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Photos courtesy of Dassai

Dassai Blue Is a Must-Visit Sake Brewery in Hyde Park

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A world-renowned sake brewery comes to Hyde Park.

The popularity of Japanese culture is booming, and it’s not just sushi, anime, and J-pop music. Interest in sake is on the rise, which is why premium sake brewer Asahi Shuzo decided to open Dassai Blue Sake Brewery (its first brewery outside of Japan) in Hyde Park last September. Just a mile down the road from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), it is the largest artisanal sake brewery in the U.S.

The proximity is deliberate. The CIA—which has long included sake in a variety of instructional courses for professionals and enthusiasts alike—approached Asahi Shuzo to work together “to raise awareness and further educate people about sake and its versatility with various foods and cuisines,” says Mark Erickson, certified master chef and provost of the CIA. In 2015, Dr. Tim Ryan, the CIA’s president, had traveled to Japan to learn more about the art and science of sake production and discuss the prospect of a brewery. The CIA even helped find the location and worked with local officials to gain approvals.

Having the brewery nearby will make the CIA a perfect place to learn about sake and how to best pair it with food. Beyond recreational classes, the college also offers a sake certification, part of its Japanese cuisine concentration and master’s program in wine and beverage management.

The 55,000-square-foot brewery produces a Japanese American version of Dassai sake called “Dassai Blue” in three styles: Dassai Blue 23, 35, and 50, referring to the percentage the rice is polished. “The more you polish the rice, the more you isolate the starch, and then the cleaner and fruitier the sake will be,” explains Dassai USA chief operating officer Henry Sidel. A sparkling nigori (a sweet sake) is also in the works. Production capacity is 140,000 nine-liter cases a year.

Dassai products are next level because they produce the highest grade of sake—called junmai daiginjo. Unlike other brands, they’re made with 100 percent Yamada Nishiki rice, “the gold standard of [sake] rice,” says Sidel. For now, the company will import rice from Japan; they hope to transition to Yamada Nishiki rice grown by a private farmer in Arkansas in the future.

Dassai Blue

Last November, the brewery began offering tastings in their taproom. Usually sake is served in ochoko (aka sake cups, similar to shot glasses) but at Dassai Blue, it’s served in wine glasses because it presents “the most flavor and aroma,” says Sidel. Guests can sip on several styles of Dassai sake and choose between a cheese and meat board (from The Corner Counter in Red Hook) or a Japanese bento box. The bento box—supplied by Manhattan-based restaurant Sakagura—is great for adventurous eaters and includes red wine ankimo (monkfish liver cooked in red wine), satsumaimo salad (Japanese sweet potato salad with smoked free-range egg), daikon hari hari zuke (radish with ume, or plum), sake-kasu kazunoko (pressed sake lees- and wasabi-marinated herring roe served with kamaboko fish cake), and nitako (braised octopus).

Tastings include a tour of the facility, where you can see the brewing process through large windows and the on-site museum will detail the company’s history in sake making. Outdoor seating and a stage for performances are set among 20 cherry blossom trees on the spacious property. (Make plans to visit in April for the full effect.) The interior was designed by a Japanese architect and features cultural motifs.

A sake pairing with The Corner Counter’s cheese and meat board.

A sake pairing with The Corner Counter’s cheese and meat board.

Asahi Shuzo is known for its artisan methods, technological advancements, and innovative approach to brewing—they use a team rather than appointing a traditional toji (brewmaster). With both native brewers and a trained American staff, the goal is to make Dassai Blue even better than its Japanese counterpart. The concept of the blue, referencing the country’s signature shade, comes from a Japanese proverb, “Although blue dye comes from the indigo plant, it is bluer than indigo.” Says Sidel, “We want our Dassai Blue to be even more dassai, more rich, more meaningful, and higher quality than the original.”

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week is back this April 8-21!