Learning Japanese through booze

As much alcohol as I’ve been putting away recently, it seems only fitting that this most recent post revolve around the ol’ fire water. And Japanese, of course.

The alcohol in this particular case is chuhai, and while many people know what chuhai is, not many seem to know the origin of the word. Luckily, TAKARA brand Shochu Highball — a drier, less sweet cousin of the run-of-the-mill chuhai — has provided a mini history lesson right there on the side of the can. Enjoy.



The Origin of Chuhai.

It’s said that chuhai originated in the 1940s shortly after the war, in Tokyo’s Shitamachi area, as the “shochu highball.” “Highball” referred to alcohol mixed with carbonated water. Because the carbonated water had been mixed with shochu, the drink was known as a “shochu highball.” This was shortened to “chuhai,” which would seem to be the origin of the word. To this day, the drink remains popular in Tokyo’s Shitamachi watering holes.

Good stuff, huh? Good. Now get drankin’.

Aooni IPA

Why the hell did I never post this entry? I’m weird. But trust me, drink this beer.

It’s been a shit day, dear Reader, full of pointless errands, job rejections due to “sudden and unforeseen mergers” (that’s a new one), and inane sample translation tests to prove that yes, I can indeed speak Japanese. I’ve been hitting the cheap booze for a couple hours, but now it’s time to reward myself.

The lovely beast you see here is Aooni, an IPA (India Pale Ale) made by Yo-Ho Brewing Company, the same guys that do Yona Yona Ale and the lovely Tokyo Black Porter. Aooni clocks in at 7% ABV; the head is fruity, not too deep, but the beer itself has a nice body to it, a good balance of sharpness and sweetness. One complaint — as much as I enjoy this beer, it always seems to have a tinny taste to it. I wish they’d sell it in bottles instead of just cans.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever find a substitute for the manna from heaven that is Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA, which I would frequently consume back in the U.S. of Arse, but when I have to get my IPA fix on, so far Aooni has proven itself to be my brew of choice.

Street drankin’

It being a public holiday and absolutely gorgeous weather yesterday, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity by once again ripping off Good Beer and Country Boys and finding myself a street corner to settle down for some roadside drinking.

Had to retire the Joker cell phone strap. His mouth's been rubbed off...

Had to retire the Joker cell phone strap. His mouth has all but rubbed off...

This being a special occasion (you can tell I don’t get out much), I opted to hit the neighborhood import shop and hunker down with some specialty craft brews. One of these was the Karuizawa Kogen Seasonal 2009 ESB you see pictured there to the right, and it was fantastic.

Smooth, full-bodied, hoppy and sweet, this is one beer that I knocked back in no time flat, and found to be far superior to any of the other brews I imbided that afternoon. In fact, I’ll go a step further and say that this is hands-down the best canned beer I’ve had in Japan. If you run across this bad boy, do yourself a favor and get it. At 348 yen a pop it’s a little pricey, but well worth the extra dough, especially when you consider that this is a limited-time release. Believe me when I say I’ll be stocking up on more this weekend.

And so, I leave you with a couple pics of my afternoon on the street corner, listening to my iPod and getting more than a few stares from curious passers-by.

p/s – Thank you WordPress for making me stagger these pics because I apparently can’t post two on the same line without the code freaking the hell out. Idiot software.

The beer in question

The beer in question

and the choice locale in which it was imbibed.

and the choice locale in which it was imbibed.

I’m straight!

The straight, that is.

As in, Suntory’s latest happoshu of the week, the oddly named “The Straight.”

Yes, I broke down and bought some crappy, fake-beer happoshu. As long-time readers of this blog will know, I’m a sucker for advertising, having once been lured in by a flashy bag and the promise of meat-flavored Doritos.

Not only does The Straight feature some flashy packaging, it comes in at 6% ABV and has the tagline, “This ‘koku & kire’ taste cheers your mind.”

straightWell, shit.

Lord knows my mind could use some cheering. And when print copy opts to simply render native Japanese words in Roman letters instead of bothering to translate them (FYI, koku indicates a depth of flavor, and kire means a sharp, refreshing aftertaste), I’m just further intrigued.

So, how does The Straight stack up?

Short answer: Don’t bother.

Long answer: It does indeed have a darker color and deeper flavor profile than regular happoshu, but it’s still happoshu, and the gnarly mouthfeel and aftertaste kick in a second or two after you’ve taken a swig. Can’t say I’ll be trying this number again.

But at least I’m (the) straight.

