Texan turning Japanese sake into a Lone Star tipple

AUSTIN, Texas Sun Feb 16, 2014 3:00am EST

AUSTIN, Texas Feb 16 (Reuters) - What could be more Texas than this? Rice grown in Texas fields first planted by settlers more than a century ago, processed by a Texan in the heart of the capital, Austin, and sold under the product name "Rising Star."

Welcome to the world of the Texas Sake Company, almost certainly the first - and most certainly the only - commercial brewer of the Japanese rice wine operating in the Lone Star State.

Yoed Anis, 30, founder, president and brewmaster of the company started in 2011, applies traditional Japanese methods to make his sake, while dialing up the flavor to reflect the character of the state.

"We want it big and bold," he said. "It is a Texan sake, and appropriately made for being that."

Anis got into the business because he loved the drink and wanted to show that sake could be a 100 percent Texas product.

His "Rising Star" is a nigori sake, a coarsely filtered variety that looks cloudy in the glass, is slightly sweet on the tongue, and pairs well with barbecue.

Anis also offers a dry sake called "Tumbleweed" that drinks slightly like a white wine, and the full-bodied "Whooping Crane" that's a bit more acidic than the typical Japanese offerings.

Japanese-style rice for sake came with immigrants more than 100 years ago, when a handful of Japanese settlers moved into the state and began planting the crop to the south and east of Houston. There are no records to indicate whether they brewed sake.

The Japanese farmers are gone now, but a few of the original paddies remain, providing organic rice that Anis turns into sake.

"This is self taught," said Anis, who went on a study tour of Japan before starting up his business.

There are only a handful of places in the United States that make premium sake. SakeOne of Oregon is one of the largest, shipping about 75,000 cases a year of its craft brews, according to its president Steve Vuylsteke.

The Texas Sake Company produces about 1,000 cases a year, with sales doubling year on year in a niche U.S. marketplace. For every bottle of sake sold, there are 105 bottles of wine sold, industry data show.

"The Japanese sake makers I meet like the fact that a young guy from Texas is trying to do this in a traditional way and honoring the spirit of it - using a local rice and developing a local style." (Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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