Fukuju: Brewing Unique Sake

The name “Fukuju” comes from Fukurokuju, one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japanese mythology, who is considered the god of luck or fortune. “Fuku” means “happiness,” “roku” means “wealth,” and “ju” means “long life.” The Fukuju brand is known both in Japan and overseas as the brand to drink to celebrate good fortune.


In brewing Fukuju sake, we draw on the bounty of the Rokko terroir and respect the traditions of our long history of over 270 years, yet we also utilize innovative, ever-evolving technologies in our brewery as we continue to seek that ideal taste.

 

Fukuju: a brewery that draws on the power of water

It would no exaggeration to claim that brewing sake at Fukuju is brewing sake that draws on the power of water, the fruits of the natural bounty offered by the Rokko Mountains. We are constantly pursuing the ideal taste of sake by combining our own techniques with the bounty that is the famous mystical water known as Miyamizu*, which comes from a subterranean river from the Rokko Mountains.

*In the late Edo period, Yamamura Tazaemon brewed sake in both Settsu Nishinomiya (today’s Nishinomiya) and Uozaki (today’s Nada Ward), and noticed that the flavor from his two breweries was subtly different. Using the same rice made no difference, nor did swapping the toji, or brew-masters. Whatever he tried, the sake from Nishinomiya was always better. Then in 1840, he finally tried swapping the water around, and discovered that it was the difference in water that was responsible for the difference in tastes. After that, Nada breweries all focused on using the water from Nishinomiya (“Miyamizu” or “Miya water”), spreading the district’s fame across Japan as the best place to brew sake.

 

Rokko Terroir
(climate and soil of the Rokko Mountains)

The foothills of the Rokko Mountains in Kobe, where the Fukuju brewery is located, are a rich area blessed with everything needed to make delicious sake: climate, topography, soil, water, and more. With the famous mystical Miyamizu* water that springs from the Rokko Mountains, the highest-quality sake rice grown at their base, and the “Rokko Oroshi” cold winds that breathe life into Nada sake, Fukuju aims for even greater heights both through traditions passed on for over 270 years and over 13 generations and through innovative sake-making. Each drop of Fukuju’s sake is perhaps the fruits of the blessing of the Rokko Mountains and the passion of our people.

*In the late Edo period, Yamamura Tazaemon brewed sake in both Settsu Nishinomiya (today’s Nishinomiya) and Uozaki (today’s Nada Ward), and noticed that the flavor from his two breweries was subtly different. Using the same rice made no difference, nor did swapping the toji, or brew-masters. Whatever he tried, the sake from Nishinomiya was always better. Then in 1840, he finally tried swapping the water around, and discovered that it was the difference in water that was responsible for the difference in tastes. After that, Nada breweries all focused on using the water from Nishinomiya (“Miyamizu” or “Miya water”), spreading the district’s fame across Japan as the best place to brew sake.

 

Making sake that draws on the power of water

Fukuju selects the ideal waters to use in all stages of the sake-brewing process. By controlling the water quality, amount, and temperature, we can brew sake that draws on the power of water.

In the process of steaming rice, one of the key ingredients in sake-making, we can create the ideal quality through precise control of everything from the water absorption rate of the rice to the amount of moisture in the steamed rice. We are constantly trying out new initiatives. For example, in creating the koji mold, we use modern plastic containers in addition to traditional cypress ones, using materials based on advanced technologies to control both hygiene and humidity. Water plays a role in each step of the sake-brewing process. Selecting the ideal water based on a thorough understanding of these roles is at the root of the delicate flavors of Fukuju.

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Washing and soaking rice: it begins and ends with washing

To create Fukuju’s characteristic “dignified framework,” we wash our rice very carefully. Ensuring that every speck of bran, which can leave strange flavors, is removed, and to retain as much as possible of the rice shape for later processes, we no longer use the old-style hand washing method, but a device that gently washes rice using foam.


At Fukuju, we use 30% as the absorption rate for our rice, and a water temperature of 7 degrees Celsius for washing and soaking the rice. If the temperature is too high, the absorption rate rises, and if the water temperatures are not the same for both washing and soaking, it can cause the rice to split. So we carefully control both temperature and time when soaking rice.

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We steam, not boil

To make high-quality koji mold from the ideal steamed rice, with a hard outside and soft interior, we use a traditional steamer called a “koshiki.” Using strong dry steam at temperatures of 100 or more degrees to steam rice for precisely 60 minutes we can get rice where the outside is dry and hard, and the inside is soft and fluffy. The mycelia of the koji mold sprinkled on the steamed rice in the koji-making process soak up water and eat into the soft interior of the rice. By using this koshiki, we can precisely control temperature, steam amounts, and time.

