Wednesday, November 07, 2007

11/5/07: Day 4 in Japan - Off to Yamaguchi, Home of Dassai

I woke up, and I was still full. Today is the travel day to Yamaguchi to visit Asahi Shuzo (旭酒造), maker of the venerable Dassai (獺祭)brand. My trip to Yamaguchi Prefecture featured ride on two different versions of the bullet train, with the transfer at Hiroshima. First leg from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima was on the newer Nozomi, and the second leg from Hiroshima to Shin- Iwakuni was on Kodama. This begs for a quick comparison:


Appearance: Kodama. Nozomi looks like a tongue of an alien.

Seating: Kodama. Bigger, plush seats arranged 2x2 instead of 3x2.

There you have it, I liked Kodama. Too bad the ride on Kodama was only 15 minutes, while Nozomi took 1:20

The area of Yamaguchi where Dassai is located is in the mountains. On the way over, I commented on how I find it incredible that a brewery in such small, rural area is aggressive in marketing their saké to places like New York, Los Angeles, London, and Paris. Sakurai-san responded, “As you can see, there aren’t too many people here to sell our saké. So, we have to go where the people are.” Touché.

After the brief tour of the brewery, Mr. Sakurai and his father took me to eat the famed Fugu of Yamaguchi. Sakae Fugu is a small restaurant was located by the port, and the Sakurai family has hosted numerous guests here including John Gauntner and Mr. Urban Saké. Our dinner was to take place in the traditional tatami room.

To welcome me, Mr. Sakurai poured two types of Dassai sparkling Nigori, the 50 and 39. Needless to say, they were very nice. The first course was the Fugu sashimi, and Mr. Sakurai told me the proper way of dressing (with scallion, dipped in Ponzu).

I haven’t had Fugu sashimi in a long time, so I had forgotten how different they are from your other type of sashimi. The Fugu was rested a day to firm up the body and extract more umami, and sashimi was the perfect avenue to show its effect. The crisp, firm Fugu made a great pairing with two types of Dassai Migaki Niwari-Sanbu, the regular and Tōshin (遠心), also known as “Centrifuge.”

The next course was the Shirako of Fugu. It's kind of like Appalachian Oysters in concept, best phrased as a type of gland. The dinner ended with crispy Fugu Kara-agé then Nabé hot pot, but they did not provide nearly as much entertainment as Shirako and stories of guest's reactions.

After dinner, back at the guest house, Sakurai-san and I had three sakés to drink: Sakura Masamuné Brewery Opening Limited Release Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu, Schichida Junmai Daiginjo, Shiragiku Junmai Nama Genshu (SMV: +3.5, Acidity: 1.6, Rice: Shiragiku, Seimaibuai: 60%, Yeast: Brewery Yeast). Sakura Masamuné was the intense and deep style, Shichida fruity and refreshing, and Shiragiku round with finesse. Between Fugu, four types of Dassai, and 3 well-crafted sakés, I had no problem getting a good night’s rest.

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