About

Founded by North American sake brewers in early 2019, the Sake Brewers Association of North America (SBANA) is a 501(c)(6) non-profit focused on promoting and protecting North America’s sake brewers, their sake, and the community of sake enthusiasts.

10 Values

1. Promoting and celebrating the independent, traditional and innovative culture of North American sake brewers.

2. Vigorously defending our industry, promoting unity among our brewers, and providing brewers and members of the allied trade with a unified voice.

3. Educating consumers about the diversity, flavor and quality of sake.

4. Working to build and grow a collegial community of professional brewers, homebrewers and sake enthusiasts.

5. Promoting our industry to government in support of improved regulations, legal clarity, and a more favorable regulatory framework.

6. Fostering industry transparency, and promoting ethical and legal trade practices.

7. Developing best practices and adopting industry standards to build our industry’s reputation for quality.

8. Fostering deeper connections with the Japanese sake brewing community.

9. Improving access to brewing knowledge and developing our own unique knowledge set.

10. Building relationships and collaborating with our industry partners.

Three Core Areas of Focus

Consumer Development

The majority of consumers are still unfamiliar with sake as a category. To address this the Association engages in broad external communication initiatives including:

  • Publicity, strategic marketing, and ad campaigns
  • Developing and distributing consumer education material
  • Editorials and broad media outreach
  • Event and award ceremonies

Brewery Development

We are the ‘voice’ for the North American sake industry. We focus on a wide spectrum of initiatives including (but not limited to):

  • Access to brewing knowledge, techniques, materials, suppliers, and seminars
  • Internal industry-wide communication to keep all members abreast of important developments
  • Building a true community around sake and building connections through forums, networking, events, festivals, and an annual industry conference
  • Collecting and analyzing industry data to predict future trends
  • Developing sake related content and multimedia

Legislative Reform

At this time the legislative landscape is extremely confusing for the sake industry. At the federal level, under the Internal Revenue Code, for matters relating to production and tax, sake is treated as beer. However, under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, for labeling and advertising, sake is treated as wine. This confusion only deepens at the state level. Hence the Association works closely with federal and state law makers to:

  • Address the legal confusion at both the federal and state levels
  • Draft, propose and seek to pass model legislation both at the federal and state levels
  • Clarify varieties of sake in the law to ensure quality control and transparency
  • Work with law makers to better understand the industry’s interests and work collaboratively to develop policies that are beneficial to our members

Team

WESTON KONISHI  小西ウェストン
President  |  社長
Weston Konishi is President of the Sake Brewers Association of North America. He has over 20 years of experience in the field of U.S.-Japan relations, with a focus on the political and diplomatic ties between the two nations. As Director of Partnerships and Development at the U.S.-Japan Council, Wes worked closely with a broad range of Japanese and U.S.-based companies on development strategies and expanding the organization’s corporate membership base. His appreciation for sake evolved during his eight years living in Tokyo, Japan as a graduate student and researcher. In 2014, he completed the Sake Professional Course with John Gauntner. He has subsequently written about sake and the challenges and opportunities for the industry in the United States. He is a member of the Japan Commerce Association of Washington, DC and the Mansfield Foundation’s U.S.-Japan Network for the Future. A Native New Yorker, he lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife and cat.

CHIAKI TAKAHASHI
Master Brewer and Senior Advisor
Dr. Chiaki Takahashi is President of Islander Sake Company and is Master Brewer and Senior Advisor to SBANA. From 2012 to 2015, she was a researcher, lecturer and technical support agent at the National Research Institute of Brewing, National Tax Agency, Ministry of Finance, in Tokyo, Japan. There, she provided technical support for sake breweries and was responsible for analyzing sake for export and issuing certifications at Japan’s only licensing facility. She was solely responsible as a JCSS (Japan Calibration Service System) agent for ISO/IEC17025 analysis. Additionally, she provided training and guidance for sake retail staff and coordinated and published promotional brochures on sake in English and Japanese. Dr. Takahashi received a doctorate in medicine in 2011 and did postgraduate work at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, Japan.

