Haruo Matsuzaki, Chairman of the Japan Sake Export Association, Joins the Advisory Board

The Association is honored to welcome Mr. Haruo Matsuzaki, current Chairman of the Japan Sake Export Association, to our Board of Advisors. Matsuzaki-san most recently attended the first American Craft Sake Festival in Asheville, North Carolina where we were delighted to have the chance to spend time talking about sake and the Association. We’re honored to welcome him and are excited to grow the sake industry together!

Haruo Matsuzaki’s Bio: 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.

An Early History of Sake Brewing in British Columbia

By Richard Auffrey  |  Reprinted with permission.

When was the first Sake brewery constructed in North America?

As I previously wrote, in A History of Sake Brewing in the U.S., the first legal Sake brewery in the U.S. started producing Sake in 1902, though there had been an earlier idea, which did not come to fruition, to start a brewery in Chicago in 1892. Was the U.S. the first country in North America with a Sake brewery? My latest research indicates there was likely a large-scale Sake brewery in British Columbia (B.C.) before 1902, but it was an illegal operation.

As Japanese immigrants came to the U.S. in the 1880s, some of the first Japanese immigrants to Western Canada arrived around 1889, to the coal mines in Cumberland. Others would soon follow, often coming to work on the railroads, in fisheries or the logging industry. Vancouver became the center of the Japanese community. By 1900, there were about 4600 Japanese in B.C. and by 1911, there would be about 8600, far smaller numbers than those that immigrated to Hawaii or California. And where there were Japanese immigrants, there was Sake.

Ryoji Onodera, who would become a significant figure in early sake brewing in B.C., was born in 1854 in the Miyagi Prefecture of Japan. In 1875, he married Uino Oikawa, whose father was a businessman involved in the transport industry, and he was subsequently adopted into their family, changing his name to Jinsaburo Oikawa. During the next twenty years, Jinsaburo became a successful businessman and, in time, was intrigued with reports of “the tremendous volume of salmon in the Fraser River (in Vancouver) and how fishermen discarded salmon roe, a delicacy in Japan.”  Seeing a business opportunity, he traveled to Vancouver in August 1896 and liked what he found. He returned to Japan to gain more experience and acquire some workers, and then went back to Vancouver in 1897.

Jinsaburo and a partner, Souemon Sato, settled in Sunbury, “a rural district located on the south side of the south arm of the Fraser River directly opposite Don and Lion Islands.” Soon enough, he “brewed sake for sale to Japanese and trade with whites in exchange for dog salmon.” In May 1899, he traveled to Japan and then returned to Vancouver, bringing with him a Sake brewer, Juro Saito, and a cooper, Tatsunosuke Suzuki. Oikawa’s plans were to produce Sake, soy sauce and miso for the Japanese community in and around Vancouver. Eventually, in early 1901, Oikawa and about thirty others relocated to Don Island, which was previously uninhabited and located on the Frasier River, though the island soon became known as Oikawa-jima.

One of the first buildings they constructed on the island was a Sake brewery, showing the great importance of Sake to their community. The cooper would use cottonwood trees to construct barrels. Enough Sake was soon produced that some could be traded or sold to other local residents, much of it traded for dog salmon. For white fishermen, dog salmon were considered relatively worthless, but it was a commodity of value to the Japanese. Interestingly, two types of Sake were produced, a clear Sake to trade with white fishermen for the salmon, and a type of nigori, a cloudy Sake, for the Japanese. Because of their Sake business, Jinsaburo gained a new nickname, “raw sake Oijin.”

Despite Oikawa’s Sake brewery being illegal, the authorities had never bothered it because they saw it as something too small scale for their attention, as well as something that was largely directed at the Japanese community. However, after receiving some complaints, possibly from competitors, the local police felt compelled to act. In September 1911, the police raided and shut down the brewery.  .

Much of the above information is based, in part, on a historical novel that was written by Jiro Nitta and published in 1979. Though some of the book is fictional, it is strongly rooted in fact, and based on numerous unpublished sources, including an autobiography by Oikawa. Additional sources have verified much of the information with the novel, and noted where there were fictional aspects. The general information about the early Sake brewing appears to be largely accurate, and supported by other sources.

For example, Buck Suzuki, who was born into the Don Island community, verified that Sake brewers were brought from Japan and that the operation was on a large scale. He noted that the rice for the Sake was stored in huge barrels while thousands of gallons of Sake were produced. He also mentions that the police did raid the brewery, using axes to break open the barrels. Another man who lived in the area during that time, Albert Olson, stated that the Sake was being sold for $2 per gallon, or 35 cents per bottle.

The first legal Sake brewery in British Columbia originated around 1923, though there is some confusion over its legal status during its early years of existence. The Victoria Daily Times, July 19, 1923, noted that “Vancouver interests obtained approval for the organization of the Vancouver Malt & Sake Brewery Co. Ltd, with a capital of $100,000.” This new company, located at 2235 Triumph Street, planned on producing a large amount of Sake for both Japanese consumers and others. The article stated the Sake will be “sold through Government liquor stores, as many white persons have taken to the Oriental drink.”

