Reiko Waide: America’s sole Sake Brewing Mistress

Linda Burum, Los Angeles Magazine

In a glass, frozen sake crystals sparkle like clear slush; in the mouth they melt into Pop Rocklike bursts of flavor. They’re made of premium dry genuine draft sake, or arabashiri, which is prized for its freshness — filtered just once and bottled immediately at Southern California’s only sake brewery, Yaegaki USA, in Vernon. Because the sake is unpasteurized, says Reiko Waide. Yaegaki’s head of production and America’s sole sake brew mistress. “we store it frozen.”

Since 1660, Yaegaki’s parent company has been making sake at its jizake kura (artisanal brewery) in Hyogo prefecture, northwest of Osaka, and still produces award-winning brews there, In 1986,expanding consumption in the United States and declining sales in Japan prompted the firm to begin production in sushi bar-intensive L.A. With local sales increasing more than 100 percent in the past five years, Yaegaki opened yet another brewery in Vernon last November, doubling production capacity.

Waide had been working for a sushi delivery company that Yaegaki absorbed. She transferred to the sake enterprise and took on menial tasks: shoveling warm rice into fermentation vats, filling and capping bottles by hand. Eventually she went to Japan to learn centuries-old master sake-making techniques and discovered that the local springwater was a key to the kura’s flavorful sakes. At Yaegaki USA’s new brewery, filtration systems can replicate Hyogo’s famous water. Although many traditional methods are still employed, the facility boasts automated bottling machinery, temperature sensors, and hoses that transport rice from the cooking cauldrons to the fermenting tanks.

Under Waide’s aegis, Yaegaki produces two less expensive pasteurized sakes alongside its
arabashiri. Yaegaki Dry is aged three months, and Ki Ippon, usually served warm, about two. But the sophisticated arabashiri — with 18 to 19 percent naturally fermented alcohol — possesses, like raw milk cheese or a good microbrewed draft beer, the most intricate structure and subtle layerings of flavor.

Yaegaki brews are available at most Japanese supermarkets, including Mitsuwa, Maruki, and Nijiya.
COOL BREWER: Sake mistress Reiko Waide
By Linda Burum
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