Episode 157 Show Notes

Episode 157. For our final episode recorded live at this year’s American Craft Sake Festival, we are happy to bring you another U.S. sake brewer interview. This time, we visit with our pal Byron Stithem, owner and brewer at Nashville’s Proper Sake Co., and the owner at Rice Vice, the attached sake bar and restaurant. Byron has lots to celebrate… as he sat down with us, he had just stepped off the stage after receiving the Silver Medal Audience Choice Award at the American Craft Sake Festival for the second year in a row. This comes on the heels of Rice Vice being named one of the 2023 Best Bars in America by Esquire Magazine. When it comes to our tasting, we were lucky enough to sip on “The Diplomat”, Proper Sake’s flagship sake. By tasting this sake with Byron, we happily sailed way to “Yamahai Island”, where flavor, aroma and umami are hard earned, but absolutely delicious. What is that Yamahai aroma all about? Well – you’ll know it when you smell it! Kanpai, and congratulations Byron! Special thanks to SBANA, the Sake Brewers Association of North America, for organizing the festival and to North American Sake Brewery for hosting the event location. #SakeRevolution


Skip to: 00:19 Hosts Welcome and Introduction
Welcome to the show from John and Timothy

Skip to: 05:10 Interview: Byron Stithem, Proper Sake Co.

Interview: Byron Stithem, Proper Sake Co.

Byron Stithem
Photo: Starchefs
When Byron Stithem moved from Kansas City, Kansas to Nashville, he never imagined that his career would evolve into brewing sake. It all started with a barback job—something that made him a little extra cash while studying music business at Belmont University. When work at a record label brought Stithem to New York City in 2010, he scored a role behind the scenes at Clover Club alongside Rising Stars alum Brad Farran. After falling in love with the menu at Sake Bar Decibel in the Lower East Side, Stithem began experimenting with koji alchemy at home. That first batch of koji evolved into a full-blown, sake nano-brewery.

After Stithem’s son was born in 2011, he and his family returned to Nashville where he helped launch Hattie B’s flagship location and joined the opening team at Husk’s Nashville debut. One year later, Stithem was recruited to be a chef for the traveling culinary pop-up experience, Dinner Lab. He was promoted to director of curation, designing menus and coordinating events with young chefs across the country. Still, Stithem dreamed of sake, longing for the pre-modern styles that were impossible to source in the South. After years of research, several training trips to Japan, and endless hours of experimentation, Proper Saké Company was born in 2016. Nashville’s only sake brewery features Japanese-style beers and a variety of small batch, unpasteurized, unfined, pre-modern-style sakes, all made from Stithem’s koji. He continues to collaborate with many restaurants around the South to bring koji and an assortment of fermented ingredients to their menus.”

Rice Vice, Nashville TN
About Rice Vice
“Rice Vice” is a new drinking concept by Proper Sake Co. in East Nashville. The focus is on curious styles of sake, some made on site, some curated from Japan, Koji inspired beers, the coldest Highballs in town and records to fill your ear canals with the purest audio around.

Byron is a multi-discipline culinarian with an eclectic collection of fermentation and hospitality experience. His goal is to bring sake and other koji based ferments to every table and fridge in the world.

Discover more about Proper Sake Co. and Rice Vice:
Website: https://www.propersake.co/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/proper_sake_co/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/propersake

Rice Vice Location and Hours:
3109 Ambrose Avenue, Nashville, TN – 37207
Mon. Closed
Tue. Closed
Wed. 4:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Thu. 4:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Fri. 4:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Sat. 1:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Sun. 1:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Skip to: 19:02 Sake Tasting: Proper Sake Co. “The Diplomat” Yamahai Junmai Muroka

Proper Sake Co. “The Diplomat” Yamahai Junmai Ginjo Nama

Rice: Titan (Isbell Farms)
Brewery: Proper Sake Co.
Prefecture/State: TN
Rice Polishing: 55%
ABV: 16.0%
Classification: Yamahai Junmai Ginjo Nama
SMV: +2
Yeast: Kyokai #7

Where to buy?

Sake Brewers Association of North America

Sake Brewers Association of North America
Founded by North American sake brewers in early 2019, the Sake Brewers Association of North America (SBANA) is a 501(c)(6) non-profit focused on promoting and protecting North America’s sake brewers, their sake, and the community of sake enthusiasts. The Association has Three Core Areas of Focus:

Consumer Development
The majority of consumers are still unfamiliar with sake as a category. To address this the Association engages in broad external communication initiatives.

Brewery Development
We are the ‘voice’ for the North American sake industry. We focus on a wide spectrum of initiatives

Legislative Reform
At this time the legislative landscape is extremely confusing for the sake industry. At the federal level, under the Internal Revenue Code, for matters relating to production and tax, sake is treated as beer. However, under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, for labeling and advertising, sake is treated as wine. This confusion only deepens at the state level.

