Episode 155 Show Notes
Episode 155. Our visit to the American Craft Sake Festival was awash with brewers, but one non-sake booth in particular caught our eye. Without rice, there is no sake and we had the chance to sit down with Whitney Isbell Jones of the world famous Isbell Rice Farm in England, Arkansas. Whitney grew up on the farm and tells us the story of how her family discovered Japanese rice varieties and how they eventually became global experts in growing premium sake rice varieties in particular. While us city boys think of space in terms of square feet, Whitney explains how the Isbell rice fields are expansive in size – the largest being up to 90 acres each! In addition to growing specialty sake rice strains for the U.S. market, Isbell Farms will soon have a hand in milling sake rice as well. It’s exciting times for rice and sake in the States and we enjoyed our chat with Whitney about all things short, medium and long grain! 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. Look for other interviews from the American Craft Sake Festival in coming weeks!
Skip to: 00:19
Welcome to the show from John and Timothy
Interview with Whitney Isbell Jones of Isbell Farms
About Isbell Farms
Isbell Farms is a multi-generational family rice farm located in Central Arkansas with a focus on the sustainable production of quality rice. Five generations have now farmed rice on Isbell Farms, and rice has been in cultivation here for over 70 years.
We are committed to continuing the sustainable production of safe and quality rice with a focus on:
Safety and respect for workers, our community, and our consumers.
Continued conservation and environmental stewardship.
Transparency to the public.
Strong collaboration with the research community.
Economic viability for future generations.
Among our core principles are continual curiosity and persistent research, and these have led to a number of innovations over the years, including Zero Grade Farming, pioneering new markets, and sustainable rice production methods that reduce water use , energy use, and mitigate methane emissions.
We are the proud recipients of the 2016 Commitment to Quality Award from the American Carbon Registry for our efforts in sustainable rice production.
Rice is a major world food source, contributing 20% of the world’s calories (IRRI). Arkansas produces over half of the rice produced in the United States. Currently, almost 3000 acres of rice is produced on our farms.
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:
The majority of consumers are still unfamiliar with sake as a category. To address this the Association engages in broad external communication initiatives.
We are the ‘voice’ for the North American sake industry. We focus on a wide spectrum of initiatives
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.
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.
This is it! Join us next time for another episode of Sake Revolution!
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Episode 155 Transcript
John Puma: 0:21
Hello everybody and welcome to Sake Revolution. This is America’s First Sake podcast, and I’m your host, John Puma. From the Sake Notes, also the administrator at the Internet Sake Discord, And the lead mod in Reddits r slash sake community.
Timothy Sullivan: 0:36
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: 0:52
Tim. We are back again with another one of our episodes that were recorded. Uh, Live at our booth back at the American Craft Sake Festival over, on the grounds in front of, North American Sake Brewery. just a few, short weeks ago.
Timothy Sullivan: 1:10
Yes. And that event was sponsored by the Sake Brewers Association of North America. We had a great time and we got several episodes recorded in that one day.
John Puma: 1:21
Yes, we did. This is the third in our series, uh, and this time, who’s our guest? Tim?
Timothy Sullivan: 1:28
Well, we are going to be talking to one of the key players in the lifecycle of sake in the U.S.
John Puma: 1:37
think this is the only time from this event that we had somebody on who didn’t actually make sake, right? Is that, is that accurate?
Timothy Sullivan: 1:45
Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. All the other people we spoke to were all brewers themselves, but there was one special booth at the American Craft Sake Festival.
John Puma: 1:55
Directly across from ours,
Timothy Sullivan: 1:56
directly across from ours.
John Puma: 1:58
Timothy Sullivan: 1:59
They weren’t pouring sake, but they had something so integral that they had quite a crowd around their booth.
John Puma: 2:07
yes they did. Yes. they did. Uh, for a while I thought maybe they were sneaking people sake because there were so many people there. Uh, but it turns out that people were just really interested in what they had to say. And yeah. Do you want to want to tell the people at home who our guest was?
Timothy Sullivan: 2:20
Sure. We had the great pleasure to talk to Whitney Isbell Jones, who’s a member of the Isbell family, and they of course run the world famous Isbell Rice Farm in Arkansas.
John Puma: 2:33
Yes. Yes. Uh, I think that anybody who’s even thought about brewing sake in the United States has definitely heard of Isbell Farms at some point or another.
