September 18, 2013

The Interconnected Worlds of Japanese, Western Craft Beers

The Red and the White: Kagua beers on display with yuzu and sansho.

I didn't know we had Jimmy Carter to thank for the legalization of home beer brewing back in 1976. Yet we do, and it's why Brooklyn Brewery's maker-in-chief Garrett Oliver says of our often unappreciated former President, "He did all right by me."

Oliver had lots to say about beer, Japanese kaiju monster movies (which were the first thing about Japan he ever liked) sake, and many other beer and non-beer topics at a recent Japan Society event, "The Delights of Craft Beer & Japanese Cuisine."

Oliver pointed out that beer is by far the more popular drink than sake in Japan. There are 40 Belgian beer bars in Tokyo alone, and Japan is the fourth largest beer market in the world. The major Japanese beer companies, Kirin, Sapporo and Osaka Beer Company (later renamed Asahi) were all formed in the late 1800s not long after Commodore Matthew Perry cajoled Japan's doors open to the West.

Japanese beers have traditionally been made in the style of German wheat beers. Since about 2000 or so, however, the country's brewers, inspired by the wild craft beer goings on in America and the West, have been experimenting with beers that express distinctly Japanese characteristics.

Oliver warming up the crowd with thirst-creating stories and pictures.

Among the brews we tasted from eight Japanese or Japanese-style brewers, we particularly loved the Kagua Blanc and Kagua Rouge. Both are scented with yuzu, the beautifully aromatic citron (in this case from Kochi Prefecture), and sansho, the lemony pepper with the heat of its close relative the Sichuan peppercorn. The white beer is brewed with wheat and the red with roasted malt.

The beer, described as "Japanese scented beer," was dreamed up by Tokyo-based Nippon Craft Beer Inc., which sends the raw ingredients for Kagua from Japan to Belgium to be brewed by a a master brewer there. The bad news on this enticing beer is that it's not available in the U.S. just yet.

Other standouts that are available here included the Yoho Brewing family of beers, Yona Yona Pale Ale, Aooni IPA, and the luxurious Tokyo Black Porter. They not only tasted great, but had the most beautiful can design, too.

In one example of how American brewers have influenced Japanese styles, Oliver told the story of his own invention, Brooklyn Brewery's Sorachi Ace, made with a hop that was developed in Japan by Sapporo in the late 1980s. With its strong lemongrass flavor it was considered a dud at the time. Oliver stumbled upon the hop, love it, and created his beer. In the strangest chapter of the story, he boarded a plane with 11 pounds of the hops to reintroduce them to Japan, which was by then ready to embrace their own invention. Oliver returned home and found out from his supplier that the Japanese had ordered 800 pounds of the Sorachi Ace hop.

September 10, 2013

Congrats! AAJA 2013 National Journalism Awards

I was honored recently to receive an Asian American Journalists Association 2013 National Journalism Award for this story on Asian American chefs that I wrote for Even better was to be in the company of a group of print, radio and tv journalists whose outstanding contributions were a treat to read, listen to and watch.

I loved this piece that NPR freelance reporter Heidi Chang did on the music director Alexander