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The Ontario Spring Water Sake Company

Posted by Guest Contributor / Posted on May 16, 2011

Sake TorontoThe Ontario Spring Water Sake Company has opened in the Distillery District giving a shot in the arm to the sad state of sake availabilty in Toronto. A beverage long ignored by the LCBO, sake is widely available on the west coast but this marks the first opportunity for Torontonians to try and buy a freshly brewed unpasteurized batch of the alcoholic rice-based beverage without leaving the province.

Sake TorontoAs I walk through the old wooden doors where Gibsone Jessop gallery once stood a refreshing smell fills the air. Classical music plays in the background while a glass window reveals the handcrafted process. Like most establishments in this historic area, the brewery combines a sense of tradition and class.

Sake TorontoFormer CEO of Bento Nouveau Sushi and hard-core sake lover Ken Valvur made the transition from bringing Canadians solid Japanese delights to liquids after a visit to a 350-year-old sake brewery in Japan. "On one of my visits to the brewery I had sake that had just been pressed," he tells me while pivoting around the patrons flooding through the doorway. "With a long ladle I went down and grabbed some just-pressed unpasteurized sake, I brought it to my lips, and that was a magical moment."

Sake TorontoThe proud Torontonian explains that unpasteurized sake, or nama sake, is a rarity on this half of the continent because it spoils if not kept refrigerated. Since it's not sold in the LCBO, seldom found in sushi restaurants and expensive to ship over from Japan while kept at a cool temperature, the distillery offers Torontonians a rare opportunity to try completely unpasteurized handmade sake in their own backyard. "We're trying to recreate the experience of having just-pressed sake that I experienced out of the ladle," added Valvur. "It's quite a rare thing to have around here."

Sake TorontoValvur explained that the process includes combining California-made rice with fresh spring water from Muskoka. The sake enthusiast tested many sources of water and found that the Muskoka one was similar to the water used in the Fushimi ward of Kyoto, Japan's premiere sake production district. "There are amazing water resources in Ontario, and water and rice are the core ingredients," he said. "We were looking for specific characteristics of water that the Fushimi district has, and Ontario's got amazing water."

Sake TorontoThrough the glass window patrons are able to witness the handcrafted distilling process while the bar offers a variety of sakes to sample including some that have been freshly pressed earlier in the day. In a refrigerated display there are five different types of sakes available for purchase including two special edition blends. 300 ml bottles range between $12.95 and $14.95, while 1.8 L magnum bottles run between $64.95 and $74.95.

Sake TorontoAll bottles need to be refrigerated but will remain fresh for at least six months. The distillery also sells the by-product of sake production know as sake lees or kasu (used in gourmet cooking) for $4 per 250 gram container.

Sake TorontoAfter pointing out the pictures of the distilling process that line the brick walls Valvur offers me a shot of freshly pressed unpasteurized sake. Previously my experience with the beverage was limited to cheap bottles purchased on adventurous whims at sushi restaurants. But like my first taste of pure agave tequila or wine that costs more than $10 per bottle, my eyes were opened to the full potential of the beverage, and now no lesser sake will do.

Sake TorontoSake TorontoPhotos by Dennis Marciniak. Writing by Jared Lindzon.

Discussion

12 Comments

Inferno / May 17, 2011 at 10:30 am
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Hurray. Will check it out. Thanks for writing about it.
Jason / May 17, 2011 at 10:57 am
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The staff there are really nice and the sake they make is wonderful. It's extremely drinkable, smooth but with a bit of acidity like a nice white wine. Just remember that re bottle you buy has to be kept refridgerated!
Oni / May 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm
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I can't wait to check this place out! But you might want to change the Announcement page to read Sake brewery, not factory.
dmk / May 17, 2011 at 12:08 pm
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Can't wait to check it out...!
I wish them great success!
Jer / May 17, 2011 at 12:48 pm
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Had some the other day. It was delicious!
Davenport / May 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm
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Dennis & Jared, Thanks for this...wasn't aware they'd finally opened =D
Losch / May 17, 2011 at 01:13 pm
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Yum! Can't wait to check it out. Thanks for writing, Jared.
Greg / May 17, 2011 at 01:50 pm
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Nice to see the Distillery getting back to some distilling.

The only thing that will make me happier is when someone says that this sake will be no good. They went to Japan for a week, making themselves an expert.
Pablo / May 17, 2011 at 07:13 pm
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Checked the place out the other day, Absolutely fantastic sake! especially the first batch they had for tasting! cannot state how good it was! just excellent!
all that they need now is to make it a sake bar and serve yakitori to go along with it! can just imagine it now!
Highly recommend the sake!
quirkygeekgirl replying to a comment from Greg / May 17, 2011 at 07:39 pm
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I saw it on the news a while ago, they brought over a sake master brewer to set up shop.

Will be on my places to stop in the next time I go to the distillery.
belvedere / May 21, 2011 at 06:45 pm
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this place was packed today. had a tasting flight of nama nama, genshu and teino, followed by just pressed arabashiri. genshu is divine. dude behind the counter was very helpful. take lots of money.
Katherine / May 25, 2013 at 01:32 pm
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This is a cute take on a sake lounge. I'm from California and thoroughly enjoy the incredible selection of sake shipped to us straight from Japan. I honestly didn't realise that the LCBO is such a inhibitor of quality wines from Japan, so I can only imagine how the locals must appreciate this place.

I was very curious to sample sake made from Muskoka water. The sakes I sampled had very unique tastes; certainly not what I'm used to. It's probably mostly because they're unpasturized here. The only one I could see myself drinking was the Nama Nama; the others were either too strong or very much an acquired taste.

Regardless of whether I think this place is a winner, I appreciate their presence in such a multicultural metropolis strangely lacking in sake sinkholes.

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