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.




Boston Cooler

   When my waiter at Mamma Mia informed me they wouldn't be able to make me a mojito because they were out of mint, I told him to just throw something together that was "sawayaka" (refreshing). A few minutes later, he returned with a drink called a Boston Cooler.

   "What's in it," I asked.

   The waiter screwed his head and sucked air through his teeth. "Shall I ask . . ."

   "Don't worry about it," I replied, reaching for my iPhone. A quick search of Boston Cooler cocktail came up with mixed results. 

   The Gourmet Underground Detroit site claimed the Boston Cooler was, one, not a cocktail, and, two, a Detroit City original:

"In the city where Fred Sanders is credited with inventing the ice cream soda, pharmacist and founder of America’s oldest soft drink, James Vernor, took it one step further with the Boston Cooler. Originally a mixture of sweet cream and spicy, tickle-your-nose Vernor’s ginger soda, the drink eventually morphed into a thick, vanilla ice cream-based blended shake that is still available at Detroit-area Dairy Queens and independent ice cream parlors."

   Interesting as that may be, it had nothing to do with the tangly, light cocktail sweating on the table before me. Although I couldn't find any English language pages with information on the background of the drink, I did find a number of Japanese-language sites which did.

   The Boston Cooler, I learned, is one of many so-called "city cocktails". Others include, the Frisco (which was featured on Rachel Maddow a few weeks ago, the Manhattan, and so on. Recipes for the Boston Cooler vary, but most call for the following:

2 oz of white rum

1 oz of fresh lemon juice

1 tsp of sugar. (Some recipes recommend powdered sugar,

    the Japanese ones I found call for syrup)

3-4 oz of soda water or ginger ale

   One recipes suggest pouring the rum and lemon juice into a tall glass (collins glass) first, then stirring in sugar, adding ice and filling glass with soda water or ginger ale. This reminds me of the slipshod way drinks are mixed by many "mixologists" in the U.S.

   A more promising recipe says you should add lemon juice, sugar and 2 oz of club soda together in a collins glass, fill the glass with cracked ice, add rum, then top with club soda, and stir. "Garnish with a spiral of orange or lemon peel, and serve." (By all means, do not forget to serve!)

   A more thorough recipe found in the Japanese Cocktail Recipe 1000 recommends pouring the rum, freshly squeezed lemon juice, syrup in a shaker. After shaking it, pour it into a "zombie glass" (or a similarly large glass) that has ice in it. When it has cooled, top off with ginger ale (or soda water if there is no ginger ale) and stir gently. Garnish.

   To be honest, I would have preferred drinking a mohito, but the Boston Cooler was a pretty good substitute on that hot day.



   I finished work a little after six on Saturday evening. I considered giving my cousin another call, but it was still early in the morning for her. Better to try again in an hour.

   In the meantime, Azami and I went out for a quick bite, dropping in at Gyoshu Danshiro Shoten, an Okinawan pub just down the street from my apartment.

   Without looking at the menu, I rattled off the order as soon as the waiter kneeled beside our table. “Tofuyo, goya chamburu, rafuté, Okinawan soba, grilled Ishigaki beef, and Orion beer.”

   Okinawa. Now there was a place I would not have minded being, Jean’s opprobrium notwithstanding.

   For years I'd been operating sullenly on the soppy emotion "anywhere but here", but my melancholic longing for greener pastures had a destination, several, in fact, and Okinawa was near the top of that list.

   A friend of mine had checked out of life in the fast lane and moved to the southernmost island of Yonaguni where she was now spending her days hanging out at the beach, and lolling about on the engawa deck of her house, plucking a kind of banjo called the Ryûkyû sanshin and drinking the local fire water, awamori.

   I wasn't ready to live the life of an aesthetic just yet, but Ishigaki, the largest, most populous island in the Yaeyama archipelago located halfway between Okinawa and my friend's new home of Yonaguni, would have suited me just fine. 

