This year has seen an increase in the popularity of Japanese food in London, and there are now nearly 500 Japanese restaurants in the Greater London area. However, and more importantly, there has been a surge of interest in Japanese sake ( Nihonshu日本酒 ).
During 2015, there have been many interesting events and tastings to promote this marvellous drink. The IWC 2015 Award Winning Sake Tasting, held at the Embassy of Japan, and events by World Sake Imports: including a talk given by Philip Harper, the first non-Japanese sake master brewer( Toji 杜氏 ) in Japan, from the Kinoshita-Shuzou brewery, Kyoto.
Other London sake events/sampling took place at the IFE and Speciality Fine Food shows and the Restaurant show (over 200 sake available). These events provided opportunities to sample some good Honjozo, discover Namasake and Namagenshu, and to enjoy some of the best Junmai and Junmai Daigino quality sake available. However, in this article instead of describing the many quality sake that I enjoyed this year, I have decided to write about sake from the Fujii Honke brewery in Shiga, and one of their finest sake: Kyokujitsu Fuku Junmai Daiginjo.
Fujii Honke brewery was established in 1831, in Shiga prefecture, and has since provided sacred sake to the Japanese Imperial Court and sacred shrines. Former owner Fujii Shizuko had to overcome considerable hardship in a strongly male-dominated society and sake brewery industry. Through her enduring effort and passion, she built a successful sake business which now has some twenty-three buildings including the main sake brewery building made of Keyaki (Japanese Elm).
The current owner is Mr Fujii Tetsuya, who carries on the tradition of sake making, like his father, using the same Watari Bune sake rice and brewed in similar style. Wateri Bune varietal rice originated in Shiga, and is the genetic father of Yamada Nishiki rice or the ‘King of sake rice’.
Wateri Bune is a wild species of rice, which was used with great enthusiasm in the 1920s and 30s. This rice was difficult to cultivate, and it almost became extinct 50 years ago. However, Mr Fujii Tetsuya sought a local farmer to revive the species, and after four years of trial and error, local Watari Bune sake rice is available again for brewing.
Watari Bune, Gin Fubuki, Tamazakae and Yamada Nishiki are the varietal rice species used at Fujji Honke sake brewery, along with underground aquifer water from the Suzaka mountains.
The Kimoto method, is one of the three methods of making the yeast starter mash ‘Shubo’ ( 酒母 ) or sometimes called ‘Moto’ ( 酛 ). The other sake yeast starter methods are Yamahai and Sokujo. Koji ( 麹菌 ), steamed rice, and water are added to the moto ( or shubo) to produce moromi, after pressing the crude sake can be filtered and pasteurised. The Kimoto method is used at Fujii Honke, but it takes twice as long to make compared to using the Sokujo method. With this ancient organic method, only naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria present in the brewery and local yeasts are used. This then produces sake with a refreshing hint of acidity, being dry and smooth and quite full-bodied in taste. The Fujii Honke sake style is therefore rich and full-bodied with excellent umami ( うま味 – savouriness, a fifth basic taste).
The Fujii Honke brewery sake brand names are Kyokujitsu ( 旭日 – Rising Sun) and Biwa no mai ( 琵琶の舞 – Dance of Lake Biwa). Each year, for 23rd November, Fujii Honke make a special sake brew to celebrate the Imperial Harvest Festival (Niinamesai 新嘗祭 ): an autumn harvest Shinto rice-tasting and blessing ceremony, to ensure good sake.
Finally, the two superb Fujii Honke sake that I sampled this year and which for me represent the best of 2015 Japanese sake were: the elegant Kyokujitsu Fuku Junmai Daiginjo and the refreshingly dry Kyokujitsu Kimoto Junmaisyu.
This then is the signature of Fujii Honke sake.
© 2015 Dr Robert Frew. All rights reserved.