The brewery was founded by Koichiro Sanmiya, a Japanese businessman who was born in Sendai, Japan, around 1880 and came to Vancouver in 1907. He also owned the Strand Hotel restaurant, an import/export business, and the Canada Daily Newspaper, a Japanese-language newspaper. He also founded the Canadian Japanese Association. At the time, his license for the Sake brewery was the only distiller’s license issued in British Columbia so it was clear there were no other legal Sake breweries in the region. Unfortunately, Sanmiya died in March 1931 of appendicitis.

The Vancouver Malt & Sake Brewery Co. Ltd. though faced a significant obstacle from the start, though this is where some confusion enters the situation. Two days after the announcement of the plans for the Sake brewery, The Victoria Daily Times, July 21, 1923 reported on the strong opposition to the plans from Attorney General Alexander Manson. Manson received a report on illegal Sake manufacture which noted that Sake consumption had “reached the proportions of a great evil.” And Manson’s reaction was mentioned, “As soon as he learned of the evils of the sake trade Mr. Manson put machinery in motion to have the whole thing checked.”

One of the items in the report was that the Japanese were supplying it to the Indians, getting them intoxicated, and then taking advantage of them in trading for fish. Manson decided that no licenses to manufacture Sake should be authorized and he made it clear that “he will refuse his consent to the operations of the $100,000 sake corporation’s operations in VancouverThis means that this company will not be able to operate.”

For about the next three years, there appeared to be no mention in the newspapers of the Vancouver Malt & Sake Brewery Co. Ltd. so potentially they were denied authorization to operate their Sake brewery. Then, the Times Colonist, July 19, 1926, mentioned that authorities, seeking a source of illegal Sake, raided and seized control of the Vancouver Malt & Sake Brewery Co. Ltd. They found that the brewery was well-equipped and possessed “large quantities of liquor in cases for shipment or in the process of brewing.” They arrested the only person they found at the brewery and left Provincial policemen behind to maintain guard over the facility.

In a curious turn of events, The Province, August 6, 1926, reported that “A charge of keeping liquor for sale laid against the Vancouver Malt & Saki Co. was dismissed by Police Magistrate J.A. Findlay.” The person who was arrested, Sam Miya, the manager, was charged with selling liquor, pled guilty and received a $300 fine. “In the charge against the company, the defense contended that there was no evidence of other than one sale and none to show that other liquor in the place was to be disposed of illegally.”

The fact they didn’t shut down the brewery for being an illegal still operation seems to indicate that it possessed a license to manufacture Sake, despite the Attorney General’s prior opposition. However, they would have been obligated only to sell through Sake through government liquor stores. They couldn’t sell it directly to any customers, including restaurants. bars, tea houses, etc. The police magistrate’s decision makes sense then, as there wasn’t any evidence that the brewery was selling their Sake outside of the government liquor stores.

In 1927, Vancouver Malt & Sake Brewery Co. Ltd. entered into a contract with the Vancouver Brewers Ltd., which primarily manufactured beer. Vancouver Malt agreed not to brew or sell beer, for a period of fifteen years, in exchange for $15,000 and to obtain a listing in the government liquor stores for their Sake. This would help Vancouver Malt in their Sake production. That simple agreement though would eventually become a major point of legal contention.

The first advertisement I found for the Sake produced by Vancouver Malt & Sake Brewery Co. Ltd. was in The Province, January 9, 1931. Their brand is Masamune, listed as “A Pure Rice Beer” at 28% proof spirit (14% ABV). It was priced at 70 cents for a 26 ounce bottle.

Around February 1932, after the death of Sanmiya, the Vancouver Malt & Sake Brewery Co. Ltd. was sold. Sanmiya’s eldest son had come from Japan to take over the operation of the Sake brewery, but had difficulty replicating the Sake once made by his father. Thus, Sanmiya’s wife, Morio, decided to sell the brewery. It was purchased by I.B. Hewer, of the real estate firm of McGregor & Hewer, and Fritz Sick, a veteran Alberta beer brewer. They also bought a site at 1445 Powell Street and began to construct a brewery, with the objective of producing beer. Fritz is also the president of the Associated Breweries of Canada Limited, the second largest brewing concern in the region.

Hewer and Sick apparently failed to do their due diligence as they immediately ran into legal difficulties. Vancouver Breweries Ltd. filed an injunction to enforce the agreement, specifically the noncompete section, it had entered into with Vancouver Malt back in 1927. According to that agreement, Hewer and Sick wouldn’t be able to brew beer at their facility until 1942. Lengthy legal proceedings began, and Vancouver Malt was at least initially prevented from making beer. At the conclusion of the first trial, in June 1832, Vancouver Breweries prevailed and the noncompete was enforced. The decision was appealed by Vancouver malt.

In August 1932, Vancouver Malt was incorporated, an indication of confidence in their business. However, in January 1933, the Appeals Court upheld the previous verdict so Vancouver Malt took the next step, an appeal to the Privy Court in London. During the course of these legal proceedings, Fritz Sick took some time to travel to Japan, to study the manufacture of Sake. When he returned to Vancouver, he decided to produce Sake, especially as he couldn’t yet make any beer.

