NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — In early 2022, Nan Wallis and Lindsey Beard opened up a brewery in New Orleans. Though, they aren’t brewing beer. They are two women who are using Louisiana rice and Japanese tradition, to make New Orleans Sake. Wetlands Sake is open and ready for thirsty patrons.

Sake, in some form, has been produced in Japan for over 2,500 years and coincides with the growing of rice. In the 1800s rice production would make its way to Louisiana with French settlement. Since rice has been grown in Louisiana, it’s become the foundation of the Creole and Cajun culinary pallet. However, rice has not been used to make sake until now.

The process of turning rice into sake is complex and time-consuming. Wetlands Sake’s process takes about 30 to 45 days to turn rice into sake.

Lucas Smolic is a gifted brewer with a passion for fermentation and explains the process as he is making sake, saying, “We are cooling down this rice from boiling temperature, all the way down to 60 degrees or 70 degrees Fahrenheit. We are going to then bring the rice into a room, inoculate it with a special mold and it will sit in a room and be monitored 24 hours a day by our staff. The mold breaks down our starch and produces sugars for us in the rice. When that is all done, it will go into one of these tanks to start the rest of the process.”

The Wetlands Sake taproom opened in February and offers live music, a game night and at times has included a food truck or two.

Lindsey Beard is a co-owner of the business and says, “The first time I tasted a quality premium cold sake, it kind of rocked my world. Nan, my co-owner, and I were at dinner one night. She and her husband had just returned from a trip. We had started to talk about sake and how she had noticed it popping up at restaurants in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.”

“American craft breweries were opening around the United States. I was surprised there wasn’t one in New Orleans because we live in the land of rice. That is what started us thinking about going into business.”

The brewery produces unfiltered and filtered sake, along with a number of infused cocktails. Unlike most sake people are familiar with, they serve their high-end sake cold. The sake is also sold at local retailers.

It’s a common misconception that sake is wine. It is actually more like beer by definition. Wine comes from fermented fruit. However, rice is a grain and rice is what sake comes from.

The rice used at Wetlands Sake is the only short-grain rice grown in Louisiana. Nan and Lindsey went to the LSU Agriculture Center and asked if they would be able to grow the rice for their sake. The rest is now history and in a cold glass.

Wetlands Sake is an unusual stop on the trail of breweries around the city of New Orleans and adds to the storied history of alcohol in the city.

The name Wetlands Sake is due to the rice being grown in Louisiana’s wetlands and also because the business uses a portion of the proceeds to help fund Restoring the Wetlands. They also accept donations for those who do not drink sake. To help them in their mission, you can click here.

“Nan and I are both from New Orleans, so we always knew the importance of the wetlands, from storm protection. For the cultivation of rice, the wetlands are extremely important. From the beginning, we knew we wanted to give back to the Wetlands. Two percent of all profits go towards saving America’s wetlands,” says Lindsey.