A sake factory in New York is trying to brew a new cooking trend in the US

The major Japanese sake company, known for its signature product Dassai, will begin brewing at a facility in New York next spring to seek consumers in the already crowded market in the United States.

As the first major Japanese company to establish a sake production facility on the US East Coast, Asahi Shuzo Co aims to promote sake as a popular drink that is served not only with Japanese dishes but with a variety of dishes from around the world.

The company’s CEO, Kazuhiro Sakurai, said that its new 7 billion yen facility in Hyde Park, more than 100 kilometers north of Manhattan, should be an outpost for its attempt to develop new markets in the United States.

“The sake market has grown in the United States, but a large portion of it is served as an accompaniment to Japanese foods like sushi and tempura,” Sakurai told Kyodo News.

“We will go beyond Japanese cuisine,” he said, noting that his brewery has created Dassai Blue, a new high-end sake of the Junmai Ginjo Art, for Manhattan’s picky 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 drink to the United States rose about 25 percent year-on-year to about 9.6 billion yen in the January-October period, according to the National Tax Agency of Japan.

Asahi Shuzo is a latecomer in American sake brewing by Japanese companies.

Takara Holdings Inc., Gekkeikan Sake Co, and Ozeki Corp, well-established names in Japan, produce sake in the United States, but their manufacturing facilities are all in California on the west coast.

“New York is a place where different cultures from all over the world come together, create new things and present them to the world,” said the 46-year-old boss of the company, which is based in Yamaguchi Prefecture in western Japan.

Hyde Park is home to the renowned Culinary Institute of America, and his offer to help Asahi Shuzo distribute his new sake also prompted him to focus on the city of New York, he said.

“We may need to talk to people other than Japanese food retailers and explore new ways of advertising. In other words, closer rapprochement with the Americans will be required,” he said. “The real culinary specialists are nearby and will help us. This is important.”

According to Japanese government data, domestic shipments of sake in Japan fell to 414,000 kiloliters in the year ended March 2021, less than a quarter of the peak in the year ended March 1974.

Bucking the trend, sales of Asahi Shuzo for the year ended Sept. 30 rose 16 percent year-on-year 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 facility with 52 5,000 liter tanks will be operated by six local workers and three experienced workers from Japan. They will use Yamadanishiki brand rice, a grain specially developed for brewing sake and grown in both Japan and the US state of Arkansas.

The brewery’s start of operations in the United States was delayed by approximately three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sakurai said the initial annual production target is 70,000 1.8-liter bottles, with a goal of increasing capacity tenfold in about 10 years.

“I hope that 90 percent of our sales will come from overseas in the future,” he said.

© KYODO

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