Interview with Fukuju Brewery Vice-President: Hironobu Kubota
Q: 1. What developments in the Sake World are you currently finding particularly interesting?
A: In the past, cheap, low-flavored sake was often popular, but it's different now. Both in Japan and abroad, high quality and a wide range of flavors is becoming increasingly important. I think that is a very good development, with foreign countries playing an ever-increasing role.
At the moment, I find the taste tendencies in Japan for some time problematic. Sweet sake is becoming increasingly popular with consumers. But not only Junmai Ginjos are popular which are often brewed in a fruity, maybe sweet way, but also sweet Junmais get more and more requested even though these are supposed to be stronger in flavor and drier. I think that apart from sweet, clear and sharper flavors are important as well. I would find it very problematic if the sweetness prevails in all sake categories.
Q: 2. What is typical of sake from your region?
A: Definitely water. Hard water is very common in Europe but rare in Japan. The water here in the region is hard and mineral and affects the flavor of our sake. I think the fact that the taste of our sake remain so constant is mostly thanks to the water that we use.
Q: 3. What makes a good sake for you?
A: For me, that's the same question as: what is delicious sake? Personally, I would say that sake is a good sake if you can taste the efforts of the people who brewed it.
Q: 4. What do you find fascinating about your job and what experience was particularly important for you?
A: For me, sake brewing is Japanese culture. An important part of Japanese culture that I definitely do not want to lose and that I wish would always be passed on to the next generation. That would make me proud.
More on the craftsmanship part, I think, it is very Japanese, to deal so deeply with something; To think through each step completely, to illuminate from all sides and to always work with the thought: it works even better. Working towards perfection without achieving it is, I believe, in fact "typically" Japanese. Although I find this a good feature, one should be very careful that one is not too far away from the customer. It is important to see what sells well, what is popular with consumers and then taste this kind of sake and reflect on our own sake in order to respond to the different desires of the consumers.
Q: 5. How important is the international recognition of Sake?
A: That's a very difficult point. Interestingly, America and Europe are completely different here. In America, it's not that hard to enter the market with an easy-to-understand sake, a sake that is in "fashion". Especially in big cities such as New York and Los Angeles, where it is very important to try the "trendsetters", you are well advised with tasty easy-to-access sake.
In Europe, on the other hand, sake needs a story. Who brewed it? Where is it from? In France, for example, especially the more specific sake, brewed by the Kimoto method or matured are popular.
It is a great encouragement for us that sake is becoming more and more popular overseas, but it also means that we need to think about how to bring sake to people. You can not just go to Europe and say, "Here's sake, try it", after all, people did not grow up with sake there and maybe they do not even know what it is. Thinking about how we can help people understand this is an important part of our work at our brewery. I think that if we show people how sake is made, what kind of cultural background it has and how it is drunk in Japan, there is also an interest in tasting and drinking it.
Q: 6. What do you drink in your spare time except sake?
A: Wine. I love sake and wine. I would like sake to be a natural part of the menu, as is the case with wine.
Q: 7. A recommendation from one of your sake and a matching meal?
A: Well since we are in Kobe, I would indeed recommend our Kimoto Sake or Junmai to Kobe Beef. That just pairs very well. Interestingly, Japanese here in the region usually drink wine to Kobe beef, while foreigners always want sake. But that's probably logical. When I go to Scotland, I want to drink Scottish whiskey and not American.
(The Interview has been conducted in Japanese by: Alissa Scherzer. O.T.)