When it comes to versatility, sake is arguably the best drink to choose in terms of texture, flavour, food pairing and serving temperatures. And while I’ve enjoyed trying plenty of premium ginjo sake, there’s a whole world of other categories to drink my way through and a style I’ve been drawn to lately is futsushu.
As table sake, futsushu isn’t considered a premium grade of nihonshu, but that has nothing to do with its quality and if you’ve never tried futsushu then you’ll want to dive in with the incredible Komachi Sakura.
Komachi Sakura is produced by the Watanabe Brewery, which is located in the town of Furukawa in Gifu Prefecture. Started by the Watanabe family, the history of the brewery stretches back to 1732.
Kyuemon Watanabe I started the family business in Furukawa using the name Kojoya. From there, Kyuemon III set up a financial company and a raw silk business. In 1870, Akira Kyuemon V set up the brewery after travelling to Kyoto to sell silk. He was blown away by the taste of the sake and decided to make it himself.
The Watanabe brewery became known for using the word ‘Hourai’ to identify certain bottles in their sake line and if you’re thinking that word has a mystical quality to it, you’re damn right.
Hourai comes from the Noh song Tsuru Kame (Crane and Tortoise), which tells the story of a New Year’s celebration being held at the Emperor of China’s palace. In the song, a palace official announces the entrance of the Emperor into the Moon Palace and the court nobles are encouraged to meet with the Emperor.
When the Emperor arrives at the Gate of Eternal Youth, he’s greeted by the celebrating nobles with such force that it’s heard even in Heaven. The party takes place in the royal gardens and the palace official decides to encourage the Emperor to have a crane and tortoise dance in celebration of his longevity.
The Emperor is so delighted with the performance that he dances as well and then returns to the Hall of Everlasting Life.
In this story, Hourai is an otherworldly paradise and the phrase developed into a sake watchword to grant good fortune to people. It’s an accurate word for describing the Komachi Sakura.
This particular sake has a rice polishing ratio of 68% and is made using Hidahomare rice. It’s bottled at 15% ABV in a jewel-like green bottle with a label that evokes a storm of cherry blossoms blowing in the wind.
Komachi Sakura is the type of sake that will make you want to pray at the altar of futsushu. It’s layered and luscious and has so much going for it.
On my initial tasting I tried it chilled and found it had a muted aroma. This quickly changed into notes of pear, apple, red grape in the mouth, finished off with light vegetal notes of green pepper and mushroom.
Stepping into the world of warm sake, I upped the temperature and that’s when the Komachi Sakura shifted into high gear.
The aroma became much deeper, with notes of cereal and fruit. In the mouth I was hit with a glorious combination of mushroom, wheat, bread, banana and pear. To top it off, a surprising, prickly dryness crept into the finish.
Comparing the different serving temperatures revealed clear differences. Drank cold, the Komachi Sakura is light, fragrant and soft. Drank warm, it bulks up to become more full-bodied and my verdict is I prefer it at a higher temperature.
For a food pairing, I had the sake with garlic chicken Kievs, roasted broccoli and spinach slathered in sweet chili sauce. Cold and warm, the Sakura bloomed on the tastebuds and elevated the umami in the dish.
A shape-shifting firecracker of a sake, Komachi Sakura is something that newbies and seasoned sake vets can enjoy.
Seimaibuai/Rice Polishing Rate: 68%
Food pairings: Chicken Kievs and roasted broccoli, pork cutlet and mushrooms, tonkotsu ramen.