Japanese sake brewers revive interest by using Western fermentation processes to create “Champagne Sake”

Kawanakajima

RocketNews 24:

As imports of Western drinks increase, interest in Japan’s native alcoholic beverages has been declining. There have been efforts to bring drinkers back to traditional drinks such as sake and shochu, but they face tough competition from the likes of wine and champagne, which evoke fashionable, sophisticated images in the minds of Japanese drinkers.

One way to revive interest could be to apply Western fermentation techniques to Eastern beverages such as sake, Japan’s “rice wine”, to create unique twists on traditional drinks.Champagne sake” is an example of this done deliciously right.

Traditional or “real” champagne is sparkling wine made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France which, after the usual fermentation process, are fermented a second time in the bottle to produce the carbonation. In other words, it’s this special process of secondary fermentation that gives a glass of bubbly its bubbles. People all over the world, including Japan, like to crack open a bottle to celebrate special occasions. At other times, many Japanese people are partial to sake, or nihonshu as it’s known in its native land, a popular alcohol with a long history made from fermented rice.

But what do you get when you apply the fermentation process used to make champagne to sake? Well, you get an effect similar to champagne, but with that special rice wine flavor!

Because of the in-bottle fermentation process, as with champagne, you get the fizz of fine bubbles jumping out at you when you open the cap. It’s different to “sparkling sake“, which has recently seen a boom in popularity, which is simply sake with added carbonation and is more like an alco-pop with around 5% alcohol content. When using the champagne secondary fermentation process, the resultant drink has a fruity flavor and is around 12% proof. It’s very easy to get carried away drinking too much of it but, since it’s made from only rice and natural water, if you’re going to drink alcohol then this is probably a reasonably healthy choice! Apparently it goes well not only with Japanese food, but with Chinese and Western cuisine, too.

Kawanakajima-Fuwarin01

Shusen Kurano is the oldest sake brewer in Nagano and the seventh oldest in all of Japan, and they are extremely proud of their “champagne sake”, called Kawanakajima-Fuwarin, which is different to all the traditional sake they produce. Founded in 1540, Shusen Kurano has over 470 years of history and it’s even said that the famous daimyo Takeda Shingen drank their sake at the Battles of Kawanakajima. While champagne sake may not have been around at the time, if it had been he surely would have enjoyed cracking open a bottle after a win on the battlefield.

Kawanakajima-Fuwarin retails on the brewery’s website at 450 yen (US$3.70) for 180 ml, 750 yen ($6.20) for 300ml, and 1,250 yen ($10.30) for 500ml. If you do pick any up, be sure to let us know what you think.

Häagen-Dazs releases new mochi ice cream

MH 1

RocketNews 24:

There are a ton of different ways to eat mochi, with roasting it or dropping it into soup or hot pots being some of the more common. Outside of Japan, though, many people’s first encounter with mochi is in the form of ice cream-filled mochi spheres sold at specialty grocers.

But while they make a tasty treat, what would happen if you reversed the process, and instead of putting ice cream in mochi, put mochi into ice cream? That’s the question posed by Häagen-Dazs new kinako kuromitsu mochi ice cream, and we’re here with the answer.

While this isn’t the American ice cream maker’s first foray into mochi-filled ice cream, it is its first time to offer this particular flavor. Before we dig in, let’s go over that lengthy product name.

Kinako refers to roasted soybean flour, although if you’d never had it before, you might mistake the powdered confectionary condiment for a mild strain of cinnamon. Kuromitsu, meanwhile, a sweet sauce made from brown sugar, and the literal translation of its name, “black honey,” should give you an idea of its dark color and syrupy consistency.

Those of you with a good memory or healthy mental preoccupation with sweets may now be recalling our guide on how to eat Shingen mochi, the representative Japanese dessert of Yamanashi Prefecture that’s named after the region’s feudal period warlord Takeda Shingen. As a matter of fact, no sooner did the kinako kuromitsu mochi ice cream go on sale than Internet users in Japan started spreading the word about how much it resembled Shingen mochi, and how happy their taste buds were about that.

 

MH 1

Many sweets fans in Japan claim Häagen-Dazs tastes best if you let it sit and get just a little melty first. Following their advice, we set our cup out on the desk, gazed deeply into the eyes of our giant Mr. Sato sticker plastered on the wall, and waited.

A few minutes later we were ready to tear into our snack. Before we did, though, we noticed a warning on the lid, cautioning us “When opening, please remove the lid slowly to prevent contents from scattering.” So, using the last shreds of our willpower, we peeled the lid of carefully, and once we saw what was waiting underneath, we were glad we did!

MH 2

There is a ton of kinako inside. Honestly, it’s a complete layer that entirely covers the ice cream. Well, technically it’s covering the mochi, and that’s covering the ice cream.

Once again, being careful not to make a gigantic mess by spilling powder all over the room, we gently inserted our spoon. As we raised it towards our mouth, the mochi stretched out with its characteristic elasticity.

