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Sake made in Austin? Yes

Texas Sake founder acquires taste for Japanese drink, hopes Texans will do the same

Premium content from Austin Business Journal by Cody Lyon, Staff writer

Date: Friday, December 9, 2011, 5:00am CST – Last Modified: Monday, December 12, 2011, 12:18pm CST

Cody Lyon
Staff writer – Austin Business Journal
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A former University of Texas student who fell in love with sake while in Japan is producing and marketing the nation’s first organic-only sake.

Texas Sake, owned by Yoed Anis, brewed its first batch in July in a nondescript warehouse off North Lamar Boulevard, where vats, pipes, coolers and dryers turn rice and water into a drink that it sells for $35 a bottle. In October, Anis and his two employees held a grand opening featuring Japanese Consul General Takahiko Watabe.

Anis’ plan is to craft his sake — called Whooping Crane-Tokubetsu Junmai Sake and Rising Star-Nigori Junmai Sake — in small batches and continually improve it while growing the business through restaurants, retailers, social networking and Texas Sake’s website.

“We just got a call by Whole Foods” Market Inc. (Nasdaq: WFM), said Anis, displaying green bottles of sake with labels featuring the Texas whooping crane.

These days, Anis — the sole owner — is content with his capital on hand, but he doesn’t rule out seeking outside investors.

Anis hopes to eventually sell his sake at a lower price and to increase each batch’s size, currently about 500 bottles. Much of his plan is based on the hope that Texans will embrace sake like they do beer, given that rice grows so well in Texas — the second-largest rice-producing state in the country. The rice Anis uses is grown in fields on the Colorado River.

Nationwide sales figures for sake are elusive, partly because there’s a lack of consensus on how to categorize it. Some consider it a wine, and others call it liquor; it’s actually a rice-based fermented drink.

What is known is that sake isn’t considered popular or trendy among restaurateurs, although data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that consumption has roughly tripled in the United States since 1998.

“Sake is not a hot trend on restaurant menus,” said Annika Stensson, director of media relations at the National Restaurant Association, which conducts an annual survey of chefs across the country to learn what they consider hot.

Sake ranked 211 out of 226 items on the survey’s list, and the association found that 45 percent of chefs surveyed consider sake to be “yesterday’s news,” Stensson said. Still, about a third of respondents called it a “perennial favorite.”

“On the other hand, locally sourced items — such as the rice produced in Texas and the sake made in Austin — are the hottest trends in restaurants right now,” said Stensson, suggesting that Anis’ sake could become a popular regional item.

One factor that could affect Anis’ business is the drought, which has lowered the Colorado River. It takes about two pounds of rice to make one bottle of sake.

Rice yields among the 35 farmers that Texas Sake buys from dropped to about 80 percent, said Mike Doguet, general manager at Douget Rice Milling Co. in Beaumont, Texas Sake’s rice miller.

Meanwhile, the company has been educating farmers in Louisiana about how to grow organic rice for buyers like Texas Sake.

Anis said he’d be open to buying rice from Louisiana, but that if he did so, he’d be compelled to call his product Louisiana Sake.

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Written by codylyonreporter

January 28, 2012 at 1:23 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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