Like many US cities, Nashville has seen an explosion of craft brewers and distillers in the last five years – the city is now home to at least a dozen beer breweries, a half-dozen distilleries and a cidery. But the newest addition to the craft beverage scene in town is one you might not expect: craft sake, the traditional Japanese drink made from fermented rice.
Byron Stithem, the proprietor of Nashville’s Proper Sake, fell in love with sake while living in New York City. In 2013, he returned to Nashville to raise a family and pursue this “off-the-wall business venture,” as he explains to Lonely Planet News. “The South has been gradually building its case as a bastion for progressive food and beverage over the last decade, and [starting a sake brewery] seemed to be an organic addition to the scene,” Stithem says. “That, or I just wanted to do this so badly I would have rolled the dice against my better judgment anyhow!”
Located in a former warehouse just outside downtown Nashville, Proper Sake is a compact, wood-paneled space with a few cozy booths, green hanging plants and a wide tasting bar. Tasting room hours are open from 4–9pm on Fridays and 1–9pm on Saturdays, and at least three varieties of Junmai sake are always available. All the sake is brewed right there on the site, using Japanese rice grown in Arkansas and milled in Minnesota, and Stithem will often take visitors back for a peek at the process if requested.
So far, Proper Sake is the only sake brewery in Tennessee, and one of only about 15 in the US. Because the US sake-brewing scene is so small, it’s tight knit, says Stithem. “So far it’s been incredibly collaborative and hopefully continues in that direction. Most of us are doing our best to uphold Japanese traditions while attempting to make our beverages accessible and approachable to the American public.” Stithem has high expectations for sake in the United States, citing its nuanced yet wide-ranging flavor palate, which he likens to wine. “Once people begin to understand sake’s versatility, I think you will start to see it on menus and in homes everywhere in the States.”