Timothy Sullivan: 2:42
Yeah, Whitney was attending the show with her husband Jeremy Jones, and they both work for the Rice farm, and Whitney has grown up surrounded by rice culture and the agricultural history of her family farm. It was so exciting to talk to her, and we’re gonna touch on a whole bunch of interesting stories that she brought to us about her life and her family’s history. Rice is so important to the sake makers who were at the festival and so important to all of us too, who enjoy drinking sake. What Whitney and her family are doing there in Arkansas is nothing short of miraculous because they provide. The most essential raw material for getting these new generation of craft sake brewers off the ground with really high quality ingredients. We also talk about the scale of the farm. Kind of hard to imagine how, how, how big the rice farms are down there.
John Puma: 3:47
Yeah. Yeah. When they were talking about it in terms of sheer acreage, I was just like, uh, whoa. Like there’s that much land. Like, you know, I think as a New Yorker, we’re used to thinking square feet. We’re not used to thinking of acres at all.
Timothy Sullivan: 3:59
Yeah, well it was such a fascinating conversation and I’m really excited to share it with our listeners today. Please remember, dear listener, that we were recording outside and all that comes along with it, but we are doing the very best with our audio. But just keep that in mind as you listen to these episodes that were recorded outside. But John, I think we did an okay job.
John Puma: 4:23
I, you know, uh, I, I had a great time. I’ll tell you that now. I think that considering, we learned some things doing this, but I think we also, uh, I think, I think we came out with a a really, we went out there with a really good setup and I think it really shows, I think that the, quality of the audio is, is, is pretty good. It’s, we’ve had a, we’ve had episodes we’ve done indoors that weren’t as good. So yeah, I’m very happy with how this turned out. So yeah, give a listen to our chat with, uh, Whitney Isbell Jones. our day at the North American Sake Fest continues. It does, it does. it does. And we have this time we’ve pulled over, so we’ve had some, we had some brewers earlier that came over. We had some, some people came by and said hello, but now we actually brought some people who helped make the rice that a lot of the North American brewers are using. So I thought that would be a lot of fun.
Timothy Sullivan: 5:14
Yes. And I am super excited to introduce Whitney Isbell Jones. Who is of the super famous Isbell family of Arkansas, very famous rice farmers, and we’ve talked with a lot of brewers about the difference that good quality sake rice has been making over the last 10 years. So we have a lot to dig into with you about Sake rice. But first, Whitney, welcome to the show.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 5:40
Thank you for having me.
John Puma: 5:42
All right, so digging right into it, how long has Isbell been making Rice
Whitney Isbell Jones: 5:47
So, um, our farm was actually established in 1946. Um, the rice came a little bit later than that there were some cotton the beginning, but then when my granddad, when he came home from World war ii, um, he used his GI money to buy land in Arkansas. I think it was 40 acres and a tractor. Yeah, so that’s how it kind of started. And from there, I, he, I, just listened to him actually tell a story on a documentary a few days ago. He said it was in timber and he had to clear it and figure out a way to make it work, and rice was the answer. so,
John Puma: 6:19
Nice. Alright, so, um, there’s, there’s a lot of farms that, make rice, But, what led to Isbell making Japanese rice or sake rice specifically?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 6:27
Okay, so my granddaddy was what we like to call an innovator, and um, he, kind of put that those genetics in all of us as well, I think. But, he liked to see things done just a little bit differently. He, a lot of people farm. We kind of wanted to do it a little different. So he started that innovation early on. So the way normal people farmed in Arkansas and everywhere else with rice. He said that really didn’t work as well as another way could. And so he decided that we would level all of our fields to a zero grade level and, um, that, that kind of farming wasn’t heard of. I mean, you had to farm with levies to keep the water in. So he started doing that. So that was kind of the first innovative thing that we saw. And then, my dad kind of had that same innovative spirit and in the late eighties, early nineties, He was standing at a rice conference and they were playing pinging pong and he was standing up against a wall and there was a man from japan that didn’t speak very good English, and my dad wanted to have a conversation with him. And so he ended up being a doctor from Japan that studied rice. And, um, my dad started a conversation with him and he said, how, what is the best rice that you have in Japan? And Shoichi said, um, koshihikari is the best rice in Japan. It can only be grown, however, in Japan, it cannot be grown outside. And my dad’s a rice farmer, and he says, why not? And he said, it just can’t. So my dad said, well, let’s just see what happens. And so
John Puma: 7:56
