Japan Eats

What we’re drinking: Satsuma Shiranami (shochu)

Shochu, as you know, is a distilled beverage. That works well for me because it means that I don’t have to refrigerate the bottle after opening, so it can sit happily on the shelf with the whiskeys, gins, and vodkas of the world.

The only problem is when you like to drink it slightly chilled, but not on the rocks. Shochu is often consumed oyu-wari (warm water added), mizu-wari (cool water added), or on the rocks, but all three of those methods will dilute what the artists who made the shochu want you to taste. Therefore drinking it neat or slightly chilled, especially when it’s a decent honkaku (the real deal) shochu, is my preferred plan of attack.

And Satsuma Shiranami, a very affordable potato (imo) shochu from Kagoshima Prefecture, is just such a drink.

The first glass of the evening was sampled ‘neat’, and the nose was earthy but subtle. I immediately noticed a good deal of length on the palate, like a wine that lingers after you’ve swallowed it, and the prickly dryness was in good balance with the aroma.

The next glass was slightly chilled (I refrigerated 50 ml in a small bottle for about 20 minutes), and while the bouquet was still mostly there, my first impression on the palate was that it was smoother or almost softer than before.

Finally, I gave it a whirl on the rocks since this is how many people encounter shochu at the bar. The nose was almost nonexistent this time around while the shochu itself became even fuller-bodied. The prickly, earthy notes were muted and the drink felt rounder. If I were to borrow a word from wine-snob lingo, I might go so far as to say that Satsuma Shiranami becomes voluptuous on the rocks. It retains some of its length at lower temperatures, but it’s not nearly as bold when ice is involved–some people may think that that’s a good thing.

At all three temperatures, Satsuma Shiranami is a very enjoyable drink. I prefer it neat as the flavors present themselves in a very matter-of-fact way without being brash or cloying. I also really like how the alcohol notes help temper the earthiness. That said, this shochu rounds out nicely when the temperature drops.

At less than 1,000 yen per 900 ml bottle, this potato shochu provides excellent value for the coin. Fortunately, it’s ubiquitous and is standard fare at many supermarkets.

For the true shochu nerds out there, the potatoes used in its production are, of course, satsumaimo (sweet potato), and white kouji mold was employed for turning starch into sugar. Satsuma Shiranami is 25% ABV.

What We’re Drinking: Takachiyo honjouzou nihonshu (sake)

I’ve recently been spending tons of time learning everything I can about shochu. If you follow me on Twitter, then you’re probably already familiar with my ramblings on the subject.

Anyway, it came as a bit of a surprise when I noticed that I have yet to review a bottle of nihonshu.

TakachiyoSo I busted out a bottle of Takachiyo and gave it a whirl.

After letting the temperature on this one rise a little (I purposefully keep my fridge cold enough to kill the taste on most Japanese macrobrews) it hit the tip of my tongue with a bunch of bready sweetness that gave way to a rather round body.

The closer this sake got to room temperature, the more I liked it. It developed more of a spine as sour notes began to creep in from the sides. I started to get a slight amount of fruitiness as it warmed as well. This made perfect sense since I was revealing a fruitier bouquet on the nose with each refill.

Although I didn’t have enough left to try it myself, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it might be amenable to warming. This nihonshu really made me want to eat some fish. It would go well with saba (mackerel).

The seimaibuai (milling rate) on this one is 63%, and the label on the bottle states that it is a honjouzou which indicates that a small amount of distilled alcohol was added during the brewing process to (most likely) level the flavor out a bit.

So while it wasn’t ginjo, it was definitely smooth and balanced enough to be worth another try. If anyone else has tried this, I would love to read your tasting notes. Just post them in the comments.

For those who can read Japanese, here is the Takachiyo website. You won’t find the bottle pictured above on that website. As you may already know, labels and bottle colors can change drastically in the nihonshu world from year to year.

What We’re Drinking: Sapporo x Royce Chocolat Brewery

Oh my, they certainly weren’t kidding when they named this one.

Normally in such a collaboration, the secondary or nominal ingredient is there for branding more than anything else and is sometimes barely even noticeable. Not so, in this case. While the beer, of course, contains no finished Royce product, it most certainly contains chocolate. I popped open the can, poured it into a frosty pilsner glass, started to raise it towards my face and WHAM! Read more

What we’re drinking: Delirium Christmas

Delirium Christmas

Oh look, the pink elephant is ice skating. Deja vu.

Drank this beauty this past weekend at my local haunt, Duke. Delirium Christmas, also commonly labeled as Delirium Noël, comes with a few different versions of the pink elephant on the front.

Truth be told, I ended up drinking this Belgian strong dark ale two nights in a row. I got the pink elephant on a sled the second time around. I was informed that there is also a version of the label that has a bunch of elephants pulling a sleigh.

I know it tastes exactly the same, but I will not rest until I try that one as well. You have my word on that.

Oh, and as a little quiz, how many elephants are there on a typical Delirium serving glass?

