Orion Brewery, Orion The Draft Chiba Cherry Blossom
As most of the northern hemisphere is still in the grips of winter, here in Okinawa spring has sprung. This past week my family and I traveled to the northern end of the island to see the cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms, also called sakura, are the flowers of any number of species of Prunus trees that bloom before growing leafs in spring. When most Americans think of the Cherry Blossoms they imagine the trees that line the tidal basin in Washington, DC. Those trees are decedents of the 3,020 cherry blossom trees that were donated to the United States by Japan in 1912. This gift has become a feature of spring in the capitol with an annual Cherry Blossom Festival being held during the peak bloom season.
Because of Okinawa’s our low latitude (26º N), the cherry blossom seasons occurs here in February. In the coming months cherry blossoms will continue to bloom across Japan as the spring season rises up the island of Japan. Hokkaido, the northern prefecture, should see their cherry blossoms in mid May.
In this season it is popular to market everything with sakura. There are chips, candy, and even drinks that are sakura flavored. Most of the times this means an artificial cherry or strawberry flavor. The sakura marketing has been extended to beer by the Okinawa based brewery Orion. Their beer does not have an artificial fruit flavor. Orion brewed their original lager recipe, but added dried sakura petals from Okinawa to the brew. This changes the look and flavor of the finished beer.
The aroma was sweet malt and lightly floral. A light bread scent came through as the glass sat a while. The beer poured with a big white head that persisted a good while. Unlike the normal Japanese Rice lager that is pale yellow this beer was a light red color. The beer was crystal clear so that you could read the beer menu through the glass. Looking at the glass you can see slow rising carbonation bubbles. The flavor has the distinct Orion beer taste of lager beer with a bit of rice crispness. This beer has more of a floral note to the taste as well. The beer has a very crisp finish with no lingering sweetness or flavors. This beer cleanses the palate much like a normal Orion Draft beer would.
I paired the sakura lager with beer peanuts from Orion Brewery. These nuts were flavored with soy sauce, cheese, chili, turmeric, garlic, and pepper powders. Even though there are a lot of seasoning listed the peanuts were only lightly seasoned. It was a nice light snack that the beer was able to clear out the peanut and seasoning flavor after each sip of beer.
Style: Japanese Rice Lager
Packaging: Can, Canning Date (2022/09), Expiration Date (2023/09)
Ingredients: Made from Malt (overseas), hops, barley, and dried cherry blossoms from Okinawa Prefecture
Stats: ABV 5%, SRM (none listed but would judge about an 9-10 SRM)
Burns Night, January 25th, 2023, Robert Burns, Blended Scotch Whisky, Isle of Arran Distillers LTD.
Robert Burns was a writer and poet who was able to capture the heart and emotion of Scotland. As Scottish culture spreads across the world many looked to Burns’ writings to give them that link back to their homeland. Many of these expatriates celebrate their Scottish heritage by celebrating Robert Burns on his birthday of 25 January.
The Scotch are not the only one who left their homeland to pursue success aboard. Each look back to something or someone from their John try to provide a link to make sure that there is still a tie to where they came from. As an American living in Japan I have noticed a little of both. There are lyrics and writings that remind me of home and I see Japanese poetry on many statues and memorials around Okinawa.
For most if you think of Japan and poetry the most common thought would be the haiku. The haiku originally was the opening stanzas to a longer poem known as renga. Each country has a different template for the haiku to be composed. The Haiku Society of America (yes that is a real organization) has standardized a 17 syllable format, but notes that they can be shorter. This is commonly in the form of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, then 5 syllables.
Tonight I celebrated the Scottish Bard with his namesake scotch whisky, Robert Burns produced by Isle of Arran Distillers. Even when I saw this bottle on the shelf I knew the distillers were playing more on the poets name on the bottle than what was in the bottle.
I tried the glass neat. The scent from the glass was a light saltiness. There was a very slight burn on the nose. From deep inhales the smell of light leather comes through and faint smell of alcohol. The flavor was malty sweetness with a buttery mouthfeel. As the taste is swallowed there is the smallest burn on the back of the throat. The whisky had a smooth mouthfeel, but there was a tingleness in the mouth. There was a faint taste of peat on the finish. Alcohol warmth is pronounced on the mouthfeel as you consume.
Eleventh Beer of Christmas, Chatan Harbor Brewery, Lager
The Eleventh Beer of Christmas brings us back to Okinawa where we started. Chatan Harbor Brewery started in 2016 and is part of the Terrace Hotel Group in Okinawa. The brewery is located just north of American Village on the west side of the island of Okinawa. American Village is a shopping area just outside one of the many American bases in Okinawa. The brewery has a ocean side restaurant alongside the brewery.
Light crisp aromas. Scents of white bread or crackers. Lager yeast aroma with a slight straw scent. Slightly woodsy hop scent is on the back end. Very clear yellow straw color. High white head that persist a good amount of time. There is a malty sweetness with a definite hop bitterness at the end of the sip. It is not a harsh bitterness but definitely gives a distinct finish to the malty sweetness of the sip. Light to medium carbonation on the mouth. There is a slight aftertaste of low bitterness on the tongue.
This light lager and crisp finish would pair with different seafood dishes. Something like steamed clams or muscles would pair well with this beer. The salty brine of the dish would be cut by the clean finish of the beer.
Beer Information: Can, Canning Date (unknown), Expiration Date (2023/05/28), Made from foreign malt/hops, ABV 5%, SRM (none listed but would judge about an 11-13 SRM)
Tenth Beer of Christmas, Kizakura Brewery, Kyoto Beer, Golden Ale
As we come to the end of the twelve beers of Christmas we return to the Kizakura Brewery. Like many beer breweries in Japan Kizakura has its foundation as a sake brewery. This beer is even more unique as it has been brewed with koji mold spores that are usually used to brew sake. Koji or, Aspergillus oryzae, is different from Saccharomyces cerevisiae or Saccharomyces pastorianus the two yeast normally used for brewing beer. The use of koji gives a unique flavor to the beer that is not found in normal beers.
Malty sweetness with a slight yeast aroma. There is a slight moldy smell that probably comes from the sake yeast. The beer is a golden color with haze and suspended particles in the glass. The glass has a white head that quickly dissipates to a ring of bubbles around the rim. There is a fruity sweetness in the flavor. There is also a floral taste to the sip. No real detection of hop bitterness. There is a slight apple taste to the sip. Low carbonation on the mouth. Lingering apple flavor in the aftertaste.
Beer Information: Can, Canning Date (unknown), Expiration Date (2023/04/24), Made from foreign malt/hops/rice, ABV 5%, SRM (none listed but would judge about an 16-18 SRM)
Ninth Beer of Christmas, Echigo Brewery, Niigata Koshihikari
Today’s beer is made by the Echigo Brewery that I highlighted Flying IPA earlier in the beers of Christmas. This lager is a repackaging of the brewery’s regular line up beer Niigata Koshihikari. The art work on the can highlights the characters or mascots of the towns in Niigata. In the Japanese culture there is a whimsicalness that exist in an otherwise straightlace society. This is best seen with the rising trend of creating yuru-kyara or cartoon mascots for towns, businesses and even the military. For American audiences these can be closely related to the sports mascots. The mascots listed on the can come from Murakami City, Ojiya City, Itoigowa City, Tsubame City, Kashiwazaki City, Sado City, Tochio City, and Joetsu City. Each character highlights an animal, character trait or historical figure from the city it represents.
Very clean white cracker aroma. Little to no hops scent. The beer has a good white head that quickly dissipates to wisps of bubbles on the top of the glass. Light golden color that is very clear (read a newspaper through) . Sporadic carbonation bubbles rise from the bottom of the glass. Lager yeast flavor but the body was much more filling. There was almost a slight ropiness to the first sip. The fuller body left an aftertaste of lingering sweetness. Although this is a lager brewed in Japan with Japanese rice I would classify this more in the American extract lager for the fuller body and lingering aftertaste.
Similar to the yuru-kyara there is a tradition of crazy hamburgers being served. With names such as The John Wayne Burger, Trump Burger and Elvis burger they highlight the excess of the United States by combining crazy toppings such as whole fried eggs, waffles and bananas. These are especially common outside of US military bases in Yokosuka and Sasabo, Japan. I would pair this beer with one of those burgers. The lager characteristics would help cut the fat of the hamburger and the fuller body will allow the beer to hold its own to the bold taste of the burger.
Beer Information: Can, Canning Date (unknown), Expiration Date (2023/04/24), Made from foreign malt/hops/rice, ABV 5%, SRM (none listed but would judge about an 16-18 SRM)
Eighth Day of Christmas, Baren Brewery, Coral Island Sunset Lager
The Eighth Day of Christmas Beer celebrates the 10 year anniversary as Friendship Cities of Morioka and Uruma. The Baren Brewery is located in Iwate Prefecture where Morioka City is located. If Japan is viewed as a Dragon with Hokkaido being the head facing into the Pacific, Morioka is located in the dragon’s neck. Uruma is located in the southern prefecture of Okinawa and is just north of where I live now.
The brewery takes its heraldry and name from bear in the German language. This shows a tie to early beer in Japan having a German link. The earliest beer that could be found or made in Japan was either imported from Germany or the domestic breweries had German brewmasters. With this tie to Japan/German beer history it is interesting to know that the brewery was incorporated in 2001. I could not find this beer on the company’s website. This may be just a beer that is sold in the Morioka and Uruma Markets.
Malty white bread aromas. Subdued citrus notes, orange like. Slight citrus hop aroma. Slightly hazy orange color with a off white semi persistent head. Head dissipates to a thin cover over the top of the glass. Much more pronounced hops flavor in the taste. The hop malt balance appears to be switched from the aroma. I would put this into a high hoppy pale ale or a low hoppiness IPA rather than as a lager as it is named. Light to medium carbonation. Even-though there is a higher than normal hoppiness there is no lingering bitterness in the aftertaste.
In Japan the citrus fruit is normally eaten at the new year. This is believed to bring wealth to the coming year. For this reason I would pair this beer with dried fruits that you would find on a charcuterie board.
Beer Information: Bottle, Bottling Date (09/2022), Expiration Date (08/23), Made from foreign malt/aronia juice/hops/salt/wheat, ABV 5%, SRM (none listed but would judge about an 20-21 SRM)
Fifth Day of Christmas, Kizakura Brewery, Kyoto Beer, Brown Ale.
Kizakura Brewery takes its name from a cherry tree variety that blooms later than others and has a yellow flower. This is different from other cherry blossoms which bloom white or light pink in the spring. Kizakura Brewery produces several lines of beverages. These are Lucky Brew, Kizakura Sake, Yuzu High-Ball, and Kyoto Beer. In 1995 the brewery that originally brewed sake began the Kyoto Beer brand.
Toasted malty sweetness. A smell of whole grain bread. No strong perception of hop bitterness. A quickly dissipating tan head leaves the thinnest tiny bubble head on the glass. Deep amber color that is very hazy. You can see distinct particles in the glass. This is really not to any style and not typical of the high quality of beers coming out of Japan. I’m not sure if the brewery didn’t filter the beer or the cans was shaken prior to pouring. Very dominant malt sweetness which is only broken up by a hop bitterness that gives the finish to the beer. A fuller body with a lingering sweetness after that taste.
I would pair this beer with a pork based ramen dish. As the temperatures drop in the winter months Ramen is seen as a staple for meals to warm your soul. The malty sweetness and toasty flavors will go well with pork or any beef used in the ramen broth.
Beer Information: Can, Canning Date (unknown), Expiration Date (06/23), Made from foreign malt, ABV 5%, SRM (none listed but would judge about an 28-30 SRM)
Third Day of Christmas, Echigo Beer Company, Flying IPA
Echigo Brewing Company titles itself as the “Oldest Brewing Company in Japan”. In 1994 Japan revised their licensing requirements to operate a brewery. Before that year a brewery was required to produce 60,000 mL to receive a license. After 1994 the requirement was lowered to 6,000 mL. Uehara Seichiro received his liscense to operate a brewery in December of that year and then opened for business in February 1995. He opened a day before Ohotsuku Beer and thus claiming the title of “Oldest Brewing Company in Japan”. Uehara Seichiro came from a family of sake brewers and his family experience has helped him well in producing quality beers.
There is a hop bitterness that is dominant on the initial aroma after the pour. The hops are a slightly dank smell but not very pungent. Behind the hop aroma there was a slight malty sweetness. The beer is a crystal clear amber color with persistent white head. The taste gives a pronounced bitterness with a slight malty sweet flavor to curb some of the harshness of the hops. Eventhough the bitterness is pronounced there is not an unpleasant aftertaste. The hoppy aroma lingers in the nasal passage, but your tongue does not have a curling effect to it.
The aggressive hop bitterness would stand up well to any spicy dishes. IPAs are always a solid pairing with fish tacos, but other spicy dishes can also go well. Taking inspiration from the flying dragon on the can art I would think that it would be nice to pair with a Thai dishes.
Beer Information: Can, Canning Date (none given), Expiration Date (02/07/23), ABV 5.5%, IBU 55, SRM (none listed but would judge about an 8-10 SRM
Second Day of Christmas, Yo-Ho Brewing Company, Yona Yona Ale
Yo-Ho Brewing company is located in Karuizawa Nagano, Japan. A relatively young brewery having been founded in 1996 Keiji Hoshino. His goal was to produce more of an American style craft beer instead of the German style beers that dominated the Japanese Market. Since then they have produced several fantastic beers that are very much to style. In 2014 Kirin Brewing Co. purchased 33% of Yo-Ho Brewing company which greatly increased if they were still a craft beer but also vastly enhanced the availability of their beers. The second day of Christmas beer is Yona Yona Ale. Yona Yona translates to every day. This beer is definitely an everyday drinker for the craft beer enthusiast.
Heavy malt aroma with the scent of yeast. I would relate it to the smell of walking into a brewery where the fermenters were going off. A very clear light orange to reddish color. White persistent head with a mix of small and medium bubbles. Slightly earthy hop aroma. The Cascade hops provide a slight citrus flavor with a small bitterness to each sip. Well balanced between malty sweetness and hop bitterness. Very light carbonation on the mouthfeel. Very few carbonation bubbles in the glass.
A very good representation of the pale ale style. This could be paired with any number of bar foods. Anything like pizza, pretzels or peanuts would go well with this beer.
