For those who think it’s a challenge converting drinkers of clear-to-yellow macro beer over to the craft world of hoppy double IPAs, boozy imperial stouts, sour Berliner Weisses, and spicy saisons, then imagine introducing the first sake brewpub in the United States.
That’s the challenge for moto-i, which opened in Minneapolis near the Lyndale Avenue-Lake Street intersection in 2008.
Sake has a following abroad but inland North America is the land of beer and cheese. Customers are generally unfamiliar with sake and, if they have had it, it was typically served warm. Moto-i understands and embraces that their true advantage in the marketplace is education about the product and profile, comparable to what the brew scene has encountered in recent years of converting new customers.
Sake, a traditional Japanese rice wine, is brewed somewhat similar to beer. In fact, moto-i shares ownership with brewpub The Herkimer, located next door. Head brewer Blake Richardson brews the beverage in back of the restaurant, utilizing seasonal weather in the process as fermentation is done at cooler temperatures than beer. Other classifications are determined by the milling of the rice grains, which gives different characteristics to the finished product. Otherwise, it’s about the fermentation and the yeast. It’s also worth noting that sake is stronger than beer, coming in between 10 to 20 percent ABV.
“A very typical response of someone who has only had hot sake,” Richardson says, is a limited understanding: thinking all sakes are the same or similar. Moto-i’s sake is clear, but varies significantly between recipes.
“They hear the words but they don’t tie it to something that looks similar to water,” he says, often hearing, “How did you get that flavor in there?” His answer: it’s just rice, water, and koji. The best way to showcase it, and a method that is familiar to craft beer and spirit fans, is the flight.
“It’s a great way to introduce sake to somebody because most people have a general understanding of wine and beer extreme differences, but when you put sake in front of them there’s not a background,” he says. Putting the styles side by side makes a quick lesson.
“Visually most sake looks almost identical,” he points out, but “the sampler allows someone to triangulate what sake can be.” From there, a typical second drink order is a customer picking a favorite among the three. As a brewpub, moto-i also sells food, focusing on savory foods to complement sake’s complexity.
“We get people from Japan to people who have never heard of sake before,” Richardson says, but awareness is rising.
“It’s small, incremental growth — it’s nothing like beer,” he notes, but sales have increased and sake brewpubs are opening across the country. “It’s nothing like the beer movement, but it is happening. It has to start somewhere.”
After all, a lot has changed in beer since Summit first opened.
Find moto-i on the web at www.moto-i.com.