Tucked in the northern part of wine country in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is an unexpected surprise – a saké brewery (or “kura” in Japanese). Located in Forest Grove, SakéOne is the first American-operated saké brewery in the United States. Originally established as a partnership with Momokawa, a centuries-old brewery in Aomori, Japan, SakéOne is now the leading producer of premium saké in America. Chosen for the purity of the water in this part of Oregon, SakéOne opened it’s doors in 1992 and has been crafting delicious sake ever since.
Saké is produced by a brewing process more like that of beer than wine, as the sugar needed to produce alcohol is created from the starch of the grain. In the case of saké, that grain is rice. The quality of the rice and the amount of hull remaining on the grain determines a saké’s quality. Restaurant grade saké usually is made from rice that has much of the hull still intact, leaving levels of impurities that can affect the taste. At SakéOne, each batch of rice begins in the mill where 40% of the grain is polished away leaving the leaner starches found in the remaining 60%. At SakéOne, you will find sakés labeled with names like Ginjo and Daiginjo denoting rice polished between 51% – 60% and therefore considered premium level saké.
Open daily from 11-5, SakéOne offers factory tours that bring to life the history and technique needed to make this special beverage. Using equipment imported from Japan, California-grown rice, and local Oregon water, every bottle at SakéOne is carefully handcrafted using age-old techniques. On the tour you will learn all the steps in the process of making saké – from milling the rice to remove the hull, soaking and steaming the rice, to adding Koji-kin (the enzyme added to the rice that digests the starch and converts it to sugar). From there, the rice is transferred to 4,000 gal fermentation tanks where each batch reaches its unique flavor profile and alcohol content. Once fully fermented, the saké is pressed to remove the sediment, pasteurized, aged, pasteurized once more….and then finally bottled!
True to the spirit of craft, each step in the saké-making process is carefully guided by the senses. Changes of the rice are observed through the eye and felt by the hand, while the shifting smells and tastes of the grains signal the evolving flavor of each batch. This human connection is the key ingredient in the Oregon craft saké produced at SakéOne.