so he took that as a challenge.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 7:57
think I, I think he, he would say something like, um, you know, bet I I, you, you think we can’t bet. Let’s see what happens. And so he began to, uh, Look into that, and went through all of the legal ways to get the seed into the country through U S D A in quarantine, and we began to grow it. And we grew it, well, we won some taste competitions. we, my parents went to Japan. We had several people from Japan here? And, And, so in the nineties we were very integrated within the Japanese community and learned about their rice and how different it was and how good it was and so within that whole, Timeframe. We began to experiment with other japonica rice varieties, so we kind of built up a seed bank of different things that, We’ve just researched to look at and one of those that was in there was, uh, yamadanishiki and we received a call from, I think I can say their name, Takara in California. and they wanted, since we started to grow it in small quantities, um, it took a while for that to happen. That’s been going on for 15 years. Um, so as they would make a special edition out of our rice, but now just in the past few years, it’s just exploded. And I don’t know, it’s just, it was the right time. We were, it just, it just worked out. And so now, you know, we we’re growing it and, but that’s how we got into the Japanese varieties. I mean, that’s the, it’s not normal. For an Arkansas farmer to grow Japanese rice, that’s not something that’s
John Puma: 9:25
Timothy Sullivan: 9:26
I’m So happy to hear that your, the thing that led you to Koshihikari was actually a pinging pong That’s, that’s the most charming detail of the story I think.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 9:36
So we, but that’s like the thing that we do. We, we play ping pong as a family, and I have yet to beat my dad at ping pong and he, he lets me know that regularly. So, uh, we get it together, we have one in our garage and we air condition the garage and we play pinging
Timothy Sullivan: 9:52
That’s awesome. Now, Koshihikari was where it started, and that’s not traditionally used as broadly for sake.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 9:58
Yes. Not at all. I wouldn’t, that was a sushi variety
Timothy Sullivan: 10:00
exactly. and then you moved on to Yamadanishiki. And I’ve heard from many American sake brewers that when Isbell Farms, when your family began growing Yamadanishiki for broader distribution, it really leveled up the quality of American made sake. What’s your reaction? to that? How do you feel about that?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 10:20
That makes me smile because, uh, you know, I told, I told everyone last night, we can grow rice all day long, but what they make from it. is, is the magic. You know? I mean, um, what they do with it. Yeah. It’s, it’s amazing. So to know that, I mean, yes, we want it to be the best of the best.
John Puma: 10:37
That’s great. I, I remember, several years ago, I was, having some drinks with Ben Bell, who is now over at, origami. And he was telling me, we were talking a little bit about, about domestic sake and about like, uh, about rice varieties. He was telling me, he was like, there’s a, there’s a farm in Arkansas. It’s making the yamadanishiki. And I was like, no, possibly be the case. He’s like, yeah, and they’re gonna keep doing it and they’re seeing it bigger and bigger. And I was like, alright. And now like, you know, here we are sitting here like probably like 10 years later and, and.
Timothy Sullivan: 11:05
John Puma: 11:06
We’re, and we’re talking to you on a podcast about sake. So Obviously he was on this or obviously he. was, aware that you guys were onto something.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 11:12
we’ve been friends with Ben Bell for a long time. He’s a great guy. and I think even from, from last year to this year, we, we attended the craft sake fest in, um, Asheville, North Carolina last year, And we got to know a lot of these people. And just coming back this year has been even better because, um, I don’t know, we know everybody and they’re, they’re using our rice and we can say, Hey look, this Is the rice now go try the product. So it’s been kinda awesome.
Timothy Sullivan: 11:38
so today as you mentioned we are at the American Craft Sake festival live recording on location, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Yeah. So what’s your reaction to today, Ben? You’ve talked with some of the guests that have come today, maybe some home brewers. What interactions have you had with locals here?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 11:57
So I’m amazed at how many people already know who we Are that’s, I think because last year it was like, well, why are you here? Because you just have rice and what do you have to pour? And they were kind, and we educated several people on, on where, where we were and what we did. But this year more people have walked up and said, Hey, we follow you on social media. We know who you are. Um, we like what you’re doing. So it’s been different. And then, um, also, like I said, the the brewers that are here are mostly all good friends of ours, and we know them personally. And so to be able to send them. From our table to see the rice to their table to see the product is kind of awesome.
