*A guest blog from UG Sake Guy, Tom Weston!
Having worked at The Urban Grape for two years now, I have learned that all of our clients have one universal desire: fresh, local products whenever possible. For craft beer and spirits we have always been ready and happy to oblige. We also offer locally made wines and many with Boston and New England connections! In this way, we are able to offer great options for every palate with a few exceptions: by necessity, location based wine (Bordeaux, Rioja, Champagne, etc) and sake.
There is no law (written or otherwise) stating that sake must come from any particular place. Japan has about 1250 different breweries (kura) across forty-seven prefectures, all of which brew some sake. In the US, there are between ten and twenty kura, some dating back as far as 1908 but most built within the last thirty years. The oldest surviving US kura is in Hawaii and the next few opened in southern California and Oregon. Very recently, sake kura have begun to show up outside of the Pacific Rim in places like Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina, Norway, Brazil, Canada, Australia, and now finally we have one on the verge of opening up in New England!
Dan Ford has established Blue Current Brewery in Kittery, Maine, just a short drive up the coast from Boston. Dan holds both the Certified Sake Professional and Advanced Sake Professional certificates from the Sake Education Council based in Tokyo and trained extensively in the craft in both Japan and the US.
On top of all the fancy titles, Dan is a great guy with a great vision. I was lucky enough to visit the brewery with a couple friends and chat with Dan about this awesome project.
We pulled up to a fairly unassuming building in Maine at about 10 am. As we pulled up the driveway, a glint of a giant, custom designed, stainless steel tank just inside the open bay door confirmed we had arrived at New England’s first sake brewery. From the outside, the space is a former auto shop but inside, we stumbled upon a state of the art sake brewery and its toji (master brewer): Dan Ford. As he welcomed us, my nerd factor could hardly contain itself. Inside we found a pristine, purpose-built space (built and designed almost entirely by Dan and a few friends).
The majority of the equipment was all in place: cooling tanks, blending tanks, massive conditioning tanks, rice washers, a massive steaming kettle with a cleverly designed movable exhaust hood, a custom designed yabuta press (for filtering the rice solids from the finished product), even the beginning of a tasting station linked directly to the tanks!
Then Dan let us see the very heart of the brewery: the kojimura! The kojimuru is a special temperature and humidity controlled room where koji (rice with kojikin mold, apergillus oryzae, grown on it) is crafted. The koji is what converts starch within the rice to sugar and makes sake brewing possible. Dan opted for the traditional cedar room and it’s important to note that this is a “clean room” and we were only permitted because the brewing process has not begun.
A few things were noticeably absent; there was no packaging equipment and most apparent: no rice. Dan has sourced the equipment needed and secured what most industry people feel is the highest quality rice available but needs our help to purchase and ship it all. He has his licensing, space, and plan all ready to go and can begin brewing as soon as this last bit of equipment is installed. The brewery is running a kick-starter campaign to close the remaining financial gap and start production ASAP. You can learn more about Blue Current Brewery’s Kickstarter Campaign, as well as donate, by following the link.
As far as his product, Dan and I were able to “talk shop” for a bit and I have every confidence that the sake he is developing will be world-class; perhaps even a game changer. Sake is gluten free, sulfite free, tannin free, soy free, lower acid than wine, and vegan. In other words, it’s a beverage for the masses! On top of that, the facility is green with near zero waste. He gave me insight into his recipe (without divulging all the secrets) and his experience brewing and studying in Japan and stateside. What I heard ensures that this is an incredible project, worthy of public attention and support.
To wrap up our visit, we ran a brief photo shoot at the brewery, showcasing the space and its fantastic visionary. Check out some of the pictures below and please, visit their web page and kick-starter. This will be a product that we can’t afford to miss!
Connect with Blue Current Brewery: