We had the good fortune of connecting with Troy Nakamatsu and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Troy, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
“The mystery and secrets of sake making presented something of a fascinating challenge that has always kept me interested. The entire aesthetic of sake brewing is something I found to be beautiful. The minimalist, clean Japanese shibui style, subtle and restrained, fits so well with sake and sake production. The idea of being able to make delicious sake and do it while maintaining a subtle aesthetic is something very appealing to me. All of these things in combination with desire to take something so traditionally Japanese and translate it for the American market, cultivated the conviction in me to begin the journey of co-creating Sawtelle Sake.” Troy Nakamatsu, Co-founder
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
“The early idea was to be the house sake in a restaurant, but we quickly evolved to a brewery concept that would serve food. Troy and I fell in love with the idea of having an outdoor sake style beer garden. We had a space in Koreatown that we were negotiating – we would take over an old car service garage, drop in shipping containers, and enclose it to be a cool tasting room / bar with space for food trucks to come serve the food. We figured we would brew and serve on site, and eventually would get into commercial production / distribution but our path to forming the business went in a completely different direction. Like many other budding companies, we were a business trying to open our doors during the COVID 19 pandemic, so we adjusted and flipped that vision on its head by producing first, and opening our tasting room second.
We’re excited that that dream is coming to realization in just a month, opening the doors to our first private tasting room on Sawtelle Blvd in the historic Japanese town that has been home for 14 years and has inspired our brand from the beginning. We are looking forward to having the ability to start serving our community and building relationships face-to-face.” – Jon Rugg, Co-founder
” While most American sake brewers get their start in the beer world, I started my education in fermentation with sake. The challenge and uniqueness of it really got my curiosity going. Not only is it challenging to find ingredients in the US, but the lack of any available sake-specific equipment makes brewing sake extremely difficult. I actually had to start by learning about beer because I was repurposing so much beer equipment to brew sake at home.”
The lack of available equipment provided an exciting opportunity for us to re-image the way sake was crafted and create a more eco-friendly process. We ended up building a lot of our own equipment out of necessity, including our rice steamer. The unique way in which we steam our rice leads to a significant decrease in water usage, which is an exciting step for us in becoming an eco-friendly brewery.
Along with being environmentally conscious, we were also excited to work with local farmers and business in California, which started with the rice we use in our Koji and Sake. We use 100% Yamada Nishiki rice – Yamada Nishiki sake rice is a non-GMO rice varietal that is grown right here in California. There are only a handful of rice growers in the country that produce this strain, which in Japan is known as the King of Sake Rice. Every other ingredient is hand-crafted in-house by myself. When I first started brewing sake I studied as an apprentice in Japan, which is where I learned the art of Koji making. Now we hand-craft our own Koji in-house as well as create our own unique blend of re-mineralized water. The specific minerality helps shape the complexity of our sake’s flavor profile.” – Troy Nakamatsu, Co-founder
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I mean, if we are talking about best friends, we’d start with a night of sake and food at our tasting room. There’s nothing better than getting close friends together over a drink. Then we’d hit up KBBQ in Koreatown + karaoke for a late night out, track down one of our many favorite taco trucks, go to San Gabriel Valley for incredible Chinese food, and Venice for brunch and a stroll down to the beach.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Wow, there are so many amazing individuals to dedicate this shoutout to. Our Friends, family, investors, advisors, team, everyone who has purchased or tried our sake, are all people who have supported us from the beginning. Things do not always go as planned and perseverance has been a huge part of our journey in building Sawtelle Sake, without the support of our community, we would not be here today. Huge thank you and our deepest gratitude.
Joy Jacobs @joyjacobsphoto