Beer Information: Can, Canning Date (eight months before expiration date(12/22)), Expiration Date (07/23), Factory Code P1611914, Made from foreign and domestic (Japan) malt (less than 5%), ABV 5.5%, IBU 41, SRM (none listed but would judge about an 10-12 SRM)
First Day of Christmas, Helios Brewery, Sheequarsar White Ale
The first beer of Christmas starts here in Okinawa Japan. The Southern most province of Japan. In 1961 when Okinawa was still a Military Protectorate following the Second World War, Tadashi Matsuda started the the Helios Distillery. Originally he sought to “Produce a Product Made of the Finest Locally Grown Ingredients”. This product was initially rum made from the sugar cane that still grows on the island. Over the years the the company has expanded to producing sake and beers.
From the websites description the beer is made from malted barley, malted wheat and local Okinawan Shikuwasa. For those not familiar with the shikuwasa it is also known as Taiwan tangerine, Okinawa lime, flat lemon or thin skinned flat lemon. This citrus in native to the islands of Taiwan and Okinawa. The skin is dark green that ripens to a yellow color. The fruit has a low sweetness with a very sour flavor to the citrus.
Very quickly dissipating white head. Strong lemon citrus aroma on initial pour. Lemon lime flavor also caries through in the flavor. It almost taste like a lemon lime soda but there is a malt flavor that is present as well. The mouthfeel is very effervescent like a highly carbonated soda. Hops are very subdued in this beer with the only detection being a balance of the malt and citrus sweetness giving it a distinct finish. The citrus aroma lingers most on this beer. Slightly clear with a little bit of haze. Orange color and white quickly dissipating head. There is a lingering flavor of an orange creamsicle to the beer.
Even though this beer kicks off the 12 beers of Christmas I could see this as a great summer drink. I would definitely recommend this beer to anyone vacationing in Okinawa, especially now that the Japanese borders are beginning to open up again after COVID. This would be interesting to pair with a key lime pie. This pairing of similar flavors allows the two citrus flavors and aromas to compliment each other. This will enhance the citrus elements of both the beer and pie.
Beer Information: Can, Canning Date (none given), Expiration Date (04/23), Happoshu (less than 25% malt used in brewing), ABV 5%, SRM (none listed but would judge about an 8-10 SRM)
Learn to Homebrew Day
Almost every-time I tell someone that I enjoy home-brewing they are at first fascinated with the idea of making your own alcohol then nearly everyone doubts themselves and tells me “but I could never do that”. The American Homebrew Association established November 5th as Learn to Homebrew Day. While the AHA provides a recipe that you can brew in honor of this day AHA Link I would like to give you a “sea story” of just how easy it is to brew and the fact that you can do it anywhere even a CONNEX box apartment in the middle of Africa.
So there I was…. Deployed to the harsh environment of the African Continent with nothing but my deployment bag, an air lock and a packet of SafAle 05 brewers yeast. As a long time home-brewer, a three piece air lock has been a staple of my deployment kit with the hopes that on one of these deployments I would be able to brew beer. This particular deployment found me in a CONNEX barracks room with a reasonable certainty that I would not have to displace every few weeks, if ever. Understanding my living arrangement stability I began to seek my brewing supplies.
This base was also equipped with an Exchange. For those not familiar think of this as a tiny shop with limited clothing, groceries, drinks and souvenirs from the country. I was looking for a gallon water jug to use as a fermenter, but because of our location water was free and available everywhere in 16 oz bottles. The largest beverage container I could find was a one liter fruit drink. I do not remember the brand, but I do remember it was so bad that I ended up pouring out the contents and just using the container. Not surprisingly the exchange did not have any cereal grains, but it did have honey. The mess hall had a massive coffee maker that also served hot water and the salad bar had raisins. I had everything I needed to make mead on deployment.
- 1 Liter bottle
- 1 lbs of honey
- A thermos full of hot water
- A couple (8-12) rasins
To make mead I already mentioned emptying the liter bottle and giving it a good rinse. On a trip to the mess hall I filled my water bottle with hot water and pocketed a handful of raisins. While the raisins aren’t necessary they do provide a low tech way of providing yeast nutrients to the honey and water mixture which typically lacks them. Then back at the room I poured the honey into the litter bottle, poured water into the bottle and secured the lid. I then shook the bottle for as long as I could to provide aeration. I then allowed the bottle to cool until it was about the same temperature as my forearm. After the bottle had cooled I pitched the yeast packet and put the air lock on. I then waited several weeks.
Normally mead would ferment at a minimum of six months, but I didn’t have that time on this deployment. I waited as long as I could and then began to sample the finished product. While I have definitely made better and I am certain it would not win any award it was safe a palatable. Those few small sips provided a nice relief from the unbearable heat and stressful conditions of that deployment.
For everyone that has actually read this far and is aghast that something like this could happen on a us military deployment remember I said this was a sea story. For those that don’t know a sea story is a nautical fairy tale often told by Marines and Sailors. While the brewing portions (ingredients and steps) of this story are 100% true there has been some embellishment taken by the story teller to protect the innocent and entertain the reader. If you would like to know the whole truth of this story I would be happy to regale you with the facts and other brewing adventures over a glass of beer. Until that time try using these simple ingredients to attempt your first home brew.
London Beer Flood
In an early evening night in October Mrs. Banfield was having tea with her two young daughters. The Banfield family was one of several poor Irish immigrant families that crammed into poorly constructed buildings along New Street. Living on the edge of poverty in London, England. Without warning a fifteen foot wave of English Porter crashed into their house sweeping her and one of her daughters into the street.
At the time of the incident The Meux Brewery and Whitbread Brewery were the two largest breweries in London. From July 1815 until the incident the brewery made 102,493 imperial barrels or 4,431,236 gallons of beer. Most of this was Porter because that was the popular style of the day. What makes this unique was the way in which the beer was fermented. If you have been to a modern brewery you have seen the large cylindroconocial fermenters that can hold anywhere from 5 to 20 barrels of beer. As was common for that time the Meux Brewery had a wooden fermentation barrel where their largest could hold 18,000 imperial barrels. This vessel was 22 feet tall with a series of iron hoops weighing a total of 81 metric tons binding the wooden staves.
With natural materials such as wood there are subtle changes that constantly occur. Ones of these is that wood expands and contracts and the iron hoops occasionally fall off the vat. This was normally not a concern and the bands are replaced and reset to maintain the hold of the vessel. That was the occasion on the afternoon of 17 October 1815 one of the bands, weighing 700 lbs, fell off the vessel. A cellerman noticed the incident and reported it to his supervisor.
An hour after the reported first band falling off the vat unexpectedly burst releasing it’s 3,555 imperial barrels of Porter into the brewery. The force of the rupture knocked out the valve of a neighboring vat and the contents were released into the brewery as well. These violent eruptions caused a chain reaction and several other hogsheads of aging beer burst. This destruction led to estimated total volume of somewhere between 128,000 to 323,000 imperial gallons of beer filling the brewery. The story may have ended there with just a brewery flooded and beer as the only casualty, but if that were the case I would not be writing about the incident today.
Unfortunately for the tenants of New Street, which ran behind the building, the brewery’s wall burst and beer flowed into the street. This collapse sent up to 323,000 imperial gallons out in a 15 foot wave of beer. This wave crashed into the poorly constructed houses along New Street. Two of the houses were completely destroyed and two were severely damaged. In one of those houses were the three Banfield ladies were enjoying tea that the same time. Many of these houses had basements which flooded with the flowing porter.
The wave of beer swept Mrs Banfield and one of the daughters out into the street. Sadly her daughter, Hanna Banfield, was killed in the destruction caused by the gallons of beer. Seven others passed away by either drowning in their flooded basements or under the collapse of buildings.
As is common with disaster caused by large manufactures at the time the Brewery was not held liable for the deaths. After an inquiry the incident was determined to be an “act of god” and Meux and Company did not have to pay damages. The brewery was even able to stay in business by collecting the excise tax they had already paid on the lost beer. Ultimately the brewery ultimately closed in 1921 and the building was leveled to make way for the Dominion Theatre.
Because of this disaster the use of wooden vats to ferment thousands of gallons of beer was faded out. These were replaced by concrete vats and ultimately the stainless steel clyndroconocal fermenters we see today.
Homebrew Legalization Day, United States, 14 October
I generally stay far away from politics, but today is an exception. Forty-four years ago today President James (Jimmy) Earl Carter Jr. signed the Federal Transportation Bill H.R. 1337. A transportation bill may seem like a strange thing for a beer enthusiast to be happy about, but there was an amendment in that bill that changed prohibition era laws and kicked off the current craft beer movement in the US. Tucked into that transportation bill there was the Amendment Number 3534, or Beer for Personal or Family Use. 1978.
Brewing beer was common in early American homes and continued legally up until the early 1900s. With the passing of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution brewing beer at home as well as commercial brewing and distillation were outlawed in America. When the 18th Amendment was finally overturned by the 21st Amendment in 1933 an oversight left off the legalization of home brewing. It seems crazy now but a similar free standing bill to legalize home brewing beer and wine failed to pass congress the year before in 1977. In 1978 Senator Senator Alan Cranston of California proposed this amendment and thankfully for home brewers across the country it was passed and signed into law.
Within a few short years several organizations were started that continue to influence craft beer. Charlie Papazian created the American Homebrewers Association in 1979. Along with his book written in 1984 The Complete Joy of Homebrewing he has inspired countless brewers in the states. Like many home brewers this was the first book I purchased on brewing beer. In 1985 the non-profit Beer Judge Certification Program was started. This organization educates and trains members to judge beers and has created a comprehensive list of style descriptions. As Americans began to learn to brew beer at home many of them expanded to eventually open their own comercial breweries.
Although the bill was signed when I was only a few months old my history of home brewing goes back to 2007 when I lived down the street from O’Shea Brew Co. They were mostly a bottle shop, but also sold prepackaged home brewing kits. My parents have religiously gotten us a birthday gift since we were born, regardless of how old we are. I remember my mother beging that I ask for anything else other than a home brew kit. This little kit started a long history of me and beer.
One of the things I enjoy most about homebrewing is creating unique beers that commercial breweries won’t or can’t make. The homebrew I am enjoying today is just that. The beer is a S’more Porter made with roasted marshmallows, gram crackers, and coca powder. If anyone would like the recipe let me know in the comments. It’s still tasty after four months.
I recommend you celebrate this day by raising a glass to President Carter and the late Senator Cranston. Two men who helped give America a more flavorful beer. How ever you choose to celebrate remember to “Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Home Brew”.
Mid-term Break from Learning About Beer to Enjoy Some Beers
This is mid-term week for Auburn Brewing Science Masters Program. I am up to my eyeballs in yeast cell biology, contamination test, and calculations for mass and energy. After a few days of studying I needed a break. I decided to try a Comparison Tasting for the Certified Cicerone Exam that I am also studying for. This tasting compares a Pale Ale, American IPA, and Double IPA.
Alesmith Brewing Company, .394 Pale Ale: This was a collaboration beer made with the baseball great Tony Gwynn. In 1994 “Mr. Padre” batted 0.394% an impressive feat. This is a very clear amber color beer has a white head that dissipates quickly. The aroma is similar to the orange citrus blossom that is often picked up when you drive through the orange groves in Southern California. There is a malt Sweetness that evolves into a caramel sweetness as the glass warms. The hop flavor is similar to the aroma with citrus floral dominating the beer’s taste. The bitterness is only enough to cut the sweetness to provide a balanced mouthfeel for the beer. I could definitely enjoy this beer through the length of a baseball game. On the last pour of the glass there was quite a bit of haze that came from the bottom of the can. Drinkers should be cautious of the pour to avoid this haze.
Allende Brewing Company, The Dead Beer IPA: This Mexican made beer is slightly darker in color with the same white head that dissipates quickly. The clarity is quite nice and you can read text through the glass. The aroma is more citrus lemon with a caramel aroma coming through as the glass warms. The stronger malt flavors are still dominated by the hops flavors of citrus (lemon) and pine. There is a slight astringency on the mouthfeel. This is not unpleasant and I could probably drink two glasses but by the third the astringency may be too much. Medium to full body. There is definitely a good deal of trub at the bottom of the bottle. For those that are pouring this beer in a glass be cautious at the end of the pour to keep this out of the glass.
Lost Coast, Fog Cutter Double IPA: Lighter amber color which is similar to the Pale Ale. The white head is probably the most persistent of all three. This is strange due to the high (8.7%) ABV normally driving down head retention. A strong citrus and pine aroma hits the nose and is persistent throughout the glass. There is a malt flavor but it is quickly overwhelmed with the hop flavors. These hoppy resin bitterness hits the tongue on the initial sip and lingers long on the back of the mouth. It took several rinses of water to clear my pallet to compare the pale ale and American IPA to the Double IPA. Highly assertive bitterness that dominates the senses. There is a film on the bottom that when pouring in a glass caution should be made to not get this in the glass.
Japan Beer Travels: Cooper Ale’s
When traveling I always seek out breweries and bottle-shops to get a good local feeling of the area. On a recent trip to Tokyo I took a slight tweak to this plan. I found a beer bar that had several beers that are hard or impossible to find in Okinawa. Cooper Ale’s is in the shadow of the Imperial Palace in downtown Tokyo.
The common joke in Japan is if you follow the directions to get to a location, but don’t see the place you are looking for, look up. In a crowed place like Japan it is common for stores and restaurants to be on the 4th and 5th floor of buildings. Cooper Ale’s was one of those location. On the fourth floor of a non-descript building was this bar. There was an elevator but after waiting awhile for it I chose to take teh stairs that wrapped around the elevator shaft. When I got to the entrance a steel door met me only to reveal a wooden door that looked like it had been plucked from a British pub.
Inside was a full beer bar complete with multiple style glasses for the different beers they had to offer. My goal was to try beers that I could not find in Okinawa and I settled on a Rauchbier and a Rodenbach. True to form they were served in branded glasses.
Rauchbier: The beer I had was Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen which is a commercial example from the BJCP style guide. The beer had a prominent smoke aroma to the glass. The smoke was not peaty, but more on campfire or a whiskey aroma. As I continued to smell the glass it reminded me of the aromas when you open a wooden chest after it has been stored for an extended time. As the glass warmed more bacon like smells were coming in with some malt sweetness. No hop aroma was detected. The glass was served from draft and a nice tan head with a mix of tiny and small bubbles lingered on the top. The malt flavor was much more prominent in the taste with the smoke flavor coming in the retro nasal after the sip was swallowed. Although it was a late August day with the temperature in the 90’s drinking this beer elicited thoughts of sitting by a fire on a cool fall night. The carbonation was medium to high and the body was medium. There was no astringency on the mouthfeel. A herbal flavor came out towards the end of the drink. This may be from the hops or possibly the build up of smoke characteristics.
