Saké Tasting at Saké One, Willamette Valley, Oregon

This article is part of the one-month road trip series, The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip, during which we'll visit wine countries in Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington. Follow along in real time on Twitter with the hashtag, #NWRoadTrip.

America's first American-owned Saké brewery, Saké One is awesome. The people are friendly, the saké brewery tours are fascinating, and the sakés show just how diverse and tasty sakés can be. The optional tours are free and take place at 1, 2, and 3pm daily, and to sample the sakés costs between $3-10 (the ten-dollar tasting comes with food pairings—what a deal!).

Mural of saké making at Saké One

You'll learn all about making saké when you visit, but I will take a moment to talk about the variables that make different sakés unique. Before visiting, I had no idea what distinguished sakés. There are tons  of different styles of saké, including junmai and ginjo, and saké producers craft each style by making specific decisions regarding the type of koji; the type of yeast; dilution; filtration; and pasteurization.
At first, I really had no idea what to make of the milky substance in my glass (cringe)

Koji is one of the most important aspects of a saké: it is a mold spore that is introduced to the rice to break down starches and produce sugar. At Saké One, koji is added to the rice in a cedar-paneled, sauna-like room. Once the sugar is produced, the saké master can add a particular strain of yeast to ferment the sugar, turning it into alcohol. Just like with wine, yeast also determines the ultimate flavors of saké.

Say 'hi' to Retail Sales Manager, Joann, when you're there!

The last three variables are pretty easy to understand: dilution is how much water added to the saké; filtration is how fine the filters are when filtering saké; and pasteurization is whether or not the saké is boiled to eliminate bacteria (and some flavors, too). Water is a very important part of saké, and Saké One uses water from the Oregon Coastal Ranges, which is soft and ideal for saké making.

This stuff is just plain killer.

At Saké One, you can taste through a flight of sakés made in different ways. Each tasted completely different—some looked milky, while others were clear. All came at great prices, with half bottles of saké beginning at $7.

Portions of this article included information obtained during a press trip funded by the Washington County tourism board.


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