Web: https://sakeassociation.org/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SakeAssociation
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sakeassociation
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sakeassn

About North American Sake Brewery

The North American Sake Brewery was officially founded in 2016 by Jeremy Goldstein and Andrew Centofante, but their story begins many years prior to that. Andrew was working for Semester at Sea, which allowed him to travel all over the world. He had many stops in Japan and discovered an immediate reverence for Japanese culture. Jeremy was a film producer, and while filming a documentary in Asia, he grew very fond of Japanese people, their food, and the country’s incredibly rich history.

But it wasn’t until 2014, while on a trip for a film project in Los Angeles, Jeremy was exposed to truly great Japanese sake. In the past, he had experienced warmed sake at American sushi restaurants, but this was an altogether different and illuminating occasion. A professional Sake Sommelier guided a tasting with several fresh, cold sakes that would forever change his life. When Jeremy returned to Charlottesville, he ran into his friend Andrew and told him about his sake experience. Andrew jumped at the chance to find great sake again and the two began enjoying sake together, finding special bottles of delicious, umami-rich sakes.

One night after a few too many glasses (or bottles, really) of sake, Andrew asked the fateful question: Do you think we could try making a homebrew batch?

It wasn’t long after that night that Andrew fermented his first batch which led to converted his basement into a full-time sake brewing operation. He and Jeremy would travel to Japan and the USA, visiting other sake brewers, learning the craft, becoming certified as Sake Professionals, and bringing their sake to many private parties & tastings around their hometown of Charlottesville, VA.

A few years later on August 25th, 2018, the North American Sake Brewery would have its grand opening at their current space in the IX Art Park. Andrew continues his passion for sake as the Head Brewer, while Jeremy takes the leadership role on the business end. Together, they continue to spread the gospel of great craft sake, and look forward to many years of pushing the boundaries of their industry.

Skip to: 28:57 Show Closing

This is it! Join us next time for another episode of Sake Revolution!

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Episode 157 Transcript

John Puma: 0:21
Hello, everybody, and welcome to Sake Revolution. this is America’s first sake podcast.. I’m your host, John Puma, from the Sake Notes. Also administrator over at the internet Sake Discord. And I also am in charge of Reddit’s r slash sake community.

Timothy Sullivan: 0:37
And I’m your host, Timothy Sullivan. I’m a sake samurai. I’m a sake educator, as well as the founder of the Urban Sake website. And every week, John and I will be here tasting and chatting about all things sake, and doing our best to make it fun and easy to understand.

John Puma: 0:53
Welcome back, Tim, to another week, another show.

Timothy Sullivan: 0:58
Good to see you, John.

John Puma: 0:59
Likewise, likewise. Now, um, everything that has a beginning must have an end No, no, no. We’re not, you guys are gonna calm down. We’re not, not ending the show, but this is the, the finale of our series Wait a minute. We’re actually ending a series.

Timothy Sullivan: 1:14

John Puma: 1:14
We’re a series. This is amazing. This is the finale of our series of episodes that we recorded at the American Craft Sake Festival in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Timothy Sullivan: 1:24
You know, we had so many interviews from the American Craft Sake Festival, I thought we were going to finish the Prefecture series before we finish this series.

John Puma: 1:33
Yeah, I, it’s just, it’s a lot. Um, I think that like, the vibe of being there comes through a little bit. and it, it was a great opportunity for us to get, to get people we normally wouldn’t be able to have on, on the show and do it in person.

Timothy Sullivan: 1:48
That’s true. I think that recording in person does have its own vibe and… It, it’s a great, you know, I, I was thinking it’s a great time capsule of that event. And who knows? 5, 10, 20 years, people will want to look back on that and say what was going on in American sake at that time. And so I think it’s good that we recorded all those sessions. And I’m especially excited about today’s interview that we did.

John Puma: 2:16
Yes. Yes. I want to say that, guest today is, is a, a frequent guest on our show, friend of the show, Uh, Byron Stithem them from Proper Sake.

Timothy Sullivan: 2:27
Yes, or you could say repeat offender.

John Puma: 2:29
repeat offender. Okay. I mean, it depends how you feel about the episodes it’s been on, I guess.

Timothy Sullivan: 2:35
I think Byron’s episodes are always a treat, and this was no exception.

John Puma: 2:41
Yeah. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Byron’s first episode that he was ever on was in person also.

Timothy Sullivan: 2:48
It was in person.

John Puma: 2:49
And it was that one time we tried recording in your apartment

Timothy Sullivan: 2:53
Yes, we tried recording at the Sullivan Studios on the Upper West side

John Puma: 2:57
actually I think we were tried recording in the Sullivan living room specifically and it was good. It was nice. It was, that was the first time I actually, uh, got to meet him. And when we tasted his sake on the, on that episode, that was the first time I ever tasted his sake.

Timothy Sullivan: 3:11
That was a true live react.

