Japan Eats

Japan Booze Blind: Nippon Craft Beer Festival (Part I)

Christopher Pellegrini talks to Ry Beville of the Japan Beer Times at the Nippon Craft Beer Festival

The “Nippon Craft Beer Festival 2010” took place on October 31st at Sumida Riverside Hall near Asakusa station and the Asahi building with that weird golden sperm flying on top of it.

Giant sperm aside, it was a great party that featured several dozen taps and a whole lot of craft beer goodness. The place was pretty well packed, but we still managed to interview some of the key people in the Japanese craft beer world.

The highlights? Good beer and plenty of it. Good people, too!

First up in this series of short interviews about craft beer and where it may be going in Japan is Ry Beville, a magazine publisher (The Japan Beer Times and ko-e) and craft beer insider who has a penchant for pairing good beer and good music.

The video is a glimpse into what’s brewing in Japan and where things need to go from here.

If you’re interested in that t-shirt that Ry is wearing, then click here.

Watch Part II of the video here.

Boozehound: Suntory’s Yamazaki 1984 Wins Int’l Whiskey Prize

It was recently reported that Japanese beverage giant, Suntory, brought home top prize at the recent International Spirits Challenge held in London, England.

Entered in the ‘Whiskies – Other’ category, Suntory’s Single Malt Yamazaki 1984 won one of several gold medals awarded to whiskey distillers from around the world. Later on, in a second round of blind tasting by several international judges, Yamazaki 1984 was awarded top prize in the category.

While this category does not include Scotch, which has a category of its own, Yamazaki 1984 beat out major competition from several Irish labels (Jameson, Bushmills, etc.) in taking the trophy.

Suntory was then awarded “Distiller of the Year” honors for its contributions to the global spirits industry. And on top of that, Yamazaki 1984 came away with the “Supreme Champion Spirit” award. Both honors are a first for a Japanese distiller and product, respectively.

Yamazaki 1984 sells for nearly 100,000 yen per bottle (700ml) in Japan, and Suntory actually had several other entries in the same category that were also assigned gold medals by the auditors.

Asahi also managed to score two gold medals for Japan in the same category with its “Taketsuru 21 y.o.” and “Yoichi 15 y.o.” labels.

Japan Booze Blind: Baird Fall Beers

Host Christopher Pellegrini discusses fall beers with the Baird Nakameguro Taproom’s Marco McFarren.

Following up on our Summer Beers episode shot earlier this year at the Nakameguro Taproom, Baird’s Marco McFarren kindly invited us back for a quick run-through some of their maltier selections.

In this video Marco introduces Christopher to Big Red Machine, Angry Boy Brown Ale and their Baltic Porter, all of which are currently on tap at the Nakameguro and Harajuku Taprooms. As the mercury continues to fall in Tokyo, these richer ales match the weather outside as perfectly as the summer ales did back in July. Read more

Boozehound: The Joy of Sake

Christopher Pellegrini takes in The Joy of Sake

Tokyo’s installment of Honolulu’s Joy of Sake party was packed by legions of professionals from the nihonshu industry and the well-heeled business folks from the southwestern section of the Yamanote train line. Also in attendance were some of sake’s biggest supporters outside of Japan, namely author John Gauntner and sommelier Ake Nordgren, and the air in the two tasting halls was one of a giant reunion made possible by the continuing success of one of this country’s most recognizable exports.

Bottles of Daiginjo 'A' waiting in the TOC Main Hall.

And then there was me.

To be fair, I wasn’t the only nihonshu nerd in attendance, but very few others felt brave enough to whip out their notebooks and scribble tasting notes as they worked their way up and down endless banquet tables of daiginjo. And I must admit, it was truly a joyful experience.

Curiously, many guests chose to ignore the TOC Main Hall where all of the daiginjo ‘A’ bottles (rice polishing ratio of 40% or less) sat vulnerable to unlimited perusal. The other, more brightly lit hall had more food, but no daiginjo ‘A’.  With everyone busy munching away, I was allowed ample elbow room to compare some of the best sake currently known to the world. In fact, there were no less than 329 labels from 166 breweries on display, and the main hall also featured a good selection of yamahai and kimoto sake.

No, I didn’t try them all. I’m only human. And there were no spit buckets.

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Australian Ginjo.

All 329 varieties of sake were in fact entrants in the 2010 US National Sake Appraisal which took place in Honolulu back in August. That includes all of the daiginjo ‘B’, ginjo and junmai labels on the tables in the Tokubetsu Hall. The two day event sees ten judges run through all of the bottles as they attempt to find imbalances in each of them.