LUCAS SMOLIC
Brewmaster and Advisor

Lucas Smolic is currently Toji (brewmaster) at Wetlands Sake in New Orleans, Louisiana. Lucas first discovered sake through numerous travels in Japan. He then began homebrewing sake and became fascinated by the range and depth of flavors possible through fermenting rice. After becoming a Certified Sake Professional through the Sake Education Council, he started hosting weekly sake brewer calls to discuss the details that don’t exist in most translated sake brewing textbooks. These sessions began to grow and soon many home and commercial brewers from around the world were joining as well to learn and share information, including two kura-bito from well known Japanese breweries who would join on their lunch break each week. Having studied the Japanese language, he began translating sake resources into English to further expand access to information for all brewers to improve their skills. Lucas created BrewSake.org to help collect the various bits of information the group had found and began collaborating with SBANA to build out a larger educational resource. After 15 years in the software industry, Lucas decided to take his passions from hobby to full-time, taking a role as kura-bito at Wetlands Sake, where he was soon promoted to Toji (brewmaster). He is dedicated to creating a similar craft boom to the beer industry in the 1990’s, and he hopes to inspire others to take up the challenge.

Board of Directors

ANDREW CENTOFANTE
Chair of the Board of Directors
Andrew is co-owner and head brewer of North American Sake Brewery based in Charlottesville, Virginia. Andrew first fell in love with sake on trip to Japan where he was exposed to high quality for the first time. He made it a hobby to seek out new styles and varieties of sake and to attune his palette to this wonderful beverage. One fateful night after having several glasses of sake he wondered if he could make a home-brew batch, just like he had done with beer for many years. This sent Andrew down a rabbit hole of research and experimentation that turned one home brew batch into many as he fell in love with brewing sake. Koji was the first thing that completely arrested his attention, the aroma and flavor that came from growing this incredible fungus enthralled him. He and business partner Jeremy Goldstein traveled the country and to Japan to learn more about this craft and eventually lead them to opening North American Sake Brewery in the fall of 2018. Currently the first and only sake brewery in Virginia, NAS serves freshly brewed sake to hundreds of people weekly and the two spend their days brewing and evangelizing their love of the ancient beverage.

BERNIE BASKIN
Bernie was the founder of the Sake Brewers Association, its first President, and brings 20 years of leadership experience in international business strategy, project management, digital media, and sustainability. He began his career as a corporate lawyer in Singapore where he advised global companies on their inward investments to Southeast Asia. Later he founded Gatehouse, a boutique content strategy/development and media group based between Singapore and London. In 2015, in collaboration with the Japanese Government and sake experts around the world, he conceptualized, organized, and published the first English language compendium to Japanese sake, the award-winning SAKE: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries. He founded the Sake Brewers Association of North America in 2018, the first trade association for the sake industry outside of Japan. He is currently the Director for ESG Strategy at Walmart where he helps drive global strategy on a wide range of key environmental issues.

BRIAN POLEN
Brian Polen is the Co-founder and President of Brooklyn Kura, New York City’s first craft sake brewery. The idea for Brooklyn Kura was born during a trip to Japan in 2013, when Brian and his business partner, Brandon Doughan discovered and truly fell in love with high-quality sake and the sake-brewing process. After returning to the states, the duo began brewing sake at home and envisioning the early stages of a business.

While balancing a corporate life at American Express, Brian began dedicating more of his time to sake brewing, eventually renting a larger space in Bushwick’s food innovation hub in the Old Pfizer Building. After spending a year refining Brooklyn Kura’s sake-brewing process, Brian and Brandon began work on their own space at Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Brooklyn Kura’s tap room opened in February 2018. Through Brooklyn Kura, Brian hopes to challenge sake stereotypes, converting craft beer and wine enthusiasts into sake fans. Brooklyn Kura has been featured in The New York Times, Eater, Entrepreneur, Reuters, Nikkei, New York Business Journal and more.

PATRICK SHEARER
In May of 2018 Patrick Shearer made the move to Asheville, NC from Portland, OR to become the Head Brewer at Ben’s American Sake, one of the first craft sake breweries in the United States. A self-taught brewer with over a decade of professional experience in wine, beer, and sake, Patrick brings a knack for innovation and problem-solving to his craft. In 2010, Patrick was working at a local winery and searching for a way to turn his home brewing hobby into a full time gig. He took a production brewing position at SakeOne, planning to be there for a year or less-just enough time to build a resume and get a job in craft beer. Patrick would eventually make the transition into Portland’s competitive craft beer industry but not before brewing at SakeOne for over 5 years, learning a great amount about the art and science of brewing sake. During this time, Patrick developed a deep appreciation for the versatility and nuance of sake. After working at several craft beer breweries in the Portland area, Patrick saw a job posting for Head Sake Brewer at Ben’s. He applied on a whim and within two months was driving a moving van across the country. Since making his return to sake brewing, Patrick has introduced several exciting new products to the Ben’s lineup, started an in-house koji program, collaborated with local breweries on beer/sake hybrids, and led the charge in producing the first ever American Craft Sake Fest. He is eager to support and contribute to the growth of this exciting new segment of the craft beverage industry that he stumbled into nearly a decade ago. Patrick is originally from Southern California and spent 15 years in Oregon before making the move to North Carolina. When he’s not brewing sake, Patrick can be found drinking beer with his wife, checking sports scores, or watching historical documentaries with two pitbulls and a cat in his lap. Often simultaneously.

