likely to have tasted Japanese Sake were two to three Portuguese merchants whose ship, in 1542 or 1543, was forced, by the weather, to land on the island of Tanegashima.. Lord Tanegashima Tokitaka feted these men, and it seems logical that the sailors were presented Sake. During the next several years, other Portuguese merchants came to Japan and around 1547, Captain Jorge Alvares wrote a report on his visit to Japan, mentioning Sake, and that might have been the earliest European record.

As for the U.S., the odd Sake container might have shown up as early as the 18th century, an oddity brought in by a merchant, missionary or world traveler, though I'm unaware of any documentary evidence to prove that occurred. There is some evidence that Sake was being exported to Europe, through the Dutch East India Company, during this time period but it seemed to still be more of a rarity than anything else. One source claims that the first major showing of Sake outside of Japan might have occurred in 1872, at an international exposition in Australia. However, it seems more likely it occurred at the 1879 Sydney International Exposition.

In the U.S., it seems logical that Hawaii, in the later part of the 19th century, might be the site where Sake first made its appearance as more than a mere curiosity. In the late 1840s, sugar became a major crop on Hawaii, but there was a shortage of laborers needed to work on the sugar plantations. This was compounded by a significant death rate for Hawaiians, due to foreign diseases, which essentially halved their population in a thirty year period, from around 1831 to 1860. To help their labor situation, Hawaii passed the Masters & Servants' Act in 1850, which allowed them to hire foreign laborers for their plantations.

The Chinese, in 1852, were the first people to be brought to Hawaii under this new Act. but within ten years, few Chinese were interested in this contract labor so Hawaii sought elsewhere, including Japan. In 1868, the first Japanese immigrants, the gannen mono, arrived in Hawaii aboard the Scioto, a British ship. Gannen mono means the “first-year people” as they traveled to the Kingdom of Hawaii in the first year in the reign of Emperor Meiji. Though they wanted 350 laborers, only about 148 Japanese actually stepped forward, including 140 men, 6 women (who accompanied their husbands), and 2 teenagers. Their passage to Hawaii was fully paid and they were to receive a salary of $4 per month, including room and board, for a three-year period.

It seems reasonable that some of these immigrants brought Sake with them to Hawaii. Sake is an important beverage, one often used to celebrate special occasions and holidays. The immigrants would have wanted a slice of their home with them, and Sake could be such an element. Unfortunately, many of these immigrants had no knowledge of farming and the Japanese government received many complaints from them about their harsh treatment by the Hawaiians.  Ultimately the experiment was considered a failure and 40 of the immigrants returned to Japan.

The Japanese government decided to prohibit any further emigration to Hawaii, and banned it from 1869-1884. In 1874, Kalākaua, who would later be known as the Merrie Monarch, became the King of Hawaii, reigning until 1891. In 1881, King Kalākaua began a diplomatic tour of the world, and spent ten days in Japan, trying to form a better relationship and lift the ban on immigration. After some intense negotiations, his efforts were eventually successful and he granted better terms for future Japanese immigrants, including increased pay, medical care, and a food allowance.

Japan would also be more selective in their choice of immigrants, seeking more people with farming experience, so as to not perpetuate the prior problems. It should be noted that Kalākaua was the first foreign ruler to ever shake hands with a Japanese Emperor, and he was also given a gift of a silver Sake set. It seems probable that Kalākaua also received some Sake to take home with him, and if so, it was probably of the highest quality.

In early February 1885, once the ban was lifted, the first group of 943 Japanese immigrants (676 men, 159 women and 108 children) made the journey to Hawaii to work on the sugarcane and pineapple plantations. Their arrival is also the first known documentation of the presence of Sake in Hawaii. Upon their ship's landing, King Kalākaua organized a sumo wrestling exhibition at the Honolulu Immigration Depot. Forty immigrants were divided into two groups, the East and West, and competed for about an hour. The East won, and the King had arranged for 10 barrels of Sake to be awarded to the winners. With that much Sake, I’m sure everyone got to drink some, not just the winners. I wasn't able to determine though how and where the King obtained the Sake.

