Dassai, a world-famous sake brand, even those who don’t drink sake can probably name it. People may have a perception that such a large-scale, so-famous, and money-making sake brewery must be mechanised and monitored by computers. In fact, the difference between them and most of the small and medium-sized sake producers is not as magnified as expected.
Grains of rice has to go through the washing, soaking, steaming processes before they start the brewing process. Machines do help a lot in assisting large-scale transportation, but the brewery still insists on managing the brewing process manually, so as to control the time and to monitor water absorption rate.
In order to get the best possible steamed rice, they use traditional Japanese rice steamer instead of the mechanised one, which has a relatively even steam distribution. They even not hesitate to engage in labour-intensive work of staking into and digging out the steamed rice from the vat.
Not to mention making rice-koji, the whole process can only be done with human hands, from the very beginning step of bringing in the rice to the koji room until the completion of rice koji. Their koji tables are smaller in size and they have 48 of them, enough to cover two floors of the brewery building. The finished rice-koji are then stored in low temperature for a period of time before use.
Dassai only crafts Junmai Daiginjo. As there are over 100 of fermentation tanks, the mash management during fermentation process should be more careful. They inspect each tank every day, to collect data and write it on the notebook. Yes, it is written by hand. In the analysis room, the plant manager decides how to adjust the temperature, pressing time, etc. And the member staff then returns to the fermentation room to implement the decision.
I had a chance to stay at Dassai for a one week training, so I took the opportunity to interview their founder aka chairman, Mr. Hiroshi Sakurai. He is 70 years old and very authoritative, no one will be aware of his senility. He is a big fan of white colour. He often wears white and drives a white Maserati. A saying from him I remember the most, “What I think is good quality is good. Selling the best to customers, isn’t it that good enough?” Meaning that if you don’t value my doing, then you won’t be my customer, and I can do nothing about it.
His words are quite inspiring. Trust yourself, follow your own beliefs, do your best, and eventually someone will appreciate it. Criticism hurts? Continue to believe in yourself, do what you think is right, and have a clear conscience. What’s the problem then?
Based in Hong Kong / Official trainer of Dassai / Experienced sake educator (WSET, SSI) / JSA Sake Diploma / International sake judge