   There the pace of life was slower--perfect when you had nowhere in particular to go and nothing special to do. When you were rushing from one commitment to another like I usually was, just doing nothing, absolutely nothing, as Jean had often reminded me, was a luxury.  

   A dip in the turquoise sea snorkeling among coral reefs and tropical fish, a bottle of Donan 120-proof awamori and a bucket of ice to ease you into the evening, and an old man strumming away on the sanshin, singing in the Okinawan dialect, "Nankuru nai sah. Everything's gonna be all right.” Sounded like heaven to me right now.

   The waiter brought a chilled mug of Orion draught, uchincha (Okinawa-style jasmine tea) for Azami, and a small plate of tofuyo to our table.

   In a land as crowded with delicacies as Japan, tofuyo still managed to stand out. Made with the Okinawan variety of tofu, it was first packed in salt to remove the excess water, and then fermented a second time in awamori, rice malt and red yeast until it took on a rose-colored cheese-like consistency.

   I shaved off a bit of the tofuyo with a toothpick and popped it into my mouth. 

   Just then, Azami's cell phone rang.

   “Moshi-moshi . . . ” she said. “Yes, he’s here with me. Hold on a moment, I’ll put him on . . .”

どなん (Donan Awamori)

60% Alc/Vol

Rate: ★★★★


Above excerpt is from No.6
To read the first installment of No.6, please go here.

© Aonghas Crowe, 2010. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.


All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

No. 6 is now available on Kindle.



Yuzu Shu

   The other day I had a craving for yuzu shu, a sweet and tangy liqueur made from a citrus fruit called yuzu, so I humped over to Sakaba Kôji. (For instructions on how to make yuzu shu at home check out the Kyoto Foodie blog.)  

   The first time I tried yuzu shu was at another one of my favorite places to drink, Manten Shûraku.

   Picky eater though I may be, there hasn't been a single thing that Manten has served me that I haven't liked. The same can be said about their selection of alcohol. I had never heard of Yamato Zakura--one of the very best imo shôchûs to have ever passed my lips and worthy of an entry all to itself (I'm getting to it)--until I had started patronizing Manten regularly and asked Kojima, the owner, what he drank.

   Although yuzu is, like the mikan, a citrus fruit that is in season in winter, yuzu shu makes for a refreshing summer drink. 

   Now, the trouble with yuzu shu is trying to find one that's exceptional. Most of them are just okay

   The most common brand of yuzu shu that you're sure to come across is one produced by Kobayashi Shuzô of Hokkaidô. It's not bad, but it lacks something. It doesn't have the "Wow!" factor that my very first glass of yuzu shu had. (By the way, their mikan shu is pretty damn good. Highly recommended.)

   When and if I ever find a bottle of that yuzu shu that I had at Manten I will review it here.

   Anyways . . .

   On my way home from the supermarket this evening, I popped into the Lawson's downstairs.

   I've heard that my corner convenience store has the highest sales in the country. I'm not sure if that is gross sales or sales per tsubo (3.3 square meters). At any rate, I find this dubious as the two men who have been working there as long as I have been living in Daimyô hardly look as if they are made of money. 

   What I love about the Lawson's downstairs is that you never know what they're going to be selling. Oh sure, the same o-nigiri will always be there, but selection of snacks is always changing. It's as if the store serves as some kind of testing ground for new products and I am more than happy to act as a marketing guinea pig for them. 

   Today, they were selling the Kizakura Yuzu Shu High Ball. Unlike ordinary yuzu shu which is made with rice shôchû, this one was made with saké.

   To make a long story short, it's light, slightly sweet and tart. Not bad. Not bad at all. My wife, who's no drinker, liked it. And there's the rub: I want a drink to knock my socks off. My feet, I'm afraid, remain socked. For those not used to marinating their livers with copious amounts of alcohol, I recommend Kizakura's drink. For everyone else, stay tuned!



Kizakura Yuzu Shu High Ball (黄桜ゆず酒ハイボール)

6% Alc/Vol

Rate: ★★★