The idea to make sake in Asheville began over dinner with friends. Mary Taylor, Mitch Fortune and Cat Ford-Coates were all enjoying sake and Asian food.
“After a sake-induced discussion, we decided to research it, learn more. And then we wondered if we could make it — if anyone had,” Fortune tells Xpress. “Turned out, not very many people in the U.S. [do]. So we set out to make it.”
A year and a half later, the three are now trying to open Blue Kudzu their own sake brewery, or kura, with the help of Mountain Bizworks and a Kickstarter campaign. They’re seeking to gather $25,000 in starting funds.
Sake is often called rice wine, but it’s more akin to brewing, something both Taylor and Fortune have had experience with. While the ingredients — water, rice, yeast and koji (a mold) — are simple. The process isn’t. “It’s about 36 hours of babysitting,” Taylor says. During that time, the brewers must keep a close eye on everything from the temperature to the chemical processes. The process doesn’t end there, either, as it takes 30-60 days to make a batch of sake.
“It’s a very delicate beverage,” Fortune says.
“We’ve had a few explosions,” Ford-Coates mentions, laughing. But now the trio say they’re ready to tackle the challenge of a larger operation. Local nonprofit Mountain Bizworks has helped mentor the fledgling business, and its Kickstarter campaign has already raised more than $3,000.
Taylor adds that sake also offers considerable options for Asheville’s evolving cocktail culture.
The fruits of the partners’ labors are currently contained in Asheville Brewing growlers in the Woodfin house that holds the operation. Already, they have some impressive results. By their own admission, Blue Kudzu’s clear, filtered sake still has a hint of “green stick” taste that means it hasn’t quite hit its prime, but it’s crisp, refreshing and surprisingly subtle nonetheless. Their pale white, unfiltered sake (the sweeter type many Americans are most familiar with) compares quite favorably with the nigori variety that has helped popularize the drink over here.
But sake has other options too, and the trio hope to expand into seasonal, unpasteurized sake, a higher alcohol variety that goes well with the addition of local, fresh fruits. They’re hoping that this type, good for about six weeks, will work for Ashevilleans craving a unique taste. Currently, they’re working on pineapple and plum/pear flavors.
Sake is also downright dangerous, in the best kind of way. The pineapple variety, in particular, is deceptively smooth — especially for a drink that packs such a punch at nearly 20 percent ABV (alcohol by volume).
There are only a handful of craft-sake breweries in the country, and Fortune believes that Asheville’s love of all things local and its pristine water quality already have Blue Kudzu poised to move to the head of the pack.
“We love craft brewing, but a lot of people are wondering what’s next,” Ford-Coates says.