Some people collect ref magnets or mugs when they travel. I collect beer. Or at least I try to drink as many variants of unique beer as possible when I travel to a different country. Though Japan is really known more for sake (rice wine), I was glad to be able to add a few new ones to my beer collection during our trip around Nagoya, Takayama, Gamagori and Gujo Hachiman with Cebu Pacific.
There are 4 major beer producers in Japan: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory, who produce mostly easy to drink pale-colored light lagers with an alcohol strength of around 5.0%. While some of these beers are widely available internationally including here in the Philippines, it’s always nice to pair a great Japanese meal with the local brew. Here’s a look at of some of the beers we tried and the delicious meals we consumed them with.
Tebasaki + Akamiso (Red Miso) Beer
One of the most interesting beers I got to try during the trip was Kinshachi Nagoya Red Miso Lager, a local beer brewed with red miso. Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans that’s used in a lot of Japanese dishes. Akamiso or red miso, which is a specialty ingredient in Nagoya is aged, sometimes for more than one year, giving the beer a strong-tasting salty and umami flavor.
The beer has a rich, amber color and lightly bitter body with caramel, wine, oak and red miso notes which provides a good balance to spicy dishes. I found this beer really interesting because of its distinctive and rich taste combining malt with red miso paste and its slightly higher ABV at 6.0% compared to mass-produced Japanese beers. It also has an awesomely cool label that features landmarks and icons of Nagoya including the Nagoya castle and twin dragons. The details also show suggested dishes to pair the beer with including tebasaki (which we had), Misonikomi Udon (a noodle dish), Akamiso (Red miso) and Ebi-furai (Fried Prawns).
I got to try this in Sekai no Yamachan, a homegrown izakaya (Japanese pub) in Nagoya, that specializes in tebasaki or deep-fried chicken wings during our last night in Nagoya.
Groupfie at Sekai no Yamachan
There were a lot of dishes served in the restaurant but the chicken wings and miso pork yakitori were the standouts. The restaurant also serves draft beers, sake and other alcoholic drinks. The beer and dining experience is definitely a must-try if you’re in Nagoya!
Miso Katsu + Sapporo Black Label
After our visit to Nagoya Castle, we had lunch at a restaurant nearby where we got to enjoy another local specialty. Nagoya is famous for it’s Miso-katsu which differs from the traditional tonkatsu as the sauce is sweet and miso-based. The pork is fried in breadcrumbs before being dipped in hot miso sauce and served with shredded cabbage and rice.
The katsu dish came with a bowl of udon noodles with a cute edible figure that looked like a fish. It was apparently a Shachihoko, an animal from Japanese folklore with the head of a tiger and a body of a carp, which is a symbol of Nagoya. To complement the meal, I had Sapporo Draft Beer Black Label, which is made with locally grown barley malt and hops. Sapporo Black Label has a rich and dark flavor.
Tenmusu + Yebisu Premium
Our first meal at Hotel Toyoko Inn when we arrived from the Chubu International Airport was Tenmusu, a Nagoya specialty composed of rice balls with tempura prawn inside. This came packaged in a neat little package containing 6 rice balls wrapped in foil complete with seasoning, which makes it a good fast food option. Tenmusu is a little smaller than a regular rice ball and the tip of the shrimp fritter can be seen sticking out from the rice ball. The rice is not seasoned with salt, but the ocean flavor of shrimp and nori (dried laver) bring about just the right saltiness.
What’s cool is that there was a vending machine in the lobby of our hotel which was selling a lot of beer varieties, including Asahi, Kirin and Suntory. I went with Yebisu Premium All-Malt (ABV: 5.0%) beer, which is brewed by Sapporo Breweries Ltd.
While a lot of the typical mass-produced beers tend to taste alike, Yebisu Premium is one of the better tasting ones in terms of quality and depth. It’s even considered one of The 6 Best Japanese Beers by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Who am I to argue with an Iron Chef? At any rate, it went great with the surprisingly filling tempura rice balls.
There also happened to be a convenience store nearby, so I got to try out a bottle of Golden Ale (ABV: 5.0%) brewed by Morita Kinshachi Brewery. This ale had a clear golden straw color and unique tea and floral flavor, with hints of sweetness and fruitiness. I also got to try this Choya Umeshu Plum Liqueur, which kind of reminded me of a mild kiamoy in liquid form. Really good!
Grilled Pork + Asahi Beer
One of the best dining experiences in Japan was our lunch at a traditional thatched-hut restaurant near the Otaki Caves in the Gifu Prefecture, where we got to grill slices of meat and vegetables ourselves.
The aroma of the meat sizzling on the stove and anticipation really enhanced the appetite. The grilled pork and veggies were relatively mild, but the peanut sauce was rich and flavorful.
To complement the meal, we had Asahi Super Dry, a Japanese Rice Lager style beer brewed by Asahi Breweries Ltd in Tokyo-to Tokyo-shi, Japan. Though I’ve tried this beer before since it’s widely available here in the Philippines, and find it a bit on the bland side, it tasted pretty good paired with that delicious meal.
