Japan’s leading sake company known for its signature product Dassai will begin brewing at a New York facility next spring, seeking takers in the already crowded U.S. market.
As the first major Japanese company to establish a sake production facility on the East Coast of the United States, Asahi Shuzo Co seeks to promote sake as an ideal beverage to be served not only with Japanese food, but with a variety of global kitchens
The company’s CEO, Kazuhiro Sakurai, said its new ¥7 billion facility in Hyde Park, more than 100 kilometers north of Manhattan, should be an outpost for its bid to develop new markets in the United States.
“The sake market has been growing in the United States, but a large portion of it is served as an accompaniment to Japanese food such as sushi and tempura,” Sakurai told Kyodo News.
“We’re going to go into different areas of Japanese cuisine,” he said, noting that his brewery created Dassai Blue, a new high-end sake from the junmai ginjo types, for Manhattan foodies as well as other consumers in the United States and Canada.
Sake has gained a large following in the American market. Exports of the beverage to the United States in the January-October period rose 25 percent from a year earlier to about 9.6 billion yen, according to Japan’s National Tax Agency.
Asahi Shuzo is a latecomer to the United States brewing sake for Japanese companies.
Takara Holdings Inc., Gekkeikan Sake Co and Ozeki Corp., all well-established names in Japan, produce sake in the United States, but their production bases are in California on the West Coast.
“New York is a place where different cultures from around the world come together, create new things and promote them to the world,” said the 46-year-old head of the Yamaguchi Prefecture-based company. west of Japan
Hyde Park is home to the renowned Culinary Institute of America, and its offer to help Asahi Shuzo distribute its new sake also prompted him to focus on New York City, he said.
“We may need to talk to people other than Japanese food distributors and explore new ways of promotion. In other words, a closer approach to Americans will be necessary,” he said. “The real culinary specialists are around and will help us. That’s important.”
Domestic shipments of sake to Japan in the year to March 2021 fell to 414,000 kiloliters, less than a quarter of the peak for the year to March 1974, according to Japanese government data.
Bucking the trend, Asahi Shuzo sales for the year to September. 30 rose 16 percent from a year earlier to a record 16.4 billion yen and exports, mainly to China and the United States, rose 2 percent to 7.1 billion yen, also a record .
The new plant with 52 tanks of 5,000 liters will be operated by six locally hired workers and three experienced workers from Japan. They will use Yamadanishiki brand rice, a type of grain specially designed for making sake, grown both in Japan and in the American state of Arkansas.
The start of the brewery’s operations in the United States was delayed by about three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sakurai said the initial annual production target is 70,000 1.8-liter bottles, with the goal of increasing capacity tenfold in about 10 years.
“I expect 90 percent of our sales to come from overseas in the future,” he said.