John Puma: 3:13
definitely was.

Timothy Sullivan: 3:15
This was a great interview with Byron because we got basically the next chapter in his story, right?

John Puma: 3:22
Yeah, I feel like every time we have him on, we’re seeing like a new phase in, in the development of Proper.

Timothy Sullivan: 3:29
Yeah. There were a few highlights for me. First of all, we got the update on Rice Vice, which is the bar that he announced on our show last time he was on, and it was still under construction and gonna happen, and now it’s like the coolest spot in Nashville.

John Puma: 3:46
It’s definitely up there. And if I’m not mistaken, uh, has gotten some recognition, which I think is really cool.

Timothy Sullivan: 3:52
Yes, it got Esquire’s hottest new bar in the United States, something like that. Amazing.

John Puma: 3:59
I mean, I’ve never been in Esquire. I don’t know about you. I wouldn’t mind if somebody offered me, Hey, John, would you like to be an Esquire? I number one what the topic was and assuming wasn’t at my, you know, some, some humor at my expense, I’d be right there for it. That sounds like it would be fun.

Timothy Sullivan: 4:16
so, uh, Rice Vice, hottest new bar in the country, amazing,

John Puma: 4:22
And for the record, Timothy and I, despite our best efforts, and we say this every time Byron’s on the show, which again, not that infrequently, we still haven’t made it down there.

Timothy Sullivan: 4:33
I know, but hashtag goals, right? That’s coming We’re gonna, we’re gonna make it to

John Puma: 4:40
on the list. It’s on the list.

Timothy Sullivan: 4:42
Yeah, and but Byron also gave us an update on his brewing style and you know, he basically said he likes to make things hard for himself, so he loves Yamahai,

John Puma: 4:52
Yes. Because why, why do things easy? Yeah.

Timothy Sullivan: 4:57
Well, this is the last of our episodes from the American Craft Sake Festival, John. So without further ado, maybe we should get right to it. What do you think?

John Puma: 5:06
Let’s do it. Here we are. Take it away, Byron Stithem.

Timothy Sullivan: 5:10
Alright, John we are reporting live again from the American Craft Sake Festival here in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Byron Stithem: 5:19

John Puma: 5:21

Timothy Sullivan: 5:22
and we are here for many episodes because it is a buzz with American sake brewers. And we could not leave today without having friend of the pod and wonderful U. S. sake brewer, Byron, with us again from Proper Sake.

Byron Stithem: 5:39
Virginia. USA. Yeah, hi guys. So,

John Puma: 5:41
Hello. So we realized that we had actually had Brandon Doughan on three times So while you’re here, we needed to make sure that we got you on here So you can also have been on our show three times tying the record and then you guys can fight to see who could be in a

Byron Stithem: 5:54
Yeah, I, uh, I will take him to the mats on this one. Consider it done.

John Puma: 5:59
Yeah, so, um, I think the last time we spoke to you was during our hundredth episode and you were kind of getting geared up to open up a bar

Byron Stithem: 6:09
Yeah, uh,

John Puma: 6:09
what happened with that?

Byron Stithem: 6:10
any listeners that may have missed that episode, uh, go back and listen,

John Puma: 6:15
Yeah, number one, go back and listen. Uh, but number two, this is what’s been happening

Byron Stithem: 6:19
we, we have since opened a sake bar in Nashville, Tennessee, and we’ve been working real hard to trick people into drinking sake through hook or crook, any method necessary. So this bar is certainly a haven for sake is both of American and Japanese descent. We also do a bunch of different highballs, all, all very sake related. And then we also do a bunch of beers. A lot of them have koji in them. And it’s been pretty well received, so. We actually just had our one year anniversary.

Timothy Sullivan: 6:48
and the name of this bar is Rice Vice.

Byron Stithem: 6:52
That’s right. And if I’m not mistaken, it was, uh, divulged on this show.

Timothy Sullivan: 6:57

John Puma: 6:58
We get a couple of firsts on this show every now and again. And I stand by my original statement that Rice Vice is a great friggin name. Uh, and I love that that’s the name of the place. And do people comment on that? They come in like, this place has a great name.

Byron Stithem: 7:09
I do get a lot of thanks for naming it that, uh. I might even like sake now, but the place, the name, it’s wonderful.

Timothy Sullivan: 7:17
There’s a name. makes it.

John Puma: 7:19
now, but the name makes it happen. So, what

Timothy Sullivan: 7:20
So, what is your reaction that you’ve gotten in your new location? You expanded your brewery, and you opened the tasting room. What has the reaction been, and what is your most popular sake that you’re selling and making there now?

Byron Stithem: 7:36
Yeah, it’s been surprisingly well received. I always assume the worst on my end, of course. Um, but, we recently received the accolades of one of Esquire magazine’s best new bars, or just best bars in America. Um,

Timothy Sullivan: 7:52
That is amazing. Congratulations.

