HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — America has no shortage of states synonymous with certain alcohol. California wine, Tennessee whiskey, and Kentucky bourbon all have their place, but a 22,000-square-foot brewery in Hot Springs is going against the grain to create a buzz about Sake.
The Japanese alcohol’s main ingredient is rice, which is why the founders of Origami Sake thought Arkansas would be a perfect fit to become the hub for U.S. production of the drink.
“I want Arkansas and the delta to be the Napa Valley of sake,” Origami Sake Vice President Ben Bell explained.
Bell believes the rice drink could be the next big export for the Natural State.
Sake’s main ingredient is rice, and Arkansas is America’s top producer of that. When you add that with Arkansas’ central location, he says it is really the definition of untapped potential.
Sake has been an interest of Ben Bell’s for over a decade. He home brewed in college, and his hobby became a serious enough interest he traveled to New York for tastings and professional training. Later he continued with advanced training in Japan.
Because of a unique connection through Hot Springs’ sister city program, Bell completed a two-year internship with the Nanbu Toji brewing guild in Hanamaki, Japan.
“The largest, most famous sake brewing guild in Japan,” Bell described.
He came back in 2016 with a plan to start crafting sake in Arkansas, but he couldn’t find an investor until Matt Bell, who is not related to Ben, decided Arkansas sake would be his next business venture.
Matt has a background in construction and renewable energy. After selling his company Entegrity, he and Ben gathered the resources to soon become the largest U.S.-owned sake brewery.
“Our goal is to take this brand and really take it throughout the county and eventually export out of the country,” Matt shared.
Personnel is being sourced nationally from New Orleans and Seattle but also internationally, including two brewing and sake masters currently living in Japan.
“Investing in equipment is great, but our talent is unparalleled,” Matt said. “It’s definitely the best crew outside of Japan.”
The whole process from rice to bottle takes anywhere from a month to three months. Origami will launch with one variety “1000 Cranes”, but eventually introduce other flavors with expectations to produce one million liters of sake a year.
The rice used by Origami Sake comes from Isbell Farms, only 70 miles from the brewery, and the water used on-site is sourced from an aquifer underneath it.
“If you’re in New York, that’s where the people are, but Arkansas, we’re where the rice is, the great water. We have the sense of place here,” Ben said.
If you’ve tried Sake before in a restaurant, both Bells said the craft version has a completely different taste. They also say it is more versatile than wine when it comes to pairings. To create a buzz in the minds of consumers, a tasting room is planned to open later in downtown Hot Springs.
“When we pour our sake people become instant converts,” Ben said. “It really is as simple as taste it and you will see what it’s about.”
Origami Sake is set to start producing products this May. What happens next Ben Bell hopes, is the next step of his dream.
“My retirement vision is there are sake breweries all through the area. In Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi and people come from all over the world to experience world-class sake, and we’re that California wine to the great French Bordeau,” he concluded.