Tag Archives: beer

Beer Flavored Alcohol Delivery Systems

I’ve written before about my off again on again ambivalence to beer. I’ll drink it, but it’s not my first choice. Japan, though, makes great beer. The big four brewers, Kirin, Asahi, Suntory and Sapporo all make great mass market beer and the latter also owns Yebisu, a small brewery that makes the best mass market beer in Japan.

Partly as a result of this, the Japanese consume a lot of beer. It’s common for adult students to ask how much beer I drink every night and I’ve shocked them by saying that I usually don’t drink that much. Even my in-laws don’t always get that I don’t need alcohol with every meal. (Yes, even for breakfast. On New Year’s Day, it’s tradition to drink sake with breakfast.) Every now and then She Who Must Be Obeyed or I get a craving for beer and buy a couple cans. (Pizza and curry are usually involved.) We also occasionally get a craving for wine. Some of my former students would be shocked to know that there is currently no beer in our house (and as of an hour ago, there’s no bourbon either).

However, thanks to government intervention, drinking beer in Japan is rather complicated and one should be aware that all that’s golden is not beer. The first category to be aware of is happoshu (発泡酒) or low-malt beer. This was created based on a loophole that anything made of 67% malt or more was classified as beer and taxed accordingly. The market responded by making low-malt beer that, at first, was reasonably tasty. The government responded by taxing happoshu and the brewers responded by lowering the malt content to 25% and below. As result, Happoshu flavors run the gamut from “Yeah, this is Budweiser” to “Dude, who pissed in my mouth?”

To further defeat the tax man, Japanese brewers lost their minds and created Third Type Beer from soybeans, corn and peas. The result is beer-flavored beverages classified as liqueur rather than beer and which serve as little more than alcohol delivery systems. They maintain the alcohol content, though, and are cheap. They therefore serve well as the “beer” you serve after your guests are a bit drunk and their taste buds have gone numb. (Not that anyone would ever be so, well, actually, yeah, I would totally do that.)

For me, though, this is mostly moot. Because we rarely drink, when we do have beer in the house, we usually only drink it with supper. If I’m having an after dinner drink I prefer bourbon or scotch.

But I’m weird that way. My former students would definitely concur.

Crushing Together for Drink and Food

Another late one, which means another drunk blog. We’ve got to stop meeting like this.

Tonight, as a kind of welcome party for my new colleagues, a few of us headed over to Saitama-city (the capitol of Saitama Prefecture) for the Japan Craft Beer Festival. I had stumbled across this annual event a few years ago when I was on my way to a night class. I had to go to the immigration office nearby and then headed over to a Hawaiian hamburger place. Along the way I stumbled across several kiosks serving exotic beer. Although I’m not a huge beer fan, I do appreciate a good ale and a good stout. I therefore started singing something like “oh sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found thee” but then remembered I was on my way to work. I therefore did some quick math involving time and blood alcohol levels and molecular decay and then got confused by all the math and decided it was best not to drink anything.

This time, though, I arrived early and was immediately freaked out by the crowds. Thousands of people had assembled and most of them had brought tarps to set out on the sidewalk under the trees. Hundreds of them had brought their children and forced them to participate in a large drunken picnic. I bought a beer and some fried chicken from a brewer connected to one of my friends and muscled my way into a place to set my food and drink. One American Style India Pale Ale from Brimmer Brewing later I felt a lot better about the crowd. I went and had dinner and did some shopping and then came back and met my friends. The crowd didn’t get smaller–in defense of the crowd it was a great night to be outside drinking beer.

We then proceeded to drink our way across a good portion of Japan. Craft beers, or micro-breweries are a relatively new concept in Japan. Before 1994 in order to get a brewing license a brewer had to produce about 528,000 barrels of beer. After 1994 the amount changed to around 500 barrels and micro-breweries began appearing around the country.

One of the things I like about craft beers is you can drink several and never drink the same flavor. Even the same beer from the same brewer can vary from year to year. The major brewers in the USA are kind of like McDonalds: the menu is pretty much always the same always tastes the same and you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Craft beer is more risky, mostly because the brewers actually take risks.

The second beer was a House India Pale Ale from Shiga Kogen Brewery. It had a strong hoppy flavor that created an instant craving for salt. We then got a four pack from Hakone Brewery. We liked them all but the stout was too heavy for a summer night. We then experimented with WineRed from Virgo Beer. This was a fruity, wine flavored gruesome concoction that reminded me of a spritzer made with beer. It actually got better as it warmed.

Towards the end, a friend of a friend did a suicide by mixing all the unfinished beers on the railing (we never got a seat; we just seized a portion of the railing). The result was surprisingly tasty, which told me I’d had enough to drink and it was time to go home.

Despite the crowd and the copious amounts of alcohol I didn’t notice any problems. There was one security guard walking around with a glowing baton acting as if he was in charge of the crowd. We all laughed at him because just the drunk foreigners present–and there was one guy there in a pirate outfit–could have ripped him to pieces and then gone for more beer. We didn’t know whether to mock him or buy him a beer.