Oregon-based SakeOne recently hired a new brewmaster, Takumi Kuwabara, to handle its craft operations. Kuwabara has more than 25 years of sake experience, in both Japan and the U.S. Most recently he worked as production manager for Takara Sake USA, following 13 years with Jaegaki Shuzo in Japan.
SakeOne has been producing sake in Oregon for more than two decades, with premium brands like G, Moonstone and Momokama, as well as imports like Hakutsuru, Kasumi Tsuru and Kibo.
I recently spoke to Kuwabara about his new position, and the state of the U.S. sake market.
Jeremy Nedelka: Coming to SakeOne, what do you plan to bring to the brand to help them grow?
Takumi Kuwabara: I believe SakeOne has a great history of making sake in Oregon. I want to use my experience to complement their brewing skills, as well as bring fresh ideas to the company.
JN: As you look at the U.S. market, what growth potential do you see for the sake category?
TK: I believe there’s much room for growth in the U.S. Sake has great potential in this market. There are so many varieties of sake for consumers to try, and there’s a potential to attract gluten-free and vegan consumers looking for different products. Sake gives consumers a lot of choice.
JN: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about sake?
TK: Sometimes I hear people say they don’t like sake, and I ask them why, and I wonder what they’re thinking. Often they’ve had a bad experience the first time they tried it, and that impression makes them not want to try it again. But once we’ve educated them and convinced them to try it a second time, they have a surprisingly pleasant experience and begin to enjoy sake. Education is very important, and I believe there are many misunderstandings we can help clear up for American consumers.
JN: You’ve worked on both sides of the Pacific. What makes SakeOne different from some of the imported brands?
TK: Being a brewer in Japan, I know there are a thousand different ways to brew sake, so I can’t say just one thing that’s different. But SakeOne has over 20 years of experience making craft sake in Oregon, and they’re doing something right. I’ve only been here a month, but I think the weather is very close to Japan, which makes this a good place to make sake. I believe my experience and SakeOne’s long history of brewing can come together to make the finest sake.
Jeremy Nedelka is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine, a sister publication of Cheers.