December 8, 2023 — Dassai, a sake brewery founded in the 1700s in Southern Japan, has opened a state-of-the-art brewery and tasting room in Hyde Park, N.Y., as well as launching a new U.S. brand, Dassai Blue. On hand for the opening were Hiroshi and Kazuhiro Sakurai, the father and son, third and fourth generation Chairman and President of the company.
It’s safe to say most of us don’t know much about sake brewing but as with anything there are different levels of quality and the terminology can be confusing. Junmai Daiginjo sake is the gold standard as it means the rice has been polished 50 percent or more. Dassai produces Junmai Daiginjo sake only, and is considered the highest level of premium sake. Made from 100% Yamada Nishiki rice, the most prized of sake rice varieties, Dassai still utilizes craft sake methods, making sake batch-by-batch, using handmade koji, and fermenting each in small tanks. Koji is a mold used in Japan to make fermented foods such as miso, soy sauce, vinegar and, of course, sake. Sake breweries that only produce such premium sake are rare even in Japan,
The Dassai Blue Brewery upstate New York is a bold step in the Sakurais’ global expansion. It comprises 55,000 square feet of space housing a brewery, rice polishing facility and a tasting room. The brewery has an annual production capacity of 140,000 nine-liter cases. The staff is made up of veteran sake brewers from the Dassai brewery in Iwakuni as well as local recruits. Dassai has invested more than $80 million in the facility and will create 32 new jobs.
The Yamada Nishiki rice is currently imported from Japan. However, Dassai Blue has spent three years cultivating Yamada Nishiki in the U.S. and working with Isbell Farms in Arkansas in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint and foster a sustainable supply chain. The American rice will be available in the New Year. The Sakurais named their new creation “Dassai Blue,” which comes from an old Japanese proverb that says, “Indigo dye is bluer than the indigo plant from which it originates”.
The story of Dassai is one rich in history, culture and unparalleled quality. The original brewery was founded in the 1700s and is still in the same location in the mountains of Iwakuni in Yamaguchi, in Southern Japan. The Sakurai family took over in the late 1800s during the Meiji era and started the sake brewing business as Sakurai Sake Brewery. After the Second World War, in 1948, they established Asahi Shuzo with Hiroshi Sakurai becoming the family’s third-generation CEO in 1984. He launched the brand Dassai shortly thereafter, growing it to the number one premium sake brand in Japan in terms of both sales and production volume, for Ginjo and Daiginjo levels.
“The expansion of production to the United States is a significant step towards realizing the desire I had when I started Dassai 30 years ago, which was to have Dassai enjoyed all over the world,” said Chairman Hiroshi Sakurai.
Dassai is proudly collaborating with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA,) also located in the Hudson Valley, to further the education and awareness of sake in the United States. As part of the partnership, they will be developing curriculum, certification programs, workshops, special events and tastings. Since sake plays an important role in Japanese society, these new, unique programs will further the education of Japanese cuisine and culture for CIA students, food enthusiasts, food industry professionals and other visitors to the Hudson Valley.
Sake is primarily sold to Japanese restaurants in this country but the Sakurai family believes they can find a place in the American market beyond the Japanese restaurant market with a taste profile for Dassai Blue that is more flowery, wine-like and lower alcohol (sake is around 16 percent).
A friend and I recently tasted two of their imported line, one being Dassai Sparkling 45. The number, by the way, refers to the rice polishing ratio. It had a bit of a fizz but not bubbles like Champagne or sparkling wine, and it was cloudy which was off putting. On the nose I picked up mild honeydew but as a sipping wine, the flavor was most unusual and we agreed maybe it was an acquired taste. However it did go well with food, in this case chicken. The second bottle was pale gold Dassai 39 which was refreshing and pleasant to sip, definitely fruity with a dry finish or as wine critics like to say “approachable”. Both sakes were made to be served cold, in glassware.
The Dassai Blue Sake Brewery is located at 5 St Andrew Rd, Hyde Park, NY 12538 (2 hours north of Manhattan via car or Amtrak). It is open Thursdays and Fridays from 1pm-4pm for small group tours and tastings by reservation only through the company’s website, www.dassai.com. Follow them on Instagram @dassai_usa . The first product, Dassai Blue Type 50 SRP $34.99, is being sold at Union Square Wines, Sakaya, Sakagura, and other retailers and restaurants.