Nothing goes better with Saké than your very own Texan Whooping Crane in adorable plush form!

We’ve been so busy this winter turning our rice into deliciousness that its been hard to keep up with our blog. But we do have a few cool updates, and had a break to finally tell y’all about it!

1) We are now available by Distributors!

It really is nice not to have to drive to our accounts, although we will miss the opportunity to visit with so many unique and interesting wine geeks, chefs, and operators, we will enjoy having more time again so we can brew more delicious sake.

You can find us via:

2) We are doing some nice things with aging sake and hope to have our Tumbleweed style available in retail soon… so make sure you join our mail list (at the top of this page) if you haven’t done so already.

3) As we grow, very soon there will be investment opportunities, contact us through our about page if you’d like to introduce yourself or someone you may believe would be interest to learn more.

Until next time,

Kanpai!

Ramsey Park Rounders at our Anniversary Party


How are we celebrating you might ask?  Well below is a list of what you can expect on our special day.

  • Special Release of B.AT.S. (Barrel-Aged Tumbleweed Saké). The first American-Oaked Saké ever released!
  • Raising Money to Protect Texas Birds, Wildlife, and Wetlands with the Aransas Project (TAP)
  • 3rd Annual Saké Pottery Competition, beautiful works form local potters all benefiting TAP
  • Innovative Food Pairings from Oyama – Mexican & Japanese Fusion Truck
  • Family Friendly event – no smoking, no outside alcohol, and we will have a bouncy fort and fun with clay for the kiddos
  • Silent Auction and Raffle from our partner restaurants and great local artists, see list below
  • With YOU! It is FREE to attend and a healthy portion of all drink and food proceeds go to TAP
  • With Live Music, including the Bellman, Ramsey Park Rounders and Paul Klemperer & Friends   

 September 28th, 2013 1:00p to 6:00p at our Saké Kura (that’s a Saké Brewery y’all).
Event address: 5501 N Lamar Blvd, Austin TX 78751 (We are in the back!)

Saké by the glass available.  By the bottle, tastings of Special Releases, and Tumbleweed and Double Nigori saké available at our Tasting Room during the event.

Schedule of Events

  • 1:00p – 1:30p Opening Remarks
  • 1:45p – 2:15p Toji Presentation about Saké in Texas
  • 2:15p – 3:00p Live Music The Bellman
  • 3:30p – 3:45p Presentation Ron Outen, Regional Director of TAP
  • 4:00p – 4:45p Live Music The Ramsey Park Rounders
  • 5:15p – Pottery Competition Voting Ends
  • 5:00p – 6:00p Live Music Paul Klemperer & Friends   
  • 6:00p – Raffle & Silent Auction Close

 

Pottery Competition Contributing Artists

* Vote * here for your favorite

  • Gary Hanson of Austin, Texas
  • Deb Dixon of Austin, Texas
  • Dave Gutman of Austin, Texas
  • Betty Shamel of Rockport, Texas

Silent Auction & Raffle Fund-Raiser Contributors

Live Music – Our Bands

 

Front label

That’s right, Barrel Aged Tumbelweed Sake that is. Adopting our city’s cuddly little flying mammals as this special release’s namesake, we’ve taken a 10% alcohol version of Tumbleweed Sake and put it in the barrels over the summer for your enjoyment.

Barrel Aged Tumbleweed Sake

Barrel Aged Tumbleweed Sake

Tumbleweed, our karakuchi (super-dry) sake, is one of the most unique sakes in the world to begin with: it undergoes a 6 months active fermentation (typically the longest fermentation for sake is 3-4 months). After that, we chill and store it for another 6 months before releasing it to the public. The end result is a well-balanced sake, with the complexity and acidity more reminiscent of a dry pinot gris than a sake. A few wine sommeliers’ who’ve tasted this on even told us they wouldn’t have known it was made from rice unless we told them.

Since it is so wine-like in flavor, we’ve sourced local (Mississippi) new American-Oak barrels for our barrel aging program. Here the sake mellows for a few more months before being bottled. This is our first release of B.A.T.S. it is also the first sake in the world ever aged in American Oak.  And it will be available exclusively through our Sake Kura tasting room or Online (contact us for details if you can’t find it).  Its first public release will be September 28th, 2013 at our 2nd Year Anniversary & Charity Fundraiser during Sake Week .  Join us!

