Along Historic Route 66, where the population is rivaled by the number of dinosaur statues, sits Holbrook, Ariz. It’s a town known for the Petrified Forest National Park, and hand-crafted, world-renown sake.
“Fortunately in Northern Arizona, [the] climate is really good for making sake,” said Atsuo Sakurai, owner of Arizona Sake in Holbrook.
After years of working in the sake-industry in Japan, Sakurai when looking for a slower pace of life and a place to raise his three children.
In his self-proclaimed “sake garage,” Sakurai brews sake one drum at a time. His garage looks like a beginners test lab, with beakers and test tubes used to test alcohol content and other chemical ingredients within the sake brewed.
Quarters shrink more when Sakurai opens the door to his self-built “fermentation room,” an 8×10 foot room kept at a cool 48 degrees Fahrenheit for fermenting rice, koji, sake, and other ingredients. Everything is mixed together in a single drum about 4-feet tall.
“It’s really small,” said Sakurai. “Maybe the smallest batch in the world.”
Once the rice is done fermenting, he transfers it over to this homemade press where he’s pressing the sake out of the rice. Each batch makes about 100 bottles of unfiltered junmai ginjo Arizona Sake.
That finished product is award-winning on the world stage. Over the summer, Sakurai’s Arizona Sake took home the Gold Medal for Best Sake Brewed Outside of Japan at the Tokyo 2018 Sake Competition.
“This is the NewTimes Best of Phoenix, many of my clients is in here,” said Sakurai, who finds more pride in his clients succeeding than his own fame.
“My dream or I guess you can say my goal for making sake, is to make it my business to get through to people with my sake and make them happy,” said Sakurai.
When your sake wins in Tokyo, it’s no surprise that Phoenix NewTimes named Arizona Sake the best sake in Phoenix.
Looking for a taste? You can find Arizona Sake and many restaurants in Phoenix and Scottsdale like Binkley’s and Nobou at Teeter House.