Japan Eats

Japan Booze Blind: Awamori

John Bailey and Rachael White join host Christopher Pellegrini in blind tasting awamori, Okinawan firewater.

Awamori is a beverage native to Okinawa, the island chain to the south of Japan. It is made from long grain indica rice (usually imported from Thailand) which is washed and soaked before being treated with a black koji mold. Yeast and water are then added to bring about fermentation. Finally, the moromi is heated and distilled. The result is a drink not unlike shochu, with a alcohol content of anywhere between 20 and 40 per cent.

On this episode of Japan Booze Blind, guests Rachael White (producer of the blogs tokyoterrace.com, rachaelwhite.me) and John Bailey (arts journalist, noted Japanophile) blind-taste three very different types of awamori: Donan, Nanko and Sashiba. The show was recorded at Dynamo, a skate themed bar in Koenji.

Thanks to Julien Arnaud for allowing us to film at Dynamo.

Japan Booze Blind: Kyushu (Part III)

In the third and final episode of JBB’s Kyushu series, Christopher Pellegrini tries Kirishima and Kuro Denen shochu

Convenience stores in southern Kyushu usually carry a wide selection of shochu. Unlike in Tokyo, much of what can be found in Miyazaki, Kagoshima and Kumamoto prefectures comes in small cans or bottles, similar to the so-called ‘one cup’ nihonshu found elsewhere in the country.

We stopped by a combini and picked up a couple that caught our eye. According to its label, Kirishima is from Miyazaki prefecture and is an imo jochu (potato shochu). It’s easily recognized by its very own gold-colored tasting cup. Kuro Denen, meanwhile, comes from Kagoshima prefecture and (we read with interest) is only 12 per cent by volume.

Once again, we sat beneath Kagoshima City’s cherry blossoms and familiarized ourselves with Kyushu’s favorite spirit.

Watch Part I.

Watch Part II.

Japan Booze Blind: Kyushu (Part II)

Christopher Pellegrini samples an Alt and a Kölsch from Miyazaki’s Aya Brewery

Back in Kagoshima City after a wonderful trip to Miyazaki Prefecture to visit the good people at Kuroki Honten Distillery, we found ourselves a nice place under the cherry blossoms and cracked open a couple of souvenirs that we brought back with us.

Watch Part I.

Watch Part III.

Japan Booze Blind: Kyushu (Part I)

Japan Booze Blind visits southern Kyushu and road tests Kuro Kirishima shochu

On our way from Kagoshima Prefecture to Miyazaki Prefecture, we decided to see what might be available for our mid-trip perusal from the concession cart that rolls by every half hour or so.

The standard fare, as far as the alcohol menu in central/northeastern Japan is concerned, is canned beer, chu-hai and ‘one cup’ (nihonshu in a glass jar). Because we were traveling through Kyushu, however, we were pleasantly surprised to find one additional inhabitant on the menu.

Cup shochu. Kuro Kirishima to be exact.

And we decided to give it a whirl because we know that you’d be disappointed if we hadn’t. This is JBB after all. For the record, Kuro Kirishima was an easy-drinking preamble to our distillery tour later that day.

Watch Part II.

Watch Part III.

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

Christopher Pellegrini is joined by Teruya Hori of Laff International.

Happy New Year! In the final edition of our four-part NCBF 2010 series, Japan Booze Blind’s Christopher Pellegrini interviews one of Baird Brewing’s go-to engineers, Mr. Teruya Hori. Hori-san offers a unique perspective because his job is to make sure that beer is stored and poured under the best conditions possible.

While talking with us, he hinted at a challenge that was not mentioned in the first three parts of this interview series. Politely put: most bars and restaurants in Japan have little more than a vague understanding of how to care for and serve draft beer. Indeed, Japan Eats has seen kegs sitting out in the sun on landings and back balconies across this fair city. Granted, they’re normally cylinders of run-of-the-mill beer, but it is easy to imagine what might happen to a craft beer’s quality if it is forced to endure consecutive Tokyo summer days unprotected. Just like we heard back in part one of this series, “Bad Beer is the Enemy” rings true in the overall message of this interview as well.

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

Christopher Pellegrini speaks with Chris Poel, Head Brewer at Baird Brewing

In the third installment of Japan Booze Blind’s interviews from the Nippon Craft Beer Festival (NCBF), we were fortunate enough to glean some thoughts from Baird’s wizard of the brew, Chris Poel.

Poel gives us a little background information on how his brewing career took shape and divulges a few details about an upcoming beer release.

Quick note: Pellegrini asks Poel about IBUs in Baird’s New Year’s release. IBUs stands for International Bittering Units and is a scale by which the relative bitterness (hoppiness) of a beer is measured. For reference, Budweiser has about 11 IBUs while Stone’s “Old Guardian Barley Wine” and Rock Art’s “Vermonster” clock in at 95 and 100, respectively.

Watch Part I.
Watch Part II.

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

In Part II of our Nippon Craft Beer Festival (NCBF) coverage, Christopher speaks with Tomoko Sonoda, Brew Master at HarvestMoon (Ikspiari)

We’ll take Disney Sea over Land any day. Not because Sea is better–it’s just that you can’t buy beer at Land (or so we’ve been told). If you’re in the vicinity of the Disney realm out near Maihama station in Chiba Prefecture, and you’re thirsty, thankfully there’s an alternative beer option that far surpasses the macros available inside the magic kingdom. It’s called HarvestMoon.

HarvestMoon featured heavily at the Craft Beer Festival this fall, in which dozens of Japan’s finest craft beers were offered on tap to hundreds of beer enthusiasts at Sumida Riverside Hall.

In part two of JBB’s NCBF interviews, we had a chance to speak with HarvestMoon’s brewmaster, Tomoko Sonoda. Ms. Sonoda was kind enough to give us a brewer’s perspective on the challenges facing the craft beer industry in Japan. She advocates experimentation and adaptation as a way to win over new fans and help the industry grow.

Watch Part I of the video here.

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.

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

Japan Booze Blind: Baird Summer Beers

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

Baird Beer’s Nakameguro Taproom is a shining beacon for beer-o-philes around Tokyo and is doing its best to broaden that group, not only through events such as tastings and seminars, but through serving some of the best beer in the country.

There are currently 28 beers on tap, all but a few Baird’s own. The few guest beers are also high-quality microbrews. Most beers are 900 yen a pint, with some at 1000 yen and some in slightly differently-sized glasses (depending on type). Smaller sizes and tasters are available. Read more