As imports of Western drinks increase, interest in Japan’s native alcoholic beverages has been declining. There have been efforts to bring drinkers back to traditional drinks such as sake and shochu, but they face tough competition from the likes of wine and champagne, which evoke fashionable, sophisticated images in the minds of Japanese drinkers.
One way to revive interest could be to apply Western fermentation techniques to Eastern beverages such as sake, Japan’s “rice wine”, to create unique twists on traditional drinks. “Champagne sake” is an example of this done deliciously right.
Traditional or “real” champagne is sparkling wine made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France which, after the usual fermentation process, are fermented a second time in the bottle to produce the carbonation. In other words, it’s this special process of secondary fermentation that gives a glass of bubbly its bubbles. People all over the world, including Japan, like to crack open a bottle to celebrate special occasions. At other times, many Japanese people are partial to sake, or nihonshu as it’s known in its native land, a popular alcohol with a long history made from fermented rice.
But what do you get when you apply the fermentation process used to make champagne to sake? Well, you get an effect similar to champagne, but with that special rice wine flavor!
Because of the in-bottle fermentation process, as with champagne, you get the fizz of fine bubbles jumping out at you when you open the cap. It’s different to “sparkling sake“, which has recently seen a boom in popularity, which is simply sake with added carbonation and is more like an alco-pop with around 5% alcohol content. When using the champagne secondary fermentation process, the resultant drink has a fruity flavor and is around 12% proof. It’s very easy to get carried away drinking too much of it but, since it’s made from only rice and natural water, if you’re going to drink alcohol then this is probably a reasonably healthy choice! Apparently it goes well not only with Japanese food, but with Chinese and Western cuisine, too.
Shusen Kurano is the oldest sake brewer in Nagano and the seventh oldest in all of Japan, and they are extremely proud of their “champagne sake”, called Kawanakajima-Fuwarin, which is different to all the traditional sake they produce. Founded in 1540, Shusen Kurano has over 470 years of history and it’s even said that the famous daimyo Takeda Shingen drank their sake at the Battles of Kawanakajima. While champagne sake may not have been around at the time, if it had been he surely would have enjoyed cracking open a bottle after a win on the battlefield.
Kawanakajima-Fuwarin retails on the brewery’s website at 450 yen (US$3.70) for 180 ml, 750 yen ($6.20) for 300ml, and 1,250 yen ($10.30) for 500ml. If you do pick any up, be sure to let us know what you think.