Rodenbach: This Flemish Red beer is also a commercial example of the style from the BJCP style guide. The Flemish Red is considered a sour beer and I am always wary about sour beers. When done correctly they can be fantastic, when not they can taste like cleaning solution. The initial aromas are a heavy grape juice or wine scents. Also with this are some smells of currants. No hops are detected in the aroma. The color is a deep, deep red. The head retention was low and it dissipated to a thin layer of very tiny bubbles. The taste was very light on the tongue. The beer appeared to be well attenuated and left little to no aftertaste. In the taste there were light cherry flavors with a bit of sourness but not excessively tart. A light apple flavor was also detected. This beer went down a lot faster than I expected. I could definitely see enjoying several of these beers in one sitting. I attempted to find the packaging date but a Japan import sticker was placed over the date.
This place is definitely worth a second visit. There was food available, but ales were the goal this day. Along the wall there were several bottles both opened an unopened. In the wall of unopened bottles was one from Spencers Brewery out of Massachusetts. I wonder if they know what a collectors item they have since the brewery closed.
Wet Hop Beer
Right now (September-October) on hop farms around the world, farmers are picking this years crop of hops. The hummulous lupus is a bine where hops grow on the female plants. Hops grow best between the 38º and 51º parallel. The shortening days combined with the cooler evenings cause the hop cones to develop and ripen. Hops are best picked when they are papery dry, but the tips have not turned black yet. Sadly an entire years growth can be ruined if the hops are picked too early or late. Most of these hops will be dried and packaged for storage to be used in beer production through out the year. When picked hops have a moisture content of about 40% they will be dried down to a moisture content of 6-4%. A small portion of the just picked hops will be used in what is called wet hopped beer.
Wet hop beer is different from dry hopping where hops are added during the cool side of brewing in either primary or secondary fermentation. Using these wet hops require an adjustment to the brewing calculations because wet hops are so much heavier than ones that have been dried. These hops are normally used for aroma and flavoring in beers. Brewers will generally put these wet hops in at the end of the wort boil to ensure that the volatile oils are not lost to the heat. They can also put them in the dry hop for even more aroma and flavor. The bittering hops will generally be done by hops that have been dried. There is nothing that says you couldn’t use wet hops for bittering but you would be boiling off all of the beneficial flavors from the unique wet hops. Some beer fans rave about the hop flavors that comes from these fresh hops. Other complain that there is a stronger grassy flavor to them.
In addition to beer and brewing I also like to garden. I do not think that I have a green thumb by any stretch of the imagination so I garden by attrition. The idea of “Plant them all let nature sort them out” allows me to at least have some plants survive. If it lives it lives, if it dies it dies. For several years I have enjoyed growing hops. I have had varying luck in growing in the Arizona desert, Costal North Carolina, and northern New Jersey. With the exception of New Jersey, where I would regularly get over a pound of hops, all other locations I considered it a good year if the plant didn’t die. Now living in Okinawa Japan I tried to grow hops in a tropical environment. I originally tried to order rhizomes from US brewing supply companies, but customs and agricultural inspections proved to be too difficult. I would have had to order 300 rhizomes for some companies to ship to me. For a brief moment I thought about smuggling in a rhizome but thought better of the idea. I finally found a Japan based supply company who were selling rhizomes. I planted a Perle rhizome and initially there were good shoots that sprouted. This grew to about 18 in and then the summer heat came and all growth stopped. Luckily it did not look like the plant was dying but no upward growth appeared. Then about a three weeks ago new shoots sprouted from the base of the plant. This also coincided with cooler temperatures returning in the fall.
I had hopped to brew a wet hopped beer this year from the hops I grew. I was able to do this for the past two years when we had plenty of hops from our plants. I have had difficulty in finding good beers in Okinawa, so I am pretty confident that I won’t find a fresh hopped beer. The original intent was to write about harvesting the cones and brewing them in a beer. Sadly I just have to write about wet hop beer this year. With the new growth it will be interested to see if I will get hops outside of the traditional growing period.
Lessons Learned: Check your math.
The childhood question has been answered of “when will I ever use math?”. There is a surprising amount of math involved in brewing. From conversion of gallons to barrels, to changing units of measurement for heat, energy, and pressure. All of these involve mathematical equations and require a high level of attention to ensure the correct amounts are calculated.
The Lesson Learned: Math plays an important role in brewing and checking your input numbers ensures the equation you are using provides the correct amounts.
I have always been terrible with math. I compensate this by doing a problem twice and if I get the same answer both times I know I have a better chance of certainty that I did the equation correctly. The syllabus for my Applied Engineering in Brewing class included a two page requirements list for submitting math homework. These requirements included boxing answers, using rulers when making straight lines, and using a French curve to make non-straight lines. Buried in the guidance was a key point for the student to look at their answer and think if that answer makes logical sense. For this weeks assignment this point turned out to be extremely valuable.
This week we had our first homework assignment for the class to show that we understand some basics mathematical equations. One of these problems involved calculating the liters per minute of beer made by Molson Coors when given the annual output of beer by the brewery. After I did the math I came up with 1.62 Liters per minute. While that seemed like a large amount on my homebrew system it seemed rather small for a large brewery to be producing just over a liter and a half every minute. I did the equation again and got the same answer. It was only when I went back to look at the original homework assignment page did I realize that the annual output given was 600,000,000 not 6,000 like I had been using. This amount gave me an liters per second output of 1339.6 L/min.
For those interested in figuring out your volume per second based on annual production the equation is in the picture for the post.
How can I apply this lesson: Checking the source of your information is always important. Not only can this result in wildly different flavors in beer if using the wrong amount of malt or hops but also beyond brewing. I’m sure seeking source information has applications for life outside of brewing, but my classes continue so I’m going to focus on that. Check your math and always look to see if the answer makes logical sense.
Dry Hopped Zwickl, Collaboration between Bitburger (Germany) and Deschutes (US) Breweries, Kellerbier, 4.9%ABV.
A collaboration beer is the result of two breweries working together to produce a single beer. This is seen as an opportunity for breweries to expand their fan base by tapping into the customers of the partnered brewery. This beer is one of those collaborations. Bitburger from Germany and Deschutes from Bend Oregon, USA.
This collaboration can trace their roots back to the 2019 Bitburger Beer Challenge hosted at Prost!, a Portland beer pub. This competition saw four breweries from Washington and four breweries from Oregon going head to head to deliver the best Pilsner. The rules were quite simple. The brewery had to submit a German-style Pilsner that was not part of the brewery’s normal lineup. The winning brewery would travel to Bitburger for a visit of their facility and partner with them to develop a collaboration beer. Deschutes Brewery was judged as the best Pilsner and ultimately led to this beer’s development.
The collaboration brought together the best of what each brewery does. The Dry Hop’d Zwickl brought together Bitburger’s Siegelhopfen (sealed hops), Citra and Mosaic hops. Siegelhopfen is the practice of certifying hops to be grown from a certain area. Only hops that are grown in the specific hop growing regions would be labeled with that seal. The Bitburger Siegelhopfen hop is a unique proprietary blend of hops that are grown in the Südeifel National Park. The Citra and Mosaic hops were grown in the Yakima Valley.
Lemon tropical fruit aroma. Sweet malt. It is very similar to the smell in a brewery when a tank first begins to ferment and the co2 blows off and fills the room. Very pleasant. Fairly cloudy but not milky like a hazy IPA. Initially thought this was from chill haze but will see as glass warms over time. Steady stream on continuous bubbles supports a lasting head. Initially poured with a thick head, 1 inch dissipated down to about a persistent quarter inch head. Medium sized bubbles support a fluffy cloud like head. Biscuit malt flavor. If I was to guess Munich malt. There is definitely some hop flavor but not a harsh bitterness. Surprisingly refreshing and each sip wanted me to have another. As the glass warmed the haze persisted. This means it more than likely caused by the dry hopping method teh beer was made. Over all very enjoyable beer.
Good bit of hop flavor for those IPA lovers that want to explore something new. Also light and refreshing enough for a new beer drinker or to bring to a party where you dont know the style preference of the host. I bought a pack for a newly arrived military family who just landed and needed the essentials. My wife thought that meant food and dishes I imediatly thought what beer to get them. This worked because it was a hoppy flavor without the bitterness that some do not prefer.
Lessons Re-learned: Mt. Fuji Edition.
This past weekend I hiked Mt Fuji in pouring rain, heavy cloud cover and temperatures between 45-50ºF. Touring the misery of that hike I re-learned several important life lessons. None of these are earth shattering or new to me. Like brain synapses being reinforced when you remember people places and things I feel the same reinforcement happens for these lessons. Good lessons are reinforced when you see them in action.
It’s not the clothes that makes a hiker: Some of the hikers on the mountain looked like catalogue models for outdoor equipment companies. They were decked out in brand name gear, while others had much less. The one that stood out was wearing a sweatshirt sweat pants, a bucket cap. At the end of the hike I hikers who had both completed the hike. How someone is dressed is not the only determinate on who they are. Just like the hikers on the mountain people may be capable of much more than what they are dressed for.
Pay for the infrastructure you use: At the beginning of the hike there is a booth for the Trail Conservation Society. The good Lord has done a great many things but he does not cut trails and maintain aid stations on the path to the top of Mt. Fuji. A donation was not required to hike but I felt if I was going to benefit from the path that had been cut for me and if I needed aid I was glad it was there. Previous hikers had paid before me so that I have a path to travel on so it was only right that I pay for those after me.
Plans change: Outside of my old job with the infantry I have done quite a bit of hiking. From a hundred miles through the Shenandoah National Forest, to fifty miles on the Pacific Crest Trail one weekend to a three day eighty mile hike from New Market to Lexington, Virginia. Hiking is not new to me. In all of these hikes I travel at the cadence of walk fifty minutes rest ten. This plan was put into question when I kept getting stuck behind large tour groups who were hiking at a snails pace. I ended up initially wasting a good bit of time being stuck behind these slower moving groups and while still taking my breaks. I adjusted my hiking cadence to hike until I hit one of these groups then rest while they slowly ascended. My overall pace was slightly slower, but not as much if I had kept to my original plan. Have a plan, but plans change and you have to adapt.
Focus on Results: The entire hike up the visibility was zero, it was raining and cold. As I was decending the clouds broke and the sun shone down burning off much of the ground fog. Part of me thought to turn around and climb back to the top to witness a clear view from the top. I was making good time for my group and still could have made it back to the bus if I ascended again. Then I though about what the goal of the hike was. My goal had always been to reach the summit of Mount Fuji. I had been to the tops of other volcanic mountains and had no strong desire to see this one in particular on a clear day. Knowing that I had reached my personal results for the day I continued to decend. It was for the best because just as fast as the clouds had parted the bad weather returned with rain, clouds and cold. Even if I did make it back to the top the view would have been the same.
Keep going: Sometimes thing suck and there is nothing you can do but keep going. Things were miserable from the beginning, but once I was completely soaked and hadn’t seen anything beyond twenty feet in front of me for a good two hours did I realize that this truly sucked. At that point there was nothing I could do about it. There was no reset button I could push, no quick escape. At best I would have to hike halfway down a mountain going the wrong way on a one way path. All I could do was keep on going.
Gear prep is essential: Like any good hiker I packed trail mix, beef jerky, and fruit. What I didn’t factor in was how tired I would be and how the cold would effect the dexterity of my hands on the mountain. When it was time to dig into the snacks I had difficulty tearing the plastic packaging due to everything being wet and my cold hands not working as I wanted them to. Luckily I had a pair of scissors in my first aid kit. If I just tore open the packets before the hike I could have gotten to the food easier.
When you think you are lost turn around to see where you came from: Several times on the hike down I felt lost in the fog and rain. There was a path, but a path of volcanic sand and rock made on the side of a mountain of volcanic sand and rock you start to question yourself. Knowing from other hikes the trail looks completely different depending on the direction you are traveling. Only by turning around and looking at the trail from my ascent perspective allowed me to realize I was on the right path. Always looking backward is a terrible way of hiking and going through life, but a quick glance back to see where you came from shows that you are heading in the right direction.
Again none of these are new to me or earths shattering, but they were valuable for me to see again in action.
Footnote: The picture was taken as we were boarding the bus. The clouds broke only between the time it took for us to leave the rest station to boarding the bus. In that brief moment I took this picture.
The Arnolds/Arnufs of Beer: St Arnold of Metz, Soissons, and Oudenaarde.
Beer and the Christian church has had a long relationship with each other. When monasteries were prevalent across Europe, Monks were common brewers of the everyday beer for the masses. This relationship between brewing and the church continues today with Trappist breweries as well as several patrons saints of brewing. As it happens with stories of individuals who lived over 1,500 years ago facts tend to get blurred. Therefore depending on who you talk to there are two or three Christian saints named Arnold or Arnulf who are tied to beer, brewing or beer ingredients.
Saint Arnold of Metz lived from 580 to 640 AD, in what is now France. He was selected as the bishop of Metz where he succeeded in administrative roles. After some time he withdrew to live as a hermit in Remiremont. It was here where St Arnold passed away in 640 AD. It was only after his passing when a relationship to beer was recorded. Legend calls this the miracle of the Beer Mug. When the parishioners of Metz went to claim the body of Saint Arnold from Remiremont in order to re-intern the body at Metz the work was strenuous, but substance, including beer was lacking. A porter by the name of Duc (Duke) Notto cried out “By his powerful intercession the Blessed Arnold will bring us what we lack.” Although there was a only a small amount of beer left it never ran out for the remainder of the journey and there was even enough to toast the Saint at his re-internment. His feast day is July 18th.
Saint Arnold of Soissons who lived from 1040 to 1087 AD is considered the Patron Saint of Hop Pickers and Belgian Brewers. Hops being a integral ingredient in beer making. During one of the many plagues that occurred during that time period St Arnold urged his congregation to drink beer brewed at the monastery instead of water. Beer was a common sourced of clean drinking beverage compared to teh often polluted water. Modern beer drinkers may like the idea of day drinking, but at that time the boiling step of the beer making process probably did more increasing the safety of drink than any other benefit or flavor of alcohol. When he is depicted in Catholic imagery, Saint Arnold normally carries a wooden mash paddle in his hand instead of a crosier (pastoral staff or bishops staff) often seen carried in most saint depictions. His feast day is July 8th and August 14th.
