A historical brewery in an old sake village
Fukuju brewery was founded in 1751 in the traditional sake village of Nada, in Kobe city. Nada has been famous for its high-quality sake produced by skilled brewers since the Edo era. Nada sake was even shipped to Edo (Tokyo), more than 400 km away, and was notoriously appreciated by the Shogun. The brewery is located near the port of Kobe, with the Rokko Mountain range visible to the North. This geographical situation is a great blessing for sake brewing. On the north side of the mountains, which has a rich soil and perfect climate, the “king” of sake rice Yamada Nishiki is cultivated, while Mt. Rokko gives the perfect water, with a high content of mineral and low content of iron. This combination of exceptional water and rice generates a clear and powerful sake profile, the so-called Otokozake (men’s sake). Another benefactor is the cold north wind that blows down from Mt. Rokko. It allows to brew sake slowly at a low temperature to improve the sake quality and to give a rich and smooth taste. With the Rokko terroir - rice, water and climate, Fukuju has been making their signature sake for over 260 years.
Fukuju’s former Kura (brewery) was located in the Nada neighbourhood, along the Ishiya River flowing from Mt. Rokko to the sea. At the time, many such wooden Kuras were lining in rows in this neighbourhood, brewing the traditional Nada sake. In the early morning of January 17, 1995, a massive 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck the southern part of Hyogo Prefecture, and most of the wooden Kuras in the Nada area were completely destroyed, Fukuju among them. Despite the catastrophe, Fukuju didn’t lose a single employee, allowing a hope to rebuild. At the time, the size of the sake market had been already down 30% from its peak in the middle of 70’s. Because the brewery had collapsed, Fukuju changed their mindset. “This is an opportunity to freely envision the future and promote the revival of sake. The brewery is not just a place to brew sake, but an attractive place to visit as a cultural hub for the region.” said the 12th generation Kuramoto, Yukio Yasufuku. In 1997 the new Fukuju Kura “Shushinkan” was opened as an event hall and restaurant complex combined with a sake brewery and started to brew their sake again.
Combining tradition and modernity
The brewery is now run by the 13th generation Kuramoto, Takenosuke Yasufuku, and his younger brother, Hironobu Kubota, in charge of restaurant and tourism as a vice president. When the elder brother became the 13th generation Kuramoto, he even changed his first name to "Takenosuke", renewing a tradition that had unfortunately been impossible for two generations. "We are able to take on new challenges because we have the traditional and cultural background." Together with his father, he reviewed their product line-up and increased the proportion of high-class sake such as Daiginjo and Junmai Ginjo. They also worked on improving the know-how of their brewery. Because the Tojis (master brewers who share their knowledge with breweries) were taking on years, they established a system of "employee brewers" to ensure the quality of their sake in the future. Employees learn the art of the Toji and brew traditional sake combining traditional craftsmanship and modern science. In 2011, Fukuju was awarded a gold prize of Annual Japan Sake Awards by the National Research Institute of Brewing for the first time after they started to brew sake without the Tojis. And they have been awarded a gold prize for six years in a row since.
The famous Nada sake
Now they focus more on quality than quantity; they make koji (a fungus used for fermentation) by hand using inherited Toji technics and modern science to control temperature in koji making room. They brew sake only with local rice, mostly the “king of sake rice” Yamada Nishiki, and with the excellent water from Mt. Rokko. They are also investing in making their process as sustainable as possible, an effort that got the Minister of Finance prize for environment and sustainability at the EcoPro Awards 2019. Their FUKUJU Kobe Classic is a modern Nada style sake with a fresh fruity aroma and smooth rice flavor. It is dry and crisp, with mild umami and fine sweetness. It is truly delicious to savor this modern classic Nada sake, with an extended aroma, a delicate taste and a hint of minerals. This famous Kobe Classic is also served at the Nobel Prize dinner, whenever there is a Japanese Nobel Prize winner. FUKUJU Kobe Special is a traditional Nada style sake with more umami and body. It is mild and smooth on the palate. A very elegant and clean finish with vivid acidity that goes well with the famous Japanese beef, obviously perfect for the Kobe beef.
From brewery to cultural hub
Sake is not the only thing that one can find at Fukuju. The new Fukuju Kura attracts many visitors as a facility enjoying culture, food and entertainment, all in relation to sake. They offer tours of the brewery and their sake making process, tastings of their premium sake, a restaurant presenting local foods to enjoy with their sake, a shop for their products and delicious local snacks and even an event hall. From a traditional sake brewery, Fukuju has expanded to an active center for spreading the rich culture of sake.
Here you can read an interview with the Fukuju brewery.