When you start getting really interested in something, new opportunities to learn more about the subject suddenly start presenting themselves one after another. You meet new people, who pass your details on and as if by magic you find yourself at the events you’ve never heard before. This is how I received an invitation from Sake Samurai to the Fukushima Pride event at the Japanese Embassy in London. Sake Samurai, in case you don’t know, is an organisation promoting sake outside Japan. The UK branch is led by the charismatic Rie Yoshitake.
Seven years ago, in March 2011, a deadly tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake (also known as the 3.11 earthquake) devastated north-eastern Japan causing massive destruction and deaths in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures. The Fukushima prefecture also suffered tremendously from the nuclear accident at the local nuclear power plant caused by the tsunami.
Fukushima’s economy, which is dominated by agriculture, fishery, sake brewing and internal tourism, was significantly impacted by the contamination from the accident. Since then the Japanese Government and the local authorities have been working hard to negate the disaster’s impact. Now the majority of Fukushima’s produce are declared clean from any contamination.
However, one thing is to fix the problem and another is to convince people that it is safe to eat Fukushima’s prized rice, delicious beef, mouth-watering peaches and drink its great sake. As a result, Fukushima Pride was formed a few years ago to promote Fukushima’s produce across the country and internationally.
At the entrance to the Fukushima Pride event, all the guests were personally greeted by the Ambassador of Japan in the UK and the Governor of the Fukushima Prefecture which showed the significance of the event. After the obligatory speeches from the Ambassador, Governor and the head of the Fukushima food producers association, everyone was invited to see and try the Fukushima food and sake in action.
The food was prepared by well-known Taiji Maruyama, a third generation sushi chef from Fukushima, who trained at the famous Kojyu restaurant in Tokyo’s prestigious Ginza district. Taiji then moved to Europe where he worked extensively at the highly regarded Nobu restaurant in London and Monaco. He also opened his own very successful restaurant, Kiru in London and now works as head chef of The House restaurant at Beaverbrook, a luxury country hotel in Surrey.
The choice of food was great and everything was very delicious and you could feel that the ingredients were of very high quality. I particularly liked the Fukushima beef, sushi and the dessert, which was a sort of flan with a delicious Fukushima peach and a sheet of caramelised sugar. The peach was really sweet and exquisitely aromatic.
While enjoying the food, my main interest that evening was sake. The prefecture presented 10 local breweries with a full range of sake, which you can see in the table below:
|Daitengu Sake Brewery||Daitengu Taruzake||Honjozo|
|Sasanokawa Sake Brewing Company||Tennotsubu Mukashi Jitate Junmaishu||Junmai|
|Toyokuni Brewery||Junmaishu Cho||Junmai|
|Homare Sake Brewery||Junmai Ginjo Karahashi Yamadanishiki||Junmai Ginjo|
|Daishichi Sake Brewery||Kaiden||Junmai Ginjo|
|Okunomatsu Sake Brewery||Daiginjo Sizukusake Juhachidai ihei||Daiginjo|
|Suehiro Sake Brewery||Daiginjo Gensai||Daiginjo|
|Ninki Inc||Kunimi Atsukashisan Kiwami||Junmai Daiginjo|
|Nagurayama Shuzo||Daiginjo Kanpyokai Shuppinshu||Daiginjo|
|Yamatogawa Shuzo Sake Brewery||Junmai Daiginjo Shuawa||Junmai Daiginjo|
All the sake were very good and demonstrated the great mastership of the Fukushima toji (Master Brewers). However, I would like to mention those, which stood out to me the most.
The first sake I tried was from the Daitengu brewery. The brewery has a very interesting history behind its name. Daitengu means Great Tengu, a supernatural creature of the Japanese Shinto tradition, usually depicted with a red face and a long nose (presumably inherited from the earlier depictions of tengu as a bird-like creature). The picture of the aforementioned tengu was exhibited on the bottle’s label.
The brewery was founded in 1872 and at the beginning was also involved in warehousing business. The sake sales were growing fast and the owner asked the customers to take back their items from the warehouse. However, two boxes remained unclaimed. When they were opened, the surprised workers discovered two tengu masks inside. “It’s a gift from the gods”, decided the owner and named the company after them: Great Tengu.
Daitengu brewery presented its taruzake honjozo, sake aged in cedar barrels, the type of sake I was writing about in my previous post. It was refreshingly dry and crisp with a hint of cedar flavour. The finishing was smooth but still had a nice kick. Daitengu Taruzake Honjozo served cold must be very good with yakitori and other izakaya dishes, as it enhances the umami of the food.
There were two breweries presented at the event, which were featured in a very good book about sake: “Sake. The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries”. The first one was Sasonokawa, the brewery with a very turbulent history being run by 10 generations of the Yamaguchi family, confiscated after the war but was quickly bought back by the family. It also produces whiskey and shochu. Sasonokawa presented a junmai sake. The sake was dry and had a rich flavour, mature taste and a fresh finish. It would go very well with hearty comfort food like shabu-shabu or Japanese grilled chicken.
The second brewery featured in the Sake book was Ninki Inc. It is a new brewery founded only in 2007 by a family, which has been in the sake brewing business since 1897. The brewery makes only ginjo sake using traditional methods. Ninki Inc. presented Kunimi Atsukashisan Kiwami Junmai Daiginjo, the sake I liked the most at Fukushima Pride.
It is a very elegant, complex sake, crisp and moderately sweet with a very smooth finish and refined flavour. You could enjoy drinking Kunimi Atsukashisan Kiwami on its own thinking about the scenic Adatara mountain range, near which the brewery is located.
It’s worth mentioning Kaiden Junmai Ginjo, made from Gohyaku Mangoku rice, the second most popular rice in sake brewing. It produces clean, light, and refreshing sake and Daiginjo Shizukusake “Juhachidai ihei” Daiginjo, the sake pressed using a natural method when cotton bags with moromi, fermented sake mush, are hung letting sake drip naturally from the bag without applying any pressure. According to John Gauntner’s The Sake Handbook this method leads to more elegant and complex sake. Can’t comment on whether it was more elegant than sake pressed with the more common machine method, but Juhachidai ihei was very good.
There was also one sparkling sake, Shuawa (beads in Japanese), very delicate and crisp. One of the best sparkling sake in the market here in the UK. It’s marketed by Tengu Sake under “Pearl” name.
Overall, it was a very good evening. The food and sake were superb, the attendance was high and I met a lot of interesting people. I think that the organisers achieved their goal to promote Fukushima food and drinks as immediately after the event I just wanted to jump on the next plane to Fukushima to continue enjoying their wondrous delicacies.
Interestingly while I preferred junmai daiginjo I noticed that quite a few people liked honjozo more for its dryness and good balance of flavours. Still junmai daiginjo ran out first confirming that I was right in my preferences. I wish there were more such events to promote other Japanese prefectures to demonstrate the diversity of the country and its hidden gems. So I’m looking forward to any future events that will come my way.But for now, Fukushima Kampai!