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Proper Sake, a taste of Japan in Middle Tennessee



NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  -- You might be surprised to learn that Nashville is now brewing its very own Sake, the traditional Japanese rice wine.

The Proper Sake brewery and taproom are located on Ewing Ave near Music City Center. Brewmaster Master Bryon Stithem was steaming a special Japanese rice on the loading dock the day WMOT visited.

When the steaming was complete, he moved the rice to a sterile room where Koji spores are added to kick off the fermentation process. It’s very much a hands-on process.

“You’ll move them by hand as much as possible to make sure all of those spores are passed on to each grain and from their you’ll bundle it all up and retain all that moisture,” he explained.

Chilled fermentation tanks are the next stop on the way to finished Sake. Here too, the process is hands-on. Stithem stirs the tanks with a wooden paddle twice a day.

So how did Byron Stithem end up brewing Sake in Nashville? Turns out he came to the mid-state to get a Music Business degree at Belmont University. Stithem worked restaurant jobs to put himself through school.

“Eventually learned that that was my passion.” he said. “Specifically fermentation in Culinary Science as a subset of that.”

Following stents in New Orleans, New York and Japan, Stithem’s passion narrowed its focus to Sake.

“I guess when I was living in New York and was exposed to some of these really wild old-world styles that I had no idea existed that really was the catalyst for me,” he recalled.

Credit WMOT
The sterile room at Proper Sake where Koji spores are added to steamed rice, kicking off the fermentation process.

Stithem returned to Tennessee when he realized he just couldn’t find those world-class Sake’s anywhere in the South.

“The actual allocation of Sake as it comes from Japan is not great at this point. Most of it typically goes to the coasts; San Francisco, LA, New York,” he said.

Proper Sake is now being distributed throughout Tennessee and is moving slowly into surrounding states. It’s also served at several mid-state restaurants, including restaurateur Sarah Gavigan’s Bar Otaku in The Gulch.

“It has a really unique taste compared to a lot of the Sake’s that we’re getting from Japan,” she told WMOT. “We love selling Byron’s Sake. We find that our

Credit WMOT
Making Sake is a hands-on process for Proper Sake brew master Byron Stithem. He stirs the chilled fermentation tanks twice a day.

customers really love his Nigori, which is the cloudy, slightly more sweet of the two Sakes.”  

Proper Sake’s tap room is now open to the public Friday and Saturday evenings. In addition to several varieties of Sake Byron Stithem is also brewing a traditional Japanese beer.

Would you like to learn more about Proper Sake of Nashville?