Sip your way to a happy face


Category: Japanese Food

A century of brewing

Niigata Prefecture's Sanjo City is blessed with a heavy, protective, winter blanket of snow, crisp air and the soft, clean water of the Ikarashi River. These are all key elements in the production of fine sake-which Fukugao Brewery Co., Ltd has been turning out for over one hundred years. The family firm was established in 1897, and current sixth-generation CEO Akira Kobayashi works alongside a close team including daughter and director Eri Kobayashi. Together, they craft award-winning sake from superlative local ingredients. Niigata is one of Japan's premier rice-growing regions, and the area is rich with brewing history. Fukugao's name consists of two characters: fuku, which means "happy," and gao, which means "face." Kobayashi and his crew believe their sake can put a smile on anyone's face.

CEO Akira Kobayashi and Director Eri Kobayashi

A local farmer grows rice specially developed for Fukugao Brewery

Pure flavor from pure ingredients

Every year, the brewers conduct a ceremony requesting favor from the sake gods. They know how delicate a process sake-making can be. Though it requires few ingredients, it involves many steps and contributing factors. The smallest change in the weather, or variation in the procedure, can change the flavor and character of the brew. At Fukugao, everything from washing, massaging, squeezing and taking temperatures of rice and koji (mold), are done by hand.

From only rice, water, yeast, mold, skill and time, Fukugao Brewery produces a full line of sake to fit every season and palate. Their purest and most refined varieties, the Daiginjo sakes, with their extreme smoothness and delicate flavor, are meant to be consumed cold and straight, without accompaniment, if they're to be fully appreciated. Regular sake of course pairs well with Japanese food, with the lighter Honjozo and Ginjo types marrying especially well with sushi and fish-based dishes, while the more full-bodied Junmai sake goes well with meat. And the Honjozo sake can be warmed up to take the edge off a cold winter night. For more about types of sake, please check The Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association .

Skilled craftspeople hand-make the sake, paying attention to every texture and smell

Fukugao's original whiskey-barrel brewed sake

Looking back and pushing forward

Fukugao Brewery's sake has won numerous awards including gold medals at the 100th Annual Japan Sake Awards and the National New Sake Competition. But though Fukugao Brewery stretches back a century, the company is definitively not stuck in the past. Along with the tried and true libations, Fukugao also produces new and experimental brews such as its fragrant whiskey-barrel-aged sake, with a smoky, woodsy aroma that would go excellently with nuts and cheese. The exquisitely scented Le Lectier, a gentle pear-flavored liqueur made from Niigata's own original varietal, is sweet without being cloying and imparts an almost floral fragrance. Created by Fukugao's own brewers in the sake off season, the drink is light and delectable when taken straight, but is also refreshing with soda or ginger ale for a late summer sparkler. "We are a small maker, but we're really thinking about the customer's enjoyment, trying to make new experiences," says Kobayashi. "We want to teach the world about Japanese sake."