The Hudson Valley is not any stranger to the craft beverage business, with wineries, distilleries, and breweries in seemingly each pocket of our verdant Valley. However sake has largely remained an untapped market, usually relegated to beverage menus at sushi joints or hibachi eating places—intimidating to the unacquainted tongue. Craft sake, nonetheless, pairs effectively with meals, and might usually be seen as an alternative choice to white wine. For instance, a premium sake may function crisp, fruity notes that soften right into a lingering buttery mouthfeel, complementing French favourite Coquilles Saint-Jacques simply in addition to a Chardonnay.
As Japanese breweries eye worldwide markets, craft sake has been having a second within the US, seeing slow-yet-steady progress in demand and gross sales. In keeping with Japanese Sake and Shochu Makers Affiliation, exports of sake to the US greater than doubled in little over a decade, going from 4 million liters in 2011 to over 10 million liters in 2022. And with the opening of Hyde Park’s model new $85 million sake brewery, Dassai Blue—positioned simply up the hill from the Culinary Institute of America and proper down Route 9 from foodie-haven Rhinebeck—it is the proper time to shine a light-weight on the nuances and flexibility of this historical beverage.
A Lengthy Historical past
The Sakurai household of Japan selected Hyde Park as the placement to host the primary US-based operation of their vastly profitable sake brewery, Asahi Shuzo, finest recognized for its high-end model, Dassai. After 5 years of planning and constructing, together with a year-and-a-half setback as a result of pandemic, the Dassai Blue Brewery is anticipated to open to the general public late October for tastings and excursions.
“We selected the Hudson Valley as a result of it is a wonderful space with a rising curiosity in craft sake,” says firm Chairman Hiroshi Sakurai, by way of a Japanese translator. “By establishing ourselves right here, we are able to perceive American tradition, and Hudson Valley tradition, and incorporate them each into our course of of constructing high-quality drinks.”
Though the Hyde Park location is a a lot smaller operation than the Japanese brewery, it is a state-of-the-art facility that may produce as much as 140,000 circumstances annually. Although Dassai is the tenth largest sake model in Japan by quantity, they nonetheless make the most of conventional strategies handed down for generations—the brewery’s origin dates again to the 1700s within the Yamaguchi Prefecture of southern Japan, the place it is nonetheless positioned. In 1948 the Sakurai household took over the brewery and dubbed it Asahi Shuzo; practically 40 years later, in 1984, Hiroshi Sakurai turned the third-generation CEO and targeted the corporate on producing high-quality, small batch sake; this catapulted the enterprise from rural brewery into worldwide acclaim. In 2015, Hiroshi stepped into the function as chairman, permitting his eldest son, Kazuhiro, to turn out to be the fourth-generation CEO. As of final yr, gross sales grew to $118 million USD, making Asahi Shuzo the fourth-highest grossing sake brewer in Japan.
“There are a number of causes for this regular progress,” Sakurai explains. “One is as a result of we have now a heavy deal with the client, producing extra of what clients want to drink. One more reason is as a result of Japanese tradition has shifted, each as a result of girls have began consuming extra sake, but in addition as a result of the tradition is turning into much less about consuming and extra about tasting. Within the US, there has already been a tasting tradition, akin to with wine and spirits, and now extra individuals are attempting sake. It has been gradual adjustments over the previous few many years, however these shifts are noticeable.”
The Magic of Koji
Dassai Blue’s Hyde Park campus is unfold amongst three buildings: a rice-polishing facility, a wastewater heart, and the brewery and tasting room. The corporate employed Japanese architect Jun Mitsui, who is thought for designing high-rises and company buildings in Japan like Haneda Airport’s worldwide terminal and the headquarters of Coca-Cola Japan. Mitsui collaborated with American architectural agency CPCA, who helped with understanding US legal guidelines and laws. “We began constructing in 2018, and completed Might 2023,” Sakurai says. “We made a whole lot of adjustments over that point to make sure we created one of the best model of the design. The constructing options parts of Japan, versus having a extra industrial look, as a result of we needed it to turn out to be a landmark in Hyde Park” he says.
For a little bit perception into sake-making, the beverage is constructed from rice, water, a fungus referred to as koji, and yeast. It takes about 120 days to go from grain to glass. Various kinds of rice produce their very own flavors, and Asahi Shuzo solely makes use of Yamada Nishiki sourced from farmers within the Hyogo Prefecture—a area well-known for producing sturdy, flavorful rice. “We even have an annual contest for Yamada Nishiki farmers round different elements of Japan, and we use the profitable rice to make a really unique sort of sake,” Sakurai says. “And we provide a money prize. For the primary contest, the winner took residence $200,000. This yr was our fifth contest and the prize was as much as $300,000.” In 2022, among the sake created from the profitable rice was put into public sale by way of Sotheby’s; one 720 mL bottle offered for practically $8,000.