John Puma: 12:36
sounds great. Uh, so you’ve had the situation of like, your family makes this rice and now you’ve tasted a product that was made from the efforts of your family. Is that, like, how does that feel as, as like the farmer
Whitney Isbell Jones: 12:49
It’s, it’s amazing. I because I mean, on the farm when we grow rice we do eat our own rice, but we eat it out of a rice cooker.
Timothy Sullivan: 12:56
Whitney Isbell Jones: 12:56
You know, it’s just rice with salt and pepper. It’s amazing, but it’s not this, and so I don’t know it, it, came from the ground that came from your family from years and years ago that’s produced this legacy of rice and. And now what was just a normal product on the market has become something different. And just to see, um, to see grain taken in so many different things, being able to be done with it. And I don’t know, you kind of think maybe can taste the dirt, you know, I mean, maybe you can even track it all the way back to the farm.
Timothy Sullivan: 13:27
Now You mentioned that you started growing yamadanishiki and other sake rices We’ll talk about that in a second. But I can’t imagine there weren’t some bumps along the road Developing this market and growing these new varieties, what have been the challenges in kind of pioneering this sector of, of rice growth? Like what, what’s been the challenges?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 13:49
So the rice that they used to make the sake from is only really good to make sake. So it’s not a table, it’s not a, it’s that you would want to, you can eat it, not like the best to,
John Puma: 14:02
Yes. As as somebody who’s had a Yamahai fried rice, I wholeheartedly agree with you
Whitney Isbell Jones: 14:07
just not, I mean, everybody comes by the table to get a sample. Do we cook it? I, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t, it’s not really to eat. So, um, when you’re growing something like that with the specialty market, So what happens if you plant too much, you’re left with it. So it’s either really a premium crop or it’s nothing and it’s a loss. and to be able to figure out. How much you need, how much you don’t need, what left with, that that’s been, that’s been a challenge. So we’ve begun to, um, contact the brewers early in the year, see what they think they might need, and so that we can have, always have enough but not be left with too much. The other, um, complexities of growing it is that it’s, it’s harder to grow than a regular variety. And, um, it’s, I mean, very much so. And it, um, it only yields about half of what a regular variety would. So we can plant a. You know, the conventional rices that we plant are bred to make a lot, like they, they won’t yield out of it. So you put the seed in the field and you want a yield. Um, the yamada is not like that. We yield about half of what we’re gonna yield out of a conventional rice and so we’re gonna. You know that those acres are gonna be, it’s gonna be half the yield and then while the rice is in the field, it also likes to fall down lodge. And so it’s where we can usually, um, we can harvest about 160 acres of conventional rice a day. We can only, um, do about 30 acres.
John Puma: 15:34
Oh, wow. significant.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 15:36
So time, energy. Yes,
Timothy Sullivan: 15:39
you mentioned lodging, which is a term I learned from you yesterday. lodging. is when. the rice stock falls over and kind of impacts the, the paddy, right? Yeah. And is that rice salvageable or,
Whitney Isbell Jones: 15:52
Yeah, it is. It’s very salvageable. I mean, it’s just when the rice is standing up, we can just take it right off the top of the stalk, but when it’s laying on the ground, we have to be very careful to pick it up. So it’s like combing through. Imagine, imagine your daughter has been outside and her hair is windblown, and you have to comb through that very carefully. So now we have rice on the ground that’s tangled and mangled. So we have to be very careful to pick it up. We lose a lot of the grain if we’re not slow and very careful with that.
Timothy Sullivan: 16:20
So that’s a big financial consideration for you as Well, if you’re getting such small yields with such a specialized product. You really have to be sure of the demand, And that probably means you need very special relationships with all these brewers. Is that
Whitney Isbell Jones: 16:36
Yes. That’s very, and I think that’s key. I think it’s key to know not only who your brewer is, but know their face and their voice and their, just to know them, know them. That way when we’re able to go and talk to them about what they want for the next year, it’s it’s a it’s just a conversation with a friend. It’s not a,
John Puma: 16:51
Ah, I like that. I like having conversation with friends too.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 16:55
we do too.
John Puma: 16:55
Yeah. So um, you mentioned, uh, you, you whole thing getting started with Koshihikari. Now yamadanishiki you guys are making, a lot of that nowadays. we have heard, uh, from other brewers that they’re very fond of working with your own omachi so um, what other, Japanese sake rice varietals have you guys been playing with, or maybe not even Japanese, but sake rice varietals.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 17:15
So I’m gonna butcher this with my accent. I’m sorry. But, uh, one of is Wataribune. we have. that. Um, we also have gohyakumangoku.
