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WATCH | The story of Origami Sake set to unfold

by Lance Brownfield | May 22, 2023 at 4:03 a.m.
Ben Bell and Matt Bell, no relation, cut the ribbon at Origami Sake last Tuesday. - Photo by Lance Brownfield of The Sentinel-Record

After two decades, Ben Bell's dream of making sake in Hot Springs is coming true.

A graduate of the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts, Bell first developed a passion for the Japanese alcoholic beverage after visiting Hot Springs' sister city, Hanamaki, Japan.

Hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony last Tuesday, Origami Sake hopes to make Arkansas the "Napa Valley of the sake industry."

Combining Arkansas-grown rice from Isbell Farms and water from the Ouachita Mountains, Origami Sake has already stirred up the food and beverage market as the largest U.S.-owned sake brewery and the first in The Natural State.

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President Matt Bell and Vice President Ben Bell, no relation, recruited top sake-makers.

"Hot Springs, a city well-known for its natural beauty and healing waters is now home to a remarkable venture that will add a new dimension to an already remarkable place," Matt Bell said.

The duo hired a brewmaster from Japan, a brewmaster from Washington State and a former New York City industry expert, relocating all of them to Hot Springs. The company created six full-time jobs upon opening.

Ben Bell worked and learned the trade at the popular Nanbu Bijin brewery near Hanamaki for two years.

Matt Bell's experience as previous founder of Entegrity Energy helps the company to keep a small carbon footprint. The brewery is set to be "completely" powered by an array of solar panels on the facility's grounds.

"Today we gather to witness the birth of a dream realized," Matt Bell said. "The dream that was started by Ben Bell over two decades ago."

The company currently makes one line of sake, A Thousand Cranes, but plans to develop more over time. Origami Sake products will be available coast to coast.

"It's a warm, humid Tuesday in Hot Springs on May 16, not unlike most of the other days in May that I've experienced growing up here in Arkansas," Mark Isbell of Isbell Farms, the rice supplier for Origami Sake, said.

"But if we look more broadly, in another way it's like a temperate day in Burgundy, France, in the 12th century, where the wine from the first grapes that would become Chardonnay were first pressed. Or maybe it is the late 1700s in Louisville, Kentucky when charred oak barrels were first filled with what would become known as Kentucky bourbon."

Isbell said his father, Chris, became interested in Japanese varieties for sushi decades ago. Since then, Isbell Farms has pivoted to sake rice, making them a perfect partner for Origami Sake.

"Or perhaps it is a mild day on the West Coast of the U.S. in the mid-1800s when the first pressing of Napa Valley's flowed from the first commercial winery and the U.S. wine industry began," Isbell said.

Matt Bell reached out to Isbell about two years ago with the vision for his brewery. A week after his initial call, he told Isbell that he'd purchased the property on Grand Avenue and asked Isbell to come down to Hot Springs.

Isbell says the connection goes back further though, as Ben Bell reached out to his father years before with the same dream in his heart.

At the news conference and ribbon cutting, several key figures spoke, including Isbell, Matt and Ben Bell, Gary Troutman, president/CEO of the Hot Springs Metro Partnership, AEDC Executive Director Clint O'Neal, Gene Higginbotham on behalf of U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman and Hot Springs Mayor Pat McCabe, who read a letter from Hanamaki Mayor Toichi Ueda before making his own remarks.

"We're so appreciative that Ben returned to Hot Springs to do wonderful things here in the town in which he received his high school junior and senior year education," McCabe said.

  photo  Hot Springs Mayor Pat McCabe speaks at the grand opening. - Photo by Lance Brownfield of The Sentinel-Record

Print Headline: WATCH | The story of Origami Sake set to unfold


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