Most of the early Japanese immigrants were single men, and drinking became a common activity. For some, they used alcohol as an escape from the difficult plantation work and their separation from their homeland. As other Japanese immigrants began to travel to California and other parts of the mainland U.S., it's likely they brought Sake with them. It didn't take long for Japan to begin actively exporting Sake to the U.S. and the rest of the world. For example, it is known that in 1887, the Kiku-Masamume Brewery starting exporting Sake to the United Kingdom, and two years later, started exporting to the U.S. too.  By 1890, Sake was readily available, as an import, in Hawaii and California.

Sake became so popular in Hawaii that by November 1894, the California wine industry claimed that they were having difficulty in Hawaii competing with Sake imports. In 1893, Hawaii imported only about 3400 gallons of Japanese Sake  and around April 1894, it still imported only about 626 gallons that month. However, that exploded to 16,000 gallons in July and 13,000 gallons in August, with a total amount of imports for 1894 being about 83,000 gallons. That high amount of Sake imports continued so that in February 1896, Hawaii imported 18,672 gallons; of Sake.

In response to California's complaints, Consul General Ellis G. Mills investigated the matter, eventually filing a report with the State Department that concluded there were no actual grounds for concern. As for California wine, they exported about 103,000 gallons to Hawaii in 1893 and 125,000 gallons in 1894. Mills concluded that California wine exports to Hawaii didn't decrease due to Sake imports, and actually grew. This report though didn't stop the California wine industry from continuing to complain, fearing Sake would hurt their market in Hawaii.

By March 1896, the largest market in Hawaii for California wine was the Portuguese, who enjoyed their sweet wines. At this time, California wine and Sake were paying the same duty, 15 cents a gallon. to export to Hawaii. However, a proposal was put forth to increase the duty on wine to 30 cents a gallon, if it contained less than 14% alcohol, and 50 cents per gallon, if it was over 14% alcohol. As almost all of the exported California wine was sweet, and around 20% alcohol, the duty would increase for them by more than three times. As Sake would not be affected by this proposed duty, it would make it far tougher for California to compete with Sake imports. Obviously, California wine makers were upset with this proposed duty change and tried to defeat this measure.

Somehow they succeeded in not only defeating the duty, but in a move that clearly helped to protect the California wine industry, the situation ended up in a major reversal. Rather than increasing the duty on wine, the duty was raised on Sake instead, and at an even higher amount than had been proposed for wine. In June 1896, over the veto of Hawaiian President Sanford Dole, the Hawaiian legislature approved “An Act To Increase The Duty on Liquors, Still Wines, And Other Beverages Made From Materials Other Than Grape Juice.” This raised the duty on still wines made of materials other than grape juice, of less than 14% alcohol, to 60 cents per gallon, and if over 14% alcohol, the duty became $1.00. As the average Sake was 16% alcohol, then they would be charged the $1.00 duty, twice what the originally proposed duty had been for wine.

Though technically applicable to more than just Sake, it is obvious that it was specifically targeted toward Sake, raising the duty from four to almost seven times the prior rate. During discussions on the passage of this act, it was even alleged by some that Sake contained a large amount of poisonous methylic alcohol, so the legislature wanted to raise the duty to protect native Hawaiians. This allegation doesn't seem to have any support or evidence, and also doesn't appear to have been raised ever again. It seems more just a baseless justification to support the imposition of the prohibitive duty on Sake. If it had been a true threat, then Sake would simply have been banned.

At this time, most Japanese laborers were only earning $12-$15 per month, so in July 1897 when the new duty went into effect, Sake became an expensive luxury that they could only purchase infrequently. By December 1897, newspapers were noting a significant decrease in Sake consumption in Hawaii, though they also mentioned that there were other contributory reasons. Due to Japan's war with China, and an economic change from a silver to a gold basis, the price of Sake basically doubled. With such a drastic price increase, and the added duty, that made Sake imports into Hawaii even more expensive.

