If you’re interested in getting into the business end of sake, Dassai is a pretty good place to start.
Hailing from Yamaguchi prefecture, Dassai (made by Asahi Shuzo) has done a good job of bringing sake into the 21st century with some forward thinking and chance taking. One of the first things that struck me about Dassai when I first came across them was the name. It actually translates to mean “otter festival”. Sounds like a cute enough name, but it’s actually quite close to another Japanese word – dasai, which means “dorky” or “daggy”. That double S is important!
One of the things that makes Dassai unique (especially for its size) is that they brew all year round. Traditionally, sake is brewed in the cooler months. In the old days winter was when the brewery workers would be free from working their own farms to come and make sake. Once the sake brewing season was over they’d head back until next year. It was/is also widely believed that the cooler months were best for the sake fermentation process. But by freezing some of their rice after harvest (remember rice is just a grain, raw material unlike grapes) they can continue to make sake even after the winter comes to a close. Dassai has also been one of the envelope pushers when it comes to rice milling. Rice milling being polishing the outside layers of rice to reach a more pure, starchier centre which in turn produces a cleaner, pristine more aromatic sake. Daiginjo-the highest level of sake, has to be milled to at least 50%. Meaning 50% of the rice must be milled away (as in the sake I’m enjoying right now). For competitions and the like, it isn’t uncommon for sake to be milled down to as much as 35%. However, Dassai has been known to go as far as their famous 23% daiginjo. 23%! Think of how large a grain of rice would be once you’ve ground 77% away! It’s time-consuming and expensive but owner/master brewer Sakurai-san is not known for cutting corners. Another of Dassai’s firsts is their use of centrifugal machinery to separate the sake from its lees (yeasty chunks). Usually this is done with a giant accordion looking press but Asahi Shuzo is the first brewery to use a centrifuge for the separation process. Modern much?
The humble 50% daiginjo is a beautifully balanced brew. Aromas are floral with some slight earthy background notes. Not as much of a fruity daiginjo. The acidity is pleasantly medium and helps this bad boy slide down with ridiculous ease. The slogan on their website declares that Dassai sake is for sipping rather than glugging, but when it goes down this easy it’s hard to slow down!
Stats: Dassai Junmai Daiginjo, Yamaguchi Prefecture
Seimaibuai: 50% Yamadanishiki rice.
Dassai is available in Australia but you won’t find it in bottle shops. Best bet is to hunt around the better Japanese restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne and maybe a couple in Brisbane. Full list available on the brewery website