Vote on this year's curated selections!

Our curated selection for 2013 has been made, and all voting begins now! Voting closes midnight Friday, September 27th. Results will be announced during our 2nd Anniversary Party where you can bid on all these pieces. All proceeds of the silent Auction of these sets will benefit The Aransas Project and their efforts to protect our diminishing Texas wetlands.

Click to vote Now

GoTexan

We received a great question via e-mail last week and I thought it would make a great blog post (that and had the wrong e-mail to send our reply back to):

When I buy Sho Chiku Bai sake at (a local shop) it costs about $13 for an 1800ml bottle. I would love to buy local, but I can not understand the price difference.

After all why is some sake cheap and other sake expensive? There are many factors and at the end of the day it typically boils down to quality over quantity.

However, that too is not always the case (there is always marketing after all), the below reply is a very long answer to that short question.

There are a lot of cost factors that go into sake, from subsidies, taxation and regulation, distribution, and marketing, however typically the cost in sake comes from:

  1. Supply costs: Rice, Bottle, Labels, etc.
  2. Production Costs (typically the largest factor).

You’ve noticed I excluded marketing here, because in sake, for better or worse, almost all American producers and Japanese imports invest very very little in marketing, and so you aren’t paying for that cost as a consumer.  There is one notable exception in the US of a brand that became very popular, has large celebrity endorsements, and even advertises on TV.

1. Supplies

Rice

Water is actually the biggest ingredient in sake, but rice is (or should be) the largest ingredient cost in a good sake. Supporting local, or Texas Sake in this case, means that you are encouraging rice farmers in the Texas rice belt to grow a sustainable, organic crop, that not only affords health and protection for the farmers and the families living amongst the fields, but for the vast and diverse ecosystem which makes our Gulf coast truly unique. The Gulf and its environment are dependent on the continuation of non-chemical intensive agriculture that ensures our rivers continue to flow to the coast.

Cheap rice, on the other hand exerts a very expensive toll on our health and environment, you just don’t get charged for it at the super market.  Sho Chikau Bai, uses conventional, pesticide-and-fertilizer heavy rice that stresses an already weakened eco-system. California has made its ricer farmers more ecologically-sensitive, but this will increases their cost of product. The cheapest rice in the USA is now grown in Arkansas without environmental regulations and is one of the largest contributors to the Gulf-dead-zone.

The organic rice we purchase is about 2x the price of conventional.  Speaking with Japanese brewers, we spend the same amount of money on our rice, as they do for their highly polished, tailored grown rice.  When things are grown well, they just cost more.

So not only does the rice cost more when you use the good stuff, but the most economic sakes, do not use sake rice, nor do they even use whole rice, or 100% rice in their sake. Rice is actually an expensive grain to brew from (just compare the cheapest 1.8L sake on the market to the cheapest 5L box wines or a case of natty lights), and to help with the cost of rice, other additives are blended in to ‘extend’ the rice at the economic-sake end of the market.

Bottles & More

Although the cost of rice will be the same for us whether we buy 1 ton or 1000 tons because we work so closely with the producers, for our other supplies this is not the case. When you think of it, when you buy a bottle of sake, you are not only buying the product inside, but you are paying for the bottle, label, and box that it came in. Here industries of scale do come into play, and a large manufacture like Sho Chiku Bai is able to buy these commodities at bulk discounts over a smaller player.   This is the same in the beer, wine, or spirits world, and typically is not a great factor in cost. Yet, here too sustainability can come into play, printing ecologically-friendly labels, using boxes with high recycled content, and heavier bottles designed for reuse, will cost more than damning everything else to produce the cheapest possible, bottle, box, and label.

2. Production: The Real Cost

Production is likely to be the largest determinant of cost in sake and this will really set one sake apart from another.  To illustrate the point with food, you can make a $1 hamburger in a high school cafeteria or a $15 actual real-beef burger in a steakhouse.

In production you determine the quality you start with: whether you use angus-beef or a beef-soy-cardboard-blend for your hamburger applies to sake too (and all alcohol for that matter)!

We use only 100%, quality, local, whole, organic Japanese-sake rice. We can’t tell you what other people put in their drinks, and typically they won’t either. They don’t have to tell you the ingredients in alcoholic beverages; and unless they volunteer it there really is no way to know.  But like our gracious, high-school cafeterias, they usually pass the costs savings onto the customer or the football program.