Byron Stithem: 7:54
you so much. And another sake bar called Koji Club, which some of you may be familiar with, also made the list. So I attribute this to a ever growing tidal wave of sake bars, breweries, you name it. I think things are rising.

Timothy Sullivan: 8:09
That’s awesome. Yeah.

John Puma: 8:10
I would never have thought a sake bar would have made a list like that, let alone two of them. That’s crazy.

Byron Stithem: 8:14
right. It’s mind boggling, but it goes to show you, sake is the best beverage, and people are starting to finally acknowledge that.

Timothy Sullivan: 8:21
Yes. And of the sakes you have in your tap room, what style or which sake is the most popular with your customers right now in Nashville?

Byron Stithem: 8:29
It’s hard to say. If you look, if you look at the data, if you look at the numbers, and adjust for the fact that I try and sell diplomat pretty heavily, price wise, it’s relatively even. You have some real Yamahai heads, you have some real ginjo ka heads. People are coming from all over the spectrum here, and I’m consistently surprised at how interested people are in kind of esoteric, atypical sakes. That said, we also sell a lot of really beautiful Japanese sakes that I think John Puma would approve of,

John Puma: 9:01
lot of… Ha

Byron Stithem: 9:02
and people love those too.

John Puma: 9:04

Timothy Sullivan: 9:05
That said, we also sell your own brews, but you also sell imported sake, is that right?

Byron Stithem: 9:08
Mm hmm.

Timothy Sullivan: 9:09
Oh, wow. Now, we talked a lot about Yamahai on your last visit to our show. Are you still making exclusively Yamahai?

Byron Stithem: 9:18
Primarily. Occasionally we’ll do a brew test where we need to expedite the process, but pretty much everything is Yamahai or Kimoto. Majority Yamahai, but at this point it’s become such a comfort zone for me from a production standpoint and obviously I’m more favorable to that style of sake but I find that trying to continue to move the envelope in that regard is is very interesting And I haven’t reached the end of that that thread so I keep pulling

John Puma: 9:44
seems to

Timothy Sullivan: 9:44
It’s interesting because Yamahai is not an easy way to make sake, but you’re saying it’s your comfort zone. Can you talk a little about that?

John Puma: 9:52
He thrives on adversity.

Timothy Sullivan: 9:53
He thrives on adversity!

Byron Stithem: 9:54
Yeah. It’s true. It’s true. The harder and dumber it seems to be, that’s kind of my world. That’s where I live. Yamahai, yes, harder to make, but it’s been so long since I’ve made true sokujo that I think I’ve kind of forgotten, honestly.

John Puma: 10:08
So if you were to try to go make Sokujo right now. you’d be like wait a minute, how does this go again?

Byron Stithem: 10:13
What is it? What’s that ingredient I put in here? that. What’s the ingredient I in Where do I get it?

John Puma: 10:19
Nice, nice. And um, so when you changed like your, your, your facility situation, did that have an impact on the sake? Since you do like to play around with, with, you know, the more interesting side of the, of the yeast spectrum.

Byron Stithem: 10:31
Yeah, it did. And fortunately in a good way. That certainly was a concern. The new facility is climate controlled and we keep very, very cold. So as much as we can mimic a Japanese winter, we can. And that’s helped things in a very positive way. So it has really allowed me to bring that Yamahai style back into the ginjo spectrum. And cold press, cold ferment. Nothing in the process really goes over 10C typically.

Timothy Sullivan: 10:59
oh wow

John Puma: 10:59
Oh wow

Byron Stithem: 11:00
very cold.

Timothy Sullivan: 11:01
So Today we are meeting you, as we mentioned, the open we are meeting you live here at the American Craft Sake Festival. Here in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I think congratulations are in order because you actually just stepped off the stage after winning an accolade. Can you tell us about what, what you won?

Byron Stithem: 11:21
well it still blows my mind for two years in a row that the audience has chosen as their silver medal favorite a Yamahai sake as the audience choice. So again, second place, like, we’re still the bridesmaid, but the fact that we’re even on the stage is incredible,

John Puma: 11:41
A second year in a row, though,

Byron Stithem: 11:42
second year in a row.

John Puma: 11:43
good. Consistency is important.

Byron Stithem: 11:45
That’s right.

Timothy Sullivan: 11:46
that’s just awesome… How do you feel about that? I’m, I’m so…

Byron Stithem: 11:50
I’m so humbled and honored, for one, that we can do anything that people like, regardless of what it is, but the fact that people are drinking Yamahai sake, and considering it to be as good as all these other beautiful beverages that are here today, blows my mind.

John Puma: 12:05
Yeah, I think we’ve talked in the past about how, like, very few domestic breweries are making Yamahai sake, and even fewer, I don’t even know if there are any others, that are exclusively going with Yamahai and Kimoto, so, you know, that kind of puts you in a class by yourself. It’s a, it’s a, you know, how does it feel to be like, well, you know, I’m the one doing this?

