Japan Eats

What We’re Drinking: Waseda Beer

Waseda, the lauded private university in downtown Tokyo that fields roughly 130,000 applications for admission each year, has a lot going for it–tradition, influence, and most importantly a very good baseball team.

One thing that it still needs to work on, however, is its beer.

Unfortunately, Waseda Beer (5% ABV)  is strongly yeasty from the moment you pry the cap off it. Then the yeastiness on the nose is backed up by an immediate and somewhat sour yeast dominance on the palate.

The result is a low-wattage sour middle that is not really all that welcome. This means that the hops are nearly undetectable. It would probably go down better, and feel more balanced, if the yeasty nose translated into a medium-bodied, bready mouthfeel.

I cracked two separate bottles to make sure that this was not an errant representative of the Waseda beer brand, but alas I cannot guarantee that they weren’t from the same batch since the same ‘drink by’ date (October 29, 2010) was stamped on the back of both of them.

Given the possibility that I drank two bottles of the real deal, I’m willing to acknowledge that it’s possible to get used to this beer, but it’s really not for me. The one thing that it has going for it is the somewhat dry finish that makes you nearly think the word “refreshing”. The only other plus I could come up with is the cool beer-pouring sound it makes on its way into a glass due to the stovepipe neck on the bottle.

In short, this beer does not do the proud history of Waseda University justice, and I will not be purchasing another one of them until someone assures me that a different experience is in store.

Waseda’s star pitcher, Yuki Saito, would surely be pissed off if he knew that this stuff was being served on campus.

More info about this beer can be found (in Japanese) here: http://waseda-beer.com/

What We’re Drinking: Nakanaka Mugi (barley) Shochu

This bottle was a birthday present from my friend Karen who knows that I’m studiously perusing the range of barley shochu offerings available in Tokyo. It was a very welcome addition to my home bar!

This bottle, Nakanaka, is a good place to start one’s exploration of honkaku mugi shochu. When drinking it straight, Nakanaka starts with a slight, honey sweetness on the tip of the tongue before giving way to an assertive barley-alcohol twinge at the back.

With an ice cube or two thrown in this shochu loses a bit of the sweetness up front and experiences a slight drop in alcoholic bite as well. Taking a good drag of air to mix with a mouthful of Nakanaka will help revive the sweetness that is easier to find when enjoying this drink neat.

Most industry folks recommend that this drink be enjoyed either on the rocks or with a bit of warm water (oyuwari in Japanese). The latter is advised especially if you want to get more out of the nose. Cold water (mizuwari) is also an option.

Drinking Nakanaka straight is not to be discouraged, even though I seem to be the only only openly recommending that it be consumed that way.

At around 1,050 yen for a 720 ml bottle the regular stuff (it’s usually found in a brown glass bottle), you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Nakanaka.

What we’re drinking: Shirashinken mugi (shochu)

This is my favorite tipple right now. Shirashinken. Even if you can’t spell it, remember it.

And this one is very easy to find. I bought it at my local supermarket for about 1,200 yen. Just like all things Balvenie (thank you, Garrett), I will make sure to have a bottle of this in my bar at all times.

Tasting notes: the barley tingle on this mugi (barley) shochu is subdued because of the very pleasant honey notes at the front and in the finish. This shochu is quite long. It lingers for a bit after you’ve swallowed, and it is one that you absolutely must try ‘neat’. That’s right. No rocks, no splash of water, no nothing.

And you’ll thank me for it. I’m sure that Shirashinken is very pleasant on the rocks, the way that many people like to drink shochu, but the interplay between the prickly earthiness and the sweet notes is something that would be bludgeoned off the palate by a few innocuous ice cubes. Try it neat so that you taste what I’m getting at.

This bottle doesn’t get nearly as much love as some of the more famous mugi shochu such as Hyakunen no Kodoku, but I believe that it’s almost as good. Unless, of course, you happen to have a bottle of Hyakunen that is more than ten years old as Tsuruda-san does at my local bar. But that’s beside the point.


Fact: this is the best bottle of mugi shochu I’ve purchased for less than 1,500 yen thus far.

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: 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: 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: 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.

What we’re drinking: Delerium Nocturnum at “Frigo” in Shinjuku

Ooooh, Chrissy like!

Ooooh, Chrissy like!

I’m a big fan of Delirium Tremens, so I thought I’d give this one a shot.

This bottle, the last one in stock, was perched happily in one of Frigo’s beer friges when I snatched it and subsequently put it over my knee.

I’m a big fan of Delirium Tremens, and this beer lived up to my expectations in every way, shape, and form.

Nocturnum isn’t as sweet as Tremens, and I noticed some very pleasant sour notes on the sides of my mouth as I was drinking it. The beer became considerably more enjoyable as it warmed a little, and all of it’s bold flavors began to mingle on the back of my tongue. I would love to have this Belgian Strong Dark Ale with dinner, perhaps alongside a nice, fat steak. As one might expect, this beer checks in at 8.5% on the “where am I, and how did I get here?” scale.

Shinjuku is definitely not the easiest part of town to find anything other than the usual suspects as far as beer goes, so many thanks to Frigo for bringing some nice Belgian and German beers to a wider audience!

What we’re drinking: The Premium Malt’s (Suntory)

The gold can excites me.

The gold can excites me.

Why does it have a possessive apostrophe in the name of the beer? What is it possessing exactly? Me? Well, maybe.

This is definitely one of my favorite Japanese lagers, of the German Pilsener persuasion to be exact, and I drink more than my fair share of it each week. It also accompanies me on any occasion where BYOB is in order: picnics, ball games, work, etc.

From front to back, this beer doesn’t disappoint. It sports a good balance of hops, malt, and carbonated burn, and it doesn’t get too nasty if it warms while drinking pensively. This beer, to my knowledge, can’t be purchased in Japan for less than 200 yen, and the best price in my neck of the woods at the moment is 218 yen at the Seiyu on the corner.

And it can be found everywhere. It’s a staple in restaurants where it can frequently be had in draft version, and nearly every convenience store in the Tokyo metropolitan area carries it. It’s my recommended choice of brew if you’re going to a friend’s house for a party and you want to look like you care.

What we’re drinking: Red Rocket Ale

Red Rocket Ale

Bear Republic's American (formerly Scottish) Red Ale

I’m a big fan of hopped-up brews, and Bear Republic’s Red Rocket Ale definitely does the trick.

This American Red comes through with bark and bite in equal quantities. The Cascade hops just waft off the crown of the beer after it’s been poured. I partook of this beer at my local bar and it was enjoyed in an imperial pint glass. I shall seek and drink another very soon.

This brew clocks in at about 6% on the hydrometer (the magical beer buoy), and I found it to be a very, very well-balanced example of what an American Red Ale should be. Loved the latticework of suds left on the inside of glass as the ale steadily found its way into my gut.