Wednesday, December 11, 2013
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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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Sygowski is retired from law enforcement work in Massachusetts. He and his wife moved to Florida for a while to try selling real estate, but they missed New England and decided to move back here, settling in Hudson, N.H. (They are planning a move to the Portsmouth-Kittery area shortly to be closer to the brewery.)
Sygowski's brother-in-law was good friends with Ford, and that's how they met. Ford began teaching Sygowski about the finer points of sake.
"When Dan talked to me about coming on board with him," Sygowski said, "I was like the majority of the population in the states: 'Oh that's that warm stuff that you drink at a Japanese restaurant while they're cooking the food in front of you.'
"I started reading up on it, and Dan was serving me different types that he had brought back from Japan, and I'm like, 'This is cold, it's not warm.' "
(When sake is served warm, Ford said, it's usually to improve the taste and hide imperfections.)
Brewing sake is not as easy as brewing beer. Sake is "the hardest thing to brew on the planet," Ford said. You have to be part microbiologist and have a lot of patience.
IT STARTS WITH WATER, RICE, YEAST
Sake starts with water, rice, yeast and the mold aspergillus oryzae, which is called kojikin. Once the mold is added to and grown on the rice, the mold-rice mixture is known as koji.
A starter batch, or moto, builds up the yeast that will convert the starches in the rice to sugar. Then the primary fermentation, known as moromi, is developed in three stages, doubling in size at each stage.
It can take just a couple of hours to get beer into a fermenter, Ford notes. With sake, it takes two weeks to build the moromi, and then another four weeks to finish making the sake.
"You have to grow mold, and it takes roughly 40 hours to grow the mold," Ford explained. "And then you have to add very specific water content to the rice, and it has to be steamed for a very particular amount of time, depending on the polish."
Before it can be bottled, the sake has to be pressed, filtered and pasteurized.
Add in variables from the climate, the type of rice and yeast that were used, and so on, and there are seemingly infinite paths to a good sake. Quality depends a lot on the type of yeast, which is responsible for a lot of the flavor in sake, and the type of rice and how much it was milled.
"Most of the dryness or type of dryness will come from the rice, or the milling," Sygowski said, "but most of the flavor will come from the yeast. With the koji, you're going to get a nutty flavor. You're not going to discern too much of it."
There are roughly 400 identifiable flavor notes in wine, Ford said, but there are 2,000 identifiable flavors in sake.
To prepare for opening Blue Current Brewery, Ford and Sygowski have been touring other breweries and learning from other sake brewmasters, including Blake Richardson in Minneapolis, owner of moto-i, the first sake brewery restaurant outside of Japan.
"He invited us to come and brew with him and learn the way he's doing it, Sygowski said, "So we just spent a week in Minneapolis brewing with him and his apprentice. And we're actually talking about a trip to Japan next year. It's great to be in an industry where people are OK with sharing their knowledge."
They've also recently visited Ontario Spring Water Sake Co. in Toronto.
Ford and Sygowski have been buying as much of their equipment locally as they can, but a rice mill is much too expensive to buy on their own.
There is just one Japanese rice mill available for commercial hire in the entire country, and it's in Minnesota. Blue Current Brewery's rice gets shipped from California to Minnesota, where it is milled and then shipped to Maine.
Blue Current Brewery's signature sake will be a ginjo, which means 40 percent of the rice grain has been milled away. They are using Akita Komachi rice, a Japanese kojikin and Japanese yeast No. 7, a yeast that was developed 300 years ago by a brewery in Nagano.
After First Light is released, Ford and Sygowski hope to develop some other sakes and perhaps deal in some side products too, such as the kind of distilled sake that's popular in Korea.
"We'd love to do a draft sake," Ford said. "That would be kind of cool."
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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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.