Byron Stithem: 12:25
It’s an island. It’s a lonely island, and it doesn’t make any sense, but here we are.

Timothy Sullivan: 12:31
So, you in a you live on Yamahai Island.

Byron Stithem: 12:33
That’s right. We got this thing that nobody already understands, and it’s like, well, what if we made it even harder to understand?. Well, let’s do that.

Timothy Sullivan: 12:44
Your So being here among all your fellow U.S sake brewers How has that experience been for you? could you talk to us a little bit about the community and what that means to you? Is it important? What’s changed?

Byron Stithem: 12:58
um, it’s always such a beautiful family reunion. We don’t get to see these people every day. And although I communicate with many of them. Weekly, if not more, being in person with them to share our wares and talk about the nonsense we’ve been dealing with lately. It’s really, really beautiful and there’s so many wonderful people here. We’re obviously a very specific breed of human, so, um, There are very few people that understand just how dumb what we do is and how much comfort we actually need. And these are all the people that have that comfort to add.

John Puma: 13:32
So in addition to… this is kind of like a two level event. then because you’ve got all the consumers that come and they want to taste all of this North American Sake from all over the country but also for the brewers it is a chance to kind of pow-wow a little bit.

Byron Stithem: 13:47
Yeah, there’s absolutely that component, too, where we are trying to figure out and refine what it is we’re offering, what we’re doing, how we can continue to grow the industry as a whole, and certainly being a part of the association is a huge portion of that as well.

John Puma: 14:03
To the

Timothy Sullivan: 14:03
Yeah, and you’re referring to the Sake Brewer’s Association of North America.

Byron Stithem: 14:07
that’s an important…

John Puma: 14:08
Thank you.

Byron Stithem: 14:09
Thank you, that’s a good highlight

Timothy Sullivan: 14:10
Yeah, and,

Byron Stithem: 14:12
Not just any association.

John Puma: 14:13
this event. They’ve been coming since the beginning, is that

Timothy Sullivan: 14:15
they’re one of the sponsors and organizers of, of this event. Yeah. And you’ve been coming since the beginning, is that right?

Byron Stithem: 14:23

Timothy Sullivan: 14:24
yeah. How has it changed over the years that this craft sake festival has been happening?

Byron Stithem: 14:28
Honestly, it continues to grow in pretty astounding ways. This year actually felt like a real festival. In previous years it felt like us just getting together to drink, really. But this year there were incredible sponsors. We have a live podcast being recorded.

John Puma: 14:44
Yeah i heard about that.

Byron Stithem: 14:46
Yeah, I don’t know if you guys have heard about this, it’s incredible

John Puma: 14:48
once twice…

Byron Stithem: 14:49
And And like, real vendors, all sorts of content and entertainment, and just some real camaraderie that has excelled past years beyond.

John Puma: 14:57
That’s awesome. And I, and I, it, the reactions we heard from people today are an indication. This is just going to continue to get bigger. That’s that’s, that’s, and I think that’s everybody’s goal. It’s in everybody’s best interest. It was really a hell of a lot of fun to see everybody just kind of getting out there and tasting each other’s sake is, you know, uh, comparing notes and as a third party getting, for me getting the taste sake is I have not been able to have, or I haven’t had in years. I haven’t had your sake in a very long time, sir. Yeah.

Timothy Sullivan: 15:21
Yeah, well, that’s part of the reason that John and I wanted to come out and be here is because the networking, meeting people face to face, uh, it’s fine to talk to someone on Zoom, but when you can meet them face to face, taste their sake, get a pour from a particular person that put their heart and soul into that sake, it’s really, really special to meet in person. And I think in the post COVID world, uh, that’s becoming more and more appreciated. So that’s why we wanted to put in the effort to be here in person, right, John?

John Puma: 15:51
Absolutely. And, uh, and it’s, we don’t get out much, Tim.

Timothy Sullivan: 15:54

John Puma: 15:55
we, we record our podcasts on zoom every day and we live in the same city. So for us to like get everything, grab all the gear, come down, get on a flight, come down to, uh, to Charlottesville and, uh, and sit down here at this table and, and have people on, it’s a lot. But it’s been great. It’s been so fantastic to see everybody to kind of just, you know, be able to just like chit chat You know when you were talking online is a little bit different as you know, we pointed out earlier It’s not the same as being able to

Byron Stithem: 16:22
It’s worse in every way Yeah.

John Puma: 16:24
as being able to and also you can have drinks together, which is great. Yeah

Timothy Sullivan: 16:28
want to ask you about another change that’s happened in your sake life, and that is you’ve done a rebranding. of your bottles and your logo. Can you tell us a little bit about that journey? Like what went into rebranding? Because you have, we’ll put the photos of your bottles in our show notes. We want everyone to go to SakeRevolution.Com and check out the bottles of Byron’s sake. But they’re very eye catching and very different. So tell us a little bit about your journey to rebrand your sake.