Anyway, this beer was just as irresistible as I had anticipated. I’m a huge fan of Delirium Tremens (who isn’t?), and this seasonal ale did not disappoint.

The nose on this beer was lovely–a blend of fruity esters and a faint spiciness to bring everything together. The spice lingers and makes the phenolic aspects of this brew pleasant and generally not distracting. The dry finish is a nice relief and rounds out the experience almost perfectly.

This is another must-try from the Delirium lineup in my opinion although you may have to wait several more months to find it again.

In the meantime, just keep yourself busy with another wintery delight, atsukan.

What we’re drinking: Nanbu Bijin

After a long day on the set of Japan Booze, Blind or Tokyo Bites, when meeting to write or plan the next step for Japan Eats, amid the vicissitudes of fortune, there is one constant; one thing in which Marcus, Christopher, and I can always find comfort, solace, and enjoyment: The Beautiful Southern Lady. Read more

What we’re drinking: Zamani Shochu

A treasure from Sukumo City!

A treasure from Sukumo City!

Last night I wrote about a cheap, plastic jar-encased shochu that didn’t have a whole lot of character other than the label promising that the contents might be a ‘treasure’.

Right now I’m sipping something a little bit more involved. I have a beautiful blue bottle of Zamani shochu from Kochi prefecture, and this is a drink where the taste matches the nose.

And I mean that in a good way. The nose has a sweet potato buzz in it and it has a nice shochu bite going down the hatch!

“Zamani”, a product of the city of Sukumo, means ‘very’ or ‘really’ in the local dialect, so I think that it’s only right to say that this shochu is zamani gorgeous!

I’m a big fan of how clean the mouthfeel and finish on this shochu are. The sweetness balances the alcohol nicely, and it is proving to be a very drinkable bottle right now.

As usual, I’m drinking my shochu neat, but don’t be afraid to throw it on some rocks or water it down a little bit. I would urge you, however, to give Zamani a shot straight up before mixing anything else in with it.

What we’re drinking: Takara Cup Shochu

Takara Cup Shochu (20 percent)I was a little bored, so I thought I’d give this little plastic cup a shot. It’s pretty easy to find in supermarkets anyway, so 200-some-odd yen and 30 minutes of my time didn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice for a drink whose name means ‘treasure cup’.

The smell when I unwrapped the plastic and unscrewed the blow lid let me know that I was indeed in for a bit of an adventure with some shochu. Not quite as sharp as Korea’s favorite drink, soju, this one wafted a slightly tamer and rounder version of that familiar “huh, this reminds me of the stuff I use to scrub the bathtub” smell.

But the bite was smoother than expected. It was surprisingly easy to drink, and there was very little of the expected burn going down.

The 20 on the lower right hand side of the plastic cup (jar?) indicates the alcohol by volume, and I believe that this little blue-topped number (it’s a business-card-and-a-half tall) has a redheaded cousin that clocks in at 25 percent. I may have to give that one a try just to see how it compares.

What we’re drinking: Yamazaki 12y.o.

At around 3700 yen a bottle, Suntory is proud of their flagship single malt, as they should be.  If Kaku-bin is the whisky that made the Yamazaki distillery famous, Yamazaki 12 year old is the tipple that made Japan’s oldest whisky distillery its most prestigious. Read more

What we’re drinking: Suntory “Kaku-bin”

Whisk(e)y fans sometimes talk about the three main types of the king of tipples: Scotch, Bourbon, and Irish.

Now Christopher will surely be asking, “What about my Canadian Club? My Crown Royal? My Seagram’s Royal-freaking-Reserve?! Where is Canada on the list?”  But anything best served drowned in cola is best not served.

Fans of Japan’s ever-improving product, Scotch-like as it may be, may be in a better position to ask when their country will get its due. Read more

What we’re drinking: Asahi Super Dry

It's dry, but I don't know if it's 'super' dry...

It's dry, but I don't know if it's 'super' dry...

Now here’s an example of a beer that can be found everywhere in Tokyo. It’s in every alcohol-selling convenience store, supermarket, and mom-and-pop liquor shop. The only places you can’t find it is at hyper-discounted grocers such as “Lawson 100” where’s it’s just a bit too expensive to fit into that price range. Otherwise, rest assured–you’ll find it.

Which is, of course, a reasonable indication of what you’re in for. Easy-drinking and crisp it is. Complex and worth writing home about it is not. This is a session beer, a BBQ-lover’s beer, a vending machine beer.

And to make sure that I don’t get too negative here, I’d like to reiterate that it’s easy to drink. The carbonation and dry finish are refreshing and (obviously) bring people back for more.

We’re definitely going to have to do a few Japanese rice lagers on an upcoming JBB show though. They are just as similar to each other as the light beers in North America can often be. I’d be very surprised if I could identify one out of three correctly in a blind taste testing.

That said, I’m a huge fan of the Kirin Beer facilities near Namamugi station down towards Yokohama. I’ve been on that brewery tour no less than three times. Several good brews can be had both in the tasting room and in the small-scale brewpubs located on the vast premises.