John Puma: 17:26
You didn’t butcher that at
Whitney Isbell Jones: 17:27
I didn’t, yay. Um, so yes, we have those, and those are not as readily available as the Omachi and the Yamada. the yamada is more readily available even than the omachi because that’s what we’ve had the demand for and we just, we can’t just put 40 acres of, of a variety out. If we don’t know we can sell it. So, but those are available if people are interested in
John Puma: 17:48
Nice. Tim, wataribune was, if I’m not mistaken, kind of a, a lost rice for a long time. So it’s like this rice that was lost has been recovered and now is being grown in America is a story like that’s not something you expect to hear.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 18:00
That’s a very old heirloom variety of rice. Yes. Very old.
Timothy Sullivan: 18:04
Well, that’s exciting that you’re expanding the portfolio of rice. that is available. And since you need to develop the seeds and. Grow that over probably several years to get the yields up. Uh, it’s uh, it’s a, multi-year process to bring a new product into your portfolio. Is that right?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 18:23
It’s about four years.
Timothy Sullivan: 18:24
John Puma: 18:24
Whitney Isbell Jones: 18:25
So if we’re starting with a very small sample of rice, it’s gonna take us about four years. Is why. If that’s why we tell them if you want something, we’re gonna have to start building it now. The other thing that we do is we grow a southern medium grain, and we market that. That has done very well. We’ve kind of labeled that under the name, Somai Southern Rice, um, that has done really well. People like that. They use that to brew. That’s a that’s a less expensive if you’re not, if you wanna do home brewing or if you wanna Do you know, just play with it a little bit. you might, you might wanna start with the, the less expensive rice, and we offer that as well,
Timothy Sullivan: 18:58
now you teach a lot about how rice is grown and how rice makes it to someone’s kitchen table. what would you say? based on your experience educating about rice is the most surprising fact that people don’t realize about growing or making rice available to the consumer?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 19:17
I think the, the most surprised I’ve ever been was when a lady asked me did rice grow on a tree? And that really happened, and that was a fun conversation. blew, I blew her mind. Um, but most people don’t even know that Arkansas has rice. That’s a big one
John Puma: 19:37
I’m, I’m going back to something that was said earlier. I didn’t know Arkansas was a was a big rice producing state until Ben told me and I was like, wait, wait. Really?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 19:47
So Arkansas is the largest rice producer in the United States. So I think I heard my husband say he, he knows more of those technical things, but I think like, 1.7 million acres this year in Arkansas.
John Puma: 20:01
Timothy Sullivan: 20:02
John Puma: 20:02
a lot of
Whitney Isbell Jones: 20:03
And hope that’s right.
Timothy Sullivan: 20:04
I have to say for me as well, before I got into sake, I did not know Arkansas was the rice basket of the U.S., but it really is.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 20:12
Yes, it is. I mean, it’s when you’re, when you’re there this time of year at every, every field, you know, it’s and our, our farm is a little bit different than other farms because we are 100% rice 100% of the time. We don’t rotate so we are always rice. So all of our acreage is always in rice and many of the farmers will rotate beans and cotton and, and corn. Uh, my dad likes to say our ground wants to grow rice, and so that’s what we give it. So Yeah, we have one field that’ll be, I think 64 or 65 years continually in rice,
Timothy Sullivan: 20:42
John Puma: 20:43
that’s a lot.