The brewing course of begins with sprucing rice grains all the way down to a fraction of their dimension; the extra a rice grain is polished, the richer and extra delicate of a style it could possibly present. When rice has been milled by 50 p.c or extra, it is thought of to be the very best grade for sake-making, often known as Junmai Daiginjo.
All Dassai merchandise are thought of Junmai Daiginjo and sometimes named after the quantity of grain that is left behind after milling. For instance, one of many brewery’s hottest drinks is Dassai 23. For this, 77 p.c of every rice grain is polished away, leaving 23 p.c of its unique dimension. The Dassai 23 sake was first launched in 1990 and grew so in style in Japan that it turned the first-ever sake supplied at a White Home Banquet in 2015—former President Obama needed to shock the prime minister of Japan with a high-quality sake, and Dassai 23 was chosen for the dignity.
As soon as rice is polished, it is then washed earlier than being steamed. Throughout washing, grey water is distributed by way of a state-of-the-art wastewater facility positioned behind the brewery. A cool $7 million was spent on this remedy heart. “The water that goes by way of right here flows into the Hudson River, so we needed to make it possible for the water is filtered clear, as a part of our dedication to sustainability,” he says. “It is truly filtered so cleanly that the water we’re placing into the river is making the river cleaner. The official who got here to approve the ability stated it was essentially the most fantastically made wastewater constructing he is seen.”
Subsequent, the rice goes into the koji room for a conventional utility of the fungus—which is technically a kind of mould, and the important thing aspect to offering sake’s notes of pear and fruit. Guests who go for a tour of the brewery can view this room by way of a window, and is perhaps fortunate sufficient to witness the method, throughout which the rice is unfold evenly on flat tables and a koji crew enact coordinated shaking of spores whereas slowly marching round every desk; it is a fascinating ceremony to look at. As soon as koji is utilized, the rice is saved at a temperature simply low sufficient to not kill the fungus, but in addition to not enable it to feed; this course of is what encourages the fruity, elegant aroma.
Final, the rice is put in fermentation tanks for 30 days, earlier than bottling and pasteurization. “Although it is a big manufacturing, craftsmanship by hand continues to be essential,” Sakurai says.
A New Kind of Taproom
At opening, Dassai Blue is beginning out by providing three beverage choices: Dassai Blue Kind 23, Kind 35, and Kind 50. At first, they’re going to be made with Yamada Nishiki rice introduced over from Japan, however they are going to finally use Yamada Nishiki grown from a farm in Arkansas that Sakurai says makes use of the identical conventional strategies and can uphold the identical anticipated high quality.
It is price noting that the unique Dassai 23 will style barely totally different from the Dassai Blue Kind 23. The previous is described in tasting notes as “easy, refined, mild, lengthy end, with elegant sweetness” whereas the latter options an “elegant and glamorous perfume with advanced and highly effective taste.”
Dassai Blue sake can be obtainable first solely on the brewery and taproom, and finally at eating places each regionally and in New York Metropolis. The taproom may even have a number of meals choices—primarily small plates, like a conventional cheese plate or Japanese charcuterie with greens sourced from native farms. The brewery can also be hoping to work with native farms to offer leftover mash as animal feed or potential magnificence merchandise, as is historically completed within the Japanese operation.
And Sakurai will oversee all of it. “I will be residing each right here and in Japan to start with as a result of I need to assist be certain that Dassai Blue maintains the identical high quality anticipated from Dassai in Japan—not simply when it comes to making sake, but in addition our dedication to sustainability and neighborhood,” Sakurai says. He notes that that is why the native brewery options the addition of Blue within the identify—it stems from a Japanese proverb that interprets to: “Though blue dye comes from the indigo plant, it’s bluer than indigo,” conveying the thought of the scholar turning into the grasp. The proverb aligns with the corporate’s targets of getting Dassai Blue finally match the success of its Japanese counterpart.
“It is not nearly following custom, however about all the time producing higher sake,” Sakurai says. “Our manufacturing groups are hungry to make higher sake, and need to revolutionize sake making. They don’t seem to be afraid to attempt one thing totally different. We’re nonetheless based mostly in custom, however we construct from there.”
Dassai Blue, 5 St. Andrews Street in Hyde Park, plans to be open to the general public by the top of October. View their web site for updates: Asahishuzo.ne.jp/dassaiblue.