Inside San Francisco's Sequoia Sake Company.

By Peter Weltman
Updated May 24, 2017
Credit: © Sequoia Sake

A brewery opening in San Francisco is commonplace. But something is different about this one, tucked into the industrial outskirts of Bayview. Sequoia Sake Company is the city’s first and only micro sake brewery. It's the brainchild of Jake Myrick and his wife Noriko Kamei, who fell in love with the unpasteurized namazake (raw) style of the beverage during a 10-year stint living and working in Japan’s IT industry. “Namazake is the purest, most alive sake,” says Myrick, “but it’s best when freshest and needs to be consumed close to the source.” So, rather than try to import their favorites from abroad, the couple decided to make their own.

At the entrance to the facility, guests and workers exchange their shoes for a pair of sterile, spongy Crocks—some vibrant pink. It’s a testament to just how clean the sake-making process must be. “Our koji is completely controlled in there,” says Myrick, pointing towards the window overlooking a production space as hermetically sealed-off as a hospital operating room. Koji, he explains, is a special spore that metabolizes the rice starch into fermentable sugars.

Sequoia uses a blend of three different koji spores for the more robust flavor it imparts. Since they exclusively make junmai (pure rice) sakes, the only other ingredients used are yeast, water, and rice—and they found some great local California resources for the latter. Water hails from Yosemite’s pure glacial watershed. The rice is Calrose, a table variety grown two hours northwest, near Sacramento. It has a lower starch content than traditional sake rice, but Myrick likes its “really unique flavor.” It takes a whole pound of rice to make one bottle of sake, and the brewing process can take upwards of 45 days.

Credit: © Sequoia Sake

Myrick and Kamei hope that Sequoia’s flavor—drier and more expressive than many sakes found in Japan—will attract a new generation of sake drinkers. They now produce a fresh, medium-bodied Nama (short for namazake) that smells faintly of cucumber and is perfect as an aperitif or served with smoked sturgeon, a nigori, meaning “unfiltered,” which has a cloudiness and aroma reminiscent of Belgian beer, and a Summer Genshu, which is potent and undiluted, with a different rice polish giving it a brininess built for West Coast oysters, salsa verde-lathered pork, or blistered padron peppers. “I want to get sake out of the Japanese food ‘ghetto,’” says Myrick. He’s begun collaborating with local businesses—like Dandelion Chocolate—to host pairing classes and is working with a number of Mexican food purveyors and creative chefs. “To me, that’s what San Francisco is all about,” he says.