Wednesday, 17 February 2010

PostHeaderIcon Piss-up in a brewery

Peter at the sampling corner. Some poor girl just agreed to marry that.

A few weeks ago I was invited to a sake brewery by one of my pensioner friends. I would have probably have gone regardless but I was promised a selection of unlimited sake and so I agreed straight away. The news of free booze must have spread around the east coast of Kochi as all the alcoholic foreigners in the area descended upon the century old building. My prefecture is famous in Japan for its numerous sakes so I'm not actually sure how good this brewery is I think one of the more famous sakes comes from the town of Yasuda which is right next to mine. I brought a bottle of 土佐鶴/Tosatsuru (Tosa is the old name for Kochi and tsuru is a crane bird) home last summer but forgot to open it. I believe my younger brother and his friends polished it off one sophisticated evening. Indeed... so Kochi makes good sake and I went to a brewery in 赤野/Akano. The name itself means red field and was called this because... the rocks/soil were red and the area provided this colour for dyes/paints which was important in the old days. Another interesting fact is that the brewery itself was established with the help of a famous local called Yataro Iwasaki who was the founder of Mitsubishi. This probably all sounds more interesting to me because Kochi is/was isolated, underpopulated and all the towns hug the coastline on the same stretch of road so it's hard to imagine it contributing anything to Japan.

It's always amusing to watch Japanese people deal with their conditioned politeness and the instinctive lust for free things.

Despite it being a miserable, rainy afternoon the brewery had a good atmosphere as everyone got pretty drunk. The owner was pretty pleased to see so many foreigners and said the usual Engrish buzzwords of "Ohh hohoho gaijin... today izu intanashonaru drinkingu festabaru." As I didn't want to offend anyone by selecting an inferior product... my tomodachis and I headed straight for the most expensive bottles. They were worth about £50-£70 and tasted a bit smoother than the cheaper stuff. Despite what you might believe... sake is not always drunk hot and so most were just out of the bottle. The sake that you heat up is actually a little different but I much prefer it. At parties in Kochi there is a tradition where you pour and down sake to one another from the same cup. That's my favourite way of doing it and I usually drink the majority of the bottles on the table. In saying that... I prefer any drink when it's hot... including whisky. More importantly, I feel that heated sake truly accentuates the subtleness and fragility of the samurai soul inherit in all Japanese.

Alright alright... so an Irish(wo)man, Englishman and an Aussie walk into a brewery in rural Japan... and they say to each other... "How did we all end up here?"

We also got to sample some freshly made sake straight from the barrel. Some old Japanese bloke just stuck in a measuring jug and kept pouring it out to anyone who wanted it. It was good. I could feel it as it slowly burned all the way down to my liver. The building itself was quite interesting as it was all crooked wood that gave it a bit of character against the rest of the Lego brick structures you find all over the country. After having a further look about and stealing all the fried chicken, we each bought a couple of litres of sake to take home with us. The journey home was interesting enough as it became apparent that we were all pretty hammered. So we went to a Korean barbecue restaurant for meat and beers. Then we all experienced the joys of sobering up late on a Sunday night.

Tastes like victory.

If you were wondering what sake actually was then it's simply fermented rice with an alcohol content of about 15-20%. In Japanese, sake (酒) actually refers to all alcohol whilst the more accurate term is Nihonshu (日本酒) which basically means 'Japanese alcohol.' This is a good example of the different readings of kanji... fun. It's usually referred to as rice wine in English but the process is more like that of making beer. I taught this translation to my boss and it is now one of the few English words he knows. At every party he shouts me over and proclaims to everyone that we are drinking "raisu wine". The taste of sake is actually quite bland. You can tell that it's alcohol and it's quite apparent when you're drinking a bad one. I went to a sake festival in Hiroshima last autumn and I could easily tell what ones were dry, sweet or bitter but I couldn't really tell you what it tastes like. I'd say it was like a weaker and less offending vodka. Actually, the first time I tried it the taste and texture reminded me of George Orwell's description of Victory Gin in 1984. I didn't know what gin tasted like back then though so it probably isn't very helpful to you.

Fermenting rice. It gave me a desire for Ambrosia. Or it would have if rice pudding smelled like a moudly chair in an old pub.


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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.