During the first three months of 1898, only 2983 gallons of Sake were imported into Hawaii. This meant that annual Sake imports had decreased to what was once imported in a single month. Interestingly, though California had hoped that the decrease in Sake consumption would lead to a significant increase in wine consumption, that didn't occur. Sake lovers, who couldn't afford to buy Sake, were generally not seeking out California wine as a replacement.

As Sake was so pricey, but still greatly desired, it led some Japanese in Hawaii to chose to illegally brew their own Sake, risking arrest and potential fines. One enterprising Sake brewery in Japan also found a loophole in the new Act. The Kiku-Masamume Brewery realized that the Act’s oppressive duty only applied to Sake that was shipped into Hawaii from Japan. If they first shipped their Sake from Japan to California and then later shipped it to Hawaii, they didn't have to pay the increased duty. It is unclear whether other Sake breweries realized and took advantage of this loophole.

Besides Hawaii, the rest of the U.S. also grappled with the issue of the proper duty on Sake imports. Prior to 1894, Sake was classified by similitude to distilled liquor, and subjected to a duty of $2.50 per proof gallon. In July 1894, this classification was disputed by a Sake importer and that resulted in Sake being reclassified as more similar to still wine, thus decreasing the amount of its duty. The classification would be contested once again, starting in April 1903, by another Sake importer, W. Nishimiya, in the New York courts. On appeal, the Circuit Court decided that Sake was not similar to either wine or beer, and should be considered a nonenumerated manufactured article, which gave it an even more beneficial duty rate.

In November 1904, the Sake importer, T. Komada & Co. in San Francisco, filed a similar protest to the duty on Sake. They brought suit against the government to recover $500,000 which they had paid, under protest, as a duty on Sake. Though the lower courts followed the New York court's decision, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision stating that Sake was in similitude to wine. In December 1908, the Supreme Court of the U.S. granted the petition of .Komada & Co. for a writ of certiorari. In January 1910, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, stating “the Japanese beverage sake is properly dutiable under § 297 of the Tariff Act of July 24, 1897, c. ll, 30 Stat. 151, 205, as similar to still wine, and not as similar to beer.

Due to these battles over the costs of imported Sake, and a  number of other reasons, there was an impetus for some enterprising entrepreneurs to establish Sake breweries in the U.S. They knew it would be less expensive to brew it here. I was fascinated to learn that the first legal Sake brewery in the U.S. was almost established in a very unlikely location: Chicago. Hawaii, California or another West Coast location would have seemed a more logical starting place, but it appears the nature of the person involved trumped location.

In 1883, Jokichi Takamine, a famous Japanese chemist, worked at the Japanese Department of Agriculture & Commerce and concentrated on Sake brewing. His mother's family owned a Sake brewery so that might have been the impetus for his concentration in this field. He wanted to know how koji transformed starches into sugars. In his researches, he eventually found a way to grow koji on wheat bran rather than rice. This ultimately led to the creation of a process to transform starches into sugars, from any grain, that was cheaper and quicker than the usual malting process used by whiskey distillers.

In 1890, he was hired by a large distilling conglomerate to come to Chicago and then in 1891, he was relocated to Peoria, Illinois. He founded the Takamine Ferment Company in 1891 to market his new process, and try to create whiskey cheaper and quicker than it was currently done using malt. However he faced great opposition from the maltmen, which soon after led to a suspicious fire which destroyed the distillery. Though it was rebuilt, and some whiskey was produced, it never really caught on and ultimately was a bust.

These disappointments may have led him to consider a different option. In April 1892, a Pittsburgh newspaper reported that Takamine, businessmen from Yokohama, Japan, and some other interested Japanese businessmen in Chicago were planning to open a Sake brewery in Chicago. The President of the brewery would be Takamine and it would be named Takamine Shurui Jozo Kaisha. About half the financing had already been raised at that point. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, it seems plans for the brewery never came to fruition. I haven't yet been able to uncover additional information but will continue researching this intriguing matter.

