Whole Foods partners with Denver producer on another gluten-free product: sake

William Stuart, CEO of Colorado Sake Company, prepares a freshly brewed sake Aug. 7, 2018, to be kegged at Colorado Sake Company in Denver. On Aug. 8 sake tap rooms will become legal in Colorado.

Denver sake brewery Colorado Sake Co. is working with a powerful partner in its efforts to get it rice-based boozy beverage out to the masses: Whole Foods Market.

Starting Oct. 31, the Whole Foods Market Wine & Spirits store at 2315 30th St. in Boulder will carry the brewer’s flagship “American Standard” and “Horchata Nigori” sake varieties.

It is the only retail distribution contract the tiny River North Art District-based operation has signed so far.

The business, which sells to a handful of local restaurants, was founded in 2016, before Colorado had clear rules governing sales of the traditional Japanese spirit made of rice, water, yeast and koji. After a change to state law, the company opened a tasting room — open 4-10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday — off the alley behind its 3559 Larimer St. brewing space this summer.

With Whole Foods on board, its got its sights set higher.

“We’re a local company with national expectations,” Colleen Eager, Colorado Sake’s Co.’s head of business development, said. “Sake is an emerging sector and, of course, domestic sake is even more new so our goal is really to just get people to try it and introduce them to the brand. We know that Whole Foods team members in particular are going to take the time to get to know it.”

Eager is a former Whole Foods marketing staffer. The Colorado Sake Co. partnership was struck through Whole Foods’ local products program, an outlet for local natural goods makers that has landed products from more than 550 Colorado businesses on the specialty grocers’ shelves, company officials say. Of those, more than 300 produce alcohol, and around 200 of those are brewers. Now, one makes sake.

“I think people are going to be really excited to be able to purchase something like this,” said Darcy Landis, a Whole Foods local products “forager” who is working with Colorado Sake Co. “There’s no gluten. It’s not going to get you a little too tipsy before you are done making dinner. It’s kind of the perfect Colorado alcohol.”

The Amazon-owned grocery chain’s regional team had been looking for a local sake brand to partner with for a while, specialty products coordinator Kari McGuinness said. They view it as a burgeoning trend in the American liquor arena.

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Whole Foods has just one retail liquor license in the state, employed by its Boulder wine and spirits store. Changes to the state’s liquor laws adopted in 2016 mean the company could apply for a second license, and — in 2022 — a third, but McGuinness said there are no plans to do so at this time. Beginning Jan. 1, grocery stores that carry 3.2-percent alcohol beer can begin carrying full strength brews, under the updated rules, but that won’t impact sake, which is regulated as wine.

Bottles — 375 milliliters— of Colorado Sake Co.’s American Standard and Horchata Nigori will be sold for $12.99 in Boulder, or $24.99 for a gift set with a bottle of each. To kick start sales and drive consumer interest, all products will be discounted — $1 off for single bottles, $2 for gift sets — through the holidays.

The packaging for Colorado Sake Co.’s gift packs. The packs, which contain one bottle of the company’s American Standard sake variety and one bottle of its Horchata Nigori, is one of three launch products the company will be selling at the Whole Foods Market Wine & Spirits in Boulder starting Oct. 31, 2018.

Colorado Sake Co. isn’t waiting for retail sales to fund its next move. Co-founder and head brewer William Stuart is on the lookout for a new space, larger than the 900 square feet the business fills now.

“We’re closed (four days a week) to make sake,” he said. “We’d rather be open longer and have food.”

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