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Some Cool Japanese Sake is Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina

Images by Carol Spags Photography
Images by Carol Spags Photography

Classic liquors of the American South include moonshine and bourbon, but Ben’s American Sake of Asheville, N.C., wants to add their updated version of the Japanese classic to the list. “I remember my optometrist asking where I worked and saying, ‘I love that place. I love the sake there, but I didn’t know that you guys made your own,’” said Patrick Shearer, head sake brewer at Ben’s. “That was pretty eye opening. We realized that we had a lot of work to do to educate our local fans that we were a sake brewery.”

Part of that issue was that there was a wall dividing the two spaces. Post COVID, that wall has come down. Located in an old garage (the name of the tasting room/restaurant is “Ben’s Tune-Up”), the sake brewing operation is now visible to patrons as they enjoy their meals and live music in this vibrant, remodeled garage.

The founders of Ben’s American Sake, Molly Clark, Meg Alt, Jonathan Robinson and Elliott Moss, started the business with no formal fermentation training. “They’d been to Japan, but they were winging it with that American gung-ho spirit,” explained Shearer.

“They told me that they watched YouTube videos, read whatever books and articles they could find and built their own equipment. We still have only one piece that came from Japan, and that’s a rice washer. Everything else we use has been custom built to fit our needs.” Jonathan Robinson and Elliott Moss have since left the business to pursue other opportunities. Shearer joined the team at Ben’s in 2018, moving across the country from Portland, Oregon where he’d been working at Saké One.

Most people think of sake as a hot beverage served alongside their sushi, but the folks at Ben’s turned that idea on its head with their cold, canned, carbonated sake infusions. Their best-selling product, Yu-Tang, contains yuzu and tangerine. Shearer created it when searching for a sake to drink as he floated on the French Broad River, a favorite activity during the Asheville summers. “We’re playing around,” he said. “What works? What’s fun? What’s great? How can we get more people to try sake?”

Ben’s American Sake also carries two different Nigoris and they call their junmai ginjo, “Black Label Premium.” At a recent event, they introduced a Green and a Red Label as well. “The Red Label tends to have notes of apple, raspberry and a lot of strawberry. And the Green one has more notes of melon and honeysuckle,” said Shearer. The Green and Red Label sakes will become available to the general public by the end of 2023.


LA Bourgeois

LA Bourgeois is a writer and creativity coach based in the eclectic food enclave of Ithaca, New York. Her enthusiastic embrace of food and business led her to run a cafe/bar and wine shop in Colorado for a little over a decade. Now, she uses her words to delight her readers and share her adventures at



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