SMOOTH AND AGED: Penticton restaurateur now making his own sake
Penticton restaurant owner Tatsuo Kan opened the first sake brewery in the Okanagan and now he has a permit to bring the freshly brewed rice wine out of the tasting room and straight to his customers in the dining room.
Tatsuo Kan owns two KOJO Sushi restaurants, one in Penticton and one in West Kelowna. He's adding sake flights and Sake food pairings to his traditional Japanese offerings.
“Sake is rice wine, it’s simply fermented rice, yeast and water but the sake has a lot of character and even with so few ingredients you can make different varieties,” he said. “That’s the hard part for people to believe but when they try the flights they get such a surprise.”
Kan said he’s having fun introducing and sharing the flavours of sake, and showing customers the best ways to enjoy it.
“Many Japanese restaurants buy cheap Sake from the USA that doesn’t have much aroma or flavours,” Kan said. “Once it’s heated up you can’t tell if it’s good or bad. Canadians are used to it that way. There is a certain type of sake that is good hot but most sake has flavours and aromas that are delicate so you’re not supposed to heat it up.”
Up until two years ago, Kan had never dreamed of opening a sake brewery. The opportunity arose out of a challenge and he grabbed it. He’d been buying fermented rice from a sake brewery in Richmond to create seasonings, but that brewery closed down in 2021.
“I was in trouble, not knowing where to source fresh fermented rice,” he said. “To get it from Japan the price is higher and the quality is lower, the Richmond rice was high in quality and fresh.”
Kan was thinking about the problem as he went for a drive.
“I heard this voice telling me to buy this sake brewery, take it over,” he said. “I don’t drink sake, or alcohol, I never thought about a sake business in my whole life. It was a weird idea.”
He said he reached out to the brewer at the closing Richmond brewery and even though others had already called about buying the brewery business, Kan was given the deal.
“The brewer liked the way I was running my businesses and how I treated staff,” he said. “Two weeks later he showed up in the Okanagan and we got the plan underway right away.”
Kan’s KOJO restaurant in Penticton is located in a plaza where he owns another space. He began building the brewery in the summer of 2021. A fermentation room was created where certain temperatures and moisture levels have to be maintained.
Due to liquor board laws he wasn’t allowed to sell the sake in his restaurants because he was running two different kinds of companies. A few weeks ago on Aug.14, he “finally got an exemption.”
“You can come to either one of my restaurants and get a flight of four different sakes or a food pairing that comes with small dishes and sake,” Kan said.
There are five flavours to choose from including a high end sake that is very pure and smooth, an aged sake that is “more like a port or a Canadian whiskey,” and a sparkling sake.
“The most popular one is the sparkling sake because people have never tasted anything like it before. The high end sake is so smooth it’s dangerous, you can drink it like water.”
To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.
We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above. SUBSCRIBE to our awesome newsletter here.