The Japanese love affair with beer is evident again in this latest move by Japanese airline ANA to install draft beer dispensers in the galleys of their domestic flights. They’ve wisely decided not to offer the service on their international routes, and have also wisely decided to limit the number of glasses available to 20 (40 on one of the Okinawa routes that uses a larger jet), to stop things really getting out of control. Instead, you can enjoy a cold draft beer responsibly at the outrageous cost of ¥1000 (£7, $11, €9) per glass. Initial reports actually show that the drinking vessels will be made of plastic, another good safety move. The big question right now is, which beer company has the contract? There doesn’t seem to be any information anywhere on this, but my money is on Asahi Super Dry. They’re always up for breaking new ground. After all, this is the first time draft beer has been served from a keg on a plane due to the high pressures involved and it has taken a combined effort from ANA, electronics company Hoshizaki Denki, and said unnamed drinks company to make it possible. Anyone who has taken one of the flights and tried it for themselves, please let us know what brand they’re serving in the comments thread.
On Chuo Dori, a.k.a. ‘Ginza Street’ (in Ginza, Tokyo) there’s a new bar open ready for the summer. It’s operated by Asahi, one of Japan’s biggest beverage companies, and sells only their mainstay, flagship brew, Asahi Super Dry. What’s unique is that the beer is freezing cold, as is the interior temperature of the bar – perfect for escaping the balmy Japanese summer.
Each glass costs ¥550, is served at a strict temperature of between 0°c and -2°c, and you can even pour the beer yourself from the bar taps! The temperature of the interior is shown on the outside of the bar and you can just see it in the picture I took at the top of this post. The Asahi Super Dry Extra Cold Bar in Ginza is open now until the end of August 2010.
Oh boy, what an awesome name! This beer has come out, possibly to coincide with the Tokyo Oktoberfest in Hibiya Park, which I’ve already been to twice since it opened a week ago. On the TV commercial they sing the classic German beer drinking song, and then toast using the german ‘Prost!’. Of course, I was straight down the shop as soon as I saw the commercial, to try out this all malt pilsner from Asahi Breweries. I have to admit, it’s very, very good, but it still lacks the sweetness of the german beer, in fact it’s very dry. This seems to be a pattern that’s emerging, and relates to the Japanese aversion to sweet things in general. The strapline is not very interesting this time, also, unfortunately:
“A full-flavored 100% malt draft beer based on traditional German brewing techniques.”
The Japanese beer series continues with a new Sapporo breweries offering that I picked up from the local 7/11. It had been a busy day working on a hot, humid day, so I wanted something refreshing and beer-based to take the edge off the wired feeling that comes from excessive hours in front of a computer display. Once the raster burn had faded from my retinas I checked the catch copy on the front of the can, and what a beauty!
“The superb aroma of Sapporo Baisen is created by a unique malt roasting process. This roasted malt is blended with pale malt for a flavor experience so thrilling it even smells delicious.”
Genius strap-lines aside, the flavour is pretty much what you’d expect from any Japanese beer. It’s strong, at 5%, and crisp, much like usual lager beer. I couldn’t taste any distinctive differences to usual Sapporo beer, except it was possibly more bitter than usual, and lacked the usual sweetness I’m accustomed to when drinking lager. I couldn’t decide the whole time whether this was a good thing or not.
It’s that time again, when the inhabitants of Tokyo gather in their millions underneath the cherry blossom (sakura 桜) trees to celebrate the arrival of spring and the departure of winter. The tradition, known as Hanami (flower viewing) has been practiced for many centuries, and has evolved into the festival event it is now, with street performers, food stands and rawkus behaviour. Employees of individual companies, groups of friends, or family members will get together at this time of year to eat and drink outside in the ubiquitous parks and gardens of Tokyo. I was in Ueno park yesterday for a bit, to experience the madness, but now is only the beginning of Hanami, so I’m sure there will be a few more stories to follow over the next fortnight.
So this is how the balcony’s looking on an early spring day. I’m sitting down, looking out over the buildings, and eating Nattou-Maki (納豆巻き) and a salad. Too much fatty pork and beer has been impacting my health recently, so I’m in ‘get fit for summer’ mode. I took a run up the banks of the Sumida river about an hour after I took this photo, so it’s serious.
