Charlottesville is strong on adult beverages. We’ve got great wine. And cider. And beer. And spirits.
And, soon we will have sake. One of the nation’s first sake breweries, North American Sake Brewery, opens this month in IX Art Park. Popular in Japan, sake is rice wine made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran.
The project is the brainchild of two Certified Sake Professionals: award-winning filmmaker Jeremy Goldstein and longtime home brewer Andrew Centofante. “Sake was an instant love affair for us,” says Goldstein. “Once we had our first few glasses of good cold sake, the obsession couldn’t be stopped.” Centofante agrees: “The more I learned, the more my passion grew, and the deeper I wanted to go.” And so, after years of research and practice, that obsession has manifest itself in North American Sake Brewery.
Centofante will do the brewing. Having traveled the country and world to learn from master sake brewers, Centafonte’s focus at NAS is twofold: traditional sakes and modern riffs. “We aim to honor the tremendous Japanese lineage before us with our flagship filtered and unfiltered brews,” says Goldstein. But, he says, they also plan to “push boundaries,” with tasty experiments like fruit and herb infusions, exotic yeasts, and collaborations with local beer makers, cideries, and distilleries.
Among the initial releases, Centafonte’s favorite is “Big Baby” a “brewer’s style” sake, meaning it emerges straight from a fresh batch, raw and unrefined, and, in this case, at a whopping 18% ABV. Goldstein’s favorite, meanwhile, is Rosaké – a rosé blend sake to which unsweetened fruit and fresh farmed herbs are added during the final days of fermentation. “Notes of citrus zest, honeydew, and a young rose petal come together in a perfectly dry, alcohol-forward sake,” Goldstein says.”
Chef Peter Robertson
The huge brewery will have seating inside and out, including a bar and an elevated patio from which guests can enjoy Ix Art Park, with tasting flights, glasses, bottles, and food from a full-service kitchen. In fact, for food lovers, this may be a case of burying the lede, as the brewery has snagged one heck of a chef.
With wife Merrill, Culinary Institute of America graduate Chef Peter Robertson runs Côte-Rôtie, two time winner of Charlottesville’s Best Food Truck of the Year. His food is outstanding. (Don’t worry, Côte-Rôtie fans, the truck isn’t going away, thanks to Merrill.)
Goldstein says Robertson sealed the job with duck, of all things. “The first time Chef Peter had us over for dinner he made Peking Duck,” said Goldstein. “Who does that?” he said, recalling the fatty, rich, tender meat and delicate, crispy skin. “I’m just realizing it right now. We were totally seduced. And gladly complicit, at that.”
While the brewery’s initial vision for food was modest, that changed with Robertson. “He opened our eyes to what the food could be,” Goldstein said. Just as Brasserie Saison features food suited for beer, Robertson describes his food as “sake cuisine” – dishes and flavors designed to pair with sake. This includes traditional Japanese pairings, like sushi-style items.
But, it also includes new pairings from other cultures as well. In a 330 gallon smoker, for example, Robertson plans a rotating schedule of different smoked meats, like duck marinated in shio koji and then set to dry before being rubbed with szechuan and black peppercorns.
What is koji? A natural product in sake brewing, koji is a mold treasured for its transformative powers that is essential to making classic, umami-rich Japanese foods like soy sauce and miso. Used in Asian foods for thousands of years, it has seen a surge in popularity among American chefs. (Lampo’s Ian Redshaw recently made a koji-marinated steak that was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had.)
North American Sake Brewery will have its own cedar-lined culinary laboratory for producing koji, which it plans not only to use for sake making, but also to make available to select chefs across the country. Best of all, Robertson and other Charlottesville chefs will have access to it for one-off food experiments right here in Charlottesville.
North American Sake Brewery plans to open by late July or early August. Follow along their Facebook page for details.