The World of Japanese Spirits from Awamori to Zakuro-shu


Kampai is out!

A very, very nice surprise this morning.

My latest work, Kampai, has managed to break the top ten in Japan. 

I'm not crazy about the cover, to be honest. And, the final product is very different from what I intended to write, but, but, but, there's still a lot of interesting information thrown in with anecdotes of my life in Japan. A Kampai! 2 is in the works, and may come out perhaps next year.

Lemme tell ya, this has been perhaps the most productive nine months of my life. In addition to the dozen or so articles I have written for a number of different sites, mags, and journals, I have pumped out:

a new novel (A Woman's Hand), rewritten another (Rokuban), gotten half done on a third (A Woman's Tears),


Seasonal Brews

Nippon Beer's Shironigori

   The Shironigori is such a good "Weißbier" I was tempted to go back to my local Lawson's convenience store and buy their entire stock. The can says this beer is shipped directly from Belgium. I'm not sure if that is a marketing gimmick or fact. Anyways, get it while supplies last.

Suntory's The Royal Bitter

  Not bad. Tastes like something you might find in a British pub, only with more of a head on it.

Asahi's Aki Yoi

  Much cheaper than Aki Aji, this happôsei (see Happôshu) from Asahi called Aki Yoi (an early evening in autumn) also has none of the charm of Kirin's seasonal beer. Treat yourself to a Suntory Kaku High Ball, instead.

Yona Yona Ale

   A very hoppy beer that reminds me of a good microbrew you might find in Oregon. A real keeper.

   Price: ¥260

Sapporo's Nihon no Irodori

   "The Color or Spice of Autumn", made with "some" barley harvested in Hokkaidô, is a remarkably unremarkable beer. Glad I bought the smaller can. 

   By the way, why is everything called "Premium" these days? Perhaps I can get a t-shirt with that written boldly on the chest.

   Price: ¥224

Kirin's Ichiban Shibori Stout


   First off, the can states, "Just taste 'Ichibanshibori Stout.' The first wort gives a marvelously deep taste. The aroma of roasted malt and smooth creamy from enrich your precious time." That was either written by a fiendish drunk, or was meant as a kind of Buddhist kôan to meditate over while you enjoyed your brewsky. Whichever the case, this stout just doesn't quite live up to the advertised hype. A marvelously deep taste? Not really. A deep-ish taste, perhaps. Smooth and creamy? Nah. It does have have a good aroma, though, one which reminds me of my home-brewing days. Now that I think about it, I could have made this beer myself, and Kirin could have done much better. 

   Want a good stout? Treat yourself to a Guinness.

   Alc./Vol 5%

  Price: ¥217

Kirin's Tanrei Draft

   This was disappointing. I was hoping for the poor man's version of Kirin's Aki Aji. What I got was Kirin's Tanrei happôshu (low malt beer), the same old crap in a colorful, autumny can.

   Live and learn.

   Fortunately, this lesson was cheap: only ¥141.

   Alc./Vol 5.5%

Helios Goya Dry

   Helios Goya Dry from Uchinaa (Okinawa) is made with goya (nigauri, a bitter gourd native to the island). Because of its novel recipe Goya Dry can't legally be called a beer. I found a beer from Karuizawa that was also classified as a hôpposhu because it had contained coriander/cilantro. 

  A sticker on the can says Goya Dry has been crowned gold medal winner at a number of beer contests in Japan. Is it really that good? You'll have to find that out for yourself. I will say, though, that it is certainly both bitter and dry.





   This has definitely been el Verano del Mojito (the summer of the mojito) for me. I'd never been a fan of the drink before, but for some reason this year the cocktail has taken a hold of me. Hardly a week has gone by that I haven't had at least one mojito. (It is usually quite a few more than one.) I even started to make the drink at home, and after much trial and error, have gotten the deceptively easy cocktail down. Even my wife, who hardly ever drinks, says it's pretty good.

  As I wrote last week, the minty cocktail has enjoyed quite a surge in popularity in Japan this summer. My suspicion is that the trend can most likely be traced back to a boardroom meeting at the Bacardi headquarters. Their drive to push more Bacardi onto unsuspecting consumers has surely succeeded beyond their wildest imagination. So popular is the mojito today that spearmint has become a scarce commodity. Before ordering the cocktail, I always ask, "Can you make a mojito today?" The waiter will usually run back to the kitchen to check whether they still have the mint. More often than not, I learn, they do not.

   Anyways, a few weeks ago Shûsuke mentioned that he hadn't been to the beach yet. 

   "An outrage!" I replied. "When's your next day off?"


   "Let's go to the beach, then."


   "Yes, really!"

   So, when Tuesday came, Shûsuke popped by my place and the two of us went to Momochi Hama. It isn't my favorite beach, but it's close (I can walk there in 20 minutes) and there's a decent restaurant call Mama Mia, of all things, which has awamori and fairly decent cocktails, including el mojito. 

   Incidentally, it was the very mojito that was on my mind when I extended the invitation to Shûsuke. I was Johnsing for one ever since I had been to Mama Mia a week earlier and had drunk the restaurant dry of spearmint.