Though many sources claim that the first legal Sake brewery in the U.S. was started in Hawaii, that is not the case and it was actually Berkeley, California. On June 10, 1901, the Japan Brewing Co. filed incorporation papers in San Francisco. The brewery was owned by H. Soejima, President of the Japanese Association of America, and it was located in West Berkeley, though they also had a business address at 209 Battery Street in San Francisco. The secretary and manager of the brewery was S.K. Mitsuse.

The West Berkeley location, at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and University, was the site of the former Hofburg Brewery, which had been open from 1888 to 1899.  The former beer brewery had spent two years prospecting before they finally constructed two wells, each about 65 feet deep, which led to  pure gravel water. As water is so important in brewing Sake, this was an excellent choice for the new Sake brewery.

The lease for the building was signed by Yin Sino for a term of ten years for $150 per month. They expected to employ about 100 men at the brewery. Not everyone was pleased with the idea of this new brewery. In July 1901, the Los Angeles Herald published a brief editorial, casting aspersions about the idea. The article stated that the Japanese company was "composed of little men" and that Sake "will hold its own. as a destructive agent, with brands of American whisky variously known as forty-rod, sure death, etc." It continues, noting that "one dose paralyzes and one bottle kills." Fortunately, this was one of the only such negative articles that I found.

By 1905, the brewery was producing about 90,000 gallons annually, and was exporting Sake to Hawaii, the Philippines and even Japan. It must have been doing something right if even people in Japan wanted to buy their Sake. There is some indication that the Japan Brewing Co. closed in 1906 but that might not have actually been the case. In January 1906, there was a brief news article that Soejima wanted to move the brewery to San Francisco to avoid having to pay a $200 license fee. Though there doesn't appear to be evidence of such a move, there is some evidence, in 1907, of a Japan Brewing Co. in Emeryville, which is close to Berkeley. It is possible the brewery moved to Emeryville, lasting for another year, but more investigation is needed.

Why did this brewery shut down? It may not have been financially successful and I'll note that in November 1907, a lawsuit was brought against the Japan Brewing Co. to foreclose on a $1000, mortgage, alleging the brewery had failed to pay for equipment they purchased which was used to brew Sake. That was a significant debt, and could easily have been sufficient to cause the brewery to close.

It is also interesting that the President and Manager of the Honolulu Brewing & Malting Co. would later claim that the reason the Japan Brewing Co. closed was due to their cooperage, the wood they used to construct their barrels. The brewery used American white oak rather than the traditional Japanese cedar, and as the choice of wood affects the flavor of the Sake, this rationale may have some validity.

There is evidence of the existence of at least a couple other Sake breweries in California around this time. In 1903, Kinzo Yasuhara came to California and two years later opened a Sake brewery on Jackson Street in Los Angeles, which appears to have closed around 1917. There was also a Sake brewery in Watsonville, the Tamasaki & Murata Sake Brewery (during 1907), and another in San Jose in 1916, the Nippon Sake Company which was located at the corner of Jackson and Seventh Streets .By the mid-1910s, there was also the Kawaguchi & Ida Sake Brewery (or alternatively known as the Iida Sake Brewery), located at 665 North 5th Street in San Jose and the K. Hayashi Sake Brewery (1916) also in San Jose.  I haven't yet been able to find much information about these breweries, and there might have been others too.

Let's return to Hawaii. Around January 1902, there were approximately 60,000 Japanese living in Hawaii. Sake imports had increased from the lows of a few years prior. From July 15, 1901 to January 15, 1902, Hawaii imported 27,660 barrels of Sake (about 221,000 gallons), each priced at $8.50, and 6984 bottles, each priced at $2.80.

With this increased consumption, there was also a temperance movement in Hawaii, mainly women and priests, who claimed Sake caused terrible harms. They alleged that Sake consumption led to increased gambling as men tried to win money to buy Sake. They also claimed that Sake consumption led to physical violence against wives and children. In addition, they stated: “There was an average of one death a day among the Japanese population in Honolulu due to drink alone.” I have not found any evidence to prove that extraordinary claim. The temperance movement even thought that "Those who drink sake were sapping their moral strength.”