MH 3

For our first bite, we made sure we had all the players, kinako, kuromitsu, mochi, and ice cream, accounted for in the same spoonful, and the result was glorious. The kuromitsu’s rich flavor, coupled with the milky notes of the ice cream and the wonderful aroma of the kinako, made this a mouthful of cross-cultural decadence. While we can understand why it reminds some people of Shingen mochi, to us, its creamy quality made the flavor more like a kuromitsu milk shake.

MH 4

Taking minute bites, we also sampled the delicious ice cream, kinako, and kuromistu separately, and found that each ingredient is indeed pulling its own weight. Speaking of weight, the kinako kuromitsu mochi ice cream has just 235 calories per container. So while it may not be quite as healthy as non-dessert mochi, it’s definitely something you can afford to treat yourself to once in a while.

The Guinness World Record-holding oldest hotel in the world – in Japan, and established in 705 A.D.!

 

p1130291

RocketNews 24:

Keiunkan Inn in Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture is famous for holding the Guinness World Record for being The oldest hotel in the world. Established in 705 A.D., it boasts such notable former guests as daimyo Takeda Shingen, shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and numerous emperors of Japan.

The inn itself is located in the southern alps of Yamanashi Prefecture, nestled in lush valleys in the very heart of nature. It’s the perfect location for escaping from the hustle and bustle of city life. What’s more, the inn is built upon prime hot springs ground, which means guests are able to enjoy numerous open-air and communal hot spring baths. Each room’s shower, bath and sink facilities are fed by pure hot spring water, which is neither treated nor heated by any artificial means. In fact, except for the toilets,the entire inn uses the hot springs water in its daily running, which makes it a very special and luxurious place to visit.

Our reporter, Yoshio, decided to book a stay in “the oldest hotel in the world” in order t oshare his experiences with the good readers of RocketNews24. Read on for many, many gorgeous photos of his trip!

Here’s Yoshio’s report on everything that Keiunkan Inn has to offer!

The baths

As we mentioned above, the entire inn is serviced by the natural water of the on-site hot springs, including of course the onsen baths and the open-air bathing pools. As you can see from the pictures below, they’re pretty much amazing. Yoshio reports that the quality of the water was top-notch, and the view of the valley from the baths was incredible. What’s more, every single one of the many baths is open for bathing 24 hours a day!

The accommodation

The ultra-Japanese building comprises a total of 35 guest suites. Yoshio was pleasantly surprised to discover that his accommodation consisted of two large Japanese-style rooms, giving him plenty of space to relax. They were also spotlessly clean and neat. The only potential issue for guests could be the price – at 32,000 yen (US$269) per night, it’s a little on the expensive side.

The cuisine

Dinner at Keiunkan is kaiseki style, meaning that your meal is brought to your room and served to you dish by dish. The cuisine included lots of fresh ingredients from the local mountains and river, and there was plenty to satisfy even the heartiest eater. There were also several unusual dishes that you don’t often get the opportunity to taste in Japan – like “acorn soba”. The only complaint Yoshio had was that his “salt-baked char” (a type of fish) was a little lukewarm. After all, when it comes to char, it’s gotta be piping hot, right?

Breakfast was similar to dinner in that it comprised a vast array of dishes which more than filled up our reporter’s stomach. Yoshio tells us that instead of serving the usual white rice, Keiunkan provides okayu rice porridge with breakfast, which is gentler on the stomach. Overall, the quality of both meals served was excellent.

The hospitality

Unfortunately, after all the piping hot onsen water, spotless rooms and delicious eats, Yoshio felt that the service failed to live up to his high expectations. Since Keiunkan is supposed to be famous for being the oldest hotel in existence, he was expecting there to be more information about the history of the hotel available. Even when he asked the staff, nobody seemed to know all that much about it. Sure, the hotel staff are rightfully proud of its reputation and its Guinness World Record, but they weren’t able to answer in-depth questions. Since the hotel almost certainly gets a lot of guests as a result of its fascinating history, it does seem a shame that there wasn’t really any opportunity to find out more about its past. Also, for a place with such a distinguished history, several of the staff seemed overly casual in their approach to the position, with some giving off an “I’m only here part-time” kind of vibe. Sure, that kind of attitude isn’t really a problem at budget hotels, but Keiunkan is supposed to be the oldest hotel in the world – costing over 250 bucks per head a night, no less – so our man felt that a little more effort would certainly have been welcome.

While Yoshio was left disappointed by the service, he still recommends a visit as the baths and cuisine were both excellent. Hopefully in the future Keiunkan will put up some signs and so on explaining the details of the hotel’s past, as well as educating their staff about its incredible history.

 

We’ll leave you now with photo-tour of the oldest hotel in the world! Enjoy!

If you’re interested in visiting the oldest hotel in the world yourself, the inn’s website is: www.keiunkan.co.jp