Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo: A sake with stories on stories
Dassai is one of my favorite bottles of sake to drink with Alyssa.
The reasons, I must admit, are largely self-serving. I have yet to travel to Japan and now, with Covid-19 travel restrictions still in place, am begrudgingly assigned to live vicariously through Alyssa’s stories of her own time there. And no sake invokes as many vivid memories as Dassai 45.
In 2017, Alyssa took the train south from Kyoto to the rustic countryside of Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture. She had been invited to brew sake at Asahi Shuzo, the 200-year old brewery responsible for Dassai, a name known well in the sake industry for producing some of the best daiginjos in the world. Of course, for a brewery that only brews daiginjo-grade sake (unheard of in the sake world), their prestigious reputation makes a lot of sense.
A Dedication to Daiginjo
Dassai strives to make the highest quality sake for every occasion. Their food-friendly Dassai 45 was crafted for everyday enjoyment. Alternatively, the exquisite Dassai Beyond (aptly named for its immeasurably low milling ratio and extremely high polishing rate) is often reserved for special occasions, kaiseki meals or traditional ceremonies.
The name itself reflects their commitment to quality and to Japan's history. “Dassai” translates to “otter festival”, a nod to Iwakuni’s rivers that were once abundant with otters. Often, they would lay freshly caught fish on the shore, as if they were showing them off – like one would do during a festival.
Though a lovely image, Dassai Brewery takes the name in tribute to Meiji era poet Masaoka Shiki. Shiki likened his writing process of scattering manuscripts across his floor to the otter festivals of the area, thus taking the pen name “Dassai”. Soon after, Shiki revolutionized Japanese literature with the introduction of a new, groundbreaking style of poetry: the haiku.
Dassai Brewery not only honors the poet’s forward-thinking philosophy through its name, but also in brewing style and experimentation. The brewery's new pressing technique — a centrifuge to extract sake liquid from sake solids using no pressure at all — is just one example of their commitment to innovation.
Sake that tells more than one story
I have been lucky enough to taste the ethereal Dassai Beyond, but Dassai 45 is what gets Alyssa talking so that’s what I pour.
Swirling the glass and inhaling deeply, she recalls how the air near the brewery smells just like the sake. “Peaches, musk melon and Hello Kitty erasers from the Eighties” is certainly not what I imagined Japan’s countryside to smell like, which leaves me all the more intrigued.
Alyssa’s photos of her time in Iwakuni reveal a lush landscape, rich with rivers and streams. It's easy to imagine what “otter festivals” may have looked like.
Each time we share a bottle, a new memory of Japan is brought forth. Whether it's a story of the brewery’s strict cleaning practices, or of rowdy evenings with the brewers, or of incredible hospitality despite a language barrier, Dassai 45 unlocks a new puzzle piece in my quest to discover Japan from afar.
By the time the bottle is finished, I am once again left with the same conclusion as I always am: a 15-hour plane ride to the other side of the world is truly the only way to understand the magic of Japan.
Till that day comes, you can find me pouring Dassai 45 wherever there’s a story to be told.
Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo
Producer: Asahi Shuzo
Category: Junmai Daiginjo
Rice: Yamada Nishiki
Milling Ratio: 45%
About: In an effort to adapt to modern challenges and differentiate themselves during a time where most exported sake was mass-produced, Asahi Shuzo Co., the maker of Dassai, committed themselves to making only the most premium category of sake: daiginjo. That laser focus paid off with Dassai winning many competitions and worldwide recognition for its quality expression of premium sake.
The food-friendly Dassai 45 is crafted to elevate the everyday but doesn’t take itself too seriously. Using only Yamadanishiki, nicknamed the “king of sake rice”, this sake is best enjoyed chilled like a white wine, though some of its savory characteristics will emerge as it warms to room temperature.
What we taste: Bright green grapes, ripe melon and Good & Plenty candies on the nose. Dry but refreshing on the palette with a good amount of herbs (think cucumber, lychee and thai basil). A long finish and slight acidity help refresh the palate whether you are digging into a lobster roll, traditional sashimi or the big, bold flavors of Southeast Asian Street food.
Takeout Buddies: Head over to Fenway for a one-two punch with Eventide Oyster Co. and Tiger Mama. Eventide’s infamous brown-butter lobster roll works just as well as Tiger’s addictive Singapore Street Noodles. Round out the order with a dozen oysters or a few more of Chef Tiffani’s creative and craveable dishes.