BYRON STITHEM
Byron is the chief fermentation officer/brewer at the Proper Sake Co. in Nashville, TN.  As a lifetime culinarian and fermentation devotee, Byron has found himself hopelessly in love with sake and advocating for its presence on every list and in every home henceforth.

JUNKO (JUNE) USUBA

June Usuba is a Partner and Director of Investment Research & ESG for Sargasso Environmental, an environmental leader investment strategy managed by Steinberg Asset Management.  She comes with 20 years of experience in the corporate world helping companies tackle and solve key strategic issues. She worked at the Boston Consulting Group in North America and Europe to help Fortune 500 companies reduce cost, grow sales, and assess new market entry opportunities. Earlier in her career June worked in brand management. At Coca-Cola, she was responsible for new product development and beverage brand marketing for Georgia canned coffee, the #1 Ready To Drink Beverage in Japan. June has also brought her corporate marketing skills to non-profits by helping Peace Winds Japan accelerate its donor base through targeted messaging and advertising. June is an advocate of fostering US-Japan cultural exchange. She was a delegate for the A50 Caravan, a private Japanese initiative composed of leaders from business, government and civil society, that traveled to the US to promote Japan-US relations in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. A devoted sake enthusiast, June has been an active promoter of sake in her local community of Port Huron, Michigan. She is a graduate of ICU in Mitaka, Tokyo and the Harvard Business School.

Advisory Board

MARCUS CONSOLINI
Born in New York City to an Italian immigrant family, Marcus has been in the FnB Industry since birth.  With photos of him making Grappa at the age of three, Grandparents who ran bakeries, meat lockers and butcher shops as well as parents that managed food stalls at weekend fairs, he was destined to be a part of the food and beverage industry. Marcus started washing dishes at the age of eleven, managing restaurants by eighteen and to this day – assisting chefs on every occasion that time can create.

A decision to go into Finance changed his course in the food industry from manager to investor.  His career started in Accounting with Deloitte & Touche, Financial Consulting with American Express on Wall Street, and for the last fifteen years in Investment Banking managing teams across Asia for firms like JPMorgan, Macquarie and Societe General.  On the side, a dedicated business builder, he has been investing in craft oriented businesses and renovating historical properties across Asia for over 20 years.

In early 2017 Marcus met Daimon San in a serendipitous encounter and immediately started discussions of partnership.  Marcus then raised the capital for a cash injection into the Daimon Brewery business to re-launch the brewery into the Kansai and International region.  As a result of this new partnership Marcus became the first foreign CEO of a Japanese Craft Sake Brewery.

When Marcus is not promoting Daimon Brewery he is either brewing Sake with his team or building out new business models for partner investment in Craft Alcohol enterprises and the expansion of distribution management strategies across the globe.

ELLIOT FABER
Elliot Faber is the Beverage Director for Yardbird, RŌNIN, and Sunday’s Grocery in Hong Kong. He is also the founder of Sunday’s Distribution and The Kura Collective, both of which offer beverage distribution solutions featuring a curated selection of wine, sake, and spirits. In 2017, Elliot co-founded Sake Central – a multifunctional retail space and bar that aims to provide an authentic understanding of Japanese food and beverage culture to people around the world. Sake Central has since expanded into Saigon and he launched a sister concept, SAKETEN, in 2019 in Hong Kong. In 2018, he co-founded Sunday’s Spirits – a curated brand of Japanese alcoholic beverages from sake to whisky, made in collaboration with various producers.

As a Certified Sommelier and an Advanced Sake Professional, Elliot is a senior whisky advisor to Zachys Wine Auctions, has been a contributing editor to JamesSuckling.com, and is the co-author of SAKE: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries. In October 2016, Elliot received the award of ‘Sake Samurai’ from the Japan Sake Brewers Association Junior Council, an honor that few people have received since its inception in 2005. With his other responsibilities, Elliot continues to consult on events and projects ranging from the Japanese concept Mizumi at the WYNN hotel in Las Vegas to international events for brands such as Prada and Chloé.