Any time you are discussing individuals who lived over 1500 years ago details become cloudy. Depending on sources there may be a third Saint Arnold. This one from Oudenaarde. The legend that is tied with this St Arnold is that he is believed to have appealed to God for cold beer for the soldiers during the battle in Flanders in the 11th Century. Oudenaarde is located 224km north of Soissons so the two Arnolds may be in fact the same person. This theory is reinforced with the fact that there is not a feast day for Saint Arnold of Oudenaarde.
Regardless if there are two or three Saint Arnolds there continues to be a spiritual tie between the church and beer manufacturing. Over time this tie has provided a safe drink for the masses, hope on the battlefield or reassurance during a difficult task. So if you are enjoying a beer with the feast of Saint Arnold on July 8th, July 18th, or August 14th cheers to you.
The Saké Handbook, John Gauntner, 2002
John Gauntner’s book Saké Handbook was one of several books I read while studying for the International Kikisake-shi Certification. Of the three books, I felt that this one was the best book for someone who is brand new to enjoying saké. The book is broken into three parts. The first part covers the history, manufacturing steps, and terminology associated with the production of saké. The second part gives brief descriptions of 106 sakés from Japan. Seeing that there are over 1600 breweries this is not an all comprehensive list, but does provide a snap shot of saké in Japan. The third part covers bottle shops and saké bars in Japan.
What I liked about the book: I would be supprised if the greatest sales of this book are not in the airport bookstores for individuals traveling to Japan for the first time. The information provided was a complete story of the saké process without getting too technical. Going from absolutely no knowledge this book would get you started well. If you are making your first trip to mainland Japan and are curious about saké this is the ideal book for your travels. Many of the sakés could be found in the Tokyo area as well as many of the bars and distributors mentioned are in the Kanto Plain.
What I didn’t like about the book: After the first part the book is very much tied to Tokyo and the surrounding areas. Living in Okinawa, Japan I have found it difficult to find many of the sakés mentioned in the book. Although I cannot find most of the sakés listed in the book I am able to read about the saké style and find out how he describes the drink. Also if you already have a wealth of knowledge about saké this book will not provide much more than an introductory information.
Will it stay on my shelf: Yes, but only to be given to a future visitor who is curious about saké once Japan opens their borders again. I am also planning some trips to the mainland so this book may come with me as I try and find some of these sakés and bottle-shops. If we do one day move to the mainland from Okinawa this may become more useful. Right now it’s waiting for the eventual visitor.
Would I recommend this book for your library: If you ever wondered if there was more beyond saké shots or sake bombs this would be a great starter book. Definitely if your are planning a trip to Japan skip the second run movie on the flight and read this book. You can get through the first part on the flight and use the second part to compare your taste in saké to the writers thoughts. Hopefully you can find one of the pubs listed in the third part.
National Bourbon Day, 14 June 2022: Blanton’s, Blanton’s Black Special Reserve, Blanton’s Japan
By definition all Bourbons are whiskey but not all whiskies are bourbon. This is because of the definition of Bourbon from Title 27 of the US Code of Federal Regulations. Title 27 states that Bourbon must be made with at least 51% corn, made in America, placed in new charred oak container, distilled at 160º proof or below, placed in a container at no more than 125º proof, and no additional color or flavor can be added.
While some may claim that Bourbon needs to be distilled in Kentucky or even more specifically Bourbon County, officially there is no requirement other than in the USA for location. Others may claim that there needs to be a time elapse for the spirit to be in the oak container. This is not the case. If a Bourbon producer wants to put the spirit in a new oak container and immediately transfer the spirit to bottle it can still be classified as a Bourbon. Now this will prevent some of the harshness from the young spirit that oak tends to draw out of the spirit and the oak container cannot be used again for the production of bourbon, but if a producer would like to make a harsh bourbon while using a tremendous number of oak containers nothing is stoping them.
Additional clarifications have been given to tie Bourbon to a location or aging requirement. Kentucky Bourbon is required by Kentucky State Law to be distilled and aged in Kentucky for at least two years. While this is only a state law it is generally accepted as an international requirement. Also Straight Bourbon must be aged for at least two years. If aged for less than four years it requires an age statement.
Because of Title 27, Bourbon cannot be produced in Japan. There are some Bourbons that are easier to find in Japan and some that are only available in Japan. Blanton’s is a brand produced by The Buffalo Trace Distillery. They have several bottles that are either offered overseas as well or exclusively. Blanton’s prides itself on being the first of the premium bourbons that is single barrel. That means that the unique flavors of the barrel are transferred directly into the bottle and bottles from different barrels are going to have somewhat of a different taste. The master distillers will strive to get the Blanton’s taste as similar as possible, but there will be differences in each bottle. If the consumers pallet is refined enough they may distinguish the differences. To identify the uniqueness of the single barrel each bottle of Blanton’s is marked with the Date Dumped, Barrel No., Warehouse, and Rick No. in addition to the legally required information. The regular Blanton’s only difference with the Japanese having Japanese writing on the label. The Blanton’s Special Reserve not only has Japanese writing but is also packaged in a velvet bag.
Blanton’s: Dumped on 5-7-2020, Barrel No. 610, Warehouse H, Rick No. 1, 93 Proof, Bottle No. 163: Definite vanilla aroma is first on the nose. The smell of alcohol comes out when the glass is agitated. The spirit has a golden amber color. Thick legs that are spaced apart when swirled appear on the sides of the glass. The mouthfeel is velvety smooth. A definite alcohol burn comes on the cheeks and back of throat. There is a sweet hard candy flavor with a woody taste behind the sweetness. No lingering sweetness on the aftertaste. A persistent tingle on the tongue and mouth from the alcohol. Breathing through your nose on the aftertaste gives a oak aroma sensation in the nostrils.
Blanton’s Japan: Dumped on 2-16-21, Barrel No. 72, Warehouse H, Rick No. 35, 93 Proof, Bottle No. 158: The initial pour the spirit has a straw aroma to the smell. After the glass sits a while a caramel aroma with sweet vanilla comes on more. During the taste there is an oak scent. The color of the Bourbon is golden amber. There is a slight alcohol burn on the mouth. A caramel sweetness dominates the flavor. The aftertastes has a lingering tingle on the mouth tongue and cheeks. There is a slight sweet aftertaste and lingering oak flavor that persist in the back of the throat and into the nasal passage.
Blanton’s Special Reserve: Dumped on 2-12-2021, Barrel No. 21, Wareouse H, Rick No. 53, 80 Proof, Bottle No. 247: The glass has a lightly toasted cedar aroma. It was a very pleasant smell. No harsh alcohol aromas are mixed in. Underneath the cedar aroma there is a very faint tobacco leaves smell. Not the burning cigar smoke, but if you smelled the cigar before it was lit or walked into a humidor. The spirit had a slightly lighter golden color. Very smooth mouthfeel. A distinct caramel sweetness with hints of dried fruits like dried cherries and prunes comes on the nose. There is a cedar taste on the back end. All are very gentle flavors. This makes sense that this style is offered in the Japanese market. Japanese cedar is a persistent aroma in traditional houses and cedar is the wood used for the traditional wooden sake cups (masu).
These three bottles are all labeled as Blanton’s, but each have a unique flavor to them. This perfectly demonstrates the differences of single barrel Bourbons. Each have unique flavors and in the case of the Special Reserve are uniquely suited to the Japanese market.
World Whisky Day, 21 May 2022, AO World Whisky, Suntory
World Whisky Day was started 11 years ago by Blair Bowman. Blair is a whisky consultant who contributes monthly to Scottish Field Magazine and has written the Pocket Guide to Whisky: featuring the Whisky Tube Map. According to him “World Whisky Day is an annual, global day of whisky, which invites everyone to try a dram and celebrate the water of life.” From their website www.worldwhiskyday.com the ways to celebrate are pretty simple. Simply find a way to enjoy whisky (straight, on the rocks, in a cocktail) and share on social media outlets using the tag line #worldwhiskyday. Not wanting to disappoint I felt obliged to join in celebrating this day of whisky.
While shopping this week at the neighborhood Aeon Max Value I came across AO, World Whisky from Suntory. I saw this as a sign that World Whisky Day would best be celebrated with AO World Whiskey. Suntory has blended Scotch, Irish, Canadian, American and Japanese whiskies into one bottle. From Scotland the distilleries of Ardmore and Glen Garioch Distillery contribute a smokey with honey and heathery spice notes. The Cooley Distillery in Ireland is the youngest whiskey maker in the blend being founded in 1989. Canada’s Alberta Distillery contributes a rye sweetness to the mix. Suntory does not deliver what attributes are contributed by America’s Jim Beam Clairmont Distillery, but they do mention the prevelance of bourbon in the distilleries production and one can assume bourbon characteristics are contributed to the final product. Finally Suntory’s distilleries of Hakashu and Yamazaki contribute delicate and herbal flavors.
The bottle describes the contents as having a various expressions such as a thick and smoky taste. It also describes a mellow scent and taste. It was named after the sea which connects all nations in the world. With all of those flavors put together this can turn out to be really good or completely undrinkable. Being from a solid whisky producer such as Suntory I have hopes that this is fantastic, but because I found this in a grocery store liquor isle it may end up terrible.
There is a practice of making “infinity bottles” of whisky. This is when whisky drinkers take take the final bits of one bottle and collect them into a community bottle. Because new whisky is continually being added as other bottles empty this community bottle is infinitely filled. My first thought when I saw this bottle of AO World Whisky was that it seems like a similar concept except the beverage comes from a master blender from a well established whisky producers such as Suntory.
The whisky has an amber color with thin long legs. I initial picked up a woody smokiness to the aroma. This is not the peaty smoke aromas found in Islay Scotches but more of a camp fire smoke scent. Behind the smoke I picked up an apple to pineapple aroma. A sweet caramel like aroma with a heavy vanilla scent is also prevalent. The sample definitly has many layers of aroma swirling around but none are violently or unpleasantly competing with each other. The initial flavor is a spiciness on the tip of the tongue. There is a sweet smokey flavor that caries through the entire taste and into the aftertaste. An alcohol tingliness on the sides of the mouth and tongue defines the alcohol heat to the taste. There is no sharp unpleasant burn from the alcohol. The lingering aftertaste reminds me of the background woody minty taste of Copenhagen® dip.
I enjoyed sitting and sniffing the glass trying to pull out different flavors I was picking up. Because there are so many from the contributing whiskies it was easy to see if I could pick out the characteristics of each style. The flavor was not nearly as complex as the aroma. While still pleasant the taste was a simpler sweet woodsy herbal flavor.
I would recommend either enjoying this by itself or you could use this in a sauce or glaze for any cooking that calls for smokiness or woody earthy flavors. If I were to pair this with a food I would go for a crème brûlée. The sweet vanilla flavors of the desert along with the toasted crust would emphasize the complimentary flavors and aromas of AO World Whisky. Overall I enjoyed the drink and was not disappointed in my grocery store find.
Star Wars Day; Kirishima Beer, Stout, Kirishima Shuzo Co.
This week is Golden Week in Japan. This is a series of holidays that all fall within a weeks time. They are Showa Day, Constitutional Memorial Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day. Because of the close proximity of these holidays this is the big travel and holiday time for many in the country. Today, May the 4th, is also celebrated as Star Wars Day by fans of the interstellar franchise. What began as a small joke that relies on a play on words more than any correlation to the date has been taken by fans and Disney to promote their franchise. While I doubt my Japanese neighbors will be toasting a beer to the Rebel Alliance or the Galactic Empire I feel that I should at least toast my theatrical father.
Kirishima Shuzo began brewing Shochu in May of 1916 in Miyazaki Prefecture. Like many sake and shochu manufactures in Japan Kirishima began producing beer in 1998. The beer was made with the assistance of a British Brewer. In 2017 to mark the 100 years of operation for Kirishima, the label has been redesigned and an emphasis on quality and production capacity has been made.
The initial aromas off the glass are bread yeast notes. After those linger off a smell of roasted barley becomes more dominant. There is a subtle earthy hop aroma. It is not dominant but can be picked up eventually. Good cream head dissipates slowly into a thin tan head with many tiny bubbles. Jet black color. No carbonation bubbles are perceived in the glass. Nutty roasted flavors on the tongue. There is a good bit of carbonation felt on the mouth and tongue. The roasted barley is defiantly taking center stage. There is a slight bitterness but I would say this is probably coming from the blackened malt as much as it is coming from the hops. Much like the aroma the hop taste comes only after the flavors of roasted barley malt subside or the drinker becomes accustomed to them. Clean finish. There is an aroma of roasted malt that liners in the nose and the back of the mouth but the mouthfeel is clean after the taste. I would put this in a dry or Irish Stout category. If you are a fan of sweet stouts this may not be to your liking.
I so wanted to pair this beer with some type of “space food”. Other than Tang and Astronaut IceCream. What I went with instead was I roasted nuts. Walnuts, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts would provide a nice nutty balance to the roasted flavors of this beer. I would avoid heavy salted nuts. The roasted or smoked nuts can provide more of the toffee flavors you find in stout beers.
Helios Brewery, Santa Beer, Christmas Beer, 7% ABV
As spring approaches here in Japan cleaning our house has taken center stage as we say goodbye to winter. As I was cleaning the refrigerator I found a beer hiding in the back behind the well expired left overs that were starting to take on the features of a misguided science experiment. During Christmas I received Helios Brewery’s Santa Beer a Christmas Beer. A mix of working through the Twelve Beers of Christmas and just forgetting it was there I found myself with a Christmas Beer in April. Helios is a brewery located in the central part of Okinawa. They started as a rum distillery made from sugar cane which grows abundantly on the island. They expanded into Shochu (a distilled beverage traditionally made from rice) and Awamari ( a local Okinawan distilled rice beverage). In 1996 the brewery obtained their license to brew beer.
