#9 From rock bottom to success? by Hiroshi SAKURAI
"Ideal sake rice – growing rice by ourselves"
In order to distribute Dassai to liquor stores in Tokyo, I had set some drastic conditions. Firstly, liquor stores had to have a refrigerator. Secondly, they had to be able to sell a certain amount of Dassai within a month. You see, if you don't store sake in a refrigerator and drink it as soon as possible, the taste would deteriorate. But most of the liquor stores back then didn't have any refrigerated space. And if the product didn't sell quickly enough, it would get worse. So I went to talk to each liquor store, one by one. The first bottles of Dassai sold in 1990 had two types of rice polishing ratio, 50% and 45%. Two years later, we released Dassai 23 with a polishing ratio of 23%. The motive for this sake was private rice farming.
Our sakagura is the furthest away from what is called “local production for local consumption”. I was obsessed by the idea of using the best rice from all over Japan, using only Yamada-Nishiki, to craft our sake. In 1987, we asked a farmer nearby to grow Yamada Nishiki for us. But the field was at an altitude of about 500 meters, and unfortunately, it began to snow before the grains were fully ripe. It was decided that Yamada-Nishiki was no good because it was a late-growing crop. Next, we tried an early-harvestable rice variety, Gohyakuman-goku, and found out that it ripened so quickly that all the sparrows in the vicinity would gather up and feast on it. After that, we tried using all kinds of variety of sake rice: Nihonharubi, Akitsuho, Gohyakuman-goku, Hyogo Kitanishiki, Saikai 134, Omachi, and Yamada Nishiki. We tried them all, and the ones that stood out were Omachi and Yamada-Nishiki. Omachi had a slightly bland taste to it. Yamada-Nishiki was rounder and more powerful, and the flavor was tighter at the end. I believe it to be probably the best sake rice ever made.
However, famous Yamada Nishiki producers like in Hyogo Prefecture wouldn't sell it to a small producer like us, far in the mountains of Yamaguchi. We had no choice but to go to ask wholesalers, ask rice polishing companies for help, but we couldn't get a steady supply of rice. Then we decided to make it ourselves: since sake is crafted in winter, our employees were free during the summer, so they could work in the fields. At the time, a farmer who was too old to continue farming came up to me and offered to return the land he had borrowed from my father: about 10’000m2. In 1990, my staff grew Yamada-Nishiki and I decided to make a special sake with that rice. That's what we then called Dassai 23. People usually say that polishing the rice by more than 50% is useless, but the theory was quite different from the reality. It doesn't produce more aromas or sweetness, but by polishing it to that level, you get an indescribable, subtle quality. It becomes a refined, somehow sophisticated sake. Even though I got criticized a lot for “wasting the rice”.
The other Junmai Daiginjo made from the leftover rice was a Dassai with rice polished down to 39%. At first, I thought to use rice polished down to 40%, but I just thought 39% was a better number to pronounce, which was the only reason.
Next story: "Never to cheap out on production costs"