JOHN GAUNTNER
John Gauntner is widely recognized as the leading non-Japanese sake evangelist in the world. A resident of Japan since 1988, is well known in the sake industry as the window to making sake understandable and popular outside of Japan. He has been writing and lecturing about sake since 1994, across various media and platforms, including being the co-founder and content editor of the world’s first and only sake-only magazine, Sake Today, founded in January of 2014. His latest book, Sake Confidential, is – as the title indicates – a beyond-the-basics guide to understanding, tasting, selecting and enjoying sake. Learn more about sake here: www.sake-world.com

John is the only non-Japanese certified Master of Sake Tasting in the world, as administered by the Nihon Jouzo Kyoukai, or Brewing Society of Japan, the organization that, among other things, provides the majority of yeast strains to the brewing industry. He has also achieved the very difficult Sake Expert Assessor certification from Japan’s National Research Institute of Brewing.

In 2006, he was awarded the Sake Samurai designation the very first year it was awarded by the Junior Council of the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers’ Association, for helping to promote sake and sake culture around the world.

Several times each year, he runs the Sake Professional Course, a week-long intensive sake study course, as well as the advanced level of that course.

John publishes a free monthly newsletter (https://sake-world.com/store/free-newsletter/) on sake in general, as well as Sake Industry News, a more advanced newsletter reporting on news from the sake industry in Japan. Learn more here https://sake-world.com/sin/

We welcome John’s experience, expertise, and passion for sake and are excited for his future contributions and help the advancement of sake brewing in North America.

HARUO MATSUZAKI
After graduating from Sophia University, Matsuzaki joined Seibu Department Stores where he was a food and liquor buyer. In 1997, he transitioned into the role of a sake journalist and consultant. He is the author of many well known books about sake including The Sake Book, The Book of Sake: A Connoisseurs Guide, and A Guidebook of Nihonshu(sake). Matsuzaki writes regularly for various magazines and gives lectures on sake throughout the world. He was recently featured in the film Kampai! For the Love of Sake and is currently the Chairman of the Japan Sake Export Association.

JUSTIN POTTS
A Seattle native, for close to 15 years Justin has been in Japan working as a project development specialist focused on empowering local food and beverage producers through initiatives rooted in timeless value creation and community development. Past lives include media localization, marketing, education, event planning, digital publishing, brand creation, agriculture, and tourism. His work has landed him in advisory roles with Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Cabinet Office, and the National Tax Agency.

He holds a small handful of sake-related certifications, some significantly tougher to acquire than others, and spent several seasons as a sake brewer with Kidoizumi Shuzo, having also done stints at other producers. Justin is an active sake educator gone rogue and tireless kanzake advocate, as well as consultant and communications developer for sake producers and sake-related institutions throughout Japan, supporting the development of sake tourism and gastronomy travel programs on the side. He’s the producer and co-host of Sake On Air, as well as Chief Entertainment Officer of Potts.K Productions, where he and his wife propose family-centric platforms for good food and sake.

RYAN SHAFFER
Ryan Shaffer serves as President of Japan America Society of Washington DC, where he oversees a series of national and local programs in support of US-Japan civil society ties.  He previously served as Director of Programs and Development at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, where he was the founding director of the U.S.-Japan Space Forum and the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group, among other US-Asia policy projects.  Mr. Shaffer has an MSc in Asian politics from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and a BS in environmental policy from Bates College.  Mr. Shaffer, who splits his time between Portland Maine and the District of Columbia, serves on the Boards of Directors of the National Cherry Blossom Festival and the Western Pacific Fellowship Project.

YOSHIHISA KITA

Yoshihisa Kita currently is an associate at the Brunswick Group in Washington, DC, where he provides strategic communication support for global companies, especially Japanese companies operating in global markets, in building relationships with key stakeholders. He worked extensively on global regulatory affairs for a Japanese global manufacturer as well as crisis communication support for American firms.

Prior to joining Brunswick, he served as a financial attaché at the Embassy of Japan in the U.S. where he worked with the U.S. government and think tanks. He also worked in the Ministry of Finance, Japan, and covered a wide range of policy issues including tax policy, macroeconomic analysis, and international finance.

His family runs a more-than-200-years-old sake brewery, Kita Shuzo, in Shiga prefecture. With passion to expand sake culture to the world, he initiated the first collaboration between the Embassy of Japan and the Sake Brewers Association of North America. He worked with different stakeholders and successfully helped organize the Sake Stakeholders Summit in Washington, DC in 2022.

He holds a Bachelor degree in Law from the University of Tokyo and Master of Public Administration from SIPA (School of International and Public Affairs), Columbia University.