In 1899, a sixteen-year old Japanese immigrant from Hiroshima, named Tajiro Sumida, came to Hawaii and would eventually play a major role in the Sake industry, and not just in Hawaii. Five years later, n 1904, Sumida opened a general store, and started selling imported Sake at some point. Eventually, Sumida decided that he could lower the price of Sake if he produced it himself so decided to open a Sake brewery, He knew that Sake brewing had succeeded in California, so thought it could work in Hawaii too.

In 1908, Sumida and T. Iwanaga of Kimura & Co., opened the Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewery Co.. in the Pauoa Valley. Their corporation had an initial capital of $30,000 with 1500 shares valued at $20 each. The corporate officers and share holders included: T. Sumida as President (450 shares), S. Kojima as Vice President (200 shares), T. Iawanaga as Secretary and Treasurer (450 shares); K. Odo as Auditor (200 shares) and Y. Yamasato (200 shares). The main brewery building was built from Hawaiian stone, and when the Sake was ready for sale, it would be placed into large, 810 gallon tubs.

The incorporation papers stated they would not only produce and sell Sake, but also shoyu, soy, and miso. In addition, they would manufacture ice and establish cold storage and refrigerated warehouses. Besides the Sake, the additional items would serve the brewery well during Prohibition and World War II. Sumida and Iwanaga stated that this would initially be an experimental Sake brewery as they weren't sure if they could succeed or not. They needed to evaluate the conditions, to assess whether they were conducive to Sake brewing or not.

At this time, about 500,000 cases of Sake were being imported into Hawaii, and their annual value, since 1900, ranged from $150,000 to $200,000. It's also important to know that there were only about 70,000 to 90,000 Japanese living in Hawaii at this time. In comparison, in 2013, the entire U.S. only imported about 516,000 cases of Japanese Sake. Sake imports to the U.S. evidently took a nose dive during the last one hundred years. Fortunately, the amount of Sake imports has been increasing in recent years, so Sake's popularity is at least on the rise.

Sumida wasn't the only one at this time who wanted to start brewing Sake in Hawaii. In 1908, C.G. Bartlett, the President and Manager of the Honolulu Brewing & Malting Co., also indicated interest in being able to produce Sake. This company was founded in 1898, as the Honolulu Brewing Co., and became the Honolulu Brewing and Malting Co. Ltd. in 1900. As Prohibition struck, it would close, and reopen in 1933 as the American Brewing Co. Ltd. and would remain in operation until 1962. The company started as a beer brewery and was most famous for their Primo Lager. They eventually ended up producing Sake though it is unclear when they actually started doing so.

Sumida and his brew masters, S. Fujikawa and T. Watanabe, encountered significant problems with the fermentation process due to the heat of Hawaii but they persevered and were still able to produce a brew in December 1908 which was named Takarajima, “treasure island.” In January 1909, a Hawaiian newspaper declared their “Sake Brewing is Great Success,” The article noted that "other Sake breweries in Hawaii have proved more or less failures” though those are not identified. It is possible these failed Sake breweries could have predated Sumida's operation.

The key to the success of Sumida was that they chose the right location for their brewery, a place with conditions conducive to Sake production. To handle the difficulties of brewing Sake in Hawaii's heat, Sumida eventually invented a refrigeration process to handle the problem and that innovation would later be adopted by breweries in Japan. In numerous other ways, Sumida was also a pioneer and innovator, being the first to use stainless steel tanks, the first to brew Sake year round, devising a method to use California rice, and also creating a yeast strain which reduced the foam created by fermentation, increasing the yield in a vat by 30%. These foamless yeasts are now used by a number of Japanese breweries. By 1914, Sumida was making about 300,000 gallons of Sake annually and by 1920, he was the most successful Japanese businessman in Hawaii.

