New Orleans Brewery Canning Rice Wine, Plans Expansion

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A member of a New Orleans restaurant family is brewing the Japanese rice wine called sake from grain grown at Louisiana State University, the LSU AgCenter says.

Brennan family member Lindsay Beard and business partner Nan Wallis say they want to change the image of sake (SAH-kee) from that of an exotic drink paired with Asian food, they said in an LSU AgCenter news release..

“We want sake to become an everyday drink, so we decided that the best way to make that happen is to put it in single-serve cans,” said Nan Wallis of Wetlands Sake (SAH-kee).

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Eight ounces (0.24 liters) of an unfamiliar drink is an easier sell than a whole bottle, Beard said.

Several other companies, including breweries in Japan, already can sake.

Rice wine is often served warm, but Wetlands Sake is meant to be chilled. The company sells 8-ounce cans filtered and unfiltered varieties, plus 12-ounce (0.35 liter) cans of fizzy sake flavored with blood orange or passion fruit.

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Wallis and Beard knew from the start that they wanted to use Louisiana rice. But Louisiana farmers grow medium- and long-grain rice, and pearl-shaped short-grain varieties are better for sake according to the AgCenter.

Dustin Harrell, resident coordinator of the Rice Research Station and former LSU AgCenter rice specialist, said Beard and Wallis asked him two-and-a-half years ago about growing rice for sake, but he wasn’t sure the station had a variety that would work for them. Then he remembered one developed in 2003 for a Louisiana company that had been milling short-grain rice from California to sell in Puerto Rico.

The AgCenter grew a test crop of that variety, called Pirogue. It brewed up just fine.

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Rick Zaunbrecher, the station’s foundation seed manager, said he grew 14 acres of rice for the company last year, and planted 31 acres in April.

The AgCenter will harvest that rice in August and sell it to Wetlands Sake.

Pirogue is currently being processed at a sake mill in Minnesota. However, Harrell said the station has a new mill which will eventually be able to handle short-grain rice.

Unlike wine, sake has no preservatives or sulfites. Rice, water, yeast and spores from a mold called koji, used for fermentation, are the only ingredients.

Wallis and Beard plan to open a tasting room later this year at their brewery in the Warehouse District.

Currently, Wetlands Sake is sold in New Orleans-area stores, bars and restaurants. Beard and Wallis said they have national plans, which would create a market for Louisiana farmers who want to plant Pirogue.

Harrell said the sake is a good promotional tool for Louisiana rice.

“They’re using a rice developed in Louisiana, grown in Louisiana and brewed in Louisiana,” he said.

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