Despite accounting for a large majority of all sake consumed within Japan, futsushu remains the least desirable classification in the West. For most sake is an unusual and somewhat luxurious product, consumed on special occasions. Sampling premium styles with bold, distinctive flavours makes the experience worthwhile and memorable. Futsushu’s reputation as simple ‘table sake’ doesn’t play well to this. For those who do wish to give futsushu a go, Yucho Brewery’s Choya is by far the obvious choice, being inexpensive and readily available.
As an alternative Watanabe Sake Brewery’s Tensai no Nyokonshu (Brewer’s Perfection) futsushu certainly sounds promising. Located in Hida-Furukawa in central Japan, Watanabe has been producing sake since 1870 and is registered as a Tangible Cultural Property of Japan. Its Brewer’s Perfection is polished down to 68% and took a Grand Gold in the 2018 Fine Sake Awards and the International Wine Challenge 2016 Futsushu Trophy. Yet at £22 for a 720ml bottle (compared to Choya’s £10) and with an intimidating full-kanji label it can seem a riskier bet for non-Japanese speakers.
I opened a room-temperature bottle, hoping to dial into casual Japanese drinking; an equivalent of a good quality midweek pint perhaps?
Appearance: Completely clear, with no visible carbonation.
Aroma: Subtle melon and green banana, masked by a more prominent ‘booziness’ and a distinctive cooked rice aroma.
Palate: Again there are hints of fresh melon and a delicate sweetness, but above all this is an umami-driven sake with an alcoholic punch, without being overly harsh. Pleasantly smooth mouth-feel.
Verdict: In general flavour profiles for futsushu sakes are unlikely to be as complex or striking as premium styles, yet Brewer’s Perfection has a surprising depth of aroma and flavour which balance the alcohol notes. Whilst I personally found that it stripped away too much character, those who still find it a little harsh may wish to gently heat to mellow this out and emphasise the sweetness.
For food pairings Brewer’s Perfection’s full-bodied clout can stand up against bold flavours from Eastern and Western cuisine, and whilst umami is the obvious combo, the melon character may compliment sweetness found in honey, sweet chilli or barbeque sauces.
Overall this is a quality futsushu worthy of its decorated status and whilst it probably won’t be the ‘I really get this sake thing’ for any first-timers it does stand as proof that futsushu done well is a worthy detour from the popular premium classes.
Name: Tensai no Nyukonshu (Brewer’s Perfection)
Brewery: Watanabe Sake Brewery Co., Ltd (Hourai)
Rice polishing ratio: 68%
Jordan Smithcroft is a Manchester-based healthcare worker with an interest in Japanese culture, including Studio Ghibli, Haruki Murakami and Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Having travelled to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto in 2019, he hopes to return to see more of Japan in the near future.
Jordan was shortlisted for the British Guild of Beer Writers’ Best Young Beer Writer in 2016 and has since expanded his interest into sake. He is currently undertaking the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) sake qualification in the hopes of becoming a judge and educator.