Oregon Craft Beverage

Wine Down Eugene

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Wine Down Eugene June 18-24

Saké (pronounced sah-kay not sah-kee) originated in Japan and is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice.  Commonly called rice wine, saké is actually produced using a brewing process that is some what similar to brewing beer.

sake all 4

SakéOne, a saké brewing facility and importer located in the northwestern corner of the Willamette Valley, is one of only six brewing facilities in the U.S. and the only one in Oregon.  How SakéOne’s facilities ended up in Oregon has everything to do with the original owner wisely believing that the best quality water for saké was in the Northwest.  With water being one of the most important ingredients in the production of saké, the facility was built in the ideal location of Forest Grove, Oregon, situated along an eastern slope of Oregon’s Coastal Range. 

SakéOne, a name that was chosen with the goal of becoming the number one saké company in the U.S., has won more awards than any other saké company in the United States.  They not only produce high quality, incredibly delicious craft saké (some I recently sampled during an Oregon Craft Beverage event that took place inside the brewery at SakéOne), but they import some of the finest and highest quality sakés from Japan.

sake outdoor office

I was a lucky wine gal and was invited to join in on a live virtual tasting of four absolutely divine sakés from Japan that are a part of the impressive imports portfolio at SakéOne. Broadcast on YourBrandLive.com and presented by creative marketing gurus Charles Communication Associates, this very special saké tasting was hosted by SakéOne President and CEO Steve Vuylsteke and Marcus V. Pakiser Regional Director of saké for Young’s Market Company, based in Portland –  two of the foremost knowledgeable people in the U.S. saké business. Both Steve and Markus enthusiastically guided us through the tasting of the distinctively delicious imported saké.

In Japan, saké hit its peak in the ’70s and has slowly been declining since.  They now make about one third the amount they produced 40 or so years ago; therefore, as craft saké consumption increases in America, imported high quality saké is on the rise.

sake in ice

Depending on where the brewing is taking place in Japan, north to south, the temperatures are very different with the north being much colder, of course, than the south.  The varying temperatures play a major role in the characteristics of the saké: the brewing process takes longer in the north at the lower temperatures while fermentation in the south is much quicker and more vigorous from the higher temperatures.

First and foremost, do not warm up saké!  Pour it over ice in a stemless wine glass, and take a good look at the Saké Tasting Wheel that SakéOne created – a priceless tool to help identify aromas, flavors and characters of saké.

sake murai

For our tasting of the four imported saké [Murai Family Tanrei Junmai saké ($20), Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry saké ($27), Hakutsuru Superior Junmai Ginjo saké ($16) and Yoshinogawa Junmai Ginjo Winter Warrior saké ($27)], we started with the lighter, crisper styles from the north and worked our way south to the richer, expressive and more intensely flavored sakés.

Beginning with the Murai Family Tanrei Junmai, considered a very classic style saké, I found totally subtle aromas, nearly undetectable, and the flavors were crisp, dry and clean.  This is a saké that would pair really nicely with sushi. To be a Junmai, ingredients must be just water, rice, yeast and Koji

sake ypshi pouringThe Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry saké, although considered dry like the Tanrei Junmai, the Kimoto aromas and flavors were considerably more intense and complex, and even a bit earthy and smoky, with a truly lovely mouthfeel.  This would be incredible with Oregon Dungeness crab. Amazingly, the Kasumi Tsuru brewery was founded in 1725 and is still owned by the same family!

The Hakutsuru Superior Junmai Ginjo saké had really beautiful and alluring floral aromas, but what I loved the most was the silky, luxurious mouthfeel.  It was so nicely balanced, smooth and easy to drink – pure enjoyment.  Is it the Miyamizu, also known as Heavenly Water, that gives it such a heavenly texture and balance?  Perhaps.  Hakutsuru is the largest saké brewing company in the world. 

sake yoshi label

The Yoshinogawa Junmai Ginjo Winter Warrior saké was a collaboration between the master brewers of Yoshinogawa in Niigata Prefecture, and the SakéOne team in Oregon, and this one was my absolute favorite.  Floral and herbaceous qualities on the nose filled the palate with lush and juicy tropical fruits, nuts and hints of tangerine and ginger.  The finish was super long and beckoned for another sip, I didn’t want to put my glass down.

One of the most interesting facts about saké?  Once it’s opened, many stay fresh and retain all of their important characteristics and quality for sometimes up to nine months! Restaurants: Serve saké by the glass, there is absolutely no reason not to, and please don’t serve it warm!  Serve it chilled, maybe in a Riedel stemless glass – I used these for the tasting and they were truly perfect.

We were also told that saké pairs better with cheese than wine – time for a saké vs wine cheese war.

