Taste Test: Sankt Gallen Sakura cherry blossom beer

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RocketNews 24: (by Casey Baseel)

After three months of cold weather, I’m ready for spring. Coincidentally, after a long week of work, I’m ready for a beer.

Lucky me, these two desires have dovetailed perfectly in the form of Kanagawa Prefecture microbrewer Sankt Gallen’s newest offering, made with the petals of the harbinger of Japanese spring, cherry blossoms. So strap on your drinking caps, because it’s time for the sakura beer taste test!

While Sankt Gallen Sakura can be ordered here directly from the brewer, you can also find it in select grocers and liquor stores. The Tokyu Store at Hiyoshi Station on the Toyoko Line (which runs between Toyoko Line’s Shibuya and Yokohama) had the special beer in stock on February 24, the day of its release.

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At 464 yen (US $3.95) a bottle, the cherry blossom beer is a little more expensive than major brands like Asahi or Kirin, but perfectly in line with what you’ll usually pay for microbrew beers in Japan. Actually, in the eyes of the law, it’s not even a beer, buthapposhu. While that designation usually gets slapped on low-malt, low-quality alcoholic beverages in Japan, in the case of Sankt Gallen Sakura, the classification seems to be strictly a result of it being made with sakura petals and leaves. Since these aren’t standard beer ingredients, for legal purposes, the brew gets classified as happoshu instead of beer .

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While the brew’s happoshu status is listed in the fine print, you’ll find “Sweets Beer” writ large on the label. That’s because the true flavor inspiration for Sankt Gallen Sakura is the traditional Japanese confectionary called sakura mochi, a dollop of sweet red beans wrapped in a thin, sweet rice cake, which is in turn wrapped in an edible sakura leaf.

▼ Sakura mochi, in non-beer form

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▼ The cap is not a twist-off, by the way.

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Sankt Gallen Sakura pours up without much head, and if you prefer drinking beer to chewing foam you can pretty much eliminate it from your glass entirely. The color is unique, in that it’s golden without being particularly yellow. As a matter of fact, it almost looks like some varieties of green tea, which is appropriate considering the Japanese inspiration for its flavor.

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One common element between the three Sankt Gallen brews I’d tried before the cherry blossom beer is a heavy bitterness. On its website, the brewer claims the sakura beer is less harsh that its usual offerings, and that’s definitely true, although there’s still more bitterness here than in, say, a bottle of Asahi Super Dry. Sadly, there’s no cherry blossom aroma to the beverage, and truth be told, initially the special ingredients don’t seem to affect the flavor very much either.

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After the liquid washes over your taste receptors, though, there’s a subtle but lingering sweet saltiness that spreads out from the center of your tongue. While it doesn’t, by any means, scream “Japanese dessert,” the sensation should be familiar to those who’ve eaten sakura mochi.

At the finish, there’s a crisp but not unpleasant bitterness that hits the back of your throat. Overall, there’s a lot of character to Sankt Gallen Sakura. One of its most intriguing characteristics is that, in contrast to the sharp sensations of bitterness that bookend its flavor profile, it’s got a very light mouth feel, something you’d generally associate with a less flavorful beer.

It’s usually been my experience that combining desserts with beer worsens them both, as though the universe is punishing you for asking for too much pleasure in one sitting. That’s not necessarily true with Sankt Gallen Sakura and sakura mochi, though. Maybe it’s because of its light mouth feel, it stays drinkable even when alternating sips of beer and bites of sweets, although doing so dulls the beverage’s more unique flavor components a bit.

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When all is said and done, how does the drinking experience compare to that of last year’s Mint Chocolate Stout? Well, remember that post-tasting snapshot above? Here’s the one for Sankt Gallen Sakura.

Sort of like a cherry blossom viewing party, Sankt Gallen Sakura isn’t necessarily something you’d want to experience every day. But as a unique change of pace for a special occasion once or twice a year?

Definitely.

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The Scottish mother of Japanese whisky

Rita Taketsuru

BBC:

Scotch enthusiasts found it hard to swallow recently when a Japanese single malt was named the world’s best whisky. But the fact that a Scot played a key role in establishing the hard stuff in Japan may make that news more palatable for some.

Jessie Roberta Cowan, from Kirkintilloch, had little idea how much her life was going to change when a young Japanese man took up lodgings at her family home in 1918.

Masataka Taketsuru had come to Scotland to study the art of whisky-making, taking up chemistry at Glasgow University before becoming an apprentice at Longmorn Distillery in Speyside and later at Hazelburn Distillery in Campbeltown.