Of the 83 daiginjo ‘A’ bottles, 27 were gold award winners with top honors going to Kizakura’s “Daiginjo”, Kodama Jozo’s Taiheizan “Tenko”, and Nagurayama Shuzo’s “Kanpyokai Shuppinshu.” My favorites were Asahi Shuzo’s famous “Dassai 23”, a sake with the unimaginable polishing ratio of 23%, and Ume Ichirin Shuzo’s “Kanpyokai Shuppinshu.”

The former didn’t make it to the final round during the panel’s blind tasting, but the latter did and earned a gold award in the process. Interestingly, Ume Ichirin Shuzo is located in Chiba Prefecture, a region not typically associated with sake brewing excellence.

Other bottles that caught my attention were “Hana no Youna” junmai ginjo from California and “Go-Shu Blue” ginjo from Australia. Neither won plaudits from the contest’s auditors, but Australia’s entry was noticeably more enjoyable than America’s.

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Several top notch restaurants offered small portions of their finest sake-paired appetizers.

More than anything, Joy of Sake is an excellent opportunity for the nihonshu-curious to figure out what they like. By using the mini-siphons to import two thimbles of sake into one’s tasting cup, it’s possible to keep inebriation on the back burner and slowly sample everything from the refined to the complex, the clean to the more cloying.

And of course there was food there, too. Twelve top-notch restaurants from both Japan and America provided appetizers to the buoyant guests. Takao (Los Angeles) served their Maguro Spring Roll with Avocado and Sweet Spicy Miso Sauce while Al Porto (Tokyo) offered Bruschetta di Prociutto Crudo e Caponata.

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Volunteers begin uncapping bottles before the start of the festival. Notice the small plastic syphon used to transfer sake into guests' tasting cups.

Through conversations with other guests, it became clear that many were enthusiastic about Nobu (New York) and their Fresh Sashimi from Niigata with Yuzu and Dried Miso. Hoku’s (Honolulu) also had a long line waiting for bowls of its Sake Braised Black Angus Beef Short Angus Beef Short Ribs with Hawaiian Chili Pepper, Spiced Crispy Onions and Lomi Pineapple Tomato.

Judging by the 8,000 yen ticket price, Joy of Sake is not an event targeted at the 20-something crowd, and that observation was easily supported by a quick look around the audience. The average age of the guests was likely late 40s, which is not meant to imply that this sake celebration was a sedate affair. Anything but. Several couples old enough to be my grandparents kept up and carried on just like the small groups of young women four decades their junior.

If this party returns to Japan in the future, indeed if sake is to survive at home, this generational imbalance is something that they will hopefully choose to address. In the meantime, let’s hope that this event continues to turn heads and change minds overseas as sake brings its special brand of Japanese joy to a wider audience.

Recipe: Dry curry

The other curry

Ask any Japanese for a list of their favorite dishes, you can be sure ‘curry rice’ will be one of them. Introduced to the country by the British during the Meiji era (1869–1913), this mix of curry roux, meat and vegetables is typically served alongside Japanese rice, and has since become something of a national obsession.

There is, however, another type of curry which has gained popularity as a regular addition to Japanese cafe menus. So-called ‘Dry curry’ is made from minced meat and vegetables which are squeezed to remove any excess liquid. It is easy to prepare and makes an excellent (read ‘less messy’) addition to an obento.

Curry

Ingredients (serves 3 – 4 people)
200 g cucumber
300 g tomato (2 tomatoes)
50 g celery
70 g onion
40 g radish

200 g minced pork
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
20 g of ginger
10 g garlic
2 tablespoons of curry powder
1 tablespoon of soy sauce

Method

First, prepare the dry curry itself. Warm a pan with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and cook the finely chopped ginger and garlic over a low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until you sense the smell rising from the pan.

Add the minced pork and cook over a medium heat until the color has changed. Next, add curry powder and mix well, then turn off the heat. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce as soon as you turn off the heat. Stir.

Cut off both ends of the cucumber and thinly slice like an accordion. Cut again into bite-sized pieces (3-4 cm in length). Slice the celery diagonally into 5 cm pieces, and the onion into bite-sized wedges.

Places each of these vegetables into individual mixing bowls. Sprinkle half a teaspoon of salt over them (preliminary seasoning which removes some of their harshness). Let the vegetables stand for 5 minutes until they become a little soft.

Slice the radish thinly and cut the tomato into quarters or smaller-sized wedges. Now, squeeze the cucumber, celery and onion to extract any excess liquid.

Place the cucumber, sliced onion and sliced radish into the dry curry and mix the ingredients together. Add tomato to the curry and mix one last time before serving.