Mitch Fortune and his partners are hesitant to call themselves t jis — the Japanese term for master sake brewers — but they hope to earn that designation one day.
If Asheville’s thirst for craft beverages is any indication, they’ll get plenty of sake-brewing practice when they open their tasting room later this summer. The quartet behind Blue Kudzu Sake aims to become one of a select group of small-scale, US sake breweries.
The business was born on a whim at an Asian-themed supper club, but it’s matured in the two years since its inception. The partners signed a lease on the former Magnetic Field theater and restaurant space in the River Arts District. (The restaurant closed in March, though the theater company continues to produce work.)
“Asheville is so saturated with this beer culture, and now we have moonshine with Troy & Sons,” says co-owner Cat Ford-Coates. “Why not bring sake to that?”
In the two years since they started planning, the four bartenders by trade have tasted hundreds of sakes, learning the nuances of the drink, which is brewed from rice. “There's a whole wide range of sakes out there,” Fortune says. “Sake's said to have something like 4,000 flavor components, different things you can taste and elements to the flavors. It's a very earthy beverage. It's got a lot of umami.”
Although sake is sometimes called rice wine, it’s radically different from other alcoholic beverages (for one thing, it requires two simultaneous fermentation processes). Fortune thinks the idiosyncrasies of the brew will draw curious drinkers, even as they present challenges. “We realize the educational part is one of the biggest challenges, so we're going to do a lot of informational sessions and classes about the sake,” he says. “A lot of Americans have to get acclimated to that and develop a palate to it.”
In preparation, the owners have been researching. Three of the four are Certified Sake Professionals, a title they earned through three-day seminars and a written examination.
The 2,600-square-foot space will hold the brewery and tasting room, as well as a small kitchen. The group plans to host live music and tours. The tasting room could open as early as July, with an assortment of imported sakes so Asheville can start learning about the drink.
Blue Kudzu’s house sake will come online a month or two later, depending on the permitting and brewing process. They’ll produce 500-gallon batches for bottling and wholesale as well as on-site sampling.
They plan to start off with a junmai ginjo and a junmai daiginjo (these names indicate how finely the rice is milled) and a dessert sake infused with hazelnuts. Sparkling sakes, which Fortune compares to prosecco, are also in the works.
For more information about Blue Kudzu Sake, 372 Depot St. Unit 50, visit its blog at bluekudzusake.wordpress.com or search for the business on Facebook.