The Dassai brand is becoming widely known not only among sake enthusiast and foodies, but also among the general public. The product that triggered its popularity was Dassai 23.
The "23" in the name is derived from the fact that this sake is made from rice that has been polished to 23% of its original grain size. When sake is crafted using highly polished rice (at least half of its original size), it can be labeled as the highest grade: Daiginjo. To create Dassai 23, the rice is polished to remove 77% of its outer surface until only a tiny core of the rice remains.
But why this extravagant polishing rate? Well, the outer shell of rice grains contains proteins, fats and minerals. These, if left fermented, would lead to unpleasant aromas and flavor, so the more the grains are polished, the more clean and flavorful the sake gets.
The creation of Dassai 23 is our take on achieving the ultimate sake by polishing rice to its smallest size. In truth, it was inspired by a desire for publicity. According to our chairman, Hiroshi Sakurai: "It was in the latter half of 1990s, when being N°1 in Japan was trendy. I just thought that if we'd achieved the highest polishing ratio for sake in Japan, it would attract people's attention and sake would sell well eventually."
Dassai 23 did, in fact, attract people attention. However, our chairman was less than satisfied with the sake itself: "It was unique, but the flavor profile was not so good". He then decided to shift his focus from "Japan's N°1 polishing rate" to "Japan's N°1 sake in flavor", as he realized that it takes more than polishing to make great sake. "The more you polish, the richer the flavor becomes, so it is necessary but by itself it is not sufficient for great sake."
Among the steps taken to improve flavor was qualitative research conducted with the rice polishing industry. As a result, we started to use original bags to store polished rice that has lost moisture due to heat generated by friction during the polishing process. The rice remains in the bag until it rehydrates - usually a period of more than one month - and is deemed ready to move on to being washed, the next step in the sake crafting process. Rehydrating prevents rice from cracking when exposed to water. No matter how much you polish the rice, unless it is handled with care the result will be sake that disappoints.
The fact is that if ordinary rice were polished this much, the grains would break into pieces. So if polishing the rice is important, one could argue that it is the care given to painstakingly growing rice that is suitable for polishing that makes great sake.
Today, around 15% of Dassai produced is exported to overseas markets. By exporting Dassai, we also export the polished rice culture.