When Yoed Anis, BA ’03, walks into work each morning, he doesn’t wear a suit and tie like most UT government graduates do. Instead, he pulls his curly hair back in a bandanna, and tugs on tall rain boots to keep his feet dry. He doesn’t work at the Capitol building or on a politician’s campaign—no, Anis is the founder of the first independently owned sake brewery in the United States.
The Texas Sake Company is the culmination of Anis’ fascination for Japanese culture and years of home brewing as a hobby. Sake, a rice-based alcoholic beverage, has been a part of traditional Japanese cuisine for nearly 1,300 years—but never before has it been made like this.
“It’s kind of a contradiction, but this sake is probably the most Texan beverage out there,” Anis says. “We’re using Texan land, Texan rice, and Texan water.”
While most would never expect to see the words ‘Texan’ and ‘rice’ in the same sentence, Anis has done his homework. The tradition of growing rice in Texas began a hundred years ago when Japanese immigrants moved in, and now Texas is just one of two states—the other being California—that continues harvesting the crop.
The Texas Sake Company is also inherently Austin, thanks to Anis’ time at UT. In fact, Anis uses water, one of the most important ingredients in sake, from the City of Austin to brew his products, and his brewery is in a warehouse space on North Lamar. And Austin restaurants like Fleming’s and Shoreline Grill have helped get the business up in running in the last month.
“Sake aficionados are not my market, simply because they don’t exist,” Anis laughs. “Austin is my market at the moment.”
Instead, Anis targets eco-friendly consumers with his two varieties of sake, Whooping Crane—a nod to both Texan and Japanese cranes—and Rising Star. Both are completely organic; even the bottles, which are shipped in from Monterrey, Mexico, are reusable.
But what’s most impressive about the Texas Sake Company is that Anis has no business partners—it’s just him.
“I was lucky to make enough money in my previous ventures to be able to do this,” Anis says.
And that leap of faith may have paid off, and not just because the Texas Sake Company has a promising future. Anis’ creativity in inventing sake-brewing machinery, like a rice steamer that resembles a stand-up shower, has earned him two pending patents.
But to Anis, it truly is all about the sake.
“It’s all about taking the culture of sake and adapting it to Texas,” he says. “As our shirts say, ‘Drink sake for Texas’ sake.’”
Photos by Jeff Heimsath.