Fritz decided to keep the Masamune brand name, but decided to push the Sake as a cocktail mixer and even provided a number of cocktail recipes using the Sake. The ad states, “Masamune is a pure cereal brew matured to minute timing and produced under the most exacting conditions of cleanliness. When the weather is warm try with well-cooled ginger ale or lemon. On a cool evening…if you would enjoy the true Oriental flavor….serve clear, and quite warm.” The price was reduced from 70 cents to 55 cents for a 26 ounce bottle.

Their first cocktail recipe was provided in an ad in The Province, June 21, 1933. The Masamune Julep is a mix of ½ ounce Gin, 1 ½ ounces Masamune Sake, a dash of Grenadine, and a dash of Pineapple Juice. Add crushed ice and a sprig of Mint dipped in fine sugar. Mix in the long glass. Add other fruit if desired and serve with a straw.

In The Vancouver Sun, June 30, 1933, the new recipe was for the Masamune Pink Lady, “A mid-summer cocktail delicate as its name—pleasing and palatable.” It is a mix of 8 parts Masamune Sake, 1 part Italian Vermouth, 1 part French Vermouth, 2 parts Gin, 2 dashes of Grenadine, 2 dashes of Lemon Juice, and 2 dashes of Pineapple Juice. Add crushed ice and mix in shaker.

The Vancouver Sun, July 7, 1933, presented the Masamune Dry Cocktail, “Served as an appetizer with a cherry or an olive—this Masamune Dry Cocktail is always a favorite.” It is a mix of 6 portions Masamune Sake, 2 portions of French Vermouth, 1 portion of Italian Vermouth, and 3 drops of Angostura bitters. Add crushed ice and mix in shaker.

For large parties, The Vancouver Sun, July 14, 1933, presents a recipe for the Masamune Punch Bowl. You’ll need a large punch bowl as it is a mix of 6 bottles of Masamune Sake, 2 bottles of French Vermouth, 2 bottles of Italian Vermouth, and a few drops of Angostura bitters. Add crushed ice, a twist of Lemon Peel and other fruits if desired.

The Province, August 16, 1933, presented a recipe for the Masamune Fizz. It is a mix of 3 ounces Masamune Sake, 1 ounce gin, a dessert spoon of pure cream, 3 teaspoons powdered sugar, cracked or crushed ice. Stir well and pour into glass. Fill with club soda. If using crushed ice, strain off into glass before adding soda.

Allegedly, the Masamune Sake was even curative! In an advertisement in The Vancouver Sun, September 8, 1933, it states; “Serve warm for a cold. Masamune is widely recognized as being highly beneficial in relieving colds, and that is a big item now the rainy season is arrived. Serve quite warm either by itself or blended with hot lemonade.” Some people swear by a hot toddy, and this is simply more of a Japanese version, with a Canadian twist.

Good news than arrived for the Hewer and Sick of Vancouver Malt & Sake Brewery Co. Ltd. in February 1934. The Privy Council overruled lower courts and sided with the defendants, allowing them to now brew beer. The brewery at Vancouver Malt was then renovated so it could produce beer and the company name was changed, in July 1934, to the Capilano Brewing Co, Ltd. That same month, they released their first beer, under the trade name “Capilano.” Was this the end of their Sale production?

Initially, you might have thought that they would continue to make Masamune Sake. The Province, November 2, 1934 presented an ad for “The New Masamune,” though the price had risen to 70 cents. The producer is now listed as Capilano Brewing Co. Ltd. The ad declares, “Brewed to perfection in the only Sake plant in the British Empire. The New Masamune, declared by experts to be the finest product of its kind in the market, is now on sale at Government Liquor Stores. Smooth as a rare old wine, The New Masamune is a pure cereal brew matured to minute timing under the most exacting conditions of temperature and cleanliness. Unvarying in content, purity and clarity, it is ideal for making cocktails since it blends so readily with other liquors and mixes perfectly with any favorite soft drink. And it is so economical, enabling you to serve in large numbers at surprisingly low cost with minimum of preparation.”

The ad also presented another Sake cocktail, The Soldier’s Cocktail. It is a mix of 1 part Rum “proof”, 8 parts Masamune Sake, a dash of pineapple juice to suit flavor, and a drop or few drops of Angostura Bitters. Strain and serve in cocktail glass. Dash of grenadine may be used. The approximate cost of the cocktail is 6 cents each.

In another ad, The Vancouver Sun, November 28, 1934, presented a recipe for the Masamune Flip. It is a mix of 6 oz Masamune, the juice of ½ orange, 1 whole egg, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 pinches nutmeg, and ice. Shake well. Serve in wine glass. Approximate cost is 4 cents each.

However, the ads for Masamune Sake seem to end in 1934 and the only other reference I found was in The Vancouver Sun, March 28, 1935, where there is a mention that the price of Masamune Sake at government liquor stores had dropped to 60 cents. Possibly, Fritz had decided to end the production of Sake and concentrate only on beer, his first love. He might have attempted to sell off the Sake he had been aging prior to the Privy Council’s decision. In June 1938, Fritz retired from Capilano.

