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Blue Current Sake Brewery on Benefits of Maine, National Goals

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Co-owner/head brewer Dan Ford and his wife Phyllis answer tough questions with a week remaining in their Kickstarter campaign to bring sake to Kittery.

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Blue Current Brewery co-owner/head sake brewer Dan Ford washes rice.
Blue Current Brewery co-owner/head sake brewer Dan Ford washes rice.
Blue Current Brewery

Blue Current Brewery, looking to be Maine's first sake brewery, kicked off its crowdfunding campaign nearly a month ago. With one week remaining, co-owner/head brewer Dan Ford and his wife Phyllis have raised just over $20,000, equivalent to 60% of their $33,000 all-or-nothing goal. The Kickstarter page contains lots of useful information; Boston-based craft alcohol retailer The Urban Grape blogged about American sake and their visit to the Blue Current space in Kittery yesterday, too. Blue Current's Facebook page has links to a handful of additional pieces written recently about the local sake phenomenon; people are excited about unique fermentation in this state and beyond.

Especially with so many new businesses turning to crowdfunding websites to secure necessary capital, though, fans are hesitant to support Kickstarter campaigns unless they feel difficult questions have been answered. Dan and Phyllis answered some of these for Eater, explaining, "We've asked ourselves these very same questions (and more!) and hopefully the following responses give a little more perspective on these things."

You tout the "cool ocean breezes" and Maine's "chilly climate" as providing perfect conditions for sake brewing. While our climate may be similar to Japan, rice won't be grown here. And with modern temperature controls like glycol-jacketed tanks, ambient temperature shouldn't play much role in fermentation. Aside from the clean water, what makes Maine ideal for brewing sake? Are there other factors that will affect the terroir of this locally-produced beverage?
While we will not be brewing from local rice to start, we are already exploring working with some local and organic rice growers here in Maine for at least a specialty brew (not sure they'll be able to provide the quantities needed for more than that). That, however, is a ways off at this point, but we're hopeful.

In the meantime, our cool climate here in Maine is quite helpful in keeping our brewery and ingredients naturally chilled, thus saving us money that would otherwise be spent on cooling our space and our tanks and therefore making our brewing economically viable for more months of the year.

Additionally, there are far more natural yeasts in warmer and more humid climates. Because our winters freeze those wild yeasts, it makes our open-top fermenting much more stable and will allow us to maintain a more consistent and better flavor to our brew.

Even the sake yeast we use will act and taste quite differently when used during hot and humid conditions, even when the fermentation is done in cold tanks. The whole of the process needs to be chilled and the temperature profile throughout the day kept consistent in order to not adversely affect the taste.

Unlike beer brewing and wine making, sake brewing is more easily affected by external "impurities" and thus our ability to leverage the cool and clean air help us to keep our expenses down and ensure a consistent quality brew.

You repeat a common claim among sake brewers: Because of its lack of tannins and sulfites, sake doesn't lead to hangovers. Can you provide studies to back up this claim?
As you likely know, hangovers are partially a result of dehydration—your body has used water to metabolize the effects of alcohol and, unless your diligent in hydrating, it will have "stolen" water from your tissues. The resulting dehydration causes that lovely headache and cotton mouth.

Hangovers are also a result of the additives to the alcohol (flavors, colors, preservatives, etc.) and congeners or the byproducts of fermentation (like sulfites and tannins). [Editor's note: Tannins are naturally occurring compounds found in many plants, rather than a byproduct of fermentation. They are present in grains and fruit skins, which is why they are then found in fermented beverages such as beer and wine.] The more pure the alcohol, the fewer of these impurities you are consuming. Because the rice used for sake is milled it lacks the fatty impurities of the rice grain, and since premium sakes are made from more fully milled grains, there are fewer congeners still to compound the hangover. As they say in Japan, "You know a good sake the next morning."

Sake has no sulfites, has 1/3 the acidity of wine, and is low in histamines, all of which have been shown to contribute to hangovers.

That said, moderation is likely the best prevention for a hangover. The fact is, you can get too much of a good thing...

Here are some sources we've found helpful in researching this ourselves:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangover
http://wineintro.com/basics/health/hangovers.html
http://www.sakenomi.us/health.html
Sake Health and Longevityhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/0982651384
Sake Pure & Simplehttp://www.amazon.com/Sake-Pure-Simple-Griffith-Frost/dp/188065637X

Blue Current Brewery FB

You've hit nearly 60% of your goal [at the time of interview]. What happens next if the Kickstarter campaign is unsuccessful?
Hey, don't jinx us! Phew. Seriously, we would have to turn to private investors, which is always a possibility and we already have a few, but that approach takes far longer. Without the Kickstarter funding we would still get to our goal and would likely start making sake soon, but we would maybe have to delay automating some of our process (bottling, labeling, etc.) a bit longer so the actual end-to-end production would take longer and thus be more costly. Short answer: we'd still get there, it just would take us longer and cost us more.

Portland's most visible sake bar, Miyake Diner, recently closed. Who do you see as your target audience for Blue Current sake? Do you have relationships with bars, restaurants, and retail stores throughout the state that are planning to serve your product? Are you planning to sell the bulk of your sake to brewery visitors?
Yes, Miyake Diner was a great late-night local spot in Portland. However, our intended audience extends well beyond the borders of Maine. Our first efforts are obviously focused in the Northeast as we have had the ability to develop relationships not only with bars, restaurants, and retailers, but with distributors as well, especially here in Maine.

We have started conversations with distributors across the country (lots of demand for premium American sake) but have held off on pursuing these relationships too far until we can share our product. Given how well we've been received and the anticipated quick orders we've been promised within the state of Maine—all absent of actual product—we're hopeful we'll be as well received further afield and will soon have distributor relationships in all 50 states.