The next exciting new brewery in your neighborhood may not actually be brewing beer.
An artisan saké movement is taking hold in the United States, spurred by the growing interest in locally-made and traditional foods. Japanese brewers have been making the fermented rice beverage since before recorded history so they have had a lot of time to perfect their craft. For decades, much of the saké sold in the U.S. could not live up to these traditions. Much of it was low-quality and fortified by cheap grain alcohol — something that will get you drunk, but nothing you can savor or enjoy.
New start-up saké breweries are now trying to reverse that trend in the U.S. Sequoia Saké is leading the charge in Northern California, as San Francisco’s first saké microbrewery, producing vibrant saké that stands with the Bay Area’s renowned wine and craft beers.
Sequoia was founded in 2014 by husband and wife team, Jake Myrick and Noriko Kamei. Kamei was born in Japan and Myrick lived there for 10 years. When they moved back to the states, they were inspired to bring the fresh flavors they loved in Japan home to California. They opened their Bayview brewery in 2015 with partner, Warren Pfah, Myrick’s childhood friend.
Sequoia makes only premium junmai (“nothing added”) saké using only four ingredients: finely milled rice, water, koji, a mold used to convert the rice’s starch to sugar, and yeast, which ferments the sugar and turns it into alcohol. Sequoia was inspired by Japan but is truly the taste of California. The company uses Sacramento-grown rice, Sierra-source water, and it pairs well with bold American foods.
I visited the brewery for a tasting last month and several different brews were being poured: Nama, a slightly sweet, smooth-bodied and lower alcohol saké (14-15%); Genshu, a floral and full-bodied and higher alcohol saké (18%); and Nigori, an unfiltered, home-style saké (14–17%). The residual rice gives it a creamy texture. All of Sequoia’s sakés are unpasteurized and “alive” – they must be kept refrigerated and have a limited shelf life (opened: two weeks; unopened: six months).
There’s no shortage of creative local food experiences in the Bay Area, but San Francisco-made craft saké is a unique one to add to your list.
If you go
Sequoia Saké, 50 Apparel Way, San Francisco, California
The brewery is open for tasting every Saturday from 11am-3pm. You can find Sequoia Saké at a number of restaurants, ramen shops and izakayas in San Francisco and the East Bay. The saké is sold retail at Bi-Rite Market and True Saké in San Francisco, and Umami Mart in Oakland.