First Major Japanese Sake Company Opening on the U.S. East Coast

Why are New York bagels so renowned?

Some say it’s the water.

Is that the reason why Asahi Shuzo, the Iwakuni-based liquor company, is opening Japan’s first ever plant on the East Coast of the United States?

Nah, but according to CEO Kazuhiro Sakurai, the goal is to not only tap into the large U.S. market, but also to present sake as a great pairing for cuisines other than Japanese.

Great, now I’m envisioning bagels and sake as the new brunch mash-up for 2023.

Asahi Shuzo Hyde Park New York
Asahi Shuzo Hyde Park New York (Source: https://www.asahishuzo.ne.jp/dassaiblue/)

The seven billion yen (~$53 million) facility will be located in Hyde Park in upstate New York, close to the Culinary Institute of America, and will offer tours and tastings to the public. Furthermore, domestic sake sales in Japan have been on the decline for years, China and the United States have been two massive growth markets for the industry. Consequently, the Hyde Park brewery will have 52 5,000 liter tanks, using a type of rice called Yamadanishiki grown in Japan and Arkansas.

Interestingly, Asahishuzo has created a sake just for the North America, called Dassai Blue. The name dassai means “otter festival,” which alludes to the fact that otters used to display their catches everyday on the water’s edge. A Japanese poet by the name of Shiki Masaoka adopted the name dassai because he would scatter his papers around his room. The “blue” part of the name comes from a Japanese proverb that talks about how blue dye comes from indigo plants, although that color is even more blue than indigo itself. Thus, the idea is that child should do better in life than the parent, regarding Asahishuzo’s desire to keep creating superlative products.

Dassai Blue is a type of junmai ginjo. What does that mean? Sake is classified by how much a grain of rice is polished before brewing; roughly, the more rice is polished, the more aromatic the sake becomes. Junmai ginjo refers to sake that has been polished no less than 60%.


What’s your favorite sake, and have you tried any produced in the United States?

The Land of Rice and Sake: A Small Feast from Joetsu, Niigata, Japan

It’s true. Of all the potential prefectures (roughly states/provinces) in Japan to be considered the “land of rice and sake,” Niigata often leads the pack. Of course, it helps that sake, the quintessential Japanese liquor enjoyed warm or chilled, is made from rice … indeed, according to one source, Niigata prefecture regularly vies with Hokkaido for the top spot in rice-paddy yield, and total area dedicated to rice-paddy cultivation.

Thus, with all of this hubbub about being one of the culinary centers of Japan, not just for rice and sake but for seafood, hot sauce(called Kanzuri; link in Japanese) and even B kyuu gurume, I decided to take a day trip from Kanazawa to Joetsu city Joetsu (上越市).

Hopping on the Hakutaka shinkansen, or bullet train, in Kanazawa, I made it to Joetsu about 50 minutes later. After walking a couple of miles to Takada Castle to check out its lily ponds, and a stop at a secondhand shop to rummage through bygone electronics, my hunger pangs led me to a restaurant called Gunchan. (Note: I generally don’t care about restaurant reviews, because I’m the only one with my taste buds. This particular branch gets a low rating online, so I guess my delicious meal was an off day?)

Niigata cuisine Joetsu Japan
Gunchan Restaurant, Jouetsu, Niigata Prefecture, Japan

CRAB MISO soup, seasonal fish sashimi and tempura, and a brisk glass of regional sake were just some of the highlights. Suffice it to say, I’d go back.

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