OK, another beer review now. This time I’m drinking a can of Kirin Strong Seven, a newly released beer from one of Japan’s biggest brewers. It gets its name from the fact that the alcohol percentage by volume for this beer is, predictably, 7%. The taste is quite unusual. I was expecting it to be sweet, like strong beer usually is, but it wasn’t. It tasted a bit artificial to be honest so I didn’t particularly rate this beer very highly compared to the other great beer available in Japan. The advertising for this beer features Hideaki Ito, a fairly rugged and macho individual frowning a lot and looking pissed off, which will no doubt appeal to the overworked salaryman and the twenty-something down-and-outers alike. The beautifully worded catch copy on the front of the can reads, ‘This hard and clear taste brings you the great feeling’. Actually, I have the feeling that this isn’t real beer at all but rather, beer’s evil Japanese impersonator ‘happoshu’. More about that stuff later…
Returning to the topic of beer, here’s some breaking news: The Sapporo brewery of Japan will soon be releasing another limited special variety for 2009 – chocolate beer! The results from a collaboration between Sapporo and Royce, a Japanese chocolatier also operating out of Sapporo in the north of Japan. It looks like it’s going to be a stout much like the Yebisu Black Beer I sampled the other night. Can’t wait to try it. Review coming soon.
I like trying the different beers on offer in Japan, and I’ve decided to start reviewing them, which gives me a good excuse to buy beer. This one is the Yebisu breweries answer to stout, and is actually pretty good (as are most Japanese beers). The taste is bitter, like Guiness, but without the smoothness. It retains the sharpness of normal lager beer, but has the same rich flavour you normally get with a stout. The spiel on the can reads, “This premium black beer is brewed using dark roasted malt and caramel malt in good balance, and fine malt and select hops for a rich aroma and hearty roasted flavour”. I grabbed it from the chiller in my local 7-Eleven on the way home from work, and accompanied by grilled cuttlefish with mayo, a nikuman (pork bun), and a pack of calbee cheese snacks, it definitely hit the spot (I bought two cans to be sure).
Karaoke is better than I expected having done it twice now. Both times were after a night out and lasted until daybreak. You drink beer and sing a few songs with your friends. I did ‘I Want to be Adored’ by the Stone Roses, ‘The Way You Make me Feel’ by Michael Jackson (very difficult and a bad idea), ‘It’s so Easy’ by Guns n’ Roses, ‘Burning Down the House’ by Talking Heads, and ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ by the Clash amongst others. So you take one hangover and add stressed vocal cords into the mix for good measure.
Izakaya are a highlight of living in Japan. We went to one the other day and the food was nice, and not really that expensive. We had a boat-load of Sashimi to start with and beers, followed by Tempura. Then a woman came into the private room you get for your group, and showed us the freshest fish they had in stock. They were laid out on a tray made from woven straw and each fish had a small wooden sign with the name written on it. We couldn’t read the names so we just chose a good looking one and asked to have it poached in some sort of soup. You can ask to have it prepared in a few ways, like stir-fry or grilled. When it came it was the nicest fish I’d ever had but wasn’t big enough for everyone to share really. In Japan it’s customary to eat the soft part of the fish’s eye (avoiding eating the eyeball), so I did and it was horrible, but it’s supposed to be good for the brain so I washed it down with beer. We chased this with posh Sake which you drink from a glass placed in a small open top box (like a square cup), and the Sake is made to overflow the glass and run into the cup around it. This means that when you start to drink you have to leave the glass on the table and drink the first bit out from there. Then, after, you use the contents of the square box to top the glass up.
We also ordered Udon and squid ink risotto and maybe something else, I can’t remember. Came to about £70 for three people.
I thought I’d post some info on this place, as a recommendation to those in Tokyo, and as a point of interest to others. It’s in my neighbourhood of Okachimachi, but it’s more towards the Ueno end, but still an easy walk, and an even easier bike ride. Problem is, once you’ve spent the night at The Warrior Celt your ride home is always one filled with risk taking and overconfidence. They serve English beer, as well as Japanese and some European beers. The people that work there are really nice and so are the regulars. It’s way too convenient for me actually, and I probably go there in the evenings more than I should. After all, the beer in Tokyo is expensive: ¥1000 a beer, which is around £5! Having said that, it’s nice to have a local to drink at. I feel more welcome at this pub than I ever have been made to feel at any English pub I can think of, so now I’m like my Grandad always was, work through the day then up the pub for a few pints of a nighttime, and in Tokyo no less.