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The Asahi Digital Shinbun [and] site asks an interesting question – why is sake brewed in Fukushima so fruity?

Writer Hikaru Aichi [guessing at the reading, sorry] first recaps on Fukushima’s dominant position in the Japanese sake landscape. The region won the most awards at the 2018 national new sake appraisals held in May – for the sixth year in a row.

19 labels of Fukushima sake brewed in BY 2017 won gold medals. [BY is the “brewing year” running from summer of one year to the next.] Many are sweet with a fruity aroma, and the region stands out for having many idiosyncratic breweries. Which just makes you want to try as many as possible, doesn’t it? So Aichi travelled from Tokyo up to the Fukushima Product Promotion Center to try out their sake counter.

The centre is a three minute walk from JR Fukushima Station, and boasts a range of famous local produce on the first floor. If you head to the large fridge at the back, you’ll find sake from over 50 local breweries. There is a Fukushima Lounge serving ice cream and snacks, and once you go to the till there’s a sign for nomikurabe, or tasting sets.

There are two options: a weekly one where you can choose three of six examples of one type, such as junmai genshu, for JPY 500, or a “premium” one where you can try two of four daiginjō for JPY 700.

Aichi went for the weekly menu first, choosing an Azuma Toyokuni daiginjō Gen from the Toyokuni brewery, Naraman junmai namachozō from the Yumegokoro brewery, and TOYOKUNI junmai daiginjō genshu from the Toyokuni brewery.

When exclaiming at the till that there were two sake from the same brewery, Aichi was told there are actually two breweries called Toyokuni in the prefecture – one in Furudonomachi that spells its name with kanji (豊国) and one in Bange that spells its name in upper case English letters (TOYOKUNI).

Adding some side dishes for JPY 300 – deep-fried fish cake and a local pickled daikon finely sliced and rolled – give you a fine tray of sake and snacks for JPY 800. Each sake came in a traditional ochoko with a card explaining its characteristics.

Starting with a bite of deep-fried fish cake, Aichi tried the Toyokuni Gen. The first sip seemed a bit simple and subdued, but gentle slurping to incorporate some air produced an effect like a flower blooming, an unfurling of aroma and a sweetness like apple, or even green apple.

Aichi appreciated the little cards that came with each ochoko, with clear explanations of each sake that should encourage drinkers to think more about what they smell and taste. But notes from other people are always just hints, as everyone will find something different. After eating some of the pickled daikon and having some water, the Naraman – described as light with fresh acidity like a nashi (Asian pear) tasted to Aichi like banana.

The TOYOKUNI sake was very original, almost stinging the tongue with acidity as it released a burst of grape-like aroma. The card explained that it was made with the white kōji normally used for shōchū, which produces citric acid and increases overall acidity, as well as local Yume no Ka rice. All information Aichi would never had guessed just from drinking the sake. It was very refreshing, almost champagne-like. How can you get a flavour like this from rice?

After leaving the centre and strolling around, Aichi returned to try out the premium set, choosing Gensai daignjō from the Suehiro brewery in Aizu and PREMIUM JINYA from the Arinokawa brewery, along with more deep fried fish cake and burdock with black sesame. Both had a balance of sweetness and acidity alongside the mellow aroma characteristic of highly-milled daignjō, and if pushed to differentiate them maybe the aroma of the Gensai was a little stronger. The Jinya was mellower, softer, with a sweetness reminiscent of strawberries.

There was a display of locally grown fruit and vegetables at the entrance (Aichi visited in September) including sugar plums, white peaches and golden peaches each with their own type of acidity and eye-opening sweetness. And this was the everyday food culture of the people of Fukushima – sweet fruit dripping with juice. Each with an individual sweetness and acidity. Which could just as well be describing the region’s sake. Maybe this background of food culture influenced the residents and made Fukushima sake what it was.

Looking at a blog about Fukushima breweries on the train home, Aichi found a post from the Kinsuicho brewery in Fukushima city that described a different way of enjoying sake – as momo-kanzake (桃燗酒, heated sake with peach).

The recipe was simple: cut a peach into 1 cm cubes, put the cubes in an ochoko and pour over the heated sake. Upon arriving home, Aichi did just that with the white peach he bought at the regional produce centre, adding a heated junmai from Nagurayama which won the Junmai Trophy at the 2018 International Wine Challenge.

The juicy sweetness of the peach and the fruity aroma of the sake went together perfectly to make a drink ideal for before dinner or as a light dessert.