Masataka and Jessie – who was known as Rita – soon formed a strong bond and on 8 January 1920 they married in a Glasgow registry office.

It was the beginning of a long journey that was to end with Rita becoming known as the mother of Japanese whisky.

Masataka TaketsuruMasataka Taketsuru came to Scotland to learn the art of whisky-making

Shortly after their marriage, Rita followed her husband back to Japan as he pursued his dream of building his own distillery.

By 1923 he was in Kyoto, working for Kotobukiya – later to become Japanese drinks giant Suntory – tasked with building Japan’s first genuine whisky plant at Yamazaki. A decade later, he prepared to start up his own distillery at Yoichi, marking the beginnings of what was to become major Japanese drinks business Nikka.

Rita’s role in helping Masataka produce his first whisky in 1940 cannot be underestimated, according to Nikka Whisky international sales manager Emiko Kaji.

Rita played a very important role in Masataka’s life work,” she said.

She provided not only moral support but also financial support when they had a difficult time.

“She made every effort to adopt herself to the Japanese culture and stay with him all the time, even during the world war.”

Mr Kaji added: “It is said that she was good at Japanese cooking and served traditional Japanese dishes. Her income from teaching English and piano sometimes helped the household. Rita’s network through the job also connected Masataka with other investors to establish his own company. Masataka could not have overcome a lot of difficulties without loyal support by Rita.”

Nikka Whisky Distillery at YoichiThe Nikka distillery is still operating in Yoichi

Yoichi was a world away from the bustling city of Kyoto. Based on the northernmost main island of Japan, Hokkaido, it offered a much more isolated way of life.

But Masataka saw it as the perfect place to build a distillery.

Colin Ross, from the Nikka-owned Ben Nevis distillery at Fort William, said: “He chose Yoichi because it looked a lot like Scotland, felt like Scotland and the temperature was much the same as here.”

Rita launched herself into Japanese culture, speaking only Japanese and following local traditions, but her life was to change during World War Two.

Her great-nephew Harry Hogan, from Newton Mearns in East Renfrewshire, said: “I think during the second world war it was very difficult because a lot of the Japanese turned against them – against her particularlyThe story goes that even her own (adopted Japanese) daughter turned against her slightly because of the fact that she was British.”

Masataka and Rita TaketsuruMasataka and Rita married in Scotland in 1920

 

According to Urs Matthias Zachmann, head of Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, the Japanese authorities also made life difficult for her.

He said: “Their house was searched because they had an antenna on the rooftop and the special police thought that she might be a spy, contacting British or Russian forces, whatever. It has been said that the company workers tried to speak on her behalf and defend her.”

But Rita stayed put and the Yoichi distillery soon prospered as the Japanese appetite for genuine whisky grew in the face of a wartime import ban.

Rita died at the age of 63 in 1961, but her legacy lives on in Yoichi, whose main street is named Rita Road.

She is also far from forgotten in her adopted nation as a whole. The story of her relationship with the man who became known as the father of Japanese whisky has just hit the small screen in Japan.

TV drama Massan is a fictionalised account of Rita’s travels to Japan and Masataka’s attempts to begin the Nikka Whisky distilling company, which is now owned by drinks group Asahi. The show has quite literally lifted spirits at the business.

Nikka Whisky International Sales Manager Emiko Kaji said: “We have been experiencing a kind of ‘Nikka boom’ or ‘whisky boom’ since the NHK drama Massan started at the end of September. Our domestic sales are growing by almost 20% and the number of the visitors to Yoichi distillery in 2014 increased by 50% compared with the previous year.”

Masataka died in August 1979 at the age of 85 and was laid to rest beside his wife in Yoichi. Rita’s life may have ended in 1961 – but for many Japanese, her spirit lives on.

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Asahi puts a new twist(er) on draft beer

 

Japan’s most popular alcoholic drink is beer—and now it’s easier than ever to serve perfectly! True to form for a country known for automation, Japanese brewer Asahi has released the Tornado: a machine that automatically fills cups with beer. Rather than pouring, the spigot connects to the bottom of the specially-formed cup, filling it from the bottom up. As it fills, the foam swirls, resembling a—you guessed it—tornado!

The cup is snapped onto the spigot on the base of the machine and the operator simply presses a button to start.

 

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As residents of  Japan will know, Japanese beer drinkers love a generous amount of head. In fact, it is not uncommon to get a beer that is almost one-third foam! The machine has a second nozzle just for topping up the cup with extra suds. The result is a beer that looks as good as it tastes.

