22 January 2019
I suppose, then, we’ll begin in medias res. I’m currently in Japan. Osaka, to be precise. Avoiding the January cold in a tiny hotel room on a dark Tuesday evening, with a small bottle of sake by my side.
But I’m not planning to write about sake. Though I have enjoyed learning about the production and culture of that drink while here - and I’ve done my share of tasting too. Neither am I going to write about the local pickles - maybe I need to make a separate trip–or lifetime–to dig into that delicious side of things.
No. I’m here for beer. I’m headed eventually for the Japan Brewers Cup this Friday in Yokohama. But I thought I might be able to limber up with some local beer tastings in the preceeding week, and offer a few first impressions in this land where alcohol flows pretty freely.
I’m not sure how to present this. Since I don’t yet know how it concludes. But let’s shoot for a loose diary format with commentary thrown in. I’ve been taking notes up to now. I’ll try not to rewrite too much based on subsequent experience as I tidy them up and present them here.
Day 2. Tokyo
Towards the end of a morning wander through Tsukiji Market I spotted the little craft beer stall. Nothing fancy - a simple draft setup with 4 ales on tap, standing tables and a bench to rest your bag on. And a fan pumping hot air over the tables, keeping the cold market air out in the street where it belongs. An almost pefect starting place for this adventure.
Described as "Japanese White" with Yuzu and Japanese pepper. Cloudy yellow with a light head. Delicate citus peel nose and taste. Front of mouth bitterness with citric bite and a lasting herbal and peppery note. Refreshing and easy on the palate. I really enjoyed drinking this one late morning.
Medium gold colour with long lasting white head and constant effervescence. Not much on the nose. Bitter and citrusy from start to finish. Smooth mouthfeel. The bitterness lasts well after the mouthful has gone down.
Later that day, I was surprised to find a range of canned ales in the fridge at one of Tokyo’s many “Everything” shops (this one happened to be Don Quijote, Asakusa branch), carefully separated from the many lagers. In retrospect, my surprise was out of place, a scar from living in Thailand - as I soon came to realise, Japan’s retail shelves are well stocked with variety far beyond Asahi/Kirin/Sapporo. Anyway I picked up 4 cans, for later consumption.
In the afternoon, during a brief stop back at the hotel, I got to work on the first of those purchases, and put the others in the fridge.
At 99 yen (around USD1) for a 330ml can, this was by far the cheapest beer I had on the trip. Brewed by Sapporo, so big beer, but “Inspired by Belgian White Beers” with a “refreshing and fruity flavor”. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much from this, so cracked it open as a quick refresher back in the room. Lacking glassware, I poured a little into an opaque cup. Plenty of foam on a lightly coloured liquor. Not much on the nose. Somewhat sweet on the palate, with an aftertaste of malt and alcohol. Not getting much of the aromatics (it is brewed with orange peel and Coriander, according to the blurb, though that could be my blocked nose). Overall a passable beer, but not drinking like a Wit - too malty and boozy. I’ll maybe give it a try again next week when I’m recovered from this cold, and in better tasting form - it’s certainly cheap.
Evening found us enjoying the lights, sights and tastes (some excellent Chinese) of Shibuya. Which meant we were close to Goodbeer Faucets, and as the temperature dropped it proved to be a welcome break from the biting cold - though sadly for a short time only as it was getting late. I wish we could have stayed longer to explore the menu further, and, indeed, to visit some of the other local brew spots. But, anyway, time for two drinks.
Mid-amber with only a little head. Citrusy nose. Hits the palate hard with citrus and peachy sweetness, moving to mangoes and sweet tropical fruits. Soft, mellow bitter on the end. Extremely well balanced and drinkable.
Pitch black with solid cream head. Chocolate nose which reaches into the taste, mellowing and deepening to a rich smoky and, finally, bitter end. Creamy and filling with just a hint of fruit and vanilla on the side. I could manage a few more of these if we didn't have a train to catch.
Back in the hotel, after defrosting in the onsen, there was time for one more of those cans before bed.
Bright golden pour. Sweet nose. Thin-medium bodied, but malty, with a well-matched bitterness. Some grapefruit and a hint of flowers in the longer taste. Very suppable.