Having visited the home of Dassai in Yamaguchi Prefecture last Oct. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to attend the special Dassai 23 tasting put together by Sakagura Restaurant earlier this month. They were serving 4 rare Dassai sakes, 3 of which are not available in the US, but all made with rice milled down to 23% of it’s original size. That’s 77% of the rice grain raw material milled away before any brewing even begins!
The first rare sake we had was the “Dassai 23 Centrifuge“. This sake uses the crown jewel of sake processing equipment… that Maytag spin cycle on steroids known as the Sake Centrifuge Machine. instead of Pressing the sake in a hydraulic press to separate the rice solids and sake, this machine spins them apart using centrifugal force. How does this make the sake taste? well, kind of like adding Snuggles fabric softener to 110% cashmere. It was already super soft, but is now a measure softer, smoother, deeper. fantastic!
The next Dassai selection by Mr. Sakurai was Dassai 23 Nama Nigori! I dare any Nigori hater (I know you’re out there!) to give this confection the thumbs down. The unpasteurized Nama-ness of this sake lends a fresh, bright note, while the Nigori aspect give Dassai 23 a new spin on texture and mouth feel.
My favorite of the evening was the most unusual! maybe that’s why it was my favorite. In any case, we next were treated to the Dassai 23 Sparkling Nigori Nama! This sake goes thru a second fermentation in the bottle, so it has a full-on “POP!” that you get from Champagne. Sakurai-san noted that Christmas Champagne was indeed the inspiration that led to this sake. The sake bubbles dance on your tongue and tickle your nose just like that sparkling grape juice! the Nigori part adds a nice rich texture to the mix yet keeping that Dassai 23 body. Just really, really unique!
The last selection was the “regular” Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo that is widely available in the States. This brought the whole tasting full circle and grounded my taste buds again in the Dassai 23 I know and love after all those high flying sake fireworks! Super smooth and mellow with a fantastic complexity, this is a top rated sake with good reason.
This Dassai 23 tasting at Sakagura was not just a survey of rare dassai Sakes, but was also my introduction to the Japanese tradition of “Setsubun”! You know, Japanese customs and traditions never cease to amaze and delight me. Mixing customs and traditions with a healthy dose of sake delights me even more. Our Friend Mr. KC Nihonshudo was on hand to help me understand “Setsubun”. In a oversimplified nutshell, someone in the family puts on a Ogre a.k.a. “Oni” mask, stands near the door and gets roasted soybeans thrown at him as a symbolic gesture to keep bad luck out. One also throws roasted soybeans on your floor as a gesture to keep good luck in the house. While all this bean throwing is taking place, you say “Oni wa Soto; Fuku wa Uchi” (Get out Oni! Come in Happiness!). OK! After several rounds of fantastic Dassai Sakes, Mr. Sakurai-san volunteered to be the Ogre/Oni and promptly got pelted with soybeans from all corners. It’s the closest I’ve been to an actual food fight in 25 years and was terrific fun! However, I took the liberty of slightly changing this tradition to suit my needs: I shouted: “Get out Oni! Come in SAKE!” After all, sake is happiness to me!