Wednesday, April 16, 2014
It's a quiet evening in February, and I'm sitting in Miyake in the Old Port, getting a crash course in sake from Dan Ford and John Sygowski.
Dan Ford, left, and John Sygowski hope to have their Blue Current Brewery open for business by April or May. Their first offering will be called First Light, in honor of Maine.
Photos courtesy of S.C. Delaney
Blue Current’s sakes will be brewed with Akita Komachi rice. The kernels are milled to less than 50 percent of their original size, leaving mostly starch and imparting better flavor.
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They start me off with a glass of Ippongi Denshin Rin Daiginjo, an aromatic sake with notes of lychee and pear.
The rice used to make a daiginjo, I learn, has been highly polished. Fifty percent or more of the kernel has been milled away so that there is mostly starch remaining, and that means better flavor.
A glass or two later, I try a namazake, an unpasteurized sake. (Most sake is pasteurized twice.) "A lot of the flavor's in the front of your mouth," Dan said. "It's sort of bright, and then just fades. That's namazake."
Ford is impressed by the sake menu at Miyake, noting it's "the best I've seen north of Boston, without a doubt."
He and his business partner, Sygowski, know what they're talking about. Ford is an advanced sake professional – a master taster similar to a master sommelier for other types of wine – who studied with John Gauntner, the first non-Japanese certified master taster of sake and president of the sake education council in Tokyo.
Sygowski is a certified sake professional.
Ford and Sygowski plan to open a sake microbrewery this spring, right here in Maine.
The two friends already brew for their personal consumption in the garage at Ford's home in Kittery Point. That's where the commercial operation, called Blue Current Brewery, will begin once they have all their local, state and federal permits in hand. They hope to be open for business by April or May, and will eventually move the brewery out of Ford's house.
According to Gauntner's website, there are only seven sake breweries in the United States. Most of them are backed by corporations. Once Blue Current is up and running, it will be one of just two sake microbreweries in the country that are not only making their own sake, but also bottling and distributing it for sale. The other one is the Texas Sake Co. in Austin.
There's another sake microbrewery that's been seeking investment for a start-up in Asheville, N.C., but Ford says he expects Blue Current to be the first commercial sake microbrewery operating on the East Coast.
A NOD TO MAINE ROOTS
Blue Current's first sake will be called First Light, in honor of Maine. Ford and Sygowski are hoping Maine restaurants will jump at the chance to serve their customers a local sake.
"We really have a passion for sake," Sygowski said, "and the more we drink, the more we love it. There's a lot of sake we taste, and we're like, we could beat this hands down. We've had batches that didn't come out the way we wanted them to come out, and they're still better than some of the stuff we've been able to buy."
A sake microbrewery seems like a natural progression for Maine, considering there are already dozens of craft beer brewers in the state, with even more in the works, and distilleries are starting to pop up all over the place too.
Ford said he first got interested in brewing sake in 2010 after he bought a make-your-own kit in Portland. He had spent part of his career working for a bank in Japan and living in Tokyo, which is where he developed an appreciation for the rice wine.
By 2008, Ford was back in the United States working in the financial services industry. When the economic crash came, he lost his job. After months of searching for work with no luck, he decided to create his own job. Brewing sake appealed to him because it seemed like it had a wide-open market in the United States.
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Blue Current’s first sake will be called First Light, in honor of Maine. Ford and Sygowski are hoping Maine restaurants will jump at the chance to serve their customers a local sake.