Drink This Now: Kōyō Rice Maple Wine by Dovetail Sake

Just don't call it 'maple sake.'

Dovetail MAPL Koyo

Dovetail MAPL Koyo. / Photo provided

A unique beverage that Dovetail Sake brewer Todd Bellomy wrote down as an odd idea more than two years ago is about to hit retail shelves. Kōyō Rice Maple Wine is Dovetail’s third release—but it’s not technically another sake.

Brewed with more than 400 liters of DRINKmaple, an all-natural maple water derived from Vermont trees, Kōyō doesn’t adhere to the strict definition of sake, Bellomy says. He’s also OK with calling it a “rice maple wine,” even though sake is alcohol fermented from grain, and thus, not a wine.

“Technically we’re making maple wine. Even though [maple water] has very little sugar, technically we’re fermenting sugar and rice together,” he explains.

So, his company created a new line for the maple-based brew: Dovetail MAPL. Depending on how the small batch of Kōyō sells, there could be other Dovetail MAPL varieties in the future.

Dovetail, Massachusetts’s first and only sake brewery, is based in Waltham. As a proud New England company, Bellomy wanted to work with Concord-based DRINKmaple on the new idea.

“I’m not into making anything super gimmicky, like sake aged on hops or fruit or something, but I thought it was cool to integrate a New England ingredient organically and have it be sake,” he says.

When he first contacted DRINKmaple cofounder Kate Weiler with his maple-rice beverage idea, she provided him with a mineral analysis of her product. He was pleasantly surprised with the results.

“There are standards [in Japan for traditional brewing water targets], and this is very close to that. The tree picks up so many minerals from the soil, but not iron,” Bellomy says. “It actually makes really great sake.”

The water imparts a very light, maple sweetness, but what Bellomy was happiest to discover is the bright, vegetal note it creates.

“It’s easy to focus on the ‘maple’ of it, but the other thing is it’s literally water from inside a tree, so you get some very pleasant, green woodiness that is very unique for the beverage word. ‘Woodiness’ in beer or wine tends to mean oaky, vanilla flavors. This is like fresh shoots,” he says.

The product is filtered, but it is sweeter and softer than Dovetail’s other filtered sake, Nakahama Junmai, Bellomy says. Kōyō is fermented with two Japanese strains of yeast, which provide apple and pear fruitiness, and a cinnamon spiciness.

Dovetail made just one batch of Kōyō, yielding less than 800, 500 mL bottles. They will roll out to Boston-area stores and restaurants beginning today, for the suggested price of $28.