Timothy Sullivan: 20:45
Now, when you think of rice growing in Japan, and I have a. vision of photos from growing rice in japan, it’s these Little square. paddies that are flooded with, uh, you know, Beautiful green, uh, stalks growing. out of them.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 20:58
Timothy Sullivan: 20:59
Is that what you have in Arkansas? Describe, the farm a little bit. Give us a, give us a sense of what it’s like there
Whitney Isbell Jones: 21:04
I think, our smallest field is probably about 20 acres
Timothy Sullivan: 21:09
for one, one
Whitney Isbell Jones: 21:11
Yes. So, um, the majority of our fields are between 40, 50. We have one field that’s 90 acres. we have, I think 88 different fields right now. so there’s a lot, a lot of rice to watch, but, um, it’s, it’s, it’s always funny when people come from Japan to see the farm.’cause they, you know, they ask how we, how we hand plant things. we we don’t hand plant if we were to hand plant things, you would not see us here. Um, we use large equipment, it’s on a, bigger scale. but that doesn’t mean that we don’t give it the attention. My, my husband Jeremy, he, he’s in the field every day watching the water levels. And he knows, I think if you were to bring him over, he could tell you what field was at what stage. I mean, it’s, they’re his babies, so it, even though it’s not, I tell everybody, I only have a husband in the wintertime, he’s gone planting and harvest. But, anyway, it’s, we pay close attention to it. So it’s, it’s, it’s a bigger scale, but it, the love of the land hasn’t changed. It’s just a little bit bigger. I would love to visit Japan and see how they grow rice. My dad has done that several times, but it’s a different Totally, totally
John Puma: 22:17
A very different scale. Totally.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 22:19
John Puma: 22:21
Um, so how much of, how much of Isbell Farms is devoted to making sake rice these days?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 22:26
So we are at about 10%
John Puma: 22:28
Oh wow. So it’s some, all that land and like the most sake rice probably being produced in America and it’s only 10% of what you guys have. That’s amazing.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 22:37
Yes, So we’re, and that’s, that has grown every year. But I said, we have to have the market for it. I’ve had a lot of people ask me today, will, will you run out? We have so much room to expand. Um, we have lots left to, expand, so, um, we’re not gonna run out anytime soon.
John Puma: 22:53
Nice. Have you gotten, uh, requests for specific rice varietals that people want to work with?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 22:59
Um, yes. Uh, do you know of a variety called it? Um, is it Dewa Wawa
John Puma: 23:04
Timothy Sullivan: 23:06
we, we did a whole episode on dewasansan.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 23:09
Yes. And I don’t know much about that variety. Uh, um, but I’ve had some requests for that, not necessarily today, but that’s one that we don’t have that people ask. I don’t know that that’s even possible, but
John Puma: 23:20
know if it’s possible either. I will tell you it makes very tasty sake, generally speaking. Uh, but, uh, but yeah, I’m a fan of it, so, uh, you know, if it can happen. Well,
Whitney Isbell Jones: 23:28
I dunno if it can or not
Timothy Sullivan: 23:30
Well, it is one of the few, uh, rice varieties that has its own theme song. Remember John?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 23:34
Oh, does it? And I hear that it comes from a region that’s just very small. Is that correct?
John Puma: 23:41
Timothy Sullivan: 23:42
John Puma: 23:44
and it’s their, it’s their like local rice.
Timothy Sullivan: 23:46
Whitney Isbell Jones: 23:46
told me that it doesn’t even leave that region, so probably not gonna make it Arkansas but
John Puma: 23:52
Gotta get some seeds. We’re gonna make this happen, Tim.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 23:55
I’ve I’ve, had a, I think that the large, the, the Omachi has been a popular one. That, that been something that, that we’ve seen grow over the last couple years. I mean, I would like to see the other ones grow too.
Timothy Sullivan: 24:04
Yeah, for sure. So you said about 10% is dedicated to sake specific rice and the other 90%
Whitney Isbell Jones: 24:11
It’s just conventional rice actually. We, we grow a little bit of everything. When I, when I say that we are innovative farmers, I mean that, like right now we have long grain, medium grain, and short grain. We’re actually growing a short grain this year that we hope to market as a sushi rice. We have a medium grain that we’re marketing, as kind of a middle road for Calrose being In California, we are able to grow something similar in Arkansas, it feeds that market on this side of the world. Um, so we have a little bit of everything. The majority of it’s gonna be just a regular, conventional long grain. Um, that’s the easiest to grow. It’s the easiest to harvest. And until we have the demand for anything else, there’s no need to put anything else
John Puma: 24:52
That makes sense. Are you guys still making Koshihikari?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 24:55
I wish, gosh
Timothy Sullivan: 24:56
Oh, you’re not. You’re not.
John Puma: 24:57
Whitney Isbell Jones: 24:58
we’re not. I mean, we have, we have the capability of but that, talk about hard rice to grow. Oh my gosh, yes. That was seriously hard to grow. we planted the whole farm in that one year. That was
John Puma: 25:08
The whole farm.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 25:10
that was a long year. but that was a very
John Puma: 25:13
That sounds like a lot of like pa, past stress coming
Whitney Isbell Jones: 25:16
Yes. We don’t wanna do that again, but, that rice, the koshi is like my all time favorite rice to eat. I mean, it’s amazing. I wish we could just grow a field and mill it out and eat it for us, so, yeah.