Sample Village Making in Gamagori
The area of Gujo Hachiman is known as being the center of food replica production in Japan. You know those wax samples of food you see outside restaurants to entice diners to eat? This is where most of them come from. After a session of making our own tempura and cabbage out of hot wax, everything just looked good enough to eat. Here’s a plate of (wax) chicken wings and Suntory Premium Malts on display at Sample Village Iwasaki.
Our visit to the aisachi or morning market along the Miyagawa River in Takayama gave us a taste of different Japanese street food and regional delicacies including Gohei Mochi (rice cakes on skewers coated in miso sauce), Okonomiyaki (a savory Japanese pancake) and grilled conch. This was also where I found Hida Takayama Beer, a craft beer brand manufactured by one of Japan’s earliest microbreweries founded in 1996.
READ MORE: JAPAN: Savoring the Flavors of Takayama
Hida Beef Meal
The best meal of the whole trip in Japan was our lunch of Hida Beef, a high-grade Wagyu style of beef comparable to Kobe that comes from a specific type of Japanese cattle raised in the Gifu Prefecture. The meat was just so tender and bursting with flavor, it just melts in your mouth. I highly recommend you try this out if ever you’re visiting Takayama.
Crab Claw Dinner + Kirin Draft
Dinner at Hotel Route Inn Grantia Takayama was a buffet of Japanese specialties including crab claws, freshwater river shrimps, and Hida beef seasoned with miso paste, leeks, and mushrooms, and wrapped and steamed in magnolia leaves. I paired this meal with Kirin Premium Draft Beer. While the bottled variants can feel a bit mild, Kirin on tap has tastes even smoother with more of a fizzy kick. Heavenly.
Asari Kamamabushi Gozen at Gamagori Orange Park
Gamagori Orange Park is a citrus fruit park nestled in the mountainous region of Gamagori, southeast of Nagoya, where visitors can experience harvesting fruits and a delicious buffet including all-you-can-eat seasonal fruit. Strawberries, grapes and melons are available at different months of the year, while oranges are in season from October to December.
The restaurant here serves set bento box meals with options like clams, shirasu and octopus kamameshi or kettle rice. We had the Asari Kamamabushi Gozen lunch, which came with kamameshi rice seasoned with fresh clams, udon noodles and Sanma kabayaki or Pacific saury, a seasonal autumn fish that is broiled in sweet soy sauce. Sidings included eggplant miso, seasoned cod, a roe of sardines, pickled vegetables and fresh fruit.
The restaurant was serving Kirin Beer and Kirin Free (non-alcoholic beer), but I opted for freshly squeezed orange juice instead since that was the specialty. Kirin beer is an American style pale lager brewed by Kirin Brewerey Ltd. that gets it name from an ancient mythical Japanese beast. Since its introduction in 1990, Kirin is one of Japan’s most acclaimed and bestselling beers.
Sushi & Tempura + Kirin Beer
Laguna Ten Bosch is a Japanese multi-purpose marine resort also in the Gamagori region. Lagunasia is a theme park which boasts of a Ferris Wheel, amusement park rides, water sports and a light and sound show using the latest 3D mapping technology. After cruising around the Thousand Sunny, the vessel of the Straw Hat Pirates in the popular Japanese cartoon One Piece and trying out some of the rides, we headed to Kaisen Edomae Sushi restaurant for a sushi and tempura dinner.
Sushi is probably the most famous Japanese food that you can get anywhere in the world. I love sushi and sashimi, particularly salmon. We each got a set sushi box which contained six pieces: salmon, maguro (tuna), amaebi, (pink shrimp), ika (squid), saba (mackerel) and hirame nigiri (halibut).
I paired this with Kirin beer (5.0%), The flavor is smooth but not that strong. It went well with the sushi meal, which was so filling that we had barely enough room for the tempura when it arrived at our table.
BEER TAKE HOMES:
During our shopping spree in Don Quijote, a famous discount chain store in Japan, I came across a few interesting craft beers from Japanese microbreweries, which I bought as souvenirs.
This included a seasonal craft Pumpkin beer from Suntory (ABV: 5.0%), Kumano Kodo Beer (ABV: 5.0%) and Echigo Premium Red Ale (5.5.%), which comes from Japan’s first microbrewery. There were so many others that I wish I could have taken home.
One of my favorite finds was Suiyobi No Neko (ABV: 4.5%) by Yo-Ho Brewing in Nagano, Japan. This Belgian White Beer Style which translates to “Wednesday Cat” was made for “Hump Day.” Its light and floral flavor with hints of oranges and spices will definitely get you through the week. Plus, I absolutely love the artwork on this one.
Another interesting beer-related find: powdered beer from a kid’s toy shop in Festival Mall! According to the packet instructions, you’re just supposed to just mix this with water. I have yet to try it it out. Kanpai!
NOTE: This trip was made possible by Cebu Pacific and Centrair.
Cebu Pacific Air, the leading airline in the Philippines, flies between Manila and Nagoya (Chubu Centrair International Airport) every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Ongoing all-in seat sale fares start from P6,388, for travel from December 17, 2015 to March 31, 2016. Book your flights through CebuPacificAir.com. For updates and seat sale announcements, check out www.facebook.com/