One man's quest to bring the Japanese liquor to the Centennial State.
Aurora native Marc Hughes always had a thing for science. As a kid, he wanted to be a geneticist; instead, over the years he filled his resumé with jobs including photographer, graphic designer, DJ, Denver Kickball Coalition commissioner, and English teacher in Japan. Four years after returning to Colorado from Asia, Hughes channeled his interest in chemistry into recreating the simple, distinctive sakes he’d fallen for in Kobe and Kyoto.
Now, countless self-taught batches later, Hughes has nabbed yet another title: brewer. He’s currently working on opening a commercial sake brewery, Gaijin 24886, in a South Broadway brewery co-op. By mixing Japanese techniques, local ingredients, and obscure bits of Colorado history, his junmai and ginjo sakes will soon bring much-needed diversity to the local brewing scene. We caught up with Hughes to chat about his latest obsession.
5280: Why Gaijin 24886?
Marc Hughes: In Japanese, “gaijin” means “foreigner,” or “foreign devil,” and 24886 was my employee number [while working in Japan]. Since I’m literally a foreigner making a foreign beverage, I like that the sake isn’t setting itself up to be Japanese. The rice is American; the water is American. There’s nothing Japanese except for the name.
5280: Talk about some of your Colorado-inspired sakes.
MH: The Leadville Snow Queen is the one everyone likes most. Folks generally describe it as a dry, fruity sake. Some friends and I hike up around Leadville, collect snow, and melt it down for the water base. The snow is different every time, so it can really change the flavor. Old Mose is a black rice sake named for a nightmarish bear who roamed southern Colorado for 30-plus years. He supposedly killed 15,000 head of cattle or something outrageous, not to mention a handful of people. He was that bear, that camp ghost story. I really liked the idea behind that, so I started experimenting. The whole idea was to make a sake that was as black in color as possible. The base of black rice tints the liquid purple but also adds a very earthy note. So I added red rice yeast, white mead yeast, and black cherries to sweeten the flavor.
5280: Any sake do’s and don’ts?
MH: Standard etiquette is that you never pour your own. Unless it comes hot, it’s not a shooting drink. Like a good whiskey or fine tequila, it’s to be sipped and enjoyed.
5280: Can you recommend any pairings?
MH: Sake can stand on its own and can pair with most anything—it’s like craft beer or wine. But it pairs really well with fish and steak. That’s why you traditionally drink it with sushi or a full meal. I’ve seen people sip it with hamburgers—personally, I like it with spicy dishes. Junmai sakes add gingery notes that help soothe the spice.
5280: Has brewing spilled over into any of your other passions?
MH: My friend and I are going to release a series of seven-inch singles based on the concepts of the sakes. He’s really into the Old Mose story, so I’m sure that will end up being some sort of weird horror theme.