The refined sakes of Fukuju Sake Brewery from Japan’s famed sake brewing region of Nadagogo in Hyogo Prefecture tells of modernity, tradition, and a dedication to excellence.
If you’re a sake enthusiast, chances are you’ve already had a Hyogo sake. Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture, located in the Kansai region of the country’s main island of Honshu, makes almost a third of all sake produced in the whole of Japan.
There are two very important reasons why Hyogo Prefecture is known as the No.1 place in Japan for making sake, even over other famous sake producing regions such as Niigata or Fushimi. Firstly, water. The spring water that runs off from the nearby Rokko mountains used by the region’s sake brewers is perfect for brewing sake. Known as the legendary “Mizamizu”, it is mineral-rich yet lacking in iron – the latter can darken the colour of sake and adversely affect aroma and taste – that is ideal for helping propagate the sake yeast and develop the koji that are crucial in the sake brewing process.
[Yamada Nishiki rice farmers from Hyogo Prefecture. Photo credit: Fujuku Sake Brewery]
The other main contributing factor is that Hyogo Prefecture is home to Yamada Nishiki, Japan’s most famous rice varietal for making top quality sake. The Yamada Nishiki rice strain was first developed in Hyogo back in 1923 to be used in sake making, and today the “king of sake rice” is used by almost every sake brewer making competition-level sake. Most Yamada Nishiki produced in Japan is grown in Hyogo – with some from neighbouring Okayama, as well as Fukuoka Prefecture on Kyushu – of which is then sent to sake breweries all around Japan. The best, of course, is reserved for top sake breweries in Hyogo.
The most prolific in all of Hyogo Prefecture for sake making is Nadagogo, considered to be among Japan’s foremost sake production areas. One could argue it’s the sake equivalent of, say, Bourgogne when it comes to making top quality Chardonnay, or Speyside for single malt Scotch whisky. In fact a few years ago Nadagogo was designated its own geographical indication (GI) – similar to the appellation system for wine – as a mark of quality, and to distinguish the area’s specific sake styles from the rest of Japan.
[Fujuku Sake Brewery. Photo credit: Fujuku Sake Brewery]
The Nadagogo sake brewery with a 270-year history.
Kobe Shushinkan Breweries, or Fukuju Sake Brewery, hails from exactly this hallowed Nada sake brewing region in Hyogo Prefecture. Fukuju has a very long and distinguished history in sake brewing, making Japan’s signature alcoholic beverage since 1751.
Fukuju (福寿) derives its name from Fukurokuju (福禄寿), one of the “Seven Lucky Gods” in Japanese mythology. But the name is also synonymous with the three deities in Chinese mythology representing fortune, prosperity, and longevity.
The longevity in its name held particularly poignant meaning for Fukuju during the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995. Fukuju’s brewing facilities – like those of many other sake breweries in the region – were completely destroyed by the massive earthquake, and its ability to continue brewing put under severe threat. Through sheer tenacity and grit, the family-owned, independent brewery painstakingly pieced itself together and started brewing again.
At a crossroads during those challenging times, Fukuju had taken the opportunity to relook at its operations. It decided to diversify its business, rebuilding a new brewery that not only made sake, but one that would become a popular visitor attraction complete with a tasting room, an events space, and a restaurant.
More importantly, Fukuju decided to focus on making premium sake. Domestic sake consumption in Japan had been steadily weakening for years. But much of the rest of the world was beginning to get into sake, particularly premium ginjo and daiginjo sake. Focusing on making top quality sake would allow them to serve the growing demand from overseas markets, providing them a lifeline in a time of domestic uncertainty.
And with that, it built a new future.
[Takenosuke Yasufuku, president and CEO of Kobe Shushinkan Breweries. Photo credit: Fujuku Sake Brewery]
Black, Blue, and Green – the premium sakes of Fukuju.
Fukuju Sake Brewery is today led by 13th generation owner and president, Takenosuke Yasufuku, who oversees sake production at the Nadogogo brewery. Since taking charge the enterprising Takenosuke has guided Fukuju with an openness towards innovation and growth, but also a mindful respect towards tradition and heritage.
He’s tapped on technology to aid with production efficiency and quality control; for example, it’s eschewed traditional handwashing of sake rice, but instead uses a machine that gently washes rice using foam. The brewery has ventured into making sparkling sake to reach a younger consumer segment, yet it is also among the handful of sake breweries to employ the traditional kimoto method of making sake, with a technique used since the Edo period.
Fukuju’s appointed exclusive distributor De Majestic Vines currently distributes nine sakes from Fukuju in Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Here’s a look at some of them.
[Fujuku Blue Label. Photo credit: Fujuku Sake Brewery]
FUKUJU Black Label (Junmai Daiginjo)
Fukuju’s flagship award-winning Gold Label junmai daiginjo is an elegant example of a top quality sake out of Nadagogo made with the best Yamada Nishiki and the purest waters drawn from subterranean rivers beneath the region. Expect a delicate yet expressive sake with rich aromas, while on the palate is complex with a stone fruit and floral intensity as well as a pleasant mineral dryness in the finish.
The Fukuju Black Label is best enjoyed in a wine glass.
FUKUJU Blue Label (Junmai Ginjo)
Exquisitely balanced, the Fukuju Blue Label features ripe stone fruit and cherries on the nose, with explosive tropical notes of mango and pineapple on the palate that’s perfect for those who prefer a more modern style of sake. Many sommeliers around the world will recognise this award-winning sake’s distinctive blue bottle, and may know that it’s served at the banquet dinner of every Nobel Prize award ceremony since 2008.
FUKUJU Green Label (Junmai Mikagego)
The Fukuju Green Label is a fresh yet refined example of a Nada junmai. It’s a bright and fruity sake with some mineral notes for balance, and comes with a refreshingly crisp finish.
Its fine balance, in particular, makes it a prime candidate for pairing with almost every dish you can throw at it. For example, a recent sake and food pairing dinner at Wooloomooloo Steakhouse saw the Green Label paired with prime ribeye; the beef brought out rich umami notes from the junmai, while the sake’s clean profile allowed the flavours of the meat to shine.
FUKUJU Awasaki (Sparkling sake)
The sparkling Fukuju Awasaki is a fun modern sake with plenty of verve. A delicate yet persistent mousse that adds a lively texture on the palate of berried fruit tinged with refreshing yoghurt-like acidity.
This sparkling sake is extremely versatile. It’s a perfect aperitif in and of itself, but can also be used as a base for making cocktails. The Awasaki would be great in a spritz or as the champagne replacement in a Mimosa, for example. Its lovely acidity and fine carbonation makes it a great food pairing partner too; it can cut through rich foods, as we experienced when it was served together with the steak tartare at Wooloomooloo.
Other Fukuju sakes carried by De Majestic Vines are the Gold Label (Daiginjo), Umeshu, Yuzushu, Sparkling Umeshu, and Hisshou.
Fukuju sakes can be found in Yujin Izakaya, The Gong by Drinks & Co., Dark Horse Japanese Seafood Tapas Bar, Kyoten Japanese Cuisine and Bar A Vin. You can also purchase Fukuju sake directly from De Majestic Vines off their online store.
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