Christmas Beer 7% ABV
The beer has a strong malt sweetness to start with. A toasted malt scent reminds me of the aromas similar to caramunich or crystal malt. It comes across as a great smell. Similar to walking into a brewery just as the brewer mashes in the grains to the warm water of the mash tun. The beer has a nice amber color and is fairly clear. The head is deep tan colored and has persistent bubbles coming up the side of the glass. These bubbles continually reenergizing a persistent head. The head consist of bubbles that are small and tiny. When the small bubbles burst the head opens up only to be filled by the continuous bubbles from the bottom of the glass. After multiple deep inhales, the earthy hop aroma comes through. The tastes is very balanced between the malty sweetness and a gentle bitterness from the hops that balance the taste. The beer is fully attenuated and there is not a full mouthfeel. The carbonation leaves a tingle in the mouth in the aftertaste. Good bit of carbonation gives a sharp finish to the end of the taste. There was no real aroma or flavor of Christmas spices. While there is not a Christmas Because of this I would call this beer more of a dopplebock than a Christmas beer. There were no Christmas spices that are normally found in American Christmas beers.
I tried this beer with walnuts, dried apricots and sharp cheddar cheese. The walnuts gave the aroma I would associate with a mountain cabin that was just walked into after a long winter left vacant. The sweetness of the dried apricots was amplified with the beer malt sweetness. It made this pairing almost too bitter from the sweetness. A sharp cheddar was well balanced between the malty sweetness and milky sharp mouthfeel of the cheddar. The cheese cleared the palate of sweetness and hop bitter finish. Of the three I liked the cheese Sharp cheddar to balance with this beer. Overall enjoyable beer that I slowly consume on a cold winters night.
Beer & Book Review: Craft Beer in Japan, English, Mark Meli, 2013
Unlike many of the books on my shelf I can tell you exactly where I was when I bought this book and I even had a chance encounter with the author, although at a separate location and time. I met the author Mark at Koyoto Brewing Company. He was one of the few westerners at the brewery and I remember we spoke about him being a professor at one of the schools in the area. The fact that he wrote a book about beer never came up. It was only later when I was at Antenna America in Yokohama, Japan did i recognize his picture on the back of the book in their beer book library. There is a Japanese and English version of this book. This is the only beer guide for Japan I have found written in english.
What I liked about the book: The beginning of the book opens with several pages of information about beer and brewing in Japan. This includes a section on the different styles of beer (pale ale, Pilsner, Belgium). There are better books to describe these styles but Mark gives how these styles tie in to Japan and the Japanese culture. There is a section on Japanese words that are related to craft beer and beer drinking. I do like that this book even exist. The problem with activities in Japan to include breweries is the lack of english books about the subject. From what I have found there are no other books that cover just Japanese breweries written in English. At the time of the writing it appears that the book covers nearly all of the commercial breweries and all the beers made by those breweries in Japan.
What I didn’t like about the book: It is the same thing I do not like about any of the beer guide books. As soon as the book is published it seems to be out of date. Case in point there is a section in the book where breweries that are expected to be licensed in the near future are listed. This included Okinawa Brewing Company in Yomitan Okinawa. Sadly this brewery closed just before we arrived in Japan due to the closures for COVID 19. Being almost ten years old this book is prime for a second edition.
Will it stay on my shelf: I am going to keep this book to serve as a reference for future beer tourism that we will do while living in Japan. While I mentioned before that it may be slightly dated the list of breweries and their write ups give me a starting point to start planning and research what breweries are in the area to visit.
Would I recommend this book for your library: If you are planning a trip to Japan or plan to move there this book is a great reference to guide you to the breweries in Japan.
Chapter 5: Palate Trips from Beer Pairing; The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros, Julia Herz and Gwen Conley
Since the beginning of the year I have read and written reviews for about a dozen beer books. In many of these books are recipes and exercises the reader can utilize to reinforce lessons taught in the book. Last week I wrote a review of Beer Parings by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley, now I want to actually try some of the exercises the book lays out. The first is to do what Julia and Gwen call a “Palate Trip” According to them it is a “way of trying different foods with different beers with thoughts and intentions behind the experience.” For my first exercise I will take Palate Trip #5: Nice and Easy on page 96. Right off the bat I decided to give my palate trip a Japanese flair by choosing only Japanese Craft Beers. I selected beers from four breweries and tried to match them to the book as close as possible. Currently it is well out of season for an Oktoberfest. I ended up finding an Amber Ale to substitute for this style.
Below I listed the book’s recommendation first and then what I used for my palate trip.
- Raspberry Jam / Polaner, All Fruit Spreadable Fruit Seedless Raspberry
- German-style Hefeweizen / Chatan Beer, Weizen
- Key lime (fudge, cookie, or pie) / Edwards, Key Lime Pie
- American India Pale Ale / Okinawa Sango Beer, Nanto Brewery, Double Up IPA
- Aged Cheddar / Cracker Barrel, Extra Sharp Yellow
- American Imperial Stout / Minoh Beer, Stout
- Dark Covered Pecans / Ritter Sport, Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts
- German style Màrzen or Oktoberfest / Baird Beer, Red Rose Amber Ale
I first expected that I would give a description of the food and the beer where I would focus on the style elements. This would be similar to how my beer tasting post have been written. I quickly realized that the value of this test is not focusing on the food or beer individually but rather how these two played complimented and contrasted each other.
There is a heavy sweetness with a slight tartness of the fruit in the jelly. The clove of the Hefeweizen cuts into the sweetness of the raspberry jelly. Smooth transition from hefe into keylime pie. The keylime pie to IPA was the biggest “wow” moment. The tart and sweet flavors of the pie are sharply cut by the bitterness of the IPA. The pie flavors bring out the piney flavors of the IPA. The sharp cheddar seemed to dull the bitterness of the IPA but also left a mouth coating feeling from the cheese. The transition to the Stout gave the impression of a cheeseburger flavor. The cheddar cheese and umami flavors from the stout gave those taste sensations. Going from the Stout to the chocolate covered hazelnuts delivered a sensation of continuation of flavors. Neither highlighted specific flavors from either the chocolate or stout. Going from the bitterness of the dark chocolate to the Amber beer made the malt sweetness really stand out in the beer.
After I went around the plate twice I started to jump a bit. I tried the IPA with the Chocolate. The bitterness of the IPA canceled out the bitterness of the dark chocolate and highlighted the sweetness of the chocolate. The raspberry jam was a nice complimenting flavor to the stout. Tasting the Stout then trying raspberry jam causes the roasted smokiness of the stout to come out stronger in the flavor. The Amber with cheese was not good at all there were too many conflicting contrasting flavors. The stout just overpowers the key lime pie like a steamroller. The Hefeweizen with dark chocolate is up to user discretion. I thought it gave a pleasant flavor. My wife through it was just a weird flavor combination. The Hefeweizen and cheese served as palet cleansers for each other. The beer cleared the mouthfeel of the cheese and the hefeweizen cut into the mouth coating effect of the lactose in the cheese. I could enjoy a plate of sharp cheddar and a pint of Hefeweizen at the bar.
I would not do this by myself again. The cost was extremely high for a single individual. The beers alone were over twenty dollars and the food was another twenty dollars. Forty dollars to test flavors is a bit much for me. Because the tasting only needed a small amount of beer and food, you could host several people with just four 12 oz beers and the food sizes I used for this tasting. The host could share with two other individuals using 4 oz tasters of beer or six total tasters with 2 oz taster pours. My favorite pairing of this palate trip was the IPA and Key Lime Pie. The most unique flavor was the stout and the sharp cheddar. This gave a flavor of a hamburger which was completely unexpected. Over all I enjoyed the experience. I will definitely do this with more people to make it more cost effective but I can see my tasting experience expand by continuing to preform these palate trips.
Asahi Super “Dry” Recipe Change
Asahi has been the best selling beer in Japan for years up until 2020 when another Japanese Brewery, Kirin, overtook them. Historically the preponderance of sales of Asahi come from draft form in bars. This has obviously been greatly impacted by the recent public health restrictions imposed by Japan for COVID-19. In an effort to regain their place as the leading brewery in Japan, Asahi is changing their recipe and manufacturing process to regain their old customers. This makes the first change for the brand after thirty five years. Currently this change is only happening in Japan. One of the benefits of being an American Beer lover in Japan is that I get to try the old and new recipes and give my opinion.
In 1889 Komakichi Torii, in an effort to introduce beer to Japan, founded Osaka Brewing Company. 1892 Asahi beer was first released. In 1987 Asahi released Super Dry and was one of only a few dry beers offered in the country. Understandably Asahi has not released but they have advertised a late hop addition in the brewing process. Traditionally the wort is boiled for at least an hour during the brewing process. When hops are added at the beginning of this boil they normally impart a bitterness to the beer. When hops are added closer to the end of the boil the hops impart more aroma and flavor to the beer. The late hop addition in this recipe should deliver more aroma from the hops vice the bittering from an earlier hop addition. Claims to improve the drinkability and aroma of the beer. The change will effect the recipe and the manufacturing process and not effect the ingredients or beers specifications such as alcohol percentage, bitterness and color (ABV, IBU, SRM). The company does claim that the drinkability is increased, but do not go into detail on how.
Original Asahi: The lager yeast is the initial aroma that hits the senses. The smell of white bread is slight along with a very faint metallic smell. The beer pours with a very large fluffy head that persist for a good amount of time. The color is light straw color that is very very clear with no apparent effervescent bubbles rising. In addition the drinker can detect a slight floral and earthy hops aroma. Very crisp finish leaving no aftertaste in the mouth leave a distinct finish to each sip. There is a bite on the back of the tongue from the hops bitterness. Not offensive but definitely noticeable. The beer is well attenuated. I see this beer as one that would completely clear my pallet after taking a sip. Neither left a really good beer lace.
New Asahi: The aroma is of sweet malt on the initial pour. The malt flavor is more toasted malt and less hop floral aroma. The beer is a light straw color with a crystal clear look through the glass. The color is slightly darker than the original version. There is a steady stream of carbonation bubbles coming from the bottom of the glass. The finish of the sip does not have a distinct finish. The finish more so tapers off. There is a lingering malt sweetness that hangs around the mouth and in the nose. There is a little body to the beer that is detected in a slightly fuller mouthfeel than the original. This beer would go with much more savory foods due to the greater mouthfeel and malty sweetness.
My preference: Neither one is bad. Like children, I can see the good qualities in each of them. I can definitely see the merits of the old recipe being a great compliment to sushi or other light fish foods. The new recipe I see appealing to a larger audience of beer drinkers. These drinkers who have at least been exposed to fuller body craft beers that have become more dominant in the last ten to fifteen years. In the end all recipes change. While some Belgium breweries claim to tie their histories back to beer brewing monks many of them can really only trace their recipes back to the Second World War. Over all change is inevitable and I wish best of luck for Asahi as they look to regain their market share. I would consider the original Asahi Super Dry as more of the typical japanese beer. I would see the new Asahi Super Dry as meeting the desire of a larger world market, specifically America. With that I find it interesting that this was only released in the Japanese Market.
Tepatche: Refreshment from food scraps
With gas prices rising and the feeling that everything is becoming more expensive, more people are looking to maximizing their resources. One of these is to utilize every part of of the products you purchase from the grocery store. Starting with COVID closures our family began to get a home delivery box of fruits and vegetables. In Japan we found a similar service where without fail we get a pineapple each week. We enjoy pineapple but there was always a good deal of waste just to get to the edible part. We normally put this into our family compost pile (compost camp). I was interested to see if there were other uses I could get from the rinds before I composted them. From this desire I found out about tepatche. Now instead of having fruit with a ton of scraps for compost I can now get fruit, a beverage, a new plant and still compost the rind afterwards.
- 1 Pineapple
- 1 to 1.5 Cups of Sugar (sweetness to taste)
- Spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise) to taste
- 9 Cups of Filtered Water
- Wide mouth jar large enough to hold it all.
Separate the rind from the fruit: There are dozens of recipies out there here is mine. I first twist off the crown of the fruit and set it aside for later. Then I chop off the top of the fruit and cut down around the pineapple to remove the rind. For this pineapple I discarded the base of the pineapple due to some fuzzy mold growing on the fruit when we received it. This is normal and I regularly throw this part away. If the bottom of your fruit doesn’t look moldy you can add this part as well to the bottle. I then cut the core of the pineapple out from the fruit. I dice the fruit and put it into a bowl to use latter.
Fill the jar: With the rind removed and fruit put away for later use it is time to focus on making the tepache. I put one (1) to one and a half (1.5) cups of sugar in a wide mouth one gallon jar. More sugar will make a sweeter final product. I then put most of the pineapple rinds and core in the jar. I then add eight cups of water into the jar. Once these are put into the bowl I take the final two rinds making sure that they wedge them in the jar to keep all solids under the water level. The last cup of water is put in the jar and make sure the pineapple parts are completely submerged, similar to making sauerkraut. Anything that emerges above the water line could lead to mold forming on your concoction. At this time you can add spices to flavor further. I have regularly added cinnamon sticks. And have also tried clove (one goes a long way), star anise, and nutmeg. These are all to the preference of the consumer.
The waiting game: The beverage can be bottled at either two days or a week after it was started. The difference would be the earlier it is bottled the less the sugars will be consumed and the more sweet / less sour taste to your drink. Later bottling will produce a higher alcohol content, but not anything greater than 2%.
Bottling: When bottling the first step should be to remove the large rind parts from the jar before filling the bottles. Once these parts are removed they can go to compost camp with the bottom of the fruit that was put in the compost when this batch was started. I put a strainer on the top of the funnel to make sure that I keep the smaller particulates. Leaving these bottles on the counter with a tight lid on will greatly increase the likely hood of making bottle bombs. Once bottled I put these in the refrigerator immediately. For us it is next to the tea kombucha and coffee kombucha.
Growing the next pineapple: Taking the crown that was twisted off in the first step start pealing off the bottom leaves. I normally pull more leaves off than most people would think necessary. Once the lower leaves are pulled off cut off the small amount of fruit that is still clinging to the bottom of the crown. I let this dry overnight then put in a jar where the water is just barely touching the bottom of the crown. The pineapple leaves that were removed can make their way to compost camp.
In the end, what was normally just a fruit and plenty of food scraps of rinds and crown you can turn into an additional drink and future pineapple plant. I know I am not going to save the world by making tepache and really I am not going to save our family’s budget but it does get more use out of the products we get from the store.