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Fukuju’s handmade koji mold

 

Making the koji mold is said to be the most important step in making sake. It was all done by hand in traditional cypress mold room (koji-muro). Human hands are vital in controlling the amount of moisture when making koji, and this is a key process for creating Fukuju’s unique flavor and taste.

The koji is formed when the mycelia of the koji mold eat into the steamed rice. We know that if the amount of water in the koji is low enough, then it will make it easier to create the fruity ginjoko fragrance. In the past, this process would have been left up to the instincts of the sake brewer, but at Fukuju, we are able to create koji precisely as we intend by accurately measuring the amount of water in the mold using electronic scales. We also make our koji using cutting-edge materials and not the traditional cloth, as this allows us to precisely control humidity and temperature. 

To make the finest grade of daiginjo sake, we use tarai-koji or “tub mold.” This revolutionary method allows us to encourage the generation of heat by the mold and the evaporation of excess water at the same time, creating the right amount of amylase enzyme to make sake. 

At each stage from washing the rice at the start to the removal of the completed koji from the mold room the koji is checked using human senses—appearance, aroma, taste, feel, and so on. We create koji by using both human senses and experience, and measurable facts and figures.

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Creating the dignified framework

Modern and traditional methods of preparing the seed mash

Fukuju mainly used a seed mash made using modern technology called high-temperature saccharification to create the “dignified framework” that is one of the characteristics of Fukuju’s flavor. High-temperature saccharification is creating sugars using high temperatures (when rice starch is turned into glucose using the power of amylase enzyme created by the koji) so can be done quickly, and creates a refreshing flavor.

At the same time, we also use the traditional kimoto method, a technique which has been passed down since the Edo period. Only a few out of the more than a thousand sake breweries in Japan still use the kimoto method. But here, it has been passed down from brewer to brewer down through the generations. In this method, age-old techniques are used for about four weeks to create the seed mash from rice and koji.

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Moromi for smoothness

The moromi mash is made by mixing the seed mash, koji, chilled steamed rice, and water together three separate times over a period of four days. The temperature gradually rises due to the alcohol fermentation that takes place alongside the saccharification, but care is paid to keeping the temperature low enough for the refined flavor of daiginjo and junmai daiginjo sakes. For the moromi for our flagship sake, our junmai (pure rice) daiginjo, we reduce the ratio of seed mash on the one hand, while we use more water than normal. This process allows us to create a junmai daiginjo sake with lower acidity and a soft mouth feel.

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Pressing and extracting lees to bring out delicacy

For the finest grades, daijingo and junmai daijingo, we fill bags with the mash and suspend it, waiting for the sake to drip out naturally into the waiting container without any pressure at all. This is called “bag pressing.” This method take a lot of time and effort, from initial preparation to the actual work, and only a small amount can be extracted this way. That makes it an extremely extravagant way of pressing sake. But it also gives our sake a mellow mouth feel and refined flavor.

 

Major Awards Won

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Fukuju Junmai Ginjo(Fukuju Blue Label)

  • 2018 Brewing Year: Gold Winner, International Wine Challenge

  • 2018 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, International Sake Challenge

  • 2018 Brewing Year: Gold Award, U.S. National Sake Appraisal

  • 2017 Brewing Year: Gold Award, U.S. National Sake Appraisal

  • 2016 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, International Sake Challenge

  • 2011 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, International Sake Challenge

  • 2011 Brewing Year: Gold Sake, London Sake Challenge

  • 2011 Brewing Year: Grand Gold Medal, The Fine Sake Award, Japan

  • 2008 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, International Sake Challenge

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Fukuju Daiginjo

  • 2018 Brewing Year: Gold Winner, International Wine Challenge

  • 2017 Brewing Year: Gold Winner, International Wine Challenge

  • 2017 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, International Sake Challenge

  • 2016 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, International Sake Challenge

  • 2011 Brewing Year: Grand Gold Medal, The Fine Sake Award, Japan

  • 2010 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, International Sake Challenge

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Fukuju Junmai-shu Mikagego

  • 2017 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, International Sake Challenge

  • 2015 Brewing Year: Gold Award, U.S. National Sake Appraisal

  • 2014 Brewing Year: Gold Award, U.S. National Sake Appraisal

  • 2013 Brewing Year: Gold Award, U.S. National Sake Appraisal

  • 2012 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, International Sake Challenge

  • 2012 Brewing Year: Gold Award, U.S. National Sake Appraisal

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Fukuju Happo Junmai-shu Awasaki

  • 2013 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, The Fine Sake Award, Japan

  • 2012 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, The Fine Sake Award, Japan

  • 2011 Brewing Year: Grand Gold Medal, The Fine Sake Award, Japan

  • 2010 Brewing Year: Gold Medal, The Fine Sake Award, Japan