June 12

defining sake/beer.

Readers of this blog likely know that I am involved in brewing a Sake/Beer hybrid, which is now in its third year, at the Cambridge Brewing Company (CBC). The Head Brewer at the CBC, Will Meyers, and I decided early on that this project would be a true collaboration and would involve just as much Sake brewing as it does beer brewing. This year’s batch of Banryu-Ichi has been on tap for a few weeks now and is getting great reviews; in fact, many people are calling it our best batch!

Since our beer was just released at the CBC and poured to thousands of beer fans at this year’s American Craft Beer Fest, folks have been asking lately for more information on Sake/Beer hybrids. There’s a new beer by Element Brewing, called Plasma; it is a very successful attempt at a gluten free IPA and is billed as a “Sake IPA.”
elementplasma Logically, I’ve been asked about the brewing process for Plasma. I sent a quick email to Element and, in a friendly response, they informed me that they did not use Koji, brewing rice, or a Sake yeast. This fact got me thinking about what exactly defines a “Sake Beer”? The term is not a regulated one, so the use of it is purely artistic, but shouldn’t there be some criteria that links the beer to the Sake brewing process?

As far as beers made with Sake influence, there haven’t been many; let’s look at how some of these beers express their Sake side.

Red Horizon. Nøgne Ø. Norwayredhorizon
This beer is brewed at Nøgne Ø, which has the rare distinction of being both a beer brewery and a Sake brewery… in Norway! Red Horizon is brewed like a beer, with barley and wheat, but is fermented with Sake yeast #7. At 17%, it is huge, malty, and delicious with many of the fruity esters found in Sake fermentation.

fa16c49faf29444b839daf263a222c8c_7Banryu-Ichi. Cambridge Brewing Co. Cambridge, Massachusetts
Our very own Sake/Beer hybrid. Brewed by inoculating a tank of special beer wort (brown rice syrup, barley, rice) with a full 500 liter batch of fermenting Sake. At 14%, it is a true hybrid with two Sake yeasts driving the flavor and aromas but with a beer backbone — flavors both familiar and unique.

Epic Ales (various). Seattle, Washington

epicalesA great nano brewery by the extremely hard-working Cody Morris. Cody started his brewery in 2008 with the great idea of using Sake yeast #9 as his house yeast strain. Although not his only strain of yeast now, he still uses it to make a variety of beers.


“Sorry” Ale. Yoho Brewing Company. Japan
“Sorry” Ale (a shortened version of its extremely long Japanese name) is a light colored ale made with barley and hops with the inclusion of Sake kasu (lees), Koji, and possibly a Sake yeast. It doesn’t appear that they made a batch of Sake, but rather incorporated Sake’s main components and by-products into the beer process. The light, slightly fruity ale is being called a “white IPA” by some and just “delicious” by many.

Otter-San (retired). Otter Creek Brewing. Vermont
ottersanThis beer was released as part of World Tour series and was only made once. When it came out, I had the opportunity to talk about it with one of the brewers. The beer was made by adding rice and Koji to the beer process for flavor (not converted sugar) and the whole thing used a Sake yeast.

The Japanese government defines Sake as “alcoholic beverage made from rice, rice Koji, and water using fermentation and filtration to separate the rice solids.” If “Sake beers” had to meet the legal requirements for a beer and a Sake, only Banryu-Ichi would fit that criteria (I’m biased). A better term might be “Sake inspired beer,” but that would be a much harder sell to drinkers…

* Many people might wonder why the beers from Kiuchi Brewery aren’t listed here. Even though Hitachino beers are made at a brewery in Japan that makes Sake, beer, and shochu, the beers have no Sake ingredients (despite some American advertising indications).*