Beer & Book Review: Home Brewing Without Failures, H. E. Bravery
The book is written by Harold Edwin (more commonly H.E.) Bravery. After a good bit of digging I would not be surprised if this is a pen name for Noel Whitcomb. I make this assumption based on the forward written by Mr. Whitcomb in another Bravery brewing books, Home Wine Making Without Failures. In that forward Mr. Whitcomb describes being introduced to Bravery on a slow news day where he published a suggested brewing recipe on a whim. In the newspaper Independent obituary stated Mr Withcomb gained journalism notoriety by writing about a talking Jack Russell Terrier. So I do not completely believe everything he claims. Home Brewing Without Failures was written in 1965 only two years after Victorian era laws removed the need for a license to home brew. This was also thirteen years before homebrewing was legalized in America in 1978. The book has been out of publication for several years and inquiries to Crown Publishing about the authors information were met with a statement that they didn’t answer inquiries on out of print books. If anyone knows anything about Bravery please let me know in the comments. I have more books by him and can include what I learn in future post.
What I liked about the book: The authors seemingly continuous encouragement that not only is brewing natural but it does not have to be highly technical and complicated. He correctly explains that home and professional brewers do not make beer, we only create wort and yeast creates the beer. The book also describes how to make cider and mead. In the writing about cider Bravery described the his memories of cider by remembering his father home brewing the drink. Just like the demystifying beer brewing, the author takes a huge effort in reassuring the reader that they can brew cider and mead at home as well. He even goes so far to say that they may eventually be better than the type you can get in a bar. While not specifically saying so he implies heavily that homebrew possesses a special “terroir” that can only come from your kitchen.
What I didn’t like about the book: The recipes will make beer by definition because malted barley is used, but the amount of table sugar (sometimes over 50%) make a finished product more like alcohol and less like beer. Hop additions are never specified by type (East Kent Golding, Saaz, Chinook) and based upon the high amounts I would suspect that they are using homegrown hops that may or may not be dried. Steps to propagate yeast from a commercial brewery such as Schlitz or Budweiser. Leave a little in the bottle, add a quarter pint of water with an ounce of sugar plug the neck with a cotton ball and wait a day or a few hours for a pinch ready ammount of yeast for brewing. The explanation of how to create a clear cider may work but it also will most definitely make a mess.
While this may work in theory there is a huge chance that you will get cider all over the kitchen and you may end up loosing the entire bottle in the process. Luckily home filtration systems can be purchased at homebrew supply stores.
Will it stay on my shelf: This book falls into the category of if it is there don’t move it. I do not want to make the effort of listing and shipping this book to sell to someone else. Likewise I am not comfortable giving this book to another aspiring homebrewer because of the bad lessons they will take from these pages. I guess I would keep it if nothing else for a good chuckle on what not to do.
Would I recommend this book for your library: I would not seek out this book. Now if my grandfather who made his own wine before 1978 wanted to give this to me I would not scoff at his offer. I would happily accept the book and use it as an opportunity to ask how he brewed back then and show him my brewing set up. This may be the only real use for this book; to start a dialogue between generations.
The Premium Malt’s, Premium Pilsner, Suntory
From the information page on Suntory website, “Suntory Group is a global leader in consumer packaged goods, producing and distributing a uniquely diverse portfolio of beverages, premium spirits, beer and wine, and wellness products throughout the world.” In plain speak I would say that Suntory produces a wide varieties of beverages that span from Japanese whiskey, to beer, to sodas, and wine. Premium Malt is just one of the may products that the company produces. While the larger Suntory company can trace its history to 1899 with the manufacturing of wine, the Premium Malt brand was first released in 2003. Awarded the Monde Selection Grand Gold Medal three times. It is currently the top selling premium beer sold in Japan. Suntory has four breweries that brew Premium Malt beers. These beer use Diamond Malt which has an umami flavor and the brewing process uses decoction method. This is where during the mash process a portion of the wet grains are brought to a boil and then returned to the larger mash tun. This is done to ensure full maturation of the sugars from the malt and to raise the temperatures of the mash where different conversion take place. True to style of Pilsner, Suntory uses European hops, specifically Czech Hops. These hops give an earthy spiciness to the beer.
Premium Pilsner, 5.5% ABV
The initial aroma of malt sweetness similar to white cracker. A floral lightly earthy aroma comes from the hops. The beer pours a clear golden color with a long persisting white head made of tiny bubbles. A steady stream of carbonation bubbles rises up from the bottom of the glass to give a great presentation in a fluted glass. Good carbonation on the tongue and mouth. Clean crisp finish at the end of each sip. The beer is well balanced between malty sweetness and hop bitterness. The Pilsner appears to be fully attenuated and does not leave any lingering sweetness or over bitterness on the tongue. The hops contribute a floral and earthy spiciness flavor to the malt sweetness. The crispness of the finish cleans the pallet of all flavors from the previous sip. The distinct but not harsh bitter finish gives a completeness to the taste and leaves the drinker ready for the next sip. I can see this being a strong compliment for any food tasting, cleansing food flavors.
The clean crisp taste of the Pilsner would pair well with tempura foods. Specifically seafood. Tempura is made with water, eggs and wheat flower mixed together for the batter around seafood or vegetables. These pieces are quickly fried for a few seconds in vegetable or canola oil. The crisp finish of the Pilsner will cut through the grease of the tempora and essentially clear the pallet for the next bite. The Pilsner is not so dominant that the flavors will linger in the tempura taste. The heavy carbonation in the Pilsner will also assist in the cutting of flavors and grease from the tempura.
Japan has placed the prefecture we live in in a continued quasi-state of emergency to contain the coronavirus. Because of this bottle shops and liquor stores are not open and I can only get beer from grocery and convenience stores. The Premium Malt’s being the nations best seller is always available in nearly every grocery store. For this reason and the way it is made makes this beer easy to pair with most Japanese dishes. While Premium Pilsner is not the most interesting beer for me it is a known quantity and I know it will pair with most anything I go to pick up in the grocery store here. What other food pairings would you make with pilsners.
Robert Burns Night, Lagavulin 11 Year, Nick Offerman Edition
On this day 263 years ago Robert Burns was born in Scotland. He would go on to put to word what many Scots thought of their homeland and be remembered as the poet of Scotland. As the diaspora has spread across the globe they have taken this day to celebrate the man and their heritage.
Although there is no hard and fast rules for how this night should be celebrated there are several similarities from what I have read to to make a Robert Burns Night. There is the parading and presentation of Haggis, reciting of many of his poems to include Address to the Haggis, A Red Red Rose, Auld Langs Syne, and drams of whiskey.
Like many Americans I can trace my ancestry to somewhere other than America, but I could not tell you for certain if I have any ties to Scotland. What I do have is an appreciation for good poetry and drink and would happily spend an evening enjoying the two. The 25th of January is any day as good to enjoy a good scotch whiskey.
For this evening I have chosen Lagavulin 11 Year Offerman Edition. The Lagavulin distillery can trace its history back to when John Johnston and Archibald Campbell Brooks built separate distilleries on the site in 1816. The distillery is located in the Isley District of Scotland. This district is signified by a dominant smokey character. This characteristic comes from when the malt is dried with peat, a historical heat source in the region. Much like haggis this smokiness is either loved or hated by whiskey drinkers.
As soon as the cork is popped, the smokiness of a camp fire comes at the drinker. Mixed in with the smokiness is a leather and wool blanket aroma that induces several images. The whiskey pours a golden straw color that is very clear. When swirled around it leaves narrow legs spaced a good distance apart from each other. The first sip has a strong burn on the tip of the tongue. The sip rolls smoothly over the tongue and then burned again once it hit the back of the throat. A strong retronasal smell of peat comes back through the nose with the swallow. I believe the burn on the mouthfeel and the powerful smoky scent forces me to enjoy this whiskey slowly. This leaves plenty of time for conversation and reminiscing. The smokiness the whiskey leaves in your mouth and nasal passage is the same feeling that I have when I sit around a fire for the evening. Probably cold possibly terrible weather but definitely with close friends who would enjoy this drink with me as much as enjoy each other’s company. At the end of the night my cloths and hair are permeated with the smell of smoke. While my wife would wish that I get a shower as soon as we get home I do find enjoyment in getting a waif of smoke in the morning and remembering the previous evening. I would imagine that is the same feeling that Scottish people feel when they read the words of Robert Burns.
Even if I could find haggis in Japan I am not sure I would want to have any this evening. The best description I have had about haggis was similar to how boudan was first explained to me. Do not ask what is in it before you try a bite. If you like it, dont ask and enjoy the meal you had. If you do not like it ask what is in it and realize why you dont like the meal. As mentioned before, I would pair this best with talking to friends around a camp fire, but if I was forced to eat something I would pair a sausage with this whiskey. The greasiness from the fat will cut into the smokiness of the drink. The spices in the sausage will stand up to the alcohol heat and will not be overwhelmed from the peaty flavors of the scotch.
The poems of Robert Burns are often reminiscent of a place that is no longer or never was. This evening as you enjoy your whiskey and celebrate your even remote Scottish Heritage read through his poems and think of your home and the fond memories of that place. I know I will be thinking of America from Japan tonight.
Beer & Book Review: Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, Maureen Ogle, 2006
The news of Monster Energy Drink buying CANarchy has fanned once again the craft beer purist complaint that another brewery has sold out to the man and gone against its core foundation. This same argument has been made when Bell Brewery was sold to Lion a subsidiary of Kirin Brewing and Goose Island was sold to Anheuser-Busch and well anytime a small craft brewery is bought by a macro brewery. What these self proclaimed purist fail to comprehend is at one time these beer behemoths were also small, most founded by immigrants, often hamstrung by government regulation, criticized by society’s opinions of immigrants, and fought by unions throughout their history. Maureen Ogle goes to in detail to describe the history of what would later become the large corporations that are buying up breweries today.
Maureen Ogle paints the picture of beer in America that starts in the mid 1800s moves through world war/prohibition/world war and finishes with the modern craft beer movement in the 1980s. She gives detail into some of the largest names in American Beer with Pabst, Busch, Schlitz, and Miller. She shows how their business decision combined with innovations such as railroads and refrigeration allowed the expansion from neighborhood breweries to regional and eventually national brands. Maureen explains how the brewery culture was different when first established in America with the presence of beer Beer halls and gardens were common staples in the brewing culture of German where many of the earlier brewers were from. She also details how anti-German sentiments caused much of this beer culture to change and ultimately led to the Volstead Act. Maureen describes how all of this combined to turn beer from a German immigrant business into a “cog in the wheel of a giant corporate conglomerate”
From the low point of post prohibition and the consolidation of national brands Maureen begins to map out the emergence of the craft beer movement. She gives the wave-top explanation of those initial breweries such as New Albion, Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada, and The Boston Beer Company. This consolidation in the late 1960s led to the spark that started modern craft beer with Fritz Maytag purchasing Anchor Steam Brewery. The book was published in 2006 so it does not cover the boom of small craft breweries that have exploded across the country in the last sixteen years. Some of the struggles that those early innovators experienced have been resolved with changes in law as and practices. Other challenges are just as real as they were back then.
What I liked: The book was factually driven without the author’s commentary on the actions of the brewery or political policies. She states what happened and allows the reader to confer their own conclusion. The book did not focus on one brewery rather it looked at many of the breweries at the time and tried to explain in detail to what happened to each.
What I disliked: By covering so many breweries there was not the in-depth coverage for each one. Some breweries were given very in depth backgrounds and details on how they succeeded or failed and other received little more than a mention. While I understand the need to keep the book at a readable length if you have any interest in these breweries you will have to do more research on your own. For the casual reader this will give a good introduction to the vast number of breweries that existed back then.
Will it stay on my shelf: While I enjoyed reading the book I am actually surprised it is still on my shelf. Before I left New Jersey I gifted sever duplicate books and books I read to a fellow homebrewer who lived down the street. I was certain that this was one of those books. Surprisingly I unpacked this book when we arrived to Japan. Ambitious Brew was a well written history book, but I have very little need to keep history books now. Like I mentioned in the reasons why I dislike this book there is not enough details for each brewery. If I need to look up some statistics or facts of one of these breweries I can find the information in a brewery specific book or another location. I tend to keep technical books or reference books and while I enjoy reading these types of books I have no need to keep the copy as a trophy of my accomplishments.
Would I recommend it for your library: I would recommend this book for everyone who believes that new craft breweries are sell outs if they are bought by a macro brewery. Those individuals do not understand the full brewing picture and giving them this book will show the struggles that these large companies once faced. There are lessons learned from this book for the small brew house as well. Many of the breweries that no longer exist did not properly market themselves or made poor business decisions. While many areas saw laws shift in favor of breweries in the past two years these same politicians can swing the opposite direction. All those who doubt need to remember that there are still people alive who remember prohibition in America.
Head to Head to Head with Japanese Whiskys.
We have recently discovered that Flaviar ships to Japan if you have a local address. Flaviar is an alcohol subscription service where once a quarter you receive a pre-selected three sampler tasters and a full sized bottle of your choosing. We began this when the world shut down in 2020 and we wanted to continue this service while in Japan. To start our subscription again we ordered the Japanese sampler. This sampler includes whisky from Ohishi, Fukano, and The Kurayoshi distilleries.
Ohishi, 8 Year Old Sherry Cask, Japanese Whisky, 42.1% ABV Smokey sweet aroma on the nose. A sweet sherry-like scent comes behind the smoke aroma. The color is golden straw with a slight red hue. The legs are medium and drop very slowly down the sides of the glass. Mouthfeel is smooth initially with a heat that burns the side of the mouth and the throat for the swallow. The Sweet taste of sherry is dominant with bits of spice and a slight nuttiness. Of the three I would drink this straight or maybe with a little distilled water depending on your preference. There are enough flavors to allow it to be a stand alone whisky.
Fukano, Vault Reserve #1, Rice Japanese Whisky, 40.5% ABV Pleasant aroma of sweet fruit. Scent of tea or sweet tea on the nose. As glass warms in the hand the aroma of caramel come out more. Golden butterscotch color. Clear with medium legs that slowly drape down the side of the glass. Smooth flavor with light alcohol burn on the very end of the taste. Sweet taste that gives a complete finish that does not linger. This whisky would compliment well with the sweetness in an old fashion. Specifically I would pair this whiskey with maple syrup and an aromatic biters to form a solid cocktail.