Today, there are two Sake breweries in B.C., including the Artisan Sake Maker, owned by Masa Shiroki, which was founded in 2007 on Granville Island. The other is the YK3 Sake Producer, which was founded in 2013, taking over the the former Nipro Sake Brewery in Richmond. The legacy of Jinsaburo Oikawa, Koichiro Sanmiya, and Fritz Sick continues.

45 Historical Tidbits You Probably Don't Know About Sake in the United States

By Richard Auffrey  |  Reprinted with permission.


While researching my article on the history of Sake breweries in the U.S., I discovered a number of other fascinating historical stories and tidbits about Sake. They didn’t necessarily fit into my article but I still wanted to share these seventeen items as I know some of my readers will find these matters quite interesting. I have organized them by date, from the earliest in 1853 to the latest in 1936, and I hope you enjoy this look into American’s early views on Sake. Please note that the newspapers, into the early 20th century, used both Saki and Sakee to refer to this beverage.

1) The oldest American newspaper that I have found that mentions Sake is the Weekly National Intelligencer (D.C.), November 5, 1853. In reporting on one of the visits of Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan, there is reference to a “presents of saki and cake.” Perry’s visits to Japan were all over the news at this time, and a few additional brief mentions of saki exist in other newspapers around this time.

2) The New York Daily Herald, June 27, 1854 was the first newspaper to be more explicit as to the nature of Sake, discussing meetings between the Americans and Japanese, and noting, “The extract from rice is now the only liquor known in Japan. It is called saki by them. Hence they gave the name of “American saki” to all the drinks. They are fond of ardent spirits. The guests made it a business to taste of every wine and of every dish.”

3) The New York Tribune, October 17, 1855, discussed the role of Saki in Japanese marriage ceremonies. It states: “The formality of the marriage consists in drinking sake after a peculiar manner. The saki is poured out by two young girls, one of whom is called the male butterfly, and the other the female butterfly — appellations derived from their susu, or saki jugs, each of which is adorned with a paper butterfly. As these insects always fly about in pairs, it is intended to intimate that so the husband and wife ought to be continually together.” There is then a discussion of how the bride and groom drink the Sake, sipping three times from three different cups.

4) A penalty for stealing Sake. The New York Daily Herald, October 30, 1858, reported on an incident in Japan, where the American Consul held a trial for a whaleman, a native of Philadelphia. He was accused of stealing Sake, found guilty and sentenced to one year’s hard labor. The same article also mentioned that in the Port of Hokadadi,“There are two or three distilleries in the city for the manufacture of saki, of which there are two kinds—the strong and the sweet.”

5) A Sake slushy? The Daily Alta California, January 7, 1860, published an article about the Fusi-yama Mountain, located near the bay of Yedo. “I am told, at its base, where the traveler can obtain at the inns a drink of saki, cooled by the snows brought from this lofty summit, and those who have tasted the mixture pronounce it equal to the famed ices of Tortoni, of the boulevard des Italiens, Paris.” I wonder if this Sake treat is still available there.

6) A Sake tonic for what ails you? During 1860-1861, there were a number of newspaper advertisements for “Oriental Saki, or Japanese Tonic.” It is described as, “The favorite beverage of the Tycoon and Nobility of Japan; a delicious Aromatic wine, medicated with mild and bracing tonics, highly recommended for nervousness, debility, indigestion, and invalids in generally.” One of the ads refers to it as “Paul’s Oriental Saki or Japanese Tonic” and another newspaper mentioned that the manufacturer was Mr. Stephen Paul. The components of this tonic are unknown, and I’m not sure if it even contained any actual Sake.

7) Sake bottles for sale. The Cincinnati Daily Press, October 27, 1860, mentioned an Auction sale of Chinese and Japanese goods, including “Rattan-covered saki bottles.” The Baltimore Sun, November 1, 1860, also mentioned an Auction sale of Japanese goods, including “Sakee Bottles.” A Baltimore, Maryland newspaper, on November 9, 1860, advertised an auction sale of “superb Japanese goods,” including “sakee bottles.” Though those bottles are not described, it seems likely the ads refer to tokkuri, traditional ceramic flasks used to pour sake.

8) Though the Japanese primarily consumed hot Sake, sometimes they enjoyed it cold. In the Holmes County Republican (Ohio), February 28, 1861, there was an article about a dinner in Japan held for some Americans. “Cold saki of two kinds, sweet and acrid, was profusely served towards the close of the feast, …

9) What are the usual food pairing for Sake? A correspondent for The New York Times, July 31, 1868, wrote an article about their visit to a Japanese tea-house; “Saki was brought in. It is slightly alcoholic, and its taste is such as might be expected of a mixture of rum and sherry wine. It is always served hot, and from the tiny cups in use one may drink many a bumper and not feel it. With the saki came, as usual, fried eels, oranges and boiled snails, ..” Certainly an intriguing threesome of food for your hot Sake.

