As we have already announced on our website, two new products have joined the Dassai lineup. The background and thoughts behind their development are as follows.
About “Dassai Bisui – Elegantly tipsy”
There is one thing I always think about when I drink sake, not just Dassai, but any sake that I think is good: “It's tasty, but could the alcohol content be lower?”
Dassai is usually bottled after adding water for the alcohol content to be at its optimal level, it balances the quality of the sake. However, I also think that we should be able to enjoy great sake more slowly. Especially if you're being offered a glass of champagne, the more you'll notice the high alcohol content of sake.
If so, you might think it would be easy: simply add more water to the sake when bottling it. However, this would make it too watery and would not bring forth a satisfying taste and flavor profile.
For this reason, "a slightly low-alcohol Dassai" has been a recurring theme for us for the last 20 years. Our current production manager - Mr. Nishida - has been working with me on this project since he joined the company. However, we were never able to produce anything that satisfied us.
However, the sake crafting team led by the manager Mr. Nagao has found a way. His solution is to control the early-stage fermenting tank temperature as well as its water supply. By controlling these factors more delicately, even more than “Dassai Beyond”, and with a fermentation period of around 35 days, the alcohol content does not exceed 11% - even at the end. After pressing, the sake is bottled without any additional water.
The rice polishing ratio is 21%. The rice is polished by 2% more than the polishing level of Dassai 23 and is of course Yamada Nishiki rice. These production features have allowed us to overcome the ‘juice-like’ characteristics often associated with low-alcohol drinks.
This process has resulted in the creation of Dassai Bisui, which has an alcohol content of only 10% but contains aromas worthy of a great Junmai Daiginjo. The word "Bisui" means "Elegantly tipsy”. For us, this sake is a challenge taken upon, a challenge named “the new era of sake".
About “Dassai Mirai – to the Future with farmers”
No matter how skilled a farmer is in cultivating Yamada Nishiki, it is inevitable that about 10% of its harvested rice will be considered “unsuitable for sake making” (togai in Japanese meaning it cannot be graded).
Even if a sake producer would make sake with this rice, the sake won’t get an appellation such as Junmai or Honjozo, so most sake producers don’t purchase this rice from farmers.
As a consequence, farmers are forced to give it away as waste. This is a major detriment to the farmers' business.
However, the rice itself is Yamada Nishiki, so it is superior in terms of grain composition. To help farmers and to help the environment, Asahi Shuzo has been buying this rice and using it to craft “Dassai Togai” and “Dassai Amazake”, clearly labeling it as "made from unsuitable Yamada Nishiki rice”.
You all know how good our Dassai Amazake is, and we've polished the rice used in our Dassai Togai to below 30% so that it's not too far behind the regular Dassai, and we're confident in the quality of the sake. As a result, the cost was about the same as a classic Dassai sake.
We were impressed by the quality of this sake, even though we made it with unsuitable rice, so we decided to release it at a slightly lower price. But then, the market only took it as “a cheap version of Dassai”, and didn't pay attention to the reasons why we used this specific rice. Eventually, it became a sake that was only bought by customers who just wanted a bargain, by distributors and restaurants who only saw a margin value in it.
Yamada Nishiki is born from the earth, and we all want to make it into delicious sake for everyone to enjoy. But it's hard when people only see value in it because of its cheap price. This is why we have always wanted to use this rice to make a different kind of sake, a different kind of Dassai, a sake that would satisfy those who understand its meaning, not those who only value bargains.
By the way, there are two factors that lead to rice to be considered as “unsuitable rice”: "discrepancies in grain size and forms" and "low appearance of the shinpaku (the cloudy core of the rice grain)”.
One day, during one of our internal discussions, it was mentioned that it is impossible to polish rice below a polishing milling ratio because the shinpaku of Yamada Nishiki would be destroyed during the process.
This shinpaku is of course both a beauty and a weakness for Yamada Nishiki. Even if you select only the best 30% of a harvest at the unrefined, brown rice stage and polish it, you can only polish it to 15 or 16% at most. If you polish it more than that, the grain will break and fall apart.
Suddenly, I had an idea.
As the unsuitable, downgraded rice does not have any shinpaku, we could polish it to the extreme; then the grains would be uniform in size and be suitable for sake making. Below 6% of the grain, the rice polishing machine is set up to throw away the grains as ‘broken grains’, which falls out as bran. So why not try and polish the rice until 8%?
In fact, the 8% polished rice was beautiful, but still, we wondered if it could make a good koji rice. But actually, the resulting 8% koji rice was a little weak in saccharification (meaning how much sugar is converted), but it turned out to be quite good. Moreover, since the steamed rice to be added to the tanks was also 8%, this koji was good enough for the job.
The result is a sake with a low glucose level, which may seem unattractive, but the high polishing rate compensates for this and gives it a unique charm that is beautiful in every way. It is the embodiment of Dassai desire to step into the future while supporting Yamada Nishiki rice farmers.
Why is it unlikely to sell?
In fact, both sake cost over 10,000 yen for a 720ml bottle. Dassai Bisui has a polishing ratio of 21%, and Dassai Mirai has a milling ratio of 8%. It's not going to be cheap.
When we release a product like these, we are often scolded by some of our customers, asking whether we are interested in making affordable sake. Although we can understand this sentiment, we believe it is representative of the current problems of the Japanese economy, which is always pursuing too low a price and is suffering from low growth in the global economy.
Cost-effectiveness is important, but it won’t help to increase wages for the hard work required and it doesn't create anything new.
I vaguely recall Tesla's Elon Musk told a skeptical public about electric cars 10 years ago. I believe he said something like: “Tesla is about to launch a $300,000 electric sports car. Three years from now, we'll have a four-door luxury sedan for less than $100,000. And in seven years, we'll have a mass-market sedan in the $30,000 range that will make electric cars accessible to everyone.”
In other words, by entering the automotive industry with an expensive product, Tesla was able to meet its development costs. As we all know, Tesla has become more and more popular and is now a car manufacturer with a market capitalization that surpasses Toyota.
If we are releasing these two products in the form of high-value products, it is a way for us to contemplate, self-reflect on the way of doing things we have been following, this typical Japanese way I was talking about earlier.
As such, for the time being, we will only be selling these products at our Ginza store and at our brewery. If you have any questions, please contact us.
Hiroshi SAKURAI - Chairman of Asahi Shuzo