The Kurayoshi, 8 Year Old, Pure Malt Japanese Whisky, 46% ABV The aroma of almonds and heavy vanilla comes across on the nose. Straw color with great clarity. Legs are medium size and dissipate quickly. Light burn of alcohol on the lips and mouthfeel. Lingering tingles on the tongue in the aftertaste. High aroma and flavor of alcohol. There is a oak flavor that comes behind the heat of the taste. The almond and vanilla aroma does not come through the flavor. I would not sip this neat. I would use in a cocktail that has soda where the carbonation would highlight the aromas, which is the strongpoint of this whisky.
Hefe-Weizen, Ginga Kogen Beer
With a name that translates into “The Plateau of the Galaxy”, Ginga Kogen started in 1996 with a goal to brew authentic weizen beers. Weizen are beers brewed with at least 50% wheat grain as part of their list of grains used and can also be called wit or white beers. The brewery is located in the northern part of mainland Japan in the Iwate prefecture. It is situated at the base of Mount Waga in the village of Sawauchi. The annual snowfall to the mountain provides the water for this beer. The climate in that region of Japan replicates the German environment which is the area where wheat beers originated. The unique fruit and clove flavors that are found in these types of beers are created by the Hefeweizen yeast strain.
Hefeweizen, 5% ABV
A banana clove aroma is picked up on the nose. Cracker malt sweetness comes behind the more dominant banana scent. The color of the head is a yellow white color that slowly dissipates. The beer’s color is an orange golden hue. Traditionally Hefeweizens are unfiltered leading to a cloudy finished product in the glass. Slightly cloudy when first poured, but clears as beer warms. The beer clears to the point I can see through the glass. There are filtered wheat beers so this is not necessarily against style. A persistent steady stream of carbonation bubbles comes up from the bottom of the glass. This gives a good wheat beer look if the traditional flute glass is used to serve the beer. Carbonation is felt on the tongue and sides of the mouth. Banana flavor is present but not as dominant in the taste as is in the smell. Finish is crisp with no lingering flavors but there is a tingling in the mouth Subsequent taste give more of the esters of cloves from the yeast strain.
Down the street from our house in Japan is the Awase Fish Market. this market is tied to the Awase fishing port where local fishermen bring in their daily catch. The market has a small resultant with limited seafood meal sets. One of these is a roasted half lobster. The clean taste of the shellfish meat would pair nicely with the soft wheat flavors of this beer. The butter and oil of the seasoning of the lobster will be cut by the crisp carbonation from the Hefeweizen. Neither the beer or shellfish are dominant enough to overpower the other and the two will marry nicely into a pleasant dining experience.
Beers & Book Review: The Brewers Companion, Randy Mosher, (c) 1993, 1995, 2000
Prior to moving to Japan I collected a solid library’s worth of old and new beer books. The thought was that it would be harder to get brewing books overseas, but I still wanted to learn. I plan to read through them all and provide my thoughts about the book, what I liked, disliked, and if I will keep the book on my shelf.
The Brewers Companion was born out of a collection of documents and table Randy Mosher had collected as a homebrewer. In the 1980s there was not the information about homebrewing readily available. When this book was first published there was not a fraction of the homebrewing resources and equipment suppliers available. For a reference Stone Brewing Company would open for another three years in 1996. I have the 1995 edition and Randy made revisions until 2000. In 2008 the book went out of print. Fortunately for all of us many of the more useful information found it’s way into one of his later books.
What I liked: the writing was not dry like a textbook. The worksheets provided are comprehensive and something I will definitely use. I enjoyed the writing on roasting your own malts. This I see will become more important as shipping cost increase. Going along the same lines as grains, the chapter on equipment provides some great ideas if you need to create your own brewing equipment. The foundational information on off-flavors and mash rest have not changed. Anyone who studies these charts will have the foundational understanding of the reasons for the flavors they are tasting in their beers.
What I disliked: Information on hops is outdated. Hop farmers have developed several cultivars that did not exist when this book was published. The same can be said regarding the information about yeast availability and home brewing equipment. New hop varieties that provide higher alpha acids for brewers are available to provide new flavors and aromas. Also several companies now manufacture equipment to enchanted the brewing capability of the home brewer. In the back of the book there was an add for two wheel charts. The Amazing Beer Wheel and Hop Go Round. Unfortunately when I reached out to the publisher these two devices are no longer available. If anyone has one of these please let me know in the comments.
Will it stay on my shelf: Yes, because of the distance from brewing supply stores and the shipping cost I believe that this book is still relevant to me for roasting grains charts, worksheets and equipment scrounging recommendations.
Would I recommend it for your library: Maybe, if you are on a tight budget this book can be found for quite cheep. I got a used copy for five bucks. If you are willing to spend about fifteen bucks more I would recommend one of Randy Mosher’s later books, Mastering Homebrew. This book has several of the sections that I liked and also has updated information to address the parts I did not like about Brewers Companion.
New Year Sake
Since celebrating New Years in Japan in 2017, my wife and I have made it a point to enjoy a toast of sake at the New Year. This year was no different except life got in the way and we ended up celebrating New Year’s Eve several days later. To be completely honest I am not certain this was sake. I do not speak Japanese and rely on Google Translate for my language needs. From that app I believe the ingredients listed red cabbage and sugar. So either we drank cabbage wine or Google Translate once again was creative in their translation. If you are familiar with this drink let me know what we celebrated the New Year with.
The drink has a clean aroma with a hint of cherry smells. The sake is mostly clear slightly pink cloud look. There are a few specks floating on the surface of the glass. This is most likely due to the flower blossom that is in the bottle. Sweet fruit like flavor. No burn of alcohol or any perception of alcohol level. Light mouthfeel with a sweet driven finish to the end of the sip. Not harsh aftertaste but a very slight sweetness lingers on the tongue. This is enjoyable as a single glass or two of sake as a celebration. For me it is too sweet to make this my drink for the night.
Twelve Drummers Drumming. Fukizakura Heights Beer, Rauch
Traditionally the Yule log was burned through the Christmas season. It seems only fitting that we end with this holiday tradition. On the last day of Christmas the Yule log would be completely burnt and this season would come to an end. To mark this occasion we finish with a distinctly unique style of beer. The Rauchbier or smoked beer is definitely an acquired taste. For those that enjoy smoky foods this will go well. Our Rauchbier is Rauch from Fukizahura Heights Beer. Started in 1997 The Fukizakura Heights Beer Company produces award winning beers at the foot of Mt. Fuji. They focus on the German Brewing traditions of malt smoked with beech chips.
Rauchbier 50º – 55º F (10º – 13º C)
A distinct but not overbearing smoke aroma to the pour. Off white creamy head that persists a good while. Deep amber color that is slightly opaque. Smokiness lingers on the aroma. Slight malt sweetness and no hop aroma on the nose. Malt sweetness on the tip of the tongue hop bitterness through the nose when swallowed and a lingering smokiness to the finish. Well attenuated that has a light mouthfeel. The smoke aroma travels back through your nostrils after each swallow. This is good but the smokiness would only want me to enjoy one of these before moving on to another style. Still a very well made beer. Just if I had more than one I feel that I would have the same sensation after sitting by a fire all night long. Enjoying this beer definitely conjures up thoughts and senses of being around a fire. The smoke swirling and somehow always finding you wherever you sit.
Because most of our food is prepared with fire and heat the smoking sense is able to pair with many if not most foods. I have two suggestions to pair and tie to the final day of Christmas. The first is the s’more. With the waning embers from the Yule log the smoke from the beer will compliment the roasted marshmallows and be balanced by the melting chocolate. The chocolate and marshmallow sweetness will quickly tamp down and whipped the pallet of the smokiness in this beer. Once the pallet is cleaned the follow on sips can draw out the malt sweetness for the beer. The gram cracker flavors will balance with the malty flavors in the backbone of the beer. The second option would be the King Cake. While 6 January marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas it also marks the beginning of the Carnival season. Especially in Louisiana this marks the beginning of Mardi Gras. This cinnamon pastry that is covered in sugar color and a baby token is hidden in the ring cake. This token marks who will host the next Mardi Gras party. So as we wrap up this beer tasting and pairing we move into a carnival time where there are more options for reveling and good beer pairing.
Eleven Pipers Piping. Sierra Nevada Brewing, Barrel Aged Narwal
Ken Grossman the founder of Sierra Nevada began his brewery in 1980. In a time where small breweries were few and far between Ken took an unique approach to build his brew house. Taking up-cycled dairy equipment he developed a pale ale beer that was much bitter than any of the light lagers that existed at the time. These initial risks became a standard for Ken and the prevalence of hoppy bitter ales today show that his risk payed off. In taking a series of bold risks he has been able to grow this brewery from recycled material to a company that has breweries on both the west and east coast. These bold decisions come through with their Barrel Aged Narwal. Sierra Nevada took an already big bold beer and aged it an additional year in oak barrels. This provides an even greater richness to the mouthfeel and flavor of this exceptional beer.
Imperial Stout 50 – 55º F (10º – 13º C)
Distinct barrel oak aromas from the pour. The beer flows thick and syrupy. Deep roasted barley notes and a raisin. Sweetness covers the alcohol heat and warmth in a pleasant way. Slight oxidation light wet paper smells. Full body flavor. Raisin malty notes. The aftertaste gives a definite oak aroma and taste. Tan to almost brown head. Lingers for a medium length, until after a few sips. Head dissipates to a paper thin persistent head. Jet black color. No light passes through the glass. Oxidized flavors of wet cardboard. This is expected in a beer that has lingered in an oak barrel for a year. Definitely enjoyed the beer but a pint at 11.9% makes this a one and done kind of night.
Cheese plate of smoked Gouda, and sharp cheddar. Strawberries would also be a great pairing with the imperial stout if you are lucky enough to live in an area where they are in season. Luckily for us Okinawa is in a tropical climate and strawberries are not only in season they are affordable. The tartness of the strawberries would cut into the creaminess of this thick stout. For those that are still doubting just think of chocolate covered strawberries.
Ten Lords a-Leaping, Cliff Beer, For Whom the Bell Tolls
If you have not heard of this brewery you have probably not been to the island of Okinawa, Japan. Cliff Beer began in 2019 and is run out of what is best described as a converted home in a densely residential neighborhood. To get to the brewery you have to travel down what appears to be a single lane road. Your GPS will tell you that “you have arrived” and if you do not see the 8” by 12” sign about knee high you would think that Google maps once again got you lost. The only other signs that this is a brewery is there are a few benches and tables outside and on the edge of the building the word entrance is written in English. They regularly produce well made quality beers. This is the only Christmas Ale I could find for this year’s twelve beers of Christmas. According to the bottle this beer is an amber ale base with chai, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and coriander.
Winter Seasonal Beer (Base Beer: Amber Ale) 40–45°F (4–7°C)
Cinnamon notes and ginger bread cookies are layered over a sweet malt base. Chai spices also come through on later smells. An earthy hops is detected but that could be from the spice as well. Brown color with a tan head that persists. As the head dissipates a gingerbread cookie aroma becomes the dominant scent. This carries to the aftertaste with a ginger lingers forever in the aftertaste. The beer is well attenuated and gives a medium to light mouth feel. The finish is smooth and rolls right into a sweet aftertaste with aromas of ginger that waif up through the nasal cavity. Hops are detected to balance the sweetness of the malt, but do not have any stand out aromas or flavors. The flavor would be best described as enjoying an icing laced gingerbread cookie. The sweetness of the icing is the initial taste on the mouth and the gingerbread flavor remains until the next sip. Overall enjoyable and I would have more than one while enjoying a holiday dessert cookie table.
Growing up, cookie tables were a staple at family gatherings like weddings and the holidays. It is exactly what it sounds like with one table being laden with every type of cookie you could imagine. The family would not only make their dessert tray from this table, but it would be left up for the duration of the gathering and you would end up grazing off this for days. I see this beer as the perfect beverage to pair with a cookie table. Specifically this would stand its ground against desserts made with ginger, clove, anis and other potent holiday spices. The sweetness of the malt will counter with the strong scents and flavors of these spices and the gingerbread flavoring will pair nicely with them as well. I can definitely see this beer washing down plates of cookies being consumed by family and friends reminiscing holiday memories and making new ones.
Nine Ladies Dancing, Yamaguchi Craft Beer, Hagi Yuzu Ale
The Yamaguchi Beer Company was founded in 1997. Their claim of distinction from other breweries in Japan is their limestone filtered water and horizontal fermentation tanks. This is different from what you see in most breweries that use the more common vertical conical tanks. While these do take up more floor space in the brewery, customers claim to taste the difference in less of a dead yeast taste and less pressure. For this ale Yamaguchi added Yuzu, a type of citrus. It is common in Japan, but difficult to find in the United States outside of California. Currently the US Department of Agriculture has a ban on the importation of fresh Yuzu and live plants. Oranges have been a traditional Christmas stocking gift since at least the Great Depression. As a child, I received an orange in my stocking every Christmas morning and New Year’s decorations in Japan all feature an orange.
Fruit Beer (Base Beer: Pale Ale) 45-50° F (7-10° C)
Malt sweetness is that of white bread. There are hints of a light peppery scent behind the malt. Later smells bring up a bitter citrus scent. The aroma I would associate more with the rine of an orange than the sweetness of the pulp. The beer has a hazy orange color. Lightly off white head that persists for a good while past many sips from the glass. Malt sweetness is balanced with a bitter orange on the taste. The sip finishes with a slight peppery almost earthy hop flavor on the tongue. Fully attenuated with light mouthfeel and hops provide a pleasant finish to the sip. The aftertaste presents a lingering aroma of bitter orange. While enjoyable this beer would best be enjoyed with a food to balance the bitter orange taste.
Fruit beers are difficult for me to pair because the style can be so broad. A heavy or light fruit flavor may be present or the fruit may have fully fermented leaving more of the fruit’s bitterness all falling under the same style. After tasting this beer with gives a dominant bitter orange flavor and aftertaste I would pair this with a milk chocolate sampler box. A dark chocolate sampler and this beer would be too bitter to enjoy. The sweetness of the milk chocolate will provide balance and the different fruit fillings and nut combinations will give several sensations to compare. This should give the taster enough different types of chocolates and fillings to find something they love.
Eight Maids a-Milking. New Years Day, Lucky Tiger, Lucky Brew, Kizakura Co.