Timothy Sullivan: 25:29
Now, Whitney, I’ve got a little bit of a personal question for you. when you are enjoying sake
Whitney Isbell Jones: 25:35
Timothy Sullivan: 25:35
made with Isbell Farms Rice, what’s your favorite style? Like, what, what’s your ideal sake? Do you like things that are clean, dry, fruity, sweeter? What? What do you like? Personally?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 25:46
like the ones that are, that are clean and crisp. I don’t necessarily like the ones I, I, I like all of them. I mean, I, I, I am not gonna pick a favorite’cause we have all these brewers here, so I’m not gonna choose
John Puma: 25:56
It’s very, uh, strategic.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 25:58
I’m not gonna pick a favorite. Um, generally speaking, I like the ones that are just a real clean, crisp taste. I, I appreciate those. Yes.
Timothy Sullivan: 26:06
yes, I’m on team. Clean and crisp as well. Yes. love it
Whitney Isbell Jones: 26:11
I, I like’em a lot.
John Puma: 26:12
I occasionally visit Team Crisp and Clean. I, tend to hang my flag in Team Fruity and fun, but you know, I think that there’s room for both of them. my heart, I.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 26:24
I, I Do You like the flavored ones?
John Puma: 26:26
Um, the, uh, the infused, um, I, I do, dabble that a little bit. Generally speaking, though, I really like it when a sake can just do that without being infused. It blows my mind when I can taste something. I’m like, this tastes like strawberries. There were no strawberries used in the making of this product. And that, like, that’s one of those things that when I was first getting into sake, it really just like, it just made me go, wow, this is a unique beverage.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 26:49
amazing to see how diverse the tastes are and the same rice and brewer to brewer. the flavor profiles different. it’s amazing.
John Puma: 26:57
Whitney Isbell Jones: 26:57
And, and before we started this, I.
John Puma: 27:00
You had never had second
Whitney Isbell Jones: 27:01
Well, you know, I’d had the hot at hibachi Grill that was like kerosene and you know, nobody, I was like, I don’t, I don’t like this. I don’t know why we’re growing rice for this. And then I’m introduced to this new world of sake and this stuff is really good. It gets really, really good.
John Puma: 27:17
Yeah, I, I think a lot of people, their first introduction is similar in that warm stuff that the hibachi
Whitney Isbell Jones: 27:24
to say. I dunno.
John Puma: 27:26
No, no. It’s a very common thing. we hear that from people all the time. Like, oh, I had sake at, uh, at, uh, you know, at a hibachi place like I squirted at me or whatever, or had really hot sake. And they, and they’re like, I don’t understand what the, what the big, you know, why people are excited about And then you, you, give them something that’s a little bit more craft, a little bit more. Uh, more interesting. And then they’re like, oh, I, uh, you know, and that’s like what we always say, oh, I didn’t know Sake could do. This is like often what we get to hear say.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 27:51
Very, very different from bottle to bottle, brewer to brewer, and I think that’s the, that’s the adventure of it. That’s why things like today are so much fun because you might not be able to get a bottle of all of this, but if you can walk around and try all of it, it’s kind of awesome.
Timothy Sullivan: 28:05
Yeah. Now, if our listeners, anyone’s interested in your rice, are learning more about Isbell Farms or wants to see your social media, can you let us know all the ways to contact you?
Whitney Isbell Jones: 28:17
yes, we really like our social media. My son is a marketing major, and he decided we needed social media accounts on everything. So we have a YouTube channel. You can find us there. It’s Isbell Farms. We’re on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok. Don’t, I’m not really found my groove on TikTok
John Puma: 28:36
I don’t think any of us at this table have.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 28:38
Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and I just downloaded threads, but I’m not there yet. But we have a, a website, www.isbellfarms.com, and as we progress into the milling business with Cypress Creek Milling, follow along there and we’ll give you connections for like the people that want to purchase rice. We’ll be able to help you there.
