AUSTIN, Texas - “Inspired by tradition, but not bound by it.” It’s a motto that Texas Sake takes to heart as it closes in on a decade of making craft sake in the Lone Star State.
The business was originally founded in 2011 but was put for sale in 2014 and that’s when current co-owners Tim Klatt and Adam Blumenshein stepped in.
Klatt, who is also Head of Brewery Operations, admits he wasn’t event that big of a sake drinker at the time but they just loved the idea of it.
“I knew there was no other sake brewery for thousands of miles,” Klatt says. “I had a feeling that there’s this burgeoning craft sake movement.”
The two were not trained sake brewers but had a background in beer brewing and pickling.
“I just knew that it was something we had to get into because I’m just mad about fermenting stuff and this is one other avenue for fermenting,” Klatt says.
So the team spent about a year crafting the process.
“We went all the way down to the very basics of how we deal with rice. How we steam it. How we ferment it. The types of yeast you can use,” Klatt says.
One of the things that helped the team is a sake brewing book. Toji or master brewer Jeff Bell, who taught himself when signed on to join Texas Sake, says the book provided invaluable insight in to the process.
"It’s very scientific and really nice and it got me really focused on this thing," Bell says. "But practice practice practice made it where it’s at."
The team follows a classic sake brewing process and use a classic strain of rice for sake, Calrose, which is grown, milled and shipped from California.
Bell says there's about 20 yeasts that can be used but Texas Sake settled on classic yeast #9 which they feels bring out more flavors.
But the most important of the process? The water. Klatt says the sake brewing book has the classic water chemistry from a classic province in Japan so the team set out to replicate it.
"We have a very specific reverse osmosis system so we're actually mimicking the same waters...that's considered the best in sake land," Bell says.
It's about a six to eight week time frame for one batch. Klatt says the result is a product that pays homage and has similarities to traditional sake but with bolder flavor expressions.
In essence, it's "100% craft American Texas sake" says Klatt.
Klatt says fundamentally they brew a junmai sake which means it's not fortified with any grain alcohol. From there they create a nigori and an oak sake and recently they created a whole of fruit infused sparkling sakes which are sold in 12 ounce cans.
They've also done an alchemy series where they've infused flavors like Kit Kat and cherry.
"We've found that sake...is a tremendous base for infusing all sorts of flavors," Klatt says.
Another discovery Klatt says they've made is the tremendous versatility of a byproduct of the sake fermentation, kasu which is essentially pressed rice.
"It's full of enzymes and yeast and got a little bit of booze in it," Klatt says. "So you use (it) for any number of culinary aspects like marinate meat, create pickles, fry it up in to a dough. So it's really incredible."
Texas Sake will be using the kasu as part of the offerings at a food trailer that will be at its new location at The Yard in South Austin. There will be more space and designer Justin Kizzart says the decor will be something uniquely Austin with a slight Japanese feel.
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