 

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▼You can see the valve at the bottom of the cup specially formed to fit the spigot without leaking.

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The first Tornado was installed in Koshien, Hyogo Prefecture back in 2012. Actually, 150 machines were installed in Japan in 2013! While it’s not a familiar sight yet, it promises to continue growing as a trend. Aside from being easy to operate while providing consistent results, it’s just really cool to watch.

Link

Foreign residents pick their favorite snacks to pair with Japanese beer

RocketNews 24:

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A few years ago, I was hanging out with a friend in Tokyo. Being recently married meant that for the first time in several years I was living in an apartment more spacious and comfortable than a bunker, and I invited my buddy back to my place for a beer.

I called my wife to give her a heads-up that I was bringing home a guest, and when we arrived, I was surprised to see she’d gone down the block to the store and picked up a selection of snacks for our impromptu drinking session. In hindsight, this really shouldn’t have been so unexpected, as beer is almost always accompanied by food in Japan.

Our memories are a little hazy, but we seem to remember being taught, “When in Rome, drink as the Romans.” Taking this to heart, recently a group of foreign residents in Japan shared their favorite munchies to pair with Japanese beer.

While most people who relocate to Japan eventually adapt to the local cuisine, some dishes can be an acquired taste, such as spicy cod roe or chicken cartilage (both are outstanding, by the way). Japanese beer has no such learning curve, however, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an expat here who likes a drink now and then but doesn’t appreciate the local brews.

It’s always seemed fitting that Ebisu beer shares its name with a full-fledged god.

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Japanese beer received kind praise in general from the 20 foreign residents polled, with fans citing its smooth, rich flavor. Brewers in Japan often roll out limited-time versions of their products with the change of seasons, such as amber beers in the fall and whites in winter, which participants also said they enjoyed.

Asahi’s packaging asserts that it is “the beer for all seasons,” however.

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Still, the focus group did have a few quibbles about Japanese beers. One American male lamented the lack of Japanese-produced ales, likely a byproduct of the country’s relative lack of the hard water preferred for their brewing process. An arrival from Tunisia grumbled that Japanese beer’s alcohol content wasn’t quite as high as he’d like.

This is an extremely simple problem to rectify.

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But when foreigners in Japan are pounding down a few cold ones, what do they chow down on? One man from Brazil said he goes for either umeboshi (pickled plums) or chocolate. Actually, neither of these are completely unheard of in Japan, with umeboshi being a popular at-home snack for older men, and chocolate often being on the menu at bars, particularly upscale ones.

▼ Umeboshi and Premium Malt’s: affordable luxuries.

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If neither sour nor sweet is what you’re looking for, you could follow the lead of the Greek man who suggested Pote Long, a popular brand of crispy potato chip-like snack sticks. Regular potato chips are also a common beer partner, and Japan has a ton of unique flavors.

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Of course, sometimes you crave a little protein, in which case there’s no better choice than meat. Respondents mentioned the Japanese-style fried chicken karaage, which is usually seasoned with garlic, soy, and/or ginger, as well as the chicken skewers known as yakitori. And if it’s right after payday, you could take the advice of the Taiwanese man who gave his answer as yakiniku, or Korean barbeque.

We’re sort of blurring the line between “snack” and “meal” here, though.

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By far the group’s favorite snack to have with beer, though, was edamame, also known as soybeans. Yes, the same edamame that get recommended by nutritionists and show up in vegetarian eating guides. Toss a little salt on them, chill before serving if it’s summer, and you’ve got a light, tasty, healthy snack that you can eat with your fingers.

Edamame are essentially the Japanese version of crunchy mini pretzels. You don’t have to be drinking a beer to enjoy their flavor, but the combination is highly recommended.

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Source: Nico Nico News

Check out this link:

Foreign residents pick their favorite snacks to pair with Japanese beer

Link

Japanese ‘Garlic’ Black Beer Tastes Like a Bottle of Dumplings

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Beer and Japanese food go together like, well, beer and Japanese food. But if you’re looking for something beyond the usual Kirin, Asahi, or Sapporo, maybe you should consider giving this “garlic beer” a shot.

Japanese blogger Rocket News picked up a bottle of Aomori Garlic Black Beer for testing purposes a few days ago. The Aomomi Prefecture is known for its garlic production and the drink gets its flavor from extracts of their renowned fermented black version.

As for the beer itself? Tastes “just like regular beer” apparently, until the great raw garlic flavor rises up and punches you.

Check out this link:

Japanese ‘Garlic’ Black Beer Tastes Like a Bottle of Dumplings