   Well, when we got to Momochi, Mama Mia was closed. Naturally. The slackers that run the place have got the worst work ethic. Across the boardwalk, another restaurant called The Beach was open for business. It's a smart operation with nice tables and parasols on the terrace, cute college co-eds waiting on tables, and truly awful food.

    Shûsuke and I sat down at a table on the terrace and ordered our drinks, two unremarkable G&Ts. No sooner than our drinks were served than a boat that crosses Hakata Bay once every hour or so arrived.

   I suggested jumping on the boat and going to Luigans, a resort hotel on Umi-no-naka-Michi, a narrow isthmus that stretches from the eastern suburbs of Fukuoka to an island called Shikanoshima. He was up for it, so we downed the drinks and skedaddled.

   The trip from Momochi Hama to Umi-no-naka-Michi took about twenty minutes and dropped us off just a short walk from Luigans where we found seats at a poolside bar. 

   Looking over the menu, I was heartened to find "Mojito Original" and ordered one for the each of us. Unfortunately, what came was a far cry from the mojito I had been hoping for. The VK Mojito Original, produced by the UK-based Global Brands, is a ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail. According to the company, the "VK Mojito is an award-winning brand, and was recognised by the Drinks International Pre Mixed Drinks Challenge." Well, it wasn't a winner with me. 

VK Mojito Original

4% Alc/Vol

Rate: ★★ (I'm feeling generous, today)

   Frustrated, I asked the waiter whether the bar was open. Hearing that it was, I asked if they could make a proper mojito. The waiter said he'd go and ask. When he returned a few minutes, he replied in the affirmative, so Shûsuke and I ordered two. 

   As I suspected, the bartender knew how to make a cocktail. Not only did it look great, but it tasted pretty damn good, too. 

   Next, I ordered a Mai Tai, another drink which I had been Johnsing for ever since Hau Nalu, a Hawaiian restaurant and bar in my neighborhood, closed a few months earlier.

   Another winner.

   All in all, I was impressed with Luigans and come next summer I will be making the trip more often. In addition to great drinks, they've also got barbecues for rent, as well as movies shown on an outdoor screen. Depending on availability, rooms can sometimes be rented for six hours during the day, providing a place to relax and clean up after sunning on the beach or next to the pool.


Luigans Resort & Spa

Rate: ★★★★

   After Luigans, Shûsuke and I caught a train and traveled to JR Hakata City, where we had a light dinner and more drinks at Mexican Cantina El Borracho, easily Japan's best place for authentic Mexican food and drinks. All in all, it was a great day. Thanks, Shûsuke!


El Borracho/La Borracha (three locations in Fukuoka city)

Rate: ★★★★★


Cocktail Ranking

   One of my favorite publications of late has been the Saturday edition of the Nikkei Shimbun called Nikkei Plus. Every week the paper has a feature called Nandemo Rankingu (Ranking Everything) and this Saturday they rolled a ball right up my alley with their ranking of cocktails people can make at home this summer.

   Nikkei Plus first had Akihiro Sakô of the Nihon Bartenders Association select 32 popular cocktails. From these, ten bartenders working at bars in Japan, including Masashi Ôishi of Bar Marvelous in Fukuoka, were asked to choose ten they recommened.

1. Gin Tonic (580 points)

   One of my all time favorites, as well. I enjoy G&Ts with a sprig of rosemary. Gin of choice includes Bombay Sapphire or Tangeray 10.

2. Mojito (550)

   I happen to be enjoying one at this very moment. (Hic!)

3. Whiskey High Ball (400)

   A few years ago Suntory introduced the Kaku Haibôru as a cheap alternative to beer and, boy, has it ever been successful. Go into any izakaya these days and you'll surely find the Kaku High Ball on the menu. It has even got me drinking whiskey again after an unfortunate encounter with the whiskey and cokes when I was sixteen. 

4. Caipirinha (390)

   I had never heard of this before, but after reading up on this Brazilian cocktail made with Cachaça, which I have had, I'm quite eager to try it. Add cut limes to a rock glass and muddle. Add one part Pinga rum, 0.2 parts syrup, and top glass with crushed ice. Caipirinha, which means a country girl, is said to be Brazil's national drink.

 5. Frozen Daiquiri (380)

   Ho hum.

6. Sol Cubano (260)

   Here's another one I'm not familiar with, but am willing to learn. Bartender!

   Fill a tumbler with ice. Add one part rum, 1.5 parts grapefruit juice. Lastly, add tonic water. Stir lightly.

7. Shandy Gaff (250)

   One of my summer favorites, I have already written about it.

7. Moscow Mule (250)

   Tied for seventh is the perrenial favorite in Japan, Moscow Mule. It wasn't until I had come to Japan that I heard about this cocktail.  

   Fill a mug or tumbler with ice and add one part vodka, 0.3 parts lime juice, and 2 parts ginger ale. The name comes from the fact the cocktail packs such a punch that it makes you feel as if you've been kicked in the head by an ass. 

9. Watermelon Cocktail (230)

   Rub the rim of the glass with watermelon and salt (a la margarita). Add ice, and one part vodka, 4 parts juice from grated watermellon. Mix.

10. Salty Dog (220)

   Another favorite in Japan. Salt rim of glass. Add ice, one part chilled vodka and three parts grapefruit juice.


Saturday at the Beach

   If there is a better way to spend a hot Saturday afternoon, I'm all ears.