A new Japanese rice beer producer, Great Sea Sake, is close to opening at 2310 4th Ave. in Belltown, pending some state licensing. Co-owner Kurt Colfelt and his partner Taiko Aoki-Marcial have been brewing sake since they lived in Thailand a few years ago, and a three-month stint in Japan solidified their interest in starting their own sake business, but Colfelt said it wasn’t until Cedar River Brewing Company closed its Phinney Ridge home last fall that they really stepped up their timeline.
“I was almost mad that [Cedar River owner Jeff James] had to close, that’s what kicked my ass into gear,” Colfelt told Eater. “If there’s no competition, you lose traction.” Cedar River may reopen elsewhere down the line, but the company is still on indefinite hiatus; meanwhile, Washington’s only other sake brewery, Andy Neyens’ Tahoma Fuji Sake Brewing Company in Ballard, just recently started selling its wares, with limited availability at restaurants like Japanese soba specialist Kamonegi.
Great Sea’s space is shared with a bike shop, which occupies the front of the building on 4th Ave., which means the brewery itself is accessible from the back alleyway off Bell St. (The building is expected be sold in the next year or so, which means the current occupants are living on borrowed time.) To start, Great Sea plans to offer a few types of sake: a standard junmai, a version oaked somewhat like wine, a cloudy nigori, and an unpasteurized nama, Colfelt’s favorite. The brewery will have limited retail and tasting opportunities, with the company’s focus more on distribution and education.
Aoki-Marcial has years of experience as a teacher (that’s what brought them abroad in the first place) and is leading the charge on the business side, including securing federal and state permits. Colfelt has about a decade of experience as a bartender and bar manager, including Ballard’s now-defunct Balmar and, currently, Capitol Hill’s Corvus and Co., but he said he’s never worked anywhere that served sake. He hopes to expand the drink’s availability in Seattle through events like cocktail competitions, convincing not only Japanese restaurants to carry it but also non-Japanese spots to use it in cocktails or seafood restaurants to serve it by the glass. “There’s no reason you can’t have sake at Taylor Shellfish,” Colfelt said. “We want to break away from the sushi and sake mold.”
Sake has long had a low profile in the Seattle area, though Seattle Met wondered recently, “Will Sake Finally Have a Moment in Seattle?” Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners baseball team and Seattle Sounders soccer squad, has served sake slushies for years, and this year has even added sake on tap, Oregon brewer Sakéone’s Momokawa Organic Junmai, available at the Hiroshi’s Sushi stand.
Great Sea Sake should start brewing within the next few weeks, and open to the public sometime thereafter; Eater will update as the situation develops.