the art of brewing japanese sake

The largest saké brewery in America talks with TaZa!

Saké has been a part of Japanese drinking culture for centuries, but it’s still not made a dent in American drinking culture. SakéOne set out to change that. We got a chance to chat about the art of making and drinking sake with the largest saké brewery in the US: SakéOne. Here’s what they had to say:

Can you tell us a little about SakéOne?

We are the first and largest US owned and operated saké brewery in the US. We began as an importer for fine Japanese imported saké back in 1992, but by 1998 we had finished construction of our kura.

SakeOne brewery kura

SakeOne is the largest sake brewery in the United States.

What is a “Kura”?

A kura is a Japanese sake brewery and is operated by “kurabito,” or brewery production staff.

Can you explain how saké is made?

Saké mirrors the production of beer and wine in many aspects. The semi-abridged version is: we polish grains of short brown rice to about 60% of their size to remove impurities. Then we process the rice by rinsing, soaking and cooking it. Once the rice is cooked we introduce a saké specific ingredient called “koji-kin” which is a form of mold. The koji-kin will inoculate the cooked rice and over a period of 2 days it will metabolize the outer starches and produce a sugar coating in a process known as pre-saccharinization. We’ll then move onto fermentation by layering our ingredients: water, yeast and koji-coated rice. Fermentation takes 2-3 weeks and will naturally get to be about 18% ABV. Our sake will then be pressed to remove solids (though some brews do retain leftover lees to create a creamy texture), pasteurized and aged for 4-8 months depending on the batch. After that it’s pasteurized again for shelf stability and bottled for global distribution.

Brewing Sake at SakeOne

Steaming rice at SakeOne to make sake.

How many types of saké are available at SakéOne?

Our domestic craft line-up has 13 bottles available all-year round, and about 21 imports from various breweries available as well. We also rotate through seasonal limited edition batches from both our kura and Japanese breweries.

SakeOne: award-winning Japanese sake brewed in Oregon

SakeOne brews award-winning sake right in Portland, Oregon.

What is sake drinking etiquette?

For the average consumer we recommend enjoying it like wine: a 4-5oz serving next to your favorite meal to best compliment the saké. Our only advice: please don’t heat our products or drop them into beer! Heated sake is usually lower quality, and when you heat a good saké you cook off the very gentle aromatics. Also, sake is on average about 15% ABV, so adding it to other alcohol can be dangerous.

What made you decide to use TaZa glasses in your tasting room?

We regularly host events that garner 150-200 people and we were looking for a suitable glass that was affordable, durable and stylish. TaZa has been a wonder for us because we can use them indoors and in our picnic area without worry that any dropped glasses will leave behind shards. Also, they’re the only glass we know of that doesn’t melt or warp in our industrial sanitizer!

When wine tasting words like “oaky”, “acidity” or “crisp” come up. And for beer, words like “yeasty”, “hoppy”, or “chocolatey”. What are some adjectives commonly used in saké tasting?

It depends on the sake; just like wine, beer and cider there are many varieties of sake. A Tanrei, or crisp and dry style, tends to be “light, clean and mineral-heavy.” A Kimoto style might be “savory, earthy, nutty or chocolate-y.” A nigorizake will be “creamy, rich and fruity.” We borrow a lot of terms from the wine world!

Japanese sake pronunciation

In case you’re wondering, this is how you pronounce “sake”.

Do you think saké brewing could be “the next big thing” in America?

While it will never replace beer or wine, saké is definitely in the limelight for people who have certain food intolerance as sake is sulfite and nitrate free, gluten free and most of them are also vegan friendly.

What is the difference between saké and shochu?

Saké and Shochu share a lot of the same ingredients (including koji), but the main difference is that saké fermented while shochu/soju is distilled.


A big thanks to SakéOne! Now that you know more about saké and how it’s made, it’s time to try it for yourself! You don’t even need to head to Oregon to visit the largest saké brewery in the US; just make your way to the SakéOne shop and get tasting!

Are you a saké fan or trying it for the first time? Share your thoughts, tips or favorite saké cocktail recipes with us on Facebook or Twitter.

*All photos taken from SakeOne’s website or Instagram account.