Sumida didn't have a monopoly on Sake brewing for very long though. As previously mentioned, the Honolulu Brewing & Malting Co. started Sake brewing at some point, and maybe even as early as 1908, and there is evidence they were brewing Sakeat least by 1913. In January 1909, the Hilo Sake Brewery, owned by K. Koizumi and located at the intersection of Omao & Kaumana Roads, started and hoped to be brewing by February. It seems their plans may have been delayed as they didn't file Articles of Association for the Hilo Sake Brewery, Ltd. until November 1912. With a capital of $30,000, their corporate officers and share holders included T. Machida as President, (70 shares), T.R. Saiki as Vice President (75 shares), C. Shimamoto as Secretary &/Treasurer (75 shares), S. Kido as Auditor (75 shares), and H. Kawashima (5 shares).

In May, 1913, Hawaii Seishu Kwaisha, Ltd was established, with plans to brew 10,000 gallons of Sake by the end of its opening month. Their brewing was supervised by K. Otake, a graduate from the Sake brewing department of the famed Tokyo High Industrial School. Their starting capital was $40,000 and their corporate officers included K. Ono, as President, A. Hocking as Vice President, D. Natani as Auditor, Y. Kimura as Secretary, and C.G. Bartlett as Treasurer. This Bartlett may have been the same individual who was also the President of the Honolulu Brewing & Malting Co. In 1915, this brewery was doing well enough that they expanded the size of their premises.

In 1916, it was estimated that the Sake brewing industry In Hawaii was generating about $200,000 in revenue. As of September 1917, there were four Sake breweries in Hawaii, employing over 300 men, and selling their Sake to at least 13 Japanese liquor dealers. It was also estimated that there was about $500,000 invested in the local Sake industry. It is also interesting to note that these breweries, to avoid cooperage problems, were importing cedar logs from Japan to craft their Sake tubs.

Let's discuss rice for a short bit. It is believed that rice first came to America, to Virginia, sometime before 1647. It later spread to South Carolina and then Georgia, and remained largely in the South. At the start of the 20th century, people in Sacramento Valley, California, thought that they too could grow good rice, and they started experimentation, with assistance from the government. Many different types of rice were imported from Asia and elsewhere, trying to determine which might be most suitable for Sacramento Valley. In 1909, Tokuya Yasuoka, a Japanese immigrant, was the first to successfully harvest 25-acres of rice in the valley.

Other farmers then followed his path so that by 1920, there were approximately 162,000 acres of rice grown in California. The rice variety that proved best to the area was Wataribune, and its descendant, known as Pearl Rice, still grows in the region. Wataribune could be used as an eating rice, and that was probably its main function in California, though it also could be used to make excellent Sake.

In August 1917, a survey was done of four Sake breweries in Hawaii, noting that they all used only imported Japanese rice, though there was an earlier newspaper account, from 1909, indicating the Honolulu Japanese Sake Brewing Co. used both Japanese and Hawaiian rice. They might have discontinued the use of Hawaiian rice by 1917. The survey also indicated the amount of rice each brewery used per month: Hilo Sake Brewery, 36,168 pounds; Hawaii Seishu Kwaisha, 100,000 pounds; Honolulu Brewing & Malting Co., 42,000 pounds; and Honolulu Sake Brewery, 150,000 pounds. That totals about 164 tons.

When rice is polished to make Sake, the remaining powder that is left behind is referred to as nuka. All of those tons generated a significant amount of nuka, which the breweries sold, for about one cent per pound, for use in stock or in chicken feed. It is also sometimes used to make soup or pickles.

And now, back to Sake. Besides the issues of duty, imported Sake faced another significant legal obstacle in 1908, which may have contributed to a desire for establishing breweries in the U.S. Back in June 1906, the Pure Food & Drugs Act was passed, banning adulterated foods and drinks from interstate commerce. Two years later, in April 1908, the federal government stated they were going to ban the importation of any Sake that contained salicylic acid, a common preservative used in Sake. Though salicylic acid can be toxic in high doses, it naturally occurs in a number of foods, such as artichoke, broccoli and cauliflower.

The government ordered all Sake imports to be detained so that they could be analyzed by chemists for salicylic acid. Initially, several hundred barrels of Sake in San Francisco were examined and it was determined they were 90% adulterated. All further Sake imports were essentially prohibited as nearly all of them contained salicylic acid. Though Japanese representatives protested this ban, the Sake brewing industry in Japan had already been addressing the issue of the use of salicylic acid as a preservative. 