Timothy Sullivan: 28:59
tell us briefly about the Cyprus Creek milling project that you just mentioned.’cause it something exciting happening.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 29:05
very exciting. So we have Blake Richardson at in Minnesota, uh, Moto-i Minn Rice, um, for 11 years has been milling a rice, great friends, good relationship with him. Just recently, we’ve decided to move that milling equipment to Arkansas. So we are very much about sustainability and the idea of having rice in Arkansas, that we moved to Minnesota to then move somewhere else. Was a lot. And when this opportunity came, became available, and um, Blake wanted to sell his equipment, we decided that we would move to Arkansas to just minimize the footprint just a little And also to be able to have some control of the product from beginning until end. Um, it, it opens up a lot of different things. So anyway, the meal is about 15 minutes from our house. 15 minutes from the farm. it’s very convenient. and we hope to have it open up and running in the next few weeks. but yeah, that’s, that’s where we are with that. It’s gonna be a new adventure, but we’re, we’re very excited about it.
Timothy Sullivan: 30:04
Yeah. and just so our listeners know that rice mills are not the thing you would use for eating rice. These rice mills are specific for sake
Whitney Isbell Jones: 30:11
Exactly. So the rice when it comes out of the field, can’t even go into a sake mill until it’s 90% milled. So we can’t even send it in rough or brown. it has to be milled to 90% before it can begin. Yes, these we have, we’re gonna have Shinkano and Satake mills in our MIll So
John Puma: 30:27
And, and remember everybody at home when we, when we talk about sake, milling percentage and, Seimaibuai it’s it. That’s the mill. This is where that happens. That’s it’s very important to the process.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 30:36
And we’ll be able to do, whatever the brewer wants, I’ve had a lot of questions today, from people coming around. What about the home brewer? Like, can we do?’cause nobody wants 50 pounds of brew rice brew at home. And that is something that we really want to focus on to make that easy. So as our, as our website comes about, and we’ll just advertise our Cypress Creek milling website on our Isbell Farms website and our social media is we also have social media for Cypress Creek milling. you can find Cypress Creek milling on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. I don’t think I have, maybe on TikTok. I think I have that TikTok well. It does not, however, have a YouTube channel just yet. Um, but yes, we’ll follow along on there and we’re gonna try to make the pricing and the ordering very simple for the home brewer. Um, that’s a goal.
Timothy Sullivan: 31:17
I think there’s a lot of home brewers are really gonna appreciate that and we will put all of the contact information for the milling and the rice business on our show notes for our podcast as well, so people can check that out all in one place. Whitney, it was a pleasure to talk with you today.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 31:34
for having me. I appreciate
Timothy Sullivan: 31:36
Thank you so much for the time.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 31:38
I like it.
John Puma: 31:39
Thank you for coming across the aisle.
Whitney Isbell Jones: 31:40
Yeah. We’ve been waving at you all day there
John Puma: 31:43
again, thank you so much for coming and with the show.
Timothy Sullivan: 31:46
Whitney Isbell Jones: 31:47
having me. Thank.
John Puma: 31:48
Ah. And here we are. We’re back in the air conditioned confines of our homes. Tim?
Timothy Sullivan: 31:52
Yes. That was such a great discussion, and I’ll say it again. You know, who knew that a game of pinging pong could change the world of sake?
John Puma: 32:03
It also kind of changed my perspective on koshihikari a bit.
Timothy Sullivan: 32:06
Well, that was a fantastic conversation. We have a couple more in pocket. Do we
John Puma: 32:12
Yes, we have, uh, two more. I’m not gonna disclose who will be featured on them yet, but we’re, but I, I assure you they’re definitely, some fun shows. I will say though, that both of them are repeat offenders at this point.
Timothy Sullivan: 32:24
That’s right! Yes, they are. Well, A special, thank you to Whitney Isbell Jones for joining us on this episode. We also want to say thank you to the Sake Brewers Association of North America, who are the organizers of the American Craft Sake Festival, and also a special hello to North American Sake Brewery who hosted this year’s festival. We want to thank our listeners as well. Thank you so much for tuning in today. And if you would like to support Sake Revolution and you’re enjoying these podcasts. Really the best way to support us is to join us on Patreon. To sign up. Please visit Patreon.com/SakeRevolution
John Puma: 33:12
and another way you can support us is by while you’re at SakeRevolution.com. Click on the shop link and from there you can get items like t-shirts and stickers, uh, to show your support for Sake Revolution everywhere you go. Plus they’re kind of cool looking shirts, I think, personally, So, on that note, Tim, grab a glass, raise it. Remember to keep drinking sake and Kanpai!