10) Not all Americans were a fan of Sake. In the Sacramento Daily Union, November 25, 1868, an article discussed the Japanese city of Hiogo, mentioning, “The only business carried on to any great extent is the distillation of saki. This is the “Bourbon whisky” of Japan. It is made out of rice, very similar to the manner in which we make whisky from rye. There are about thirty distilleries in one street, in each of which thousands of gallons of saki are stowed away, not in casks or barrels, but in a sort of bucket or pannier. Saki is a transparent, yellowish liquid, extremely sharp, extremely intoxicating, and particularly disagreeable and unpleasant to the taste.” During the next 50-60 years, newspapers would vary in their descriptions, some claiming Sake was extremely intoxicating while others stating it was only mildly intoxicating.

11) The Hawaiian Gazette, May 5, 1869, advertised an auction sale by Adams & Wilder for “a large variety of merchantable & desirable goods,” including linens, soaps, tea, sugar, tobacco and “10 tubs of Japanese sake.” The advertisement didn’t specify the size of those tubs.

12) Silkworms and Sake. The Sacramento Daily Union, August 21, 1869, discussed the silk culture in Japan, talking about the care of silkworms. There is mention that silkworms are fed with mulberry leaves, and “In some localities it was remarked that the cultivators moistened the leaves with water when the atmosphere was very dry, and at times with water mixed with saki (spirit fermented from rice) when the worms showed any signs of weakness.”

13) More negativity, and racism, towards Sake and the Japanese. The Idaho World, January 27, 1870, published an article describing the people of Yokohama people. Please note that “Yakonin” refers to “Samurai.” The article stated, “A man with two swords is styled a Yakonin, and his weapons are obtained usually by birth, but frequently by service to some Prince or Daimio. They are, without exception, I believe hostile to Europeans, hating them cordially, and when under the influence of ‘saki’ (a liquor like pure spirits), have no greater ambition than murdering a foreigner. They are a numerous and a dangerous class, so dangerous that no foreigner is safe beyond the city without a strong guard.”

14) The Mariposa Gazette, November 24, 1877, discussed the home life in Japan, stating that, “The Japanese usually partake of three meals a day. The noon meal is more substantial than in the early morning, but that at evening, after the labors of the day are over, is the chief. Many spend hours over their evening cups and dishes. At this time probably a majority drink sake in greater or less quantity. The drink is brewed from rice, and contains from two to eight per cent, of alcohol.” I suspect the information about the alcohol content is erroneous, as Sake is usually over 10% alcohol.

15) The New Ulm Weekly Review (MN), March 2, 1881, published an excerpt from a book review of Unbeaten Tracks in Japan by Isabella Bird, an explorer, naturalist, writer and photographer. The review described “–sake, or rice beer, a straw-colored fluid of a faintish taste and smell, most varieties of which contain from 11 to 17.5 of alcohol.” It also provided information on the production of Sake, noting the Japanese had done pasteurization for hundreds of years. It also stated, “Sake, it seems, ought to have five distinct tastes—sweetness, sourness, sharpness, bitterness and astringency, together with a slight trace of the flavor of fusel oil. Miss Bird thought it insipid, sickly and nauseous. It is frequently drunk hot, and, as a rule, is taken before what the Japanese consider the substantial part of the repast.

16) The New York Tribune, November 5, 1882, published an interesting, albeit brief, article on the Sake brewing process in their Science For The People column. This seems to indicate an interest in Sake beyond the basic cultural items.

17) In the Daily Alta California, June 28, 1886, there was an article discussing two aspects of Japanese etiquette, the tea-party and the wedding. In the wedding section, there was a discussion of sansankudo, the ritual where both bride and groom sip from three cups of Sake during the ceremony. This is the second time the custom has been explained in depth in an American newspaper.

18) In the Sacramento Daily Union, September 17, 1887, it claimed that Sake was “dangerous from the large proportion of fusil oil contained in it.” Fusel oils are found in most alcoholic beverages, but if the levels are too high, they can make people sick. Later information does not seem to indicate that Sake ever had dangerous levels of fusel oils and this was but fear mongering.

19) Drinking habits around the world. The Springfield Daily Republic (Ohio), November 1, 1887,  and various other newspapers across the country, published an article titled Drinks Of All Nations. The article discussed the drinking habits of numerous countries, from China to the Middle East, though the article was trying to prove the proposition that “The easily governed nations drink no strong liquors.” It is an extremely condescending and racist article. For example, it says: “The Japs are the most encouraging examples that the east presents of a nation progressing from Asiatic to a European plane of civilization.” It also states, “No nation in Asia drinks so persistently and steadily as do the Japanese. The average Jap consumes about half a pint of sake or rice beer with each meal—a pint and a half per day–saying nothing about further social indulgence in the evening. Both men and women drink sake by the pint daily, and think no harm of it, either.”

20) How many Sake breweries were there in Japan during this time period? The Iron County Register (MO), February 28, 1889, reported that there were 18,153 Sake breweries in Japan, which produced a total of about 140 million gallons annually for a population less than 38 million.

21) It is interesting to note that in the Sausalito News, January 29, 1892, they printed an article stating, “Sake drinking, according to a writer in the “American Antiquarian,” is one of the great curses of Japan. In 1879, the amount of rice converted into sake amounted to 15,000,000 bushels. Pledges to abstain from the habit are frequent among the picture-offerings in Japanese temples.” However, no additional details were given to explain the conclusion of the American Antiquarian writer.