The Sake industry had long been concerned with trying to prevent Sake from spoiling, During the 1880s, they started to follow the advice of Oscar Korschelt, a German who taught at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Tokyo, and began using salicylic acid as a preservative. Eventually, the use of salicylic acid began to be questioned, with worries that it could have a deleterious effect on people. In September 1903, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued the “Regulations on Food and Drink Preservatives” which prohibited the use of salicylic acid in Sake, though the actual ban would not take place until October 1911.

As can be seen, the Japanese were already on top of this issue when the U.S. instituted their own ban on imported Sake containing salicylic acid. The breweries were already struggling to find a different way to preserve Sake. Gekkeikan, which has been producing Sake for almost 380 years, might have been the first brewery to create a preservative-free Sake which would not spoil. They also started labeling their Sake, “Noninjurious to Health; No Preservatives,” and that claim was tested and certified by the Osaka Institute of Hygienic Sciences.

Prior to Prohibition, there might have been 9-20 Sake breweries in the U.S., though little is known about most of them, many which existed for only a short time. California and Hawaii seemed to be the primary location for these breweries.

In March 1916, Kenkichi Ono, the President of the Hawaii Seishu Kaisha brewery, was arrested for a violation of the Mann Act, the White Slave Traffic Act. Mr. Ono, who was married, was accused of transporting a young Japanese girl from Honolulu to Hilo for illegal purposes. The case seemed to drag on for at least a few years, though I was unable to determine the final resolution.

In March 1919, Hawaiian authorities raided a facility which was an illegal sake brewery. They found a bath tub with fermenting Sake as well as two, large wooden vats, each containing at least 500 gallons of Sake. The Sake was destroyed and two Japanese men were arrested, while they sought a third man.

Prohibition stopped all Sake brewing, which also contributed to some breweries having to close operations. The Honolulu Sake Brewery was one of the few able to survive as they changed gears and produced ice during Prohibition. It almost seems prescient that their original articles of incorporation noted that they would manufacture ice. In March 1921, there was a raid, including two federal Prohibition agents, near Everett, Washington, on an illegal Sake making operation.  Three Sake making devices were found, a quantity of Sake was seized and seven Japanese men were arrested.

Once Prohibition ended in December 1933, the Honolulu Sake Brewery returned to brewing, creating a few different labels, including Takara Masamune. Other new Sake breweries then arose too in Hawaii. For example, there was the Hilo Brewing Co. (from 1937-1942) and the Maui Sake Brewery Co., Ltd. (from 1935-1942). The Nichebei Shuzo Kabushiki Kaisha, Ltd. (from 1935-1942) may have been succeeded after World War II by a name change, to the Kokusui Co., Ltd. Brewery (from 1948-1957). The Kanda Shokai, Inc  (1934-1935) was succeeded by the Fuji Sake Brewing Co. which lasted from 1935-1942 and then restarted after the war from 1948 to 1965.

After Prohibition ended, more breweries opened up California as well. There was the American Sake Brewery Co. (from 1934-1935), located in Los Angeles, which brewed 5146 gallons of Sake as of June 1934. It was succeeded by the Asahi Wine Mfg. Co. (1935). Also in Los Angeles, there was the Central Sake Brewing Co. (from 1948-1950), the California Sake Brewery (from 1947-1949) and the Los Angeles Sake Brewing Co. (from 1947-1949). In San Jose, there was the San Jose Sake Brewery (from 1934-1935, and located at 291 Jackson Street, at the corner of North 7th Street) which was succeeded by the Nippon Sake Brewery (from 1935-1940).

San Francisco saw its share of Sake breweries too, including the Aiji Matsuo Brewery (from 1934-1937) which seems to have been succeeded by Matsuo Sake Brewing Co. (from 1937-1941). There was also the Katsuzo Shioji (1934), which was seemingly succeeded by the San Francisco Sake Brewery (from 1934-1935), and the California Sake Brewery Co. (from 1934-1935), which was succeeded by the Nippon Sake Brewery Co., Inc. (from 1935-1937).