Byron Stithem: 16:59
Yes Yeah, so we’ve been working with a designer who lives in Japan And that, in its own right, is a total challenge, which, as you may have learned by now, we do things only the most difficult way possible. Um, it’s turned out really well, we really love him, and the amount of time that went into this is, is, is substantial, and every step of the process has been rewarding, but we really put a lot of thought into it. That said, we finally finished the labels a few weeks ago and got them printed. As you, you will see if you go to the show notes, please. We kind of narrowed on a concept that we’ve decided is more of like a 70s romance novel. If you were trying to describe it effectively, I think that kind of narrows it down. But

John Puma: 17:43
down. I can’t, I can’t unsee it now. Thank you.

Byron Stithem: 17:46
Ha ha ha ha ha

Timothy Sullivan: 17:47
you have one very popular sake in your portfolio called the Diplomat. Which is, uh, Yamahai, as is your signature style. And this has, like, a hotel lobby? 1970s, kind of baroque hotel lobby.

Byron Stithem: 18:06
Believe it or not, this hotel was called The Diplomat.

Timothy Sullivan: 18:09
Oh, there we go!

Byron Stithem: 18:11
And it’s from Washington, D. C. in the 70s. This hotel no longer exists, but it felt very appropriate for what we were doing. As we call back on previous times of sake production, we also call back on some previous existing hotels, apparently.

John Puma: 18:27
evidently, yes, yes,

Timothy Sullivan: 18:28
And I think I saw a cat on your other label. Tell us about that.

Byron Stithem: 18:32
Well, we happen to love cats around our neck of the woods, but specifically, I thought the double entendre of soft power and angry kittens

John Puma: 18:42
but, specifically, I thought the double entendre

Byron Stithem: 18:43
very on point. It may be a little on the nose, but couldn’t help it.

John Puma: 18:47
Nice. I love it. And so on here, we’ve got the diplomat is a masterclass in rice based diplomacy and fermentation tradecraft. And I love this quote so much.

Byron Stithem: 18:59
that quote may have been written after several glasses of sake

John Puma: 19:04
As most, as most good quotes are.

Byron Stithem: 19:05
that’s right, that’s right. No AI generation involved at all…

Timothy Sullivan: 19:11
well John, you and I should pay a visit to Yamahai island

John Puma: 19:15
To Yamahai Island

Byron Stithem: 19:16
It’s lonely here.

John Puma: 19:17
Oh, no. Oh no. Oh, we gotta, we gotta get over there. Uh, so yeah, so I, so if I’m not mistaken, and please refresh my memory if I am, we did feature the diplomat on your previous visit to the show, but obviously it was a number one, it was produced in the previous facility. And number two, that was a long time ago.

Byron Stithem: 19:33
a long time ago.

John Puma: 19:34
feels like a long time ago at

Timothy Sullivan: 19:35
And, and last time it was only a once silver award winning and now it’s twice silver award winning

Byron Stithem: 19:41
Double silver award winning

John Puma: 19:42
oh my goodness.

Byron Stithem: 19:43
We also, in that, that time frame, I can’t remember if this had happened before or not, but we won best in show and double gold at the New York Wine and Spirits competition with this sake, so.

John Puma: 19:53

Byron Stithem: 19:54
Apparently, it is relatively well received, which still blows my mind. But, again, Yamahai Island is lonely. Everybody’s welcome.

John Puma: 20:03
Despite your best efforts, this is well received. I love that. And this is great. So yeah, we’re pouring that in the glass right now. The Diplomat. With this brand new label that shows the hotel, The Diplomat.

Byron Stithem: 20:17
not precisely

Timothy Sullivan: 20:18
That is now closed.

John Puma: 20:18
That is no longer in existence, but apparently in the 1970s it was a thing.

Byron Stithem: 20:22
But 1970. Yeah, hopefully this is not a sign of things to come, but…

Timothy Sullivan: 20:26
Now, can you give us some of the stats for this? Like, which rice are you using? How much is it milled? What the alcohol level is?

Byron Stithem: 20:32
Yes, so this has changed slightly since we were last here, but it’s a 55% mill rate. Still Isbell Farms, but we’re using Titan Rice on this one. This is a nama. It is a plus two S M V. It is also a number seven yeast, and it is of course the Yamahai. Yeah.

John Puma: 20:50
alright Tim, let’s give it some nose

Timothy Sullivan: 20:52
as we do, let’s give it a smell. Mmm. There’s quite a bit of fruitiness on the nose. Yeah.

John Puma: 20:58
little bit. I, I, I get a lot of Yamahai personally.

Byron Stithem: 21:01
There’s a lot of Yamahai. You’re both right, but I feel like the type of fruit that I get to is very overripe tropical fruit in a way that kind of blends in with with Yamahai.