22) There is an interesting article in the San Francisco Call, June 4, 1893 discussing various types of shops in Japan, including a Sake shop. “A little further down the street the tourist sees a branch of cryptomeria or a cluster of cypress trimmed into a symmetrical shape. This is the sign of the liquor-shop, the place where sake is sold.” These are shops not bars or saloons. “Most of the customers take it home to drink, though some buy only a small quantity, a tiny cupful, perhaps, and swallow it on the spot. But there is no bar, no white aproned attendant or fancy drinks. The customers do not hang about to smoke and gossip, though, of course, they occasionally stop to chat a few moments with a neighbor.” The shop is described as, “Instead of rows of glittering bottles great wooden tubs of various kinds and qualities of liquor stand about all decorated with elaborate Chinese characters and bearing the marks that tell the quality, the “extra superior” marked with a character and picture meaning “the full blown flower,” and “best” marked “Dai” or great “first-class,” and then a tub bearing a big crimson peony and lettered “Santokushu,” meaning the sake of “three virtues”— flavor, strength and purity.” It is also mentioned that, “The dealers in sweet sake, which is drunk principally by women and children, particularly at christening or rather naming feasts, advertise their business by exhibiting a painting of Fujiyama, the sacred mountain.”

23) The legend of Saru-zake, monkey Sake, is explained in the Los Angeles Herald, October 1, 1893. First, the article mentions, “It will hardly be necessary to say that sake is made from fermented rice. It is drunk warm and tastes not unlike a mild sherry. To the strong westerner’s stomach it is harmless and he could hardly contain enough to induce intoxication, but the vegetarian Japanese is less able to withstand its fumes, and, aided by inhaled tobacco, he quickly shows its effects and as quickly recovers there from.”

The article then discusses a legend that apes first discovered Sake. “Traditions of Kwate Ken place the discovery of sake to the apes that abound in the mountains of that province. On one of their more daring raids they carried off some good wife’s rice mess as it awaited the coming home of the fishing party, hungry from their arduous task. Escaping into the hills, the uninvited guests proceeded to gorge themselves, ensconced in tbe branches of a mighty oak; filled to repletion, tbey dropped the remaining rice into a cupshaped cranny in the tree and scampered off. During the next day the sun is obscured and the rain descends and thoroughly soaks the rice. Nearing away towards evening the storm allows the low rays of tbe setting orb to penetrate the branches of the forest, and by a happy chance, it so focuses its rays on tbe secreted rice that fermentation sets in and Sake is born into the world.”

24) In April 1894, a Hawaiian newspaper noted that a Japanese ship, the Aikoku Maru landed in Hawaii and the Custom Authorities seized 20 cases of Sake from the ship as they were not listed on the ship’s manifest.

25) On December 27, 1894, a Honolulu newspaper discussed the effect of Sake on the city, stating: “Saki, a liquor distilled from rice, is a ‘pleasant sweetish tasting drink, and it is so intoxicating that it takes effect very quickly.’ The saloon keepers of Honolulu are glad to buy it, as it is very cheap at wholesale, and they retail it (at a handsome profit to themselves) to the poor Hawaiians at a much lower cost than other liquors. The Hawaiians think it fine to get drunk at so cheap a cost.” The article also mentions that they have read of a number of “crimes committed under the effects of saki.”

26) Another Honolulu newspaper, on February 22, 1895, advertised an “Auction Sale of Saki!” An unknown number of “Tubs of Japanese Saki,” 7 gallons each, were offered and they were “Guaranteed in perfect order and condition.” It is unknown whether a 7 gallon tub was a standard or not at this time.

27) The Salt Lake Herald, April 20, 1896, discussed an intriguing Sake legend, one I’ve never heard of before and haven’t been able to find anything else about. “Well there is a tradition that if one drinks a great deal of sake one’s hair will become red, for a boy who once fell into a pot of it came out with a sorrell top.” The writer, who had red hair, also noted, “Well, when I would walk through the streets small boys would follow me, pretend to be drink and pointing to my hair, whisper ‘sake,’ intimating that I was a great drunkard.” Has anyone heard this legend before?

28) The Sun (NY), July 5, 1896 discussed the price of Sake in Japan. “There are no public houses or saloons in Japan, but tea houses and sake shops abound. They are far too generously patronized by this class, and the solid food is washed down by their favorite drink, a turbid sake. This sake contains rice, from which it is brewed, in a pulverized form, the brewing not quite temperedThis liquid can be manufactured for the market in less than a month.” It costs two Sen for a go, a 180ml serving of Sake. By the exchange rate at that time, that serving of Sake would cost only one U.S. penny. Based on the inflation calculator, that one penny would be the equivalent of about 33 cents in 2018.

29) The Los Angeles Herald, December 9, 1896, published an article stating, “Sake is a natural beverage of Japan, and until recent years was the only fermented liquor known in that empire. It is obtained by the distillation of the best kinds of rice. In appearance it resembles very pale sherry wine, though in taste it is somewhat acid. The best sake is white, but there are many varieties, and the poorer people in Japan have to content themselves with a turbid sort.