There was even a brewery in Denver, the B & Y Sales Co. (from 1945-1947), which was located on 2845 Walnut Street. It was succeeded by the Colorado Sake Brewery (from 1947-1949). B & Y Sales Co. sold a brand named Hakumine, which was described as "refined Colorado sake" and had an alcohol content of 14%.

In Hawaii, when World War II began, the existing breweries were producing annually almost 2 million gallons of Sake. However, a law was issued prohibiting rice from being used for anything except food, meaning it was now illegal to brew Sake. As with Prohibition, the Honolulu Sake Brewery found a way to survive, this time by producing shoyu, soy sauce, under the label Marumasa Soy and later Diamond Shoyu.

During World War II, the U.S. forced thousands of Japanese into internment camps, wrongfully believing they posed a threat to the country. The incarcerated Japanese were not permitted to bring Sake into the camps, so some smuggled Sake inside while others created illegal stills to produce it. Left over rice was used to home brew Sake, and it had to be carefully hidden from the guards.

At the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming, during the Spring of 1945, camp guards arrested internee Yasutaro Oku. They discussed that he possessed five barrels of mash, each equal to about 15-20 gallons, five gallons of Sake, and brewing equipment . He subsequently plead guilty to the offense of brewing Sake and was sentenced to 15 days in jail, though a judicial commission of fellow internees suspended that sentence. If that was the worst punishment internees faced for illegally brewing Sake, then it's easy to see why a number of them decided to risk it.

Once the war ended, and the prohibition was lifted, the Honolulu Sake Brewery began making Sake once again, continuing to operate their brewery until 1989, though it became a subsidiary of Takara Sake in 1986. Sadly, when the brewery closed, it was destroyed to make way for townhouses. There seemed to have been a large void, except for the Honolulu Sale Brewery, in U.S. Sake breweries, after 1950, for over twenty years. It wouldn't be until the 1970s that the next crop of new Sake breweries started opening, primarily in California but that is a tale for another time.

(UPDATE: As of August 5, 2015, I've revised/updated this article.)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rant: Getting Carded

If you shop at a wine or liquor store, or you dine at a restaurant and order some alcohol, there is the possibility that you will be carded, asked to provide identification to prove your age. You must be at least 21 years old to obtain alcohol in any state in the U.S. If you lack identification, you will be refused service, no matter how old you may be. If they wanted, restaurants and wine/liquor shops could card every single customer. If they fail to card someone who is a minor, they could face sanctions and even potentially lose their liquor license.

When I card customers at the wine shop, the vast ,majority of customers provide me identification without issue. They understand that it is part of my job and there is absolutely no reason to take offense. There is a tiny portion of people though who do not have any identification on them, and who I must refuse service. It is a portion of these individuals who get upset about being carded, who complain, alleging that they are of the proper age. They might be of legal age, but without identification, there is nothing I can do. I must not sell them beer or wine.

What bothers me is why don't these people carry identification?

I don't think all of these people are underage. I'm sure some are, and bluster and storm hoping I will sell them alcohol anyways. However, I bet some of them are of age, yet simply didn't carry a ;license, passport or other i.d. with them. These same people carry money and/or credit cards, so why don't they carry i.d. too? It seems to make no sense, especially if you are going somewhere where you potentially could be asked for your i.d.

I know that I carry i.d. with me all the time, and it seems most people I know do the same. I.D. can be important for numerous reasons. Heaven forbid you get into a terrible accident and are unconscious. If you have an i.d., your relatives can more easily be contacted by the authorities. Without that i.d., the authorities could have a difficult time trying to identify you. If you are driving, you could get into trouble if the police stop you for some traffic offense.

A license isn't a cumbersome item to carry. There really is very little reason, if any, not to carry it with you. It could save you much grief, in numerous ways.  Don't complain if you are asked for your i.d. if you don't have it. The onus is on you to carry it.