Visit SakéOne’s Kura (tasting room) from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, seven days a week, at 820 Elm Street, Forest Grove, Oregon 97116

Wine Down Eugene

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Wine Down Eugene March 26 – April 1

This past weekend, Eugene Daily News writer and photographer, Sandy Harris, and I took a road trip up to the northwestern reaches of the state to attend an event that took place in the picture-perfect bedroom community of Forest Grove – located in the heart of Willamette Valley wine country.

photocb brochure
Oregon Craft Beverage Event at SakéOne

Unlike most of the wine-centric events I attend around the state of Oregon, this event focused on Oregon craft beverages.  Hosted by SakéOne, producers of premium Oregon craft saké and importers of high quality saké from Japan, vendors that participated in sharing their craft beverages alongside Saké One for this media event included a cidery, a brewery, a distillery, a meadery, and a winery that’s home to the oldest Pinot Noir vines in the Willamette Valley.

As a true lover of saké, especially when paired with all sorts of sushi dishes, I was super excited to visit the home of SakéOne, producers of some of the most delicious and unique sakés I’ve ever had. With a goal that reflects their name (to be the number one saké company in America), SakéOne chose Oregon as its home base because of the water quality – and water quality in saké is super important since it makes up 80 percent of the beverage.  Aside from aiming towards being the number one saké company in the country, SakéOne thinks educating Americans on how saké should be served is equally important.  Folks, contrary to popular belief, saké should not be served warm.  It should be served chilled, a lot like white wine, and served in a wine glass. The three sakés that we sampled were SakéMoto (a smooth, elegant Junmai saké imported from Japan), Momokawa Organic Nigori (a creamy, gingery, coconut-y tropical delight) and the outstanding, and my favorite, g fifty – a complex beauty with alluring aromas like none other.

The absolutely delicious g fifty by SakéOne
The absolutely delicious g fifty by SakéOne

A visit to the table that housed Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider brought on a few sips of the most unique hard ciders I’ve ever tasted.  First we sampled their most “cider-like” cider, the Revelation Newtown Pippin, which was naturally fermented and super dry (the way ciders were meant to be).  Then we tried the super unique, limited release Lorrie’s Gold.  Unlike any cider I’ve ever had, Lorrie’s Gold had zero carbonation and offered a complex, tannic structure.  My favorite of the three was the Hellelujah Hopricot, a Belgian wit-style cider made using heirloom American apples, coriander, orange peel and paradise grains.  Being fermented with French saison and Belgian ale yeasts gave it a craft beer quality that I found really pleasing, adding a whole load of depth and character.  Then apricot juice is added and it’s finished off with  whole-leaf Cascade and Amarillo Hops, creating a cider with pronounced, palate pleasing hoppiness.  Yes, he’s a reverend (ordained, not practicing), yes, his name is Nat, and yes, he is the master cider maker.

Reverend Nat's Hard Ciders were incredibly unique
Reverend Nat’s Hard Ciders were incredibly unique

Next to Reverend Nat’s was Kookoolan World Meadery, where we were treated to some samples of Kombucha, Elegance Mead and Vin de Noix (Green Walnut Wine).  We started with a sip of the Kombucha, which I was reluctant about at first.  I’ve had a taste of Kombucha “soda” before and found it awfully sugary and vinegary, and frankly, not my style of drink, at all.  My hesitation dissipated at first sniff of the beautiful aromatics of the Kookoolan Kombucha.  Apparently, natural Kombucha, like Kookoolan’s, has 1.5 percent alcohol, so it can’t be sold as a soda.  The Kombuchas that are sold as sodas go through a process to get rid of the alcohol which forces adding sugar and selected essences, ending with that too sugary, too vinegary product that I didn’t like.  Kookoolan’s Kombucha is divine, and it’s got just four ingredients: Black Tea, sugar, culture and water.  The super elegant mead with the super appropriate name, “Elegance,” is also divine, and absolutely stands apart from other meads I’ve tried in the past; in fact, it’s one of the best I’ve ever tried.  I guess I could sum up the products we sampled from Kookoolan as elegant and divine, because their unique Green Walnut Wine also fit into those two categories, just perfectly.

Natural Kombucha by Kookoolan
Natural Kombucha by Kookoolan

With only enough room in the Wine Down Eugene to feature three of the six extremely unique craft beverage companies, please follow me over to my award-winning website, WineJulia.com, where each of the other companies will be featured in separate articles over the next few weeks; including, a piece on the savory and delicious bites that were provided by one of Forest Grove’s top restaurants, 1910 Main – An American Bistro.  The other three vendors were David Hill Winery, Vertigo Brewing and Big Bottom Whiskey.

Sandy, being the fantastically talented photographer that she is, put together a photo essay using her beautiful photos taken during our road trip to Forest Grove for the Oregon Craft Beverage Event. Check it out here.