Get ready for the summer of sake
Sake is gearing up to be the sip of the summer.
Breweries and restaurants are reimagining the Japanese rice wine typically served with sushi, as beer and cocktail hybrids paired with charcuterie, cheeses and even barbecue.
Stillwater Artisanal, a Brooklyn-based beer company that ships nationwide, has developed a sake-beer hybrid called Extra Dry that’s brewed with rice and served as a saison-style pale ale in a can.
“It’s made to emulate beer, but it tastes more like a dry wine,” Stillwater Artisanal founder and brewer Brian Strumke tells Moneyish of the sip that’s meant to be served cold.
Sake has the same alcohol content as wine, but it’s brewed like beer. Rice gets steamed in water before its combined with a mold called koji, a yeast starter, used to convert the mixture into sugar. Then the fermentation process begins for up to several weeks. To make the sake beer, Strumke adds sake rice to the barley mash and subs in a Belgian yeast strain instead of koji that gives off similar fruit and spice notes to mimic the sake flavor. After the primary fermentation, which takes about a week, he adds in more hops and lets it age for two to three weeks before packaging it.
“Rice, when fermented, is a very dry grain, it doesn’t leave a lot of sweetness. It makes the beer very crisp, especially with the yeast that I’m using and you get some fruity and floral flavors from the hops,” Strumke explains. “So if you don’t like beer, this flavor will speak to you. It’s a great palate cleanser.”
Extra Dry retails for about $11.99 for a four-pack, and is sold at Fairway Market and independent bottle shops. Strumke plans to open a retail brick-and-mortar brewery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Bartenders are also elevating the college-favorite sake bomb (a beer cocktail made by pouring sake into a shot glass and dropping it into a glass of beer). At Sunday In Brooklyn, an all-day American bistro in Williamsburg, a new cocktail called the Tokyo Bodega takes Junmai Ginjo sake and blends it with St. Germain liqueur and vanilla bean-infused simple syrup. It is served in a beaker on ice along with a Miller High Life pony. Servers pour half of the sake-blend into the ice bowl and have guests pour in a small amount of beer and sip at their leisure.
“Sake has recently made quite a leap from the everyday sushi restaurant menu item to an essential cocktail program component because of its beauty in subtlety, and its mass spectrum of flavor varieties.” Brian Evans, head bartender at Sunday in Brooklyn, says. “With Sunday In Brooklyn being an all-day bistro-style restaurant, keeping a low-ABV presence on our menu is incredibly vital. It is not uncommon for someone to order three Tokyo Bodegas in one brunch sitting, and still feel ready to conquer the rest of the day.”
U.S. sake sales have grown by about 8% annually for more than 20 years, Forbes reports. What’s more, sake exports have doubled in the past decade to more than 5 million gallons last year, with the US accounting for around a quarter of the total.
Earlier this month, New York got its first-ever sake brewery. Brooklyn Kura opened in Sunset Park’s Industry City complex, a taproom serving up a variety of fresh-pressed sakes with interesting plate pairings like a charcuterie and a cheese plate, fried fava beans and toasted nori. Brewery president Brian Polen says he plans to collaborate with neighbors like Hometown Bar-B-Que for sake pairings, and other traditional breweries in the neighborhood like Five Boroughs Brewery and Brooklyn Brewery for sake collaborations.
“I think sake is underrepresented, and once people kind of discover its potential, it’s going to be a great summer drink,” says Polen.
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