Kirin’s new Ichiban Shibori

Having been tipped off by the boys over at Good Beer and Country Boys, I’ve been keeping an eye out for Kirin’s new Ichiban Shibori, a macrobrew that offers the promise of a return to good, simple beer. Unlike regular Ichiban Shibori, which contains adjuncts — in layman’s terms, needless shit — such as rice and cornstarch to “pad out” the beer and cut costs, new Shibori contains simply malt and hops. Definitely a step in the right direction, if you ask me … but as a beer, how does it stack up?

shiboriNew Shibori is slightly darker in color, a welcome improvement on the unnatural piss yellow of the former incarnation. Upon first taste, it’s definitely a smoother brew, with a bit of sweetness to it. For a moment, it has you thinking that it’s actually a decent beer — a second later, however, it kicks in with the tinny, wet dog-like flavor of classic Shibori.

Way to go, guys.

This is one beer I don’t think I’ll be buying again, especially given other readily available macrobrewed options such as Kirin’s own Muroka and Suntory’s Premium Malt’s, which should definitely be had in the bottle.

Sorry if this sounds like plagiarism, Country Boys; you just happen to have reached the same conclusions as me.

Orion Ichiban Sakura

Yes, yet another beer post. But I came across this number today and felt compelled to write about it.

sakuraOrion Draft, the flagship brew of Okinawa-based Orion Breweries, has long been available here on the mainland via some devilish partnership with Asahi. I personally seldom drink the stuff, not because it’s a bad beer, but because it doesn’t have a lot of character. The same cannot be said, however, of Orion’s latest entry into their lineup, Ichiban Sakura.

Touting itself as being made of “All malt & aroma hop,” Ichiban Sakura hits the tongue like a regular if somewhat smooth pilsener — and then the aromatic hops kick in, giving it a wonderful fruity aftertaste. I finished the can almost immediately and then turned around to go get another.

So far, I’ve seen Ichiban Sakura only at 7-11, which would be the place to go to if you’re interested in trying the stuff for yourself. Both the can and the official site indicate that it’s a limited-edition seasonal beer — which makes this sort of an odd season to release it in, given that this would make the perfect summer beer, light and refreshing. 7-11 prices it at 215 yen for a 350 mL can, making it the same price as, yet far more drinkable than, Kirin and its bastard kin.

The web site notes you should buy quickly, because once Orion reaches their production quota, the beer will be no more. I’ve already stocked my fridge with it.

Stout revisited

So, my recent post about Asahi Stout has apparently gotten a few of us beer lovers excited. (At least, I’m excited.) In the comments field, I mentioned another beer called Tokyo Black Porter, a lovely brew from the same people that make Yona Yona Ale. The more I thought about that porter, the more I wanted one … and considering I’m doing bugger-all at work right now, I said “Screw it” and decided to go get one.

As soon as noon rolled around, I headed to the snobby supermarket a short distance from my office — and was denied. They stocked Yona Yona but not the porter. I had to settle for a canned Kirin Stout, which is a completely different animal from the original bottled variety that seems to have disappeared. The canned stout is bland, sort of like unsweetened cocoa, and has an almost mealy mouthfeel. Not at all satisfying. By the end of it, I was actually feeling a bit peeved — and then I remembered the import liquor store waaay the hell in the other direction in Shimbashi. Once again, I said “Screw it” and decided to go take a look.

foreign-extra1They didn’t have what I was looking for, but they did have this strange beast, which I’d never seen before. I’m not all that big on Guinness, but the “foreign extra” bit caught my eye. I took a look at the label and sure enough, 7.5% ABV, making it a stronger brew than regular old Guinness. I forked over my 260 yen and popped it open, making a U-turn and heading back toward the office.

Guinness Foreign Extra is a strange brew indeed. When it first hits your tongue, it has the trademark Guinness bitterness, but a second later it ramps up into a barleywine-like sweetness. It is literally a bittersweet beer. Not a bad brew, I suppose, but not one I think I’ll be trying again. (最初で最後 as the Japanese say — “The first and last time.”)

While I was in Shimbashi, I decided to head over to World Beer Bakusyu and snap a photo of their sign, which you’ll see below. I have yet to visit the place, but if the beer bottles on the counter are an accurate indicator of what’s in stock, I’ll have to be stopping by very soon indeed. Aside from the requisite Duvels and Chimays was Anchor Steam, which I haven’t had in ages and would happily punch someone for, and at least one offering from Rogue brewery. The bar is essentially a straight line from Shimbashi Station Karasumori Exit, on the corner past the movie theater with the brazenly pornographic posters.

In summary, I basically spent my entire lunch hour walking around and drinking beer. There are worse ways to spend one’s time, I suppose. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t seen not one but two Mr. Slippers. I really hate those guys.

Be seeing you. Oh, yes...

Be seeing you. Oh, yes...