30) The Sausalito News, February 18, 1899, noted, “The little .laps are about as free from the vice of drunkenness as any people in the world. In fact, it is the rarest thing in the world to see an inebriated snbject of the mikado. The native drink, “saki,” is used about as tea in this country, and it is but little more intoxicating.” This is the complete opposite to earlier articles which claimed Sake was highly alcoholic.

31) What were Sake workers paid? The Pittsburgh Daily Post, July 8, 1900, discussed laborers in Japan, providing information about their hours, wages, and more. There was a table of the wages of day laborers for the year 1898. Sake brewers were under a special section for employees engaged by the month. Their highest wages was $5.73, their lowest wage $3.77, and the average was $4.72. They earned the most of the five categories of monthly workers, which included sag brewery workers, confectionary employees, and servants. Dependent on the amount of days worked by the various day laborers, sake brewery employees were in the top percentile of highly paid workers.

32) Returning to that opposite, the Amador Ledger (CA), August 3, 1900, referred to Sake as “rice brandy” and stated that it was “fiery stuff and goes to one’s head more quickly than our own brandy.” The San Francisco Call, July 14, 1901, also referred to Sake as “rice brandy”. This seems to me as if they considered Sake to be more similar to a fortified wine, with a higher alcohol content, and that isn’t accurate at all.

33) The Los Angeles Herald, March 20, 1904, published a fascinating article, China Collecting In Los Angeles, which concentrated on Sake cups, kettles and bottles. It is well worth a read. “Many sake-drinking accessories are required by the elegantes of an art-loving country like Japan and so the united efforts of many craftsmen and artists are called forth to provide and properly beautify them.” The article mentions that Sake kettles were usually made of iron with a bronze lid while Sake bottles were usually made in the “pilgrim gourd” style. Most of the article talks about Sake cups, and their styles, decorations, and more. “One is easily persuaded that all sake cups are delightful and desirable, yet all are frail, perishing bits of porcelain.”

34) A deadly drunken brawl! The Mariposa Gazette, February 9, 1907, a San Francisco newspaper, reported on a deadly fight, allegedly caused by the effects of Sake. “T. Yeoka died at the Central Emergency Hospital, and H. Torogama, with an ugly slash across his shoulder, is being carefully nursed to life. The trouble was caused by the effects of the national drink, sake, of which a party of Japanese had been partaking heavily. At Sutter and Laguna streets the party under the influence of sake ran foul of Yeoka and Torogama. Knives flashed, and in the general melee which followed the two Japanese received the wounds.”

35) Does gold make Sake taste better? The Pullman Herald (WA), March 16, 1907, reported that “Mr. Shibata, the brewer, has ordered a solid gold pan, which will be used for tempering sake, says the Tokyo (Japan) Times. The capacity of the pan is such as to hold about 100 gallons. It will take two or three months to make the pan, during which time the house goldsmith will be specially guarded by the police.” Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out more information about this matter.

36) According to the Los Angeles Herald, August 26, 1908, there were about forty Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles, and they usually served alcohol. However, they often don’t possess a proper liquor license, which would cost $60, as they claimed it was too expensive. The police commission has been considering the matter, speculating that maybe they should lower it for Japanese restaurants, down to only $20 for a license. The police noted that it was tough to convict these restaurants for license violations as the restaurants catered almost exclusively to other Japanese, who wouldn’t testify against each other. These Japanese restaurants were not seen as competitors to other restaurants, so the police commission didn’t think lowering the license fee for them would lead to protests from other restaurant owners. If other restaurants did complain to the police, then they would reconsider the matter.

Apparently the police commission eventually decided against lowering the liquor license fee, and chose instead to take a more aggressive stance. Los Angeles Herald, May 24, 1909, reported that the police raided the various Japanese restaurants, finding that none of them had liquor license on record, though many had Geisha girls serving Sake and beer to their customers. The records also indicated that three Chinese restaurants in the city had liquor licenses, which now cost $75. The raids seemed to accomplish their purpose as the next month, 26 Japanese restaurants applied for liquor licenses, though only 12 received them. The police felt that 12 licenses were sufficient to meet the needs of the Japanese community. However, by October, a total of 20 Japanese restaurants had secured the proper licenses.

37) The San Francisco Sunday CallDecember 18, 1910, ran one of maybe the first major articles abut Sake in English. The extensive article, Sake, The National Booze Of The Japanesewas written by Mary Ogden Vaughan, and is well worth reading. It touches on many different aspects of Sake, from customs to legends.

I want to highlight some information on pricing during this period. Vaughan states, “A good sized cask of the best— and the best comes from the great rice fields in the region of Osaka, near the Inland sea — costs between $3 and $4 in Japan. In this country the wholesale price is at the rate of $1.25 a gallon.

In addition, the article mentions that “In the olden days of the samurai the fierce warriors often preserved the heads of conquered foemen in tubs of sake and offered them for the identification of their feudal lords, as evidence of their prowess.”

You’ll also find a Japanese drinking song:
When you drink sake
You feel like the springtime,
And the loud cries
Of impatient creditors
On the outside
Sound in your ears
Like the voices of’ nightingales
Singing most sweetly

38) The San Francisco Call, January 23, 1911, mentioned that about 250,000 gallons of Japanese Sake are consumed in the U.S. This brief item doesn’t mention how much is consumed in Hawaii versus the Mainlan.

