New to Brew: Wetlands Sake is Louisiana’s first sake brewery

Published: Feb. 7, 2022 at 10:24 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Wetlands Sake is New Orleans’ newest brewery, located in the Lower Garden District. The woman-owned brewery is going against the grain by using Louisiana-grown rice to make sake.

Sake is an alcohol made from an intricate rice fermentation process.

“Sake is definitely not a rice wine,” said Lindsey Beard, co-founder of Wetlands Sake. “It is a grain-based, fermented alcoholic beverage that is brewed.”

Louisiana is one of the top producers of rice in the country. For Beard, it only made sense to start brewing sake in her home state.

“Someone should open a sake brewery and it should be us,” Beard said. She and her business partner Nan Wallis began researching how to make sake.

“We had some stuff that was very important to us from the very beginning. The first being we had to use Louisiana rice.”

Sake requires rice that is heavy on starch and is a short-grain variety. So Beard and Wallis called the LSU Agriculture Rice Research Station, located in the rice capital of America: Crowley, La.

“And they said, ‘We grow long-grain rice in Louisiana, because that’s what everyone eats. We have nothing for you,’” said Beard. “And we just thought, ‘How is that possible?’”

As time passed, scientists at the Rice Research Station called with good news. They found the perfect short-grained rice for brewing sake.

“And it’s called Pirogue rice,” said Beard. “We needed two pounds to test to see if it would work for sake. And he was like ‘Well, it’s seed.’ So we have to grow it. And the minimum we can grow is 7,000 pounds.’”

So Beard and Wallis jumped head-first into their new venture, growing 7,000 pounds of rice in Year One. In Year Two, they grew about 50,000 pounds. In 2021, the team grew about 150,000 pounds. And for 2022, Wetlands Sake plans to grow more than 200,000 pounds of rice.

Beard said making sake is a labor of love.

“The experience of drinking sake is a little more romantic than I think any other alcoholic beverage out there,” said Katrina Matthews, marketing director for Wetlands Sake. She said that while sake might be new to the New Orleans brewing scene, people shouldn’t be afraid to try it.

The sakes at Wetlands Sake are considered premium, which means the rice is highly polished during the milling process. So the sake should be served cold.

Less polished rice tastes earthier and is more full-bodied in flavor. Those sakes are usually served warm.

“The hot version you’ll find is usually a little bit lower on the price spectrum, and serving it warm removes all of that astringency,” said Matthews.

From filtered sakes to unfiltered, to sparkling and infused, sake makes for a unique and interesting spirit.

“I love sake. I always have, because it is such a pure and clean drink. It’s very simple,” said Beard.

“I think people who hear about it say it makes so much sense. We are surrounded by rice and they’re very happy and excited that someone is doing it. But part of it is we want people to not just drink our sake, but to learn more about sake,” she said. “We think our sake is America’s craft sake, and it will also be the gateway to trying more sakes and Japanese sakes.”

It’s a way to embrace a drink that dates back to the 8th century.

Sake is the national drink of Japan, and it’s name simply means ‘alcohol.’

It was developed in ancient China and arrived in Japan, along with rice cultivation, about 2,500 years ago.

The team at Wetlands Sake not only wants more people to learn about sake, but also the land where the rice is grown.

“As we spent more time at the research center, we realized how important the wetlands are for the cultivation of rice. Rice is grown in the wetlands,” said Beard. “We do need to protect our wetlands for futures to come, so with that we do give 2 percent back of profits to save the wetlands.”

It’s a true celebration of all that Louisiana has to offer.

Once the rice is harvested in Crowley, the crops are flooded and turned into crawfish ponds for the Louisiana crawfish season.

Wetlands Sake is now open to the public.

The grand opening celebration takes place Tuesday (Feb. 8) at the brewery, located at 634 Orange St. in the Lower Garden District.

A Wetlands Sake and food pairing event will take place at Tsunami Sushi New Orleans on Feb. 17 from 4-6 p.m.

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