**Reposted from Rice, Water Earth: Notes on Sake**

In Japan, it’s not unusual to find sake brewing families that have plied their trade continuously for generations, over a span of hundreds of years. In our book we’ll be including 18th-generation owner Yasuhiko Niida of Niida Honke Brewery in Fukushima Prefecture and 17th-generation owner Tatsushi Yanagi of Kikuhime Brewery in Ishikawa Prefecture. The oldest brewery we discuss is Shusen Kurano in Nagano Prefecture, founded in 1540 and now headed by female master brewer and heir Mariko Chino. There’s a lot of accumulated wisdom in brewing families this old, but also great pressure to keep the lineage going and the business profitable through both good and bad times.

None of this history, or you might say, baggage, comes with New World sake breweries. While Niida,  Kuheiji and Chino are both owner and master brewer of their domains, traditionally owners were content to manage their land and workers, hiring seasonal staff to brew their sake. These brewery workers (kurabito) and master brewers (toji) were drawn from a class of craftsmen who farmed or fished during the summer months and made sake during the six coldest months of the year.

Almost all of the rapidly growing number of international sake brewers fall into the owner-toji category. Usually, with no cultural or family history of sake making to guide them, they are clean slates, freer to innovate and do crazy stuff that is harder to pull off if you’re a Japanese heir carrying the weight of history and family expectations on your back.

But dynasties can sprout up on terra nova, too. Sequoia Sake Brewery in San Francisco has set a record by producing America’s first second-generation sake brewer. And I love that she’s a young woman: Olivia Myrick, 24, the daughter of Sequoia founders Noriko and Jake Myrick. (You can read my profile of Noriko and Jake here.) Jake and Noriko share toji duties, with Noriko specializing in the koji making, and Jake in charge of fermentation and business-related issues.

Their daughter Olivia released her first small-batch blended sake, Bad Cat Good Sake—a slightly acidic, citron-accented tokubetsu junmai genshu—as a Halloween special for friends in 2019. Because he liked it, she gave her dad four cases to sell to Sequoia club members. The first batch sold out in three days, and the second, larger 500-liter (132-gallon) batch issued in the fall of 2020 sold out in 24 hours. The 500-liter tank Olivia’s father bought her in 2018 to encourage her brewing experimentations paid off.

Olivia’s second label debuted last spring, an usu nigori (slightly cloudy) junmai sake that she named “Hazy Delight.” It was snapped up by Sequoia club members and through retail sales at Beau Timken’s San Francisco sake shop True Sake.

Despite the family vocation, Olivia did not grow up feeling she was destined to brew sake. Between the ages of 14, when her parents began brewing sake in their San Francisco garage and 20, she experienced a gradual transformation from teenager unimpressed with the taste of sake (“The quality of sake we were producing was not that good back then and I didn’t have the palate for it, either,” she says) to a fledging brewer with a passion for fermentation.

“I remember looking at all the home brew equipment and the makeshift koji room inside and tent, and thinking, “Well, that’s an interesting hobby they’ve got themselves into,” Olivia says. In 2014, when her parents began setting up their current brewery space in San Francisco’s Bayview District, they enlisted 18-year-old Olivia to help out with production and events. Then, after a short stint at college in Washington state left her feeling dissatisfied, she returned to the brewery to work part-time. When friend of Sequoia and loyal customer Jun Yamadera offered to connect her to a sake shop in his hometown of Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, she parlayed that into two brewery internship opportunities. Both, Olivia says, were with “amazing breweries with history and innovative ideas.”

The first was a two-week stint at Miyaizumi Meijo Brewery (makers of the Sharaku line of sake), which, she says, was “more like getting a tour and seeing how they do things.” Next came a two-year stint at Akebono Brewery (makers of the Tenmei brand, among others). At Akebono she was treated no differently than any of the other kurabito, which gave her an accurate picture of both the joys and hardships of brewing.

The joys included “getting to know the people working in the sake industry, from  brew masters to seasonal workers,” while her least favorite part, she says, “was definitely the snow and freezing winter.”

Upon returning to the U.S. she noticed a lack of diversity in nigori (less filtered, cloudy sake) styles available here compared to Japan. So in 2019 when Olivia and her parents were brainstorming new sakes that would reflect their San Francisco setting, she, says, “I pushed the idea of a savory usu nigori. “We had been talking about how popular nigori is in America and how we wanted to introduce some diversity in the kinds of nigori available here.” She wanted to make a less sweet and only faintly cloudy version, rather than the milky type that is more typically seen in the west.

Her Hazy Delight sake is a blend of 98 percent pressed, filtered sake and two percent unfiltered tank sake that has been passed through two fine-meshed filters. This last steps removes all of the visible rice particles, allowing only the cloudy portion to pass through. “We wanted the extra tank sake to blend in smoothly with the rest of the sake to create the ‘hazy’ texture,” Olivia explains.

It was Olivia’s mother Noriko who taught her how to make nigori, a technique she’s honed during her years of brewing at Sequoia. The pressed sake is stored in a tank that is kept very cold, at 0.5 Celsius  (about 33 degrees Fahrenheit) and devoid of oxygen. The tricky part is the timing of the blending of the two parts, which is determined by the flavor of the pressed sake and the sugar content of the fermentation tank sake. As Jake explains, “The two have to align to make good nigori.” When they do align, “it’s a mad rush to get them bottled and pasteurized as quickly as we can.” This usually means four-to-six very long days. For Hazy Delight, it was Olivia who called the shots and decided when and how much to blend.

The result is a soft-textured, refined and refreshing usu nigori with notes of melon, mushroom, and honeysuckle. It’s more food friendly than its creamier counterparts, good with Fisherman’s Wharf Dungeness crab or clam chowder, North Beach pesto pizza, vegan sushi, Marin Headland’s goat cheese, or artisan chocolate.

Because it was created as a brand that would represent San Francisco, Olivia says, “I wanted to get creative with the naming.” She also wanted to convey that this was a different kind of nigori sake. “Hazy,” accurately described its less cloudy characteristic, and adding “Delight,” she realized made it “sound just like a cannabis strain. I thought that was perfect for a uniquely San Francisco sake.”

Olivia’s dad designed the label, a somewhat psychedelic rendering based on a type of purple-and-orange African daisy that blooms in the neighborhood, which he and Olivia thought recalled the hippie “flower child” of their city’s 1960s-era Haight-Ashbury district.

Olivia’s time spent studying food science at Evergreen State College in Washington did feed her fascination with food science and fermentation, but she isn’t sure yet if brewing sake is her life’s path. And starting America’s first sake-making dynasty, she adds, “isn’t necessarily something I’m striving to make happen.” She is however, thinking about new additions to the San Francisco line, and has in mind a yamahai or kimoto style. “I think the high acidity and robust flavor is something that represents San Francisco, with all its sourdough bread and third-wave coffee,” she notes.

She’s also intrigued by the idea of making a hiyaoroshi, or summer-aged sake, which she enjoyed drinking in Japan, and believes would find a ready market in the U.S. And she’s curious to see how a sake gently aged in the cold San Francisco summer instead of the super-hot and sticky Japanese summer will turn out—no doubt distinctly San Franciscan in style and taste.