Making Japanese Sake A Local Beverage: Leading Brand Dassai Opens Its First Brewery Abroad In New York

Food & Drink

In 2022, the Japanese sake export reached a record-high of 47.5 billion Japanese yen, an 18% increase from 2021 and a 452% jump from 2013.

Despite such a dramatic surge in popularity, sake is only associated with Japanese restaurants to most Americans.

The situation is particularly frustrating to Dassai’s producer Asahi Shuzo, which exported 15% of the total sake made in Japan last year—an impressively high figure as a single brewer among around 1,000 in the country.

“Japanese sake accounts for a mere 0.2% of the total alcoholic beverage consumption in the U.S.,” says Kazuhiro Sakurai, the fourth-generation president of Asahi Shuzo. The company has been striving to position Japanese sake as a universally appealing drink like Champagne, but its efforts have not proven effective enough so far.

That is why he and his pioneering father Hiroshi Sakurai decided to build a sake brewery Dassai Blue in the U.S., which opened on October 23.

“We want to become an integral part of the American beverage culture by offering sake that reflects the local terroir, mindset and palate. Producing sake here is the only way to do so,” Kazuhiro says.

The new 55,000-square-foot space with a brewery, a rice polishing facility and a tasting room is located in Hyde Park, New York. It cost $ 80 million, including the $6.7 million state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility.

Maximize The Local Terroir By The Way Of “Practicing Karaoke”

With the opening of the new brewery, Dassai Blue released the first sake Dassai Blue Type 50. Its label summarizes what Dassai Blue is aiming for:

DASSAI BLUE is named after the Japanese proverb which literally translates as “Although blue dye comes from the indigo plant, it is bluer than indigo. This means that the child exceeds the parent, with the idea of surpassing the DASSAI made in Japan.

Then, how can Dassai Blue surpass Dassai?

“We won’t try to reproduce the Japanese DASSAI in New York. Instead, we inherit Dassai’s philosophy of “craft the best sake” and apply it to our new land,” says Kazuhiro.

The application is quite simple.

“We are a creature of constant improvement. In Japan, we brew 3,500 batches of sake a year and each time we taste and analyze the data. Inevitably, repetition leads to progress and refinement, just as you practice karaoke,” says Kazuhiro.

And Dassai Blue has practiced a lot already.

“The first 7 brewing tanks did not make the cut and we discarded the liquid that could have produced 35,000 bottles of sake. It was a necessary investment,” Kazuhiro laughs.

The resulting Dassai Blue Type 50 features a refreshing aroma and elegant umami with a light finish. The alcohol level is 14%, slightly lower than regular sake.

“We aim to offer an approachable product for American people. We are aware that sake’s alcohol level of 15-16% is a reason why they hold off on sake. So we decided to make it equal to wine. Also, the taste is a bit like wine; a little sweeter and more flowery than our standard Dassai.”

Pursuing American Terroir With An American Rice Farm

Sake is made only with water, rice, koji and yeast, which means rice is the foremost major determinant of the quality of sake.

Dassai Blue works closely with Isbell Farms in Arkansas, which is known for producing premium sake rice for brewers in North America.

Dassai has been making sake only with Yamadanishiki, the highest-quality rice variety and is known for being very difficult to grow.

“At the beginning of our production in New York, we were quite skeptical about American-made Yamadanishiki, says Kazuhiro. “But when we visited Isbell Farms, we saw how their Yamadanishiki was growing. It was a great surprise. Also very importantly, we were strongly impressed with the farmer Chris Isbell and his family’s passion to make the highest-quality rice possible. We thought we found a wonderful partner in America.”

The first release of Dassai Blue Type 50 is made with Yamadanishiki imported from Japan but the company will start using Isbell’s rice in the new year.

Building A Network Of Partners

Dassai Blue’s mission is to sell its sake to dining and retail outlets outside Japanese restaurants.


“We have great distributors that have been placing Dassai in Japanese restaurants in America. But to go beyond Japanese restaurants, we need to build a new network of partners who understand our mission. Our team is planning to personally visit retail shops and non-Japanese restaurants to make it happen.”

As of the end of September 2023, Dassai Blue 50 is already available at several outlets in Manhattan, including Sakagura Restaurant and Union Square Wines & Spirits.

“My father and I personally visited Union Square Wines and Spirits and asked to place Dassai Blue right next to Brooklyn Kura’s bottles, another New York-made sake maker. We hope that the New York sake brewing culture will keep thriving by having healthy competition,” Kazuhiro smiles.

Dassai Blue also hopes to educate future culinary professionals about Japanese sake-making traditions and their universal values.

The brewery is partnering with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), also called Harvard of the food industry, which is located only a mile away from Dassai Blue.

“We felt the need for educating our students about Japanese sake in response to the increasing interest in Japanese culinary culture,” says the CIA’s President Dr. Tim Ryan.

In partnership with Dassai, the CIA will offer various programs to its students, including a sake curriculum, certification and possible future internships.

You can visit Dassai Blue Sake Brewery for a tour and a tasting starting October 12th by reservation only through the website.

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