39) Now, let’s discuss alcoholic exports to Japan. The San Francisco Cal, June 6, 1911, stated that a shipment of 1000 barrels of California table wine were being sent to Japan, allegedly because it was said that the Japanese were starting to change their tastes, from Sake to wine. After California wine had previously dealt with competition in Hawaii from Sake imports, I’m sure they felt better that their wines were now being seen as competitive to Sake in Japan.

40) Assault with a deadly weapon, a Sake bottle? The San Francisco Call, July 22, 1911, told the tale of an intoxicated Japanese man who allegedly assaulted a fellow wedding guest with a Sake bottle. The accused was eventually acquitted of a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

41) The Sun (NY), March 10, 1912, published an interesting article describing Sake and its production, and it even refers to it as seishu, the legal name for Sake in Japan. It states Sake is unique, and though it resembles beer, wine and brandy, it is not any of those categories. It correctly notes that Sake is originally of Chinese origin.

42) The Japan Year Book, 1920-1921, by Y. Takenob, is a “Complete Cylopedia of General Information and Statistics on Japan and Japanese Territories.” The book had a section on the Sake industry and presented some interesting information about Nada Sake. “For sake, the national liquor brewed from rice, ‘Five villages of Nada,’ situated about midway between Osaka and Kobe, are the most noted centre of production in Japan. What is interesting is that the fame of “Nada sake” is generally attributed not to any improved process of brewing as to the peculiar quality of water in certain wells existing in the five villages. The general opinion is that certain bacilli found in the water possess the virtue of imparting peculiar agreeable flavor to the liquor. The wells yielding such water possess considerable value, and are a lasting source of goodly income to the owners.”

43) In July 1926, a Sausalito newspaper reported on a “Dry” Village In Japan. “The young women residents of Takaso, a village in Japan, have refused to marry any young man who has not taken the pledge. The members of the Young Women’s association noticed that an abnormal quanlty of sake, the national Japanese drink, was being consumed by the “young bloods,” so they organized and voted unanimously to have nothing to do with any youth who drank sake.” I haven’t yet been able to find any more information about this pledge.

44) The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 22, 1930, noted the decrease in Sake consumption in Japan. They are drinking about 27% less Sake than they did five years ago. There were about 10,650 Sake breweries, and in 1930, they produced about 201 Million gallons, a decrease of 77 Million from 1925. In 1920, total production had been 314 Million gallons. This hurt the government through reduced taxes on the Sake, which had dropped from 238 Million yen in 1928 to 170 Million yen in 1930. The production of beer has been declining as well, though not as much as Sake.

45) The earliest Sake cocktail in the U.S.? The first American newspaper that I’ve found to mention a Sake cocktail was the Cincinnati Enquirer, June 29, 1936, discussing New York City and a review of Daruma, a Sixth Ave. sukiyaki place. “Don’t commit the faux pas of ordering cold sake. They have it both ways on the menu, probably trying to please these Americans. But the Japanese know best—sake deserves to be heated. Miyako also offers a sake cocktail—a shockingly unorthodox concoction calculated to make a shogun shudder in his tomb.” Unfortunately, there wasn’t a description of the cocktail.


This article was originally published here.

Sponsoring the American Craft Sake Festival in Asheville, NC

The Association is excited to be working closely with Mary Rose Ridderbusch-Shearer and Patrick Shearer of Ben’s Tune Up to help sponsor their upcoming American Craft Sake Festival in Asheville, NC on June 1, 2019.

We invite sake enthusiasts and the sake-curious to try complimentary tastes of over 20 sakes made right here in the United States. Sake brewers will lead talks on food pairings, sake brewing 101, and more in the sake tasting room. The event will also feature sake-beer collaborations with Hi-Wire and Asheville Brewing Company. Enjoy live music, carafe specials on all Ben’s American Sake, and their full food menu.

For more information, please click here or visit Ben’s American Sake.

Download the Press Release

Partnership with Wash U Law

The Association is thrilled to announce that it has formed a partnership with Wash U Law that will allow us to hire two law students to help the Association work on a wide range of research related to the sake industry. We’ll be tackling a comprehensive survey of sake regulations across the United States as well as working towards drafting proposed legislation that will help grow the sake industry as a whole. We’re honored to be working closely with Wash U Law, one of the most respected law schools in the world.

For more information, please email info@sakeassociation.org

Ben Bell to join as Director of Content

The Sake Brewers Association of North America is pleased to announce that Ben Bell has joined as the Director of Content.

Ben Bell is a sake professional and Arkansas native who began his drinks career in 2004 working in wine & spirits retail and later moved into restaurant bar management. He became a wine specialist and quickly branched out to spirits, sake, and beer. He holds the Advanced Sake Professional Certification from the Sake Education Council and is a certified sake educator with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust based in London. He has lived in Japan and trained at two sake breweries including two seasons at Nanbu Bijin in Ninohe, Iwate.

He can be reached at bbell@sakeassociation.org