I live in Pittsburgh. 150 years ago, technology transformed this city. The landscape was filled with new machines, new money brought financial, social and cultural institutions. I worked for 10 years at Mellon Bank, the same institution that funded Carnegie, Frick, Clay in their early industrial development. New work brought waves of people, who in turn built new houses, new transportation and new public works infrastructure. The Pittsburgh Steelers dominate the NFL (unless Tom Brady is on the field). None of this was pre-ordained.
Nick and I were out walking one day, and started thinking about a good life. Brewing Sake, we decided, would be not only the Good life: quite possibly it is The Best of Lives. To work from early morning until late at night, our children learning the business after us, offering good jobs, a tradition. Our sake distributed to the sushi bars in town.
What if we imagine ourselves to be living in Pittsburgh in 2112, 100 years removed. Why shouldn't there be a vision of Pittsburgh as radically different from what we see today, as today would look from 1850. I look at the rivers, and I imagine the brown soil transformed through phyto-remediation. The hills above the Allegheny are terraced into fields, flooded with clean river water and growing high grade rice. Why not imagine Pittsburgh as the sake brewing capital of America.
Urban agriculture is a breaking wave: there's plenty of spaces in between buildings that can be cultivated. There are two farms within walking distance of my house. I got a flyer one summer from a couple of people who wanted to grow vegetables but had no land. they were asking anyone with an unused section of yard if we would let them plant in it. What a great idea...they would walk around the city cultivating a batch of beets by the gazebo, a crop of carrots by the corner, a bigass bag of brussell sprouts by the bird bath.
Sake is good drink. It begins with a mix of steamed rice and koji. Koji is a mold that converts the rice starch into sugar. Added yeast, with water and time time, turns that sugar into alcohol. Rice is polished, rubbed smooth like pebbles. Different degrees of polish yield higher grades of rice. Different grades of rice yield different qualities of sake: since we'd also be running production of rice through The Sake Hut, we could offer all kinds.
We'd build The Sake Hut down by the river, somewhere between Lawrenceville and the Strip district. The Sake Hut is a long , 2 story building made of dark bamboo wood. The first story contains all the brewing facility, as well as an open quarter where people can come and fill up growlers with our 100 cup sake.
Nick says to only trust a man when he's drunk 100 cups of sake. Or don't trust a man who won't drink a hundred cups of sake. Something like that. Whether it's Confuscian wisdom, or something he made up (we were probably on 10 cups of sake), it's an excellent meme and one we'll use to name the basic grade of Pittsburgh Sake. 100 Cup Sake from The Sake Hut, Pittsburgh. Made with locally produced rice. Even if the story about 100 cups turns out to be a fabrication, Nick is our Master Brewer. He earns the title through natural talent, god-given perserverance, and the fact of having already brewed a batch of sake. I'll have to see if we can dig up an image of the label, the first batch of 100 Cup Sake. It was a touch salty, but that all fell by the wayside halfway through the second bottle.
The second floor of The Sake Hut would be company offices, which is where I'd be the tool running spreadsheets. A single room running the full length with a smooth-edged table in the center for office space. There would always be a Go board out (Nick would take on all comers).
Around the hut would be bamboo plants which our daughters would harvest and weave into cups used to serve Sake . We'd grow marijuana in hidden groves, waiting for the commonwealth to come to it's comon senses.
Sake gets a distinctive characteristic from the water. A lot of what American brewers do to their water is to try and recreate the water of particular Tokyo prefectures. British beer makers do the same thing, adding minerals to the water to 'Burtonize' it, to make it the same as the water found in Burton, home of the perfect English Ale.
The beer from Burton was so popular that most of the train stations in London are shaped the way they are to facilitate the transportation of beer kegs in to the city. That's the ticket, that's what we'll do to Pittsburgh.
Our 100 Cup Sake would use water taken from the Fourth River here in Pittsburgh. The Fourth river is a sand and gravel aquifer left over from the last glaciation, running from Milwaukee or Minnesota or Mississippi but not Manhattan, the geography is unimportant, it is the last vestige of an event which shaped the flow of our other three rivers.
I have a friend who lives in Highland park. The back of his house faces a ravine, the other side is the Pittsburgh zoo. His land has 7 springs. 1000 Cup Sake would use only this spring water with only the finest polished rice. Where 100 Cup Sake is available for purchase by growler, 1000 Cup Sake would be available only in signature serving bottles.
So why not also re-establish the glass factories that once worked in Pittsburgh, using their product to serve Sake from The Sake Hut? Tiffany had factories along the Monongahela, why not start back up an artisan works producing fine glass bottles for 1000 Cup Sake.
I mean, a transformation will happen regardless, so why not think large. This is a treatise for the city planners. Here's mud in your eye!