John Puma: 21:12
I could see that.

Timothy Sullivan: 21:13
the Yeah. Now, when you say, John, you smell Yamahai, what do you mean?

John Puma: 21:17
There’s that earthiness that we associate often with Yamahai. and I bring it up to my nose and immediately I’m like, ah, yes, this is, this is definitely that Rich earthy yamahai. It’s like it’s an identifier for me.

Timothy Sullivan: 21:31
you it. No, you were supposed to say Yamahai. You know it when you smell it.

John Puma: 21:40
That is also true. I thought I was being challenged. but I do know it when I smell it. and I do, and this is yamahai

Timothy Sullivan: 21:46
yeah. So there is, there is that backbone of, of earthiness. And, I get fruit layered on top of that and I like the, I like that you said overripe fruit. Cause it, it, it has a little bit of that depth to it. That, there’s not that brightness of, of like fresh tropical fruit. It’s a little bit more matured smelling, right?

Byron Stithem: 22:08
Yeah. Exactly. I think a lot about like overripe mango and papaya and some things that are, they’re not necessarily what you think of when you’re thinking of fruit, but,

Timothy Sullivan: 22:17
Right. Exactly.

Byron Stithem: 22:19
I think also too, you know, This sake has been coming up to relative room temperature all day, so this is the most honest portrayal of it at this time, so I typically find that the colder it gets, the sharper the nose gets as well with this

Timothy Sullivan: 22:36
I see.

John Puma: 22:36
and what temperatures do you recommend pouring this at? Like I’ve got a bottle of this at home. what is the optimum way to have this. the brewer intent

Byron Stithem: 22:45
I love, I love a very cold sake sometimes, and maybe that’s because I think this one showcases in a more elegant way at a cold temperature. That said, if you like… More flavor forward sakes. Let it, let it keep going. Let the temperature come up. Put some heat on it if you want to, but

Timothy Sullivan: 23:04

John Puma: 23:04
So let’s, let’s, let’s have a sip.

Timothy Sullivan: 23:06
I was just going to say, if I’m not mistaken, we’ve just been smelling this whole time.

John Puma: 23:09
I know. Well, you know, I got sidetracked.

Byron Stithem: 23:11
that’s not what Yamahais about

John Puma: 23:12
a long day, everybody.

Timothy Sullivan: 23:13

John Puma: 23:16
Mm hmm. It is that, it, you know, remember that, that comment about the Yamahai. This is, you know, to me, it’s, it’s a very, as we’ve said in the past on the show, pretty Yamahai. But it is that, it has that, that textbook flavor there. It is, that profile is right where you expect it to be. And, you know, for, for Yamahailovers, this is going to be a, a fantastic sake to sip on I think.

Timothy Sullivan: 23:39
Yes, and it has complexity. It has depth of flavor. And I think that’s something that appeals to all those voters that gave you the silver medal.

John Puma: 23:49
Is that…

Timothy Sullivan: 23:50
Is that

John Puma: 23:51
Complexity is big with the voters, huh? Okay.

Byron Stithem: 23:54
It is rewarding to know that there’s a population out there that thinks that interesting, complex beverages are okay, so I might doing it.

Timothy Sullivan: 24:04
and it seems like a very food, I’m sure we said this last time, a very food friendly style of sake as well.

Byron Stithem: 24:10
I think so, and having a background in the culinary world, that’s always been first and foremost for us.

Timothy Sullivan: 24:16

Byron Stithem: 24:16
Just getting people to drink sake with every food and beverage combo that they can think of.

Timothy Sullivan: 24:21
now at Rice Vice, what foods are you serving in your tap room with this particular diplomat sake?

Byron Stithem: 24:27
doing That’s also a timely question because we’ve been doing a lot of interesting pop ups. We’ve had pop ups with cuisine from all over the world, for sure. A lot of pizza, a lot of American stuff as well, but… We are about to launch a new food program where we’re working with a local chef who’s very driven by koji fermentations and use of sake by product and all the interesting things that kind of tie this whole project together.

Timothy Sullivan: 24:50
That’s awesome. So I know we said last time you were on the show that we have to come down to Rice Vice and see you in person. And now I’m going to, I’m going to make that same promise right now and

Byron Stithem: 25:00
I’m going to hold you guys to it this time

Timothy Sullivan: 25:01
I’m going to double

Byron Stithem: 25:02
enough’s enough.

John Puma: 25:06
I think one last thing on the food pairing question is, so with the diplomat, what is your dream food pairing?

Byron Stithem: 25:12
I think anything that’s grilled is really really wonderful with Yamahai sake. And specifically with this one, it can be a lighter grilled dish, perhaps vegetables, but anything that has that Maillard reaction,

John Puma: 25:24

Byron Stithem: 25:25
that caramelization, I think pairs famously with this. We do have a large yakitori grill at the shop, and we get people who don’t normally cook on those to come and do it all the time, and I think that’s really fun.

