I am not a huge saké drinker and I must confess I knew nothing about the drink before visiting the Saké One kura (brewery) located in Oregon wine country just about 25 miles from Portland. There are about 6-10 sake breweries in the country, but Sake One is the only American owned operation, and is the only brewery outside California.
The first thing that struck me was the picture above, found on an exterior wall of the kura. Looking at this picture reminded me that sake brewing has been around for ages - and there is so much culture and tradition tied to it. Fascinating!
We went on a tour and tasting at the brewery. The free tour is very informative and explains the key ingredients needed, the brewing process, and the ancient brewing methods and Japanese rituals. Sake is about 80% water, and the quality of water is very important. Oregon was specifically chosen by the original owner as he believed the water quality there to be ideal. It's a great tour and the operations are impressive. We saw the process the rice has to go through, and how just 3 other ingredients are added. The staff is great, and was really helpful with answering all our questions, while keeping us moving in our sake booties :)
The tasting afterwards was wonderful - you get a choice of 6 tastings for $5. Kris and I did a tasting each, and got to try 12 different sakes. Sake One does not do any warm sakes, and we learned that higher quality sakes are typically chilled. The other ones have to be warmed up to be more palatable! I had no idea there were so many kinds of sake!
I cant say we became sake lovers, but we picked up a couple of bottles for fun to try with friends. There were also some infused sakes and we ended up taking the coconut-lemongrass bottle, which we enjoyed later with family.
More than anything, I now have an understanding of sake that will help me make more informed choices when drinking it, and an appreciation for the traditions and culture that surrounds the brewing process. It also helps that I can now throw in words like junmai, daiginjo and honjozo to impress my friends ;)
Sake One is a fun side trip from Portland, a nice change from winery hopping in the area, and an experience you should not skip.