According to the lunar calendar, 2022 will ring in the year of the tiger. This is the fourth year that Lucky Brews have produced an ale that celebrates the lunar year. Previous Lucky Brews have been Lucky Cat, Dog and Chicken to commemorate the previous lunar years. Each year had a different style of beer with this year’s being Umami Pale Ale. While this style is not a recognized GABF or BJCP style it has appeared in several breweries here in Japan. While the word umami may be new to you as a flavor descriptor the actual taste is probably not. It is most commonly described as the savoriness of seaweed or mushrooms. Kizakura began brewing sake in 1925 and beer in 1995 out of Kyoto, Japan. The company produces two types, one is Kyoto Beer the other is Lucky Brew.
Umami Pale Ale. 50º – 55º F (10º – 13º C)
Piny resin aroma that quickly reminds me of American West Coast IPAs. Hop aroma is definitely dominant over the slight malt sweetness in the back. Deep golden color has very good clarity. Head of off white heavy foam poured very thick eventually the head dissipated to a medium head. Beer lace forms on the side of the glass as the head diminishes. Smooth sweetness on the tip of the tongue gives way to a sharp bitterness on the back of the tongue when swallowed. The aftertaste has a lingering hop aroma. As you speak after the sip the aromas from the hops swirl back through your nose and remind you of the previous taste. A bitter orange or grapefruit flavor that comes through subsequent tastes. The hops dominate over the malt flavors. There are some malty sweetness perceived but they are dominated by the bitterness of the hop. The beer is fully attenuated and gives a light mouthfeel. At five percent and giving a crisp finish with slight lingering hops aroma this would be an enjoyable session beer. This beer is probably better when paired with food rather than enjoyed alone.
Many cultures have special foods that are eaten the first of the year. Growing up in Louisiana I had to eat black eyed peas for good luck every year. Japan is no different. To ensure that I have good luck in the upcoming year of the tiger I paired this beer with Ozouni, one of the good luck foods. Ozouni is a soup that is made with mochi, regional vegetables and chicken/fish/seafood based upon regions. The hoppiness of the beer will pair well with the umami flavors in the soup. While mochi (a rice and sugar dessert) is enjoyed all year long, the making of mochi is tied to the New Year. To end this New Year’s good luck meal I would have mochi as a nice dessert. The intense sweetness of this desert would contrast the bitterness that is persistent in this beer.
Seven Swans a-Swimming, New Years Eve, Hürlimann Brewery, Samichlaus
The old man figure on the bottle depicts Santa which gives the beer its name. It could however depict father time to ring out the old year. The depiction of an old man signifies the end of another year and is normally accompanied by a tiny baby to signify the new year. Samichlaus is brewed by the Hürlimann Brewery. Through sale and consolidation the brand eventually became part of Carlsberg. It is traditionally only brewed one day of the year on 6 December. The beer is then aged for ten months and for a good reason. At 14% it needs that time to mellow and not be as harsh.
Bavarian Doppelbock 55º – 60 F (13º – 16º C)
Caramel malt aroma with scents of alcohol and no perceived hop aroma. Definitely a malt forward flavor beer. As the glass warms toasted malt aromas become more perceived. Red color with off white head that quickly dissipates almost as soon as the glass is poured. No lingering head. Very malty flavor with no discernible hop flavor. Carbonation on the mouth and a full body mouthfeel. Sweet finish that a mild bitterness finishes the sip. Slight heat of alcohol on the flavor. After two sips I can definitely feel the alcohol level.
I am going to go against the norm here and advocate instead of pairing this beer with anything it should be just enjoyed by itself. Each year a high school friend of mine, after wrapping all the gifts and putting the family to bed, sits down to watch the pope deliver Christmas Mass at the Vatican. He takes this time to reflect on what all that transpired the past twelve months and what might come in the year ahead. So consider taking the alternative to the New Years celebrations everyone else is doing and bundle up by a fire while slowly sipping this beer. Instead of flavor senses of food consider pairing this with thoughts and memories of the past year and aspirations for the upcoming one. For me this past year was a period of immense change and the upcoming year has a great deal of uncertainty. As I close out one year and open the next I am going to take my time with the moment and enjoy this beer by itself.
Six Geese a-Laying. Lion Brewery, Lion Stout
The brewery that would eventually be known as Lion Brewery was started in 1849 and holds the distinction of being the oldest brewery in Sri Lanka. I was first introduced to this beer the last time I lived in Japan. My wife and I were searching for something different than the regular light lager of Japan and found Aqua Vitae Suzuki in Yokosuka. This is the season of enjoying those things you appreciate the most. Lion Stout was the first beer we found after moving in 2017 and it helped us realize that we can still enjoy good beer even though we are in a country that doesn’t have a strong craft beer culture.
Foreign Extra Stout 50º – 55º F (10º – 13º C)
Once poured the aromas of roasted malt are dominant. A light caramel scent is also present with very faint earthy hops rounding out the aroma. The smells remind me of well toasted all grain bread. The beer is a deep black color that does not allow light to pass through the pint glass. A thin tan head tops the pour but it does not persist. In the initial sip there is a sweet toasty malt flavor that matches the aromas. A nutty finish lingers in the aftertaste. The beer has a full mouth feel and a smooth finish with enough hops to provide balance and give a finish to the dominant sweetness of the beer. Very distinct toasted bread malt aromas that increase as the glass warms. For being an 8.8% ABV beer the alcohol is not perceived as a harsh burn, but the sensation is definitely felt as the glass is consumed.
The strong beer would go well with dark chocolate, specifically raspberry jelly filled chocolates. As a child I would dread getting those chocolates from the sample box at Christmas. But now that I am older I can see how the chocolate bitterness can cut into the sweet stout flavors of the beer and the raspberry filling will give a more elaborate flavor to the pairing. Because of the nutty aftertaste of Lion Stout I would also look at pairing this with chocolates that have nuts included. Possibly chocolate turtles or Ferraro Rocher candies would compliment the nut flavors in this beer. Either way this sweet stout would compliment chocolate based desserts for your holiday event.
Five Golden Rings. Orval
Orval began their long history in 1070 when monks arrived in the area. Over the years wars and political upheaval has caused the abbey to close several times. The modern version of the abbey began in 1926 when the de Harenne family gave the Cistercian Order the ruin buildings of Orval and the adjacent land with the intent of reestablishing an Abby. Abbey legend explains that the name Orval comes from the well told story of Mathilda of Tuscany who during a visit to the area accidentally dropped her wedding ring in the lake. She prayed that her ring be returned to her and like many of us made a promise to build an Abbey if the lord returned her ring. Moments later the legend goes that a trout surfaced with the ring in its mouth. UPon seeing the ring she proclaimed “Truly this place is a Val d’Or (Golden Valley)”. This Val d’Or morphed into Orval over the years. So in honor of the trout returning the ring this beer will be our fifth beer to represent Five Golden Rings.
Belgian Abby Ale 50º-57º F (10º-14º C)
Wine grape aroma comes off the glass immediately. During the initial pour an old musty scents come off. Wet blanket smells signal the presence of Brettomycyes, an expected trait of this beer. Not necessarily offensive but rather like the smells you would pick up on a farm after it rains. Semi clear amber color with a tan head of small tight bubbles that persist. Very good attenuation with little mouthfeel. Good carbonation on the tongue . Carbonation bubbles are felt over the tongue. Slight earthy hop aroma that comes through the taste as well. No lingering mouthfeel in the aftertaste. There is a slight bitterness that I would say is relatable to a red wine finish.
This would be a fantastic beer to pair with a charcuterie plate. Specifically Orval will stand up to some strong cheeses and flavors found on the board. If you are into bold flavors I would try this with a bit of blue cheese. For those that are looking for an interesting contrast I would also try prosciutto wrapped around cheese or melon. For those that prefer the sweeter taste you can be adventurous with the dried fruit or any jellies on the plate.
Three French Hens, Helios Brewery, Conductor’s Porter
In 1985 Chris Van Allsburg wrote and illustrated the book The Polar Express. The book tells of a train that brought children to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to visit Santa and possibly receive the first gift of Christmas. In honor of the train conductor, famously played by Tom Hanks, today’s Christmas beer is Helios Brewery’s Conductor Porter. Helios started as a distillery on the island of Okinawa, Japan in 1961. After years of making distilled spirits they began to produce beer in 1996 after the country of Japan relaxed the Craft Beer entry rules. The character on the front of the can is the conductor character from the Japanese manga series Galaxy Express 999.
English Porter 45º – 50º F (7º – 10º C) 5% ABV
As soon as the can cracks open the malt sweetness immediately flows out during the pour. The toasted light toffee character mixes with the lightly earthy hops for the aroma from the glass. The dark red color forms a good sized tan head that dissipates to a persistent thin film. The flavor gives a roasted start that ends with a sweet finish, but then persists with a smoky aftertaste. Light mouthfeel that ends with a distinct finish. The aftertaste leaves a tingling in the mouth that persists for a while. There is a very slight earthy hop flavor to the beer. This comes more at the end of the tasting. True to English Porter style it has a much lighter/subtle flavors than American Porters. The conductor character in Galaxy Express 999 is known to be a strictly “by the book” character. This beer follows this character trait. A pleasant English Porter that is extremely enjoyable and I am happy to finish this glass and others if they were offered to me.
The roasted smoked flavors found in porters will pair well with food that is smoked or roasted. For this beer I would pair a smoked chicken. The neutral flavors of the chicken will absorb the smoky flavors and compliment this beer. If chicken is not your pleasure I could also recommend a sausage either smoked or grilled. The porter will cut through the grease of the sausage. Because of the light aromas and flavors of this beer the smoked meats will add to the flavor profile of this beer.
Spring Valley Brewery, Kyoto
In 1869 William Copeland, a Norwegian-American living in Japan, started what is believed to be the first beer brewery in Japan. Some 154 years later while vacationing in Kyoto, Japan I visited the Spring Valley Brew Pub. While Spring Valley started as a small brewery through a series of acquisitions and mergers the business is now owned by Kirin Brewing. Kirin is one of the four Macro Breweries in Japan similar how Budweiser and Anheuser Busch are seen in America. Similar to Budweiser and Anheuser Busch the Japan Macro Breweries are seen as the opposite to craft beer. I find it funny that many of the people talk down about these breweries when speaking about beer in Japan. I see those larger business as the ones who can afford to experiment and afford the more costly domestic grains and hops. On my visit to the brew pub I was lucky enough to try beers made with hops grown in Kyoto.
I started out with the seasonal flight of Summer Craft Ale, Silk Ale, and Houjun (496). The Summer Craft Ale had a thin grassy flavor with a very clear straw color. The mouthfeel was highly carbonated with a crisp finish. The SBV was between 6-7. The Silk Ale was very very light in flavor. It reminded me of drinking watered down malt flavor. Extremely light straw color with a 2-3 SBV. There was a light head. The aftertaste did have a residual bitterness similar to white wine. The Houjun (496) is one of the signature Spring Valley Beers. It’s balanced malt and hop bitterness makes it very drinkable. The beer was more amber color than the other two with a SBV or around 15-17.
After the flight I tried the Yosano IPA. This IPA was made with hops grown in Yosano, a northern town in the Kyoto Prefecture of Japan. The initial aroma of the beer gave a sweet oranges scent. The beer was a deep amber color and by the time the glass came to the table there was no head. As the glass sat and continuous carbonation bubbles rose from the bottom a thin veil of a head formed on the top and rim of the glass. There was a mild haze in the glass. The mouthfeel was that of a sweet malt flavor. There was a slight bitterness at the end of the sip. The bitterness was not harsh, but a nice compliment to cut the malt sweetness. Because of the heavy malt flavor and mild hop bitterness I wonder if this would be better classified as a pale ale instead of an IPA. This is a common though I have with beers labeled IPA in Japan.
While the flight was not my favorite I was happy to see a beer grown with locally grown hops. The citrus flavors are popular with japanese drinks and I think this hop variety would do well in a greater number of beers. Overall it was an enjoyable visit and I hope large breweries like Kirin continue to use domestic hops and malts.
Local Beer Day
Established by Japan Craft Beer Association’s “Jibeer Day Selection Committee” marked by the date of the Beer Purity Law (reinheitsgebot)
Twelfth Beer of Christmas, Nanto Brewery Okinawa Sango Beer, Saison.
The final Beer of Christmas finishes off at a brewery in an Okinawa amusment park. Okinawa World is a registered tangible cultural property of Japan. This facility has a glass factory, reptile exhibit, cave and brewery. The Nanto Brewery uses water from this limestone cave to brew its beer. In addition to beer the brewery also makes Habu Liquor, a canned highball, awamori, and fruit liquor.
The beer has a fruity, slightly sour aroma. There is a slight earthy scent that could come from the hops. Medium white head that persist slightly before dissipating down to a thin layer on the top of the glass. Fruity flavors on the mouth with a slight hop bitterness to deliver a finish for the beer. Very high carbonation on the mouthfeel. The carbonation clears the palate of any flavors and readies the drinker for the next sip. Very clean finish, but a lingering citrus aroma on the mouth. Very crushable beer.
This beer would go well with a fruit plate. The tropical flavor of this beer would pair well with the fruit. Also the high carbonation will clear any fruity flavors that may linger.
Beer Information: Bottle, Bottling Date (unknown), Expiration Date (2023/04/07), Made from Japanese malt/foreign wheat/hops, Unfiltered. ABV 4.5%, SRM (none listed but would judge about an 14-16 SRM)
Seventh Day of Christmas, Yo-Ho Brewing Company, Tokyo Black, Porter
The seventh day of christmas beers takes us back to a previous brewery. Yo-Ho Brewing has produced an English Porter that is just as much to style as the earlier Yona Yona Pale Ale.
Earthy bitter hop aroma on the nose. Spicy hop aroma with a slight pine resinous scent. Really the smell if you were to go into the woods and dig up a spot of dirt and take a deep inhale. Slight malty sweetness. Tan head that dissipates slowly. Very thin head lingers around the perimeter of the glass and the tiny bubbles ebb and flow with each sip. Jet black and unable to see through the glass. Slight malt sweetness on the front of the taste but finishes with a very dry finish from the hops. There is a roasted aroma that lingers in the aftertaste of the beer. Definitely to style for an english porter. There is a lingering malty roasted flavors that persist in the full body mouth feel.
This is a very well made version of the English Porter. For this reason I would pair English food. Something like a meat pastry would hold up well with this beer. The roasted flavors of the porter would go well with the grease and meat of the meat pastry.
Beer Information: Can, Canning Date (unknown), Expiration Date (08/23), Made from foreign malt, ABV 5%, SRM (none listed but would judge about an 40 SRM)