Timothy Sullivan: 25:37

John Puma: 25:38
That sounds great.

Timothy Sullivan: 25:39
Now, we’ve talked about this sake chilled and room temperature. How is this when it’s warmed up?

Byron Stithem: 25:46
I think it’s very good, and I’m not just saying that, but it’s part of the reason that I’m so drawn to this as a style of sake is, I think it’s relatively indestructible, as our friend Philip Harper might say, and I think it’s really versatile across the spectrum of temperatures, and it’s really interesting because I think there’s something for everyone in there. And again, when it’s super chilled, I think it’s very crisp. I think it resembles a lot of more refined sakes in a more interesting way. But as it continues to heat up, I think you find something along the way for everyone.

John Puma: 26:18
I love that kind of versatility in a sake

Timothy Sullivan: 26:20
Yeah, that’s a real selling point for sake in Japan. And I think as more and more people get into sake in the U. S., they’re going to appreciate that variation in temperature

John Puma: 26:28
appreciate that yeah.

Byron Stithem: 26:29

John Puma: 26:30
It’s going to take some time, but I think it’s going to get there. I think.

Timothy Sullivan: 26:34
It’s been so great to have you on the show. For those listeners who have not listened to your previous episode yet, can you please let us know how people can get in touch with you and learn more about your sakes?

Byron Stithem: 26:44
Yeah, so I manage the Instagram, and if you find us on there, that goes directly to me. Otherwise, it’s [email protected]. We have… Since last podcast launched our direct to consumer platform, so people can go to our website and order directly to 45 states.

John Puma: 27:03
oh that’s great

Byron Stithem: 27:03
Yeah, I think we have four different sakes on offer right now

Timothy Sullivan: 27:06
Well, thank you so much for joining us. It was great to have you back as a repeat guest, as a repeat master brewer. And it’s just so lovely to talk with you about sake again.

Byron Stithem: 27:16
Likewise, the pleasure’s all on this side of the table, and keep doing what you’re doing. We really appreciate you guys.

John Puma: 27:21
Thank you

Timothy Sullivan: 27:22
Thank you so much. Thanks for being here.

John Puma: 27:24
All right. And here we are. We’re back, Tim. I thought it was fun. I had a good time.

Timothy Sullivan: 27:30
I had a great time. And like I said before, it was so good to get this update from Byron, who is such a cool, nice guy. And to get the update on his sake, to taste the Diplomat with him, and also to get an update on Rice Vice, the coolest bar in Nashville. So, all super duper exciting. And I do want to take a moment before we sign off here, John, and thank Byron Stithem again so much for taking the time to come on the show, give us an update, So we’re just really happy to have him on again. And I want to do a final shout out to the American Craft Sake Festival 2023. Thank you to the Sake Brewers Association of North America, and to North American Sake Brewery, who hosted the event in their front yard. It was a great series of episodes, and we’re so happy to have a record of the day that we spent at the American Craft Sake Festival. And the last thing I have to say on this topic, John, is here’s to next year. What do you think about that?

John Puma: 28:35
Here’s to next year. I have to say, I have to say just like independent of everything else that, that you had just said, I just had a great time. Like it was so fun just being there. It was just fun.

Timothy Sullivan: 28:46
good, good, I did too. Okay, so have to, we have to plan our next, uh, Field trip.

John Puma: 28:52
yes we do. we do. And try to figure out how we’re gonna stop in Nashville while we’re in the neighborhood, I guess.

Timothy Sullivan: 28:57
All right. Well, thank you, John, for a great series from the American Craft Sake Festival. And I want to thank our listeners as well. Thank you so much for tuning in. We hope you enjoyed this series and we hope you’re enjoying Sake Revolution. If you’d like to show your support for our podcast, the best way to support us is to join us as a patron, visit Patreon.com/SakeRevolution to learn more.

John Puma: 29:22
And if you wanna know a little bit more about, uh, Timothy and I, um, we’re out there on social media, I am at@JohnPumaNYC on a few platforms is also@TheSakeNotes, which is something that is just John and Myshell’s sake adventures. and Timothy, where can people find you?

Timothy Sullivan: 29:39
I’m at@UrbanSake, pretty much everywhere, and the main website to reach me is UrbanSake.com.

John Puma: 29:47
you got an early with that one. UrbanSake.com is a good URL. It’s a

Timothy Sullivan: 29:51
Oh, I’m glad you think so. If it’s, if it’s JP approved, I’m happy.

John Puma: 29:58
It’s a little, little nerd in me is like, Ooh, that’s a good URL.

Timothy Sullivan: 30:01

John Puma: 30:02
Anyway, uh, on that note, please grab a glass. Sounds like we can use one.

Timothy Sullivan: 30:08

John Puma: 30:09
remember to keep drinking sake and

Timothy Sullivan: 30:12