Next is fermentation time.  The quicker you ferment, the quicker you can turn-over your tanks and produce more sake and ship it out the door with the same amount of space and tanks (cheaper). The problem is to produce sake quickly, you have to ferment it a high temperature which will create poorer-tasting sake (bad). Fortunately when you don’t disclose ingredients you can add chalks, acids, charcoal, sugars, and other additives to alternatively strip and add flavors to match the profile you are going for (great for bad sake).  Don’t worry though, in most cases they’ll pass on these savings to you the customer, too!

It is important to note that traditionally, Sake is a-two-stage fermentation. To create sake in the classical style, the first stage fermentation, called moto, is done in either Yamahai or Kimoto style and typically takes 3-5 weeks to complete (not cheap). Our sake is exclusively done in these styles, and we are currently the only American producer making sake in these classical styles.  To reduce time for fermentation you can pitch yeast, and add synthetic chemicals to allow for a quicker initial fermentation of about 7-14 days (cheap). If that is still too long, you can pour an overabundance of both yeast and chemicals to cut off those days and just start from the second fermentation period (cheaper).  Here too, fortunately for the customer though, these great “savings” get passed on to reduce price.

The secondary fermentation can be completed as quickly as 10-12 days. Our average secondary fermentation is 2 months, with our Tumbleweed taking up to 4 months of fermentation due to lower conditioning temperatures and its unique style.

Next, is pressing: separating the sake from the mash.  How you press sake will determine your yield, if you press with no pressure (using gravity to allow sake to drip out of the mash) you receive a very delicate, almost water like sake (expensive). If you press your sake to high heavens, you get great extractions, and a mash as dry as paper where you can increase yields by 20-70% over gravity and fune methods this way. However the off flavors typically trapped in the mash are now in the sake and then you either leave them there or have to strip them and add back flavor.  We use a traditional method similar to the fune which is a historic compromise between the dripping-and-high pressure extractions that creates a full-flavored sake without the off flavors.

The next part of the process is dilution. Most sake is brewed to 18% alcohol and diluted to 15-16% with a water addition at this point, at the high-end this is done to lighten the sake and create a more delicate style, but who are we kidding, it is great for margins too!  Cutting 1 gallon of 18% alcohol sake to 1 gallon of 15% alcohol sake just produced 20% more sake for free! But, don’t worry in most cases the watered-down-sake cost savings go to the customer too.

At Texas Sake, we like full-flavored sake, and we don’t like it too high-alcohol as we believe it conflicts with food pairings, so we brew delicately to create a nice dry sake that ends its fermentation at 16% alcohol, so we don’t need to cut it with water. This is great for flavor, bad for margins, and we have to pass some of this cost on.

Lastly you have aging. Typically you want to rest sake anywhere from 1-6 months after fermentation before selling it. We average 3 months on most our releases however the longer a product sits in a tank or a warehouse the more you have to pay rent, utilities, and other cost associated with that storage. So for the cheaper sake offers out there they dispense with the formalities of having it “just sit there for months” and ship it out as quick as they can.

At this point we still haven’t even touched on things like automation, batch-size, people, and employee-wages and benefits, and other fun things that go into the cost of sake, but I hope you are starting to understand where cost comes into play with sake, and other alcohol products.

Many people will tell you to drink what you like, and we believe that too to a certain extent, but we also believe that you should be able to know what you are actually drinking.  Taste is important, but knowing the quality, source, and construction of your food or beverage, is important because it affects the quality of the product, your health, well-being, and environment too.

Just like beer, wine, or spirits, with sake the customer has the option typically to buy the most affordably priced offering which appears to be a bargain or a steal. Alcohol is marketed to us in ‘Discount’ Liquor stores, and with ‘Special Savings and Promotions’, but the true price of a product is paid in some other way, either by our bodies, low-waged employees, poor farming and agriculture that deadens our environment, or our society’s abuse of a product that is made more affordable than its true costs.

An easier way to boil this down than dealing with these deeper and complex issues when you make your drinking choice is to just ask yourself about the manufacture: are they a large profit-centric organization or a producer who is passionate about their product?  That answer will typically help you sort through all the noise and realize what you truly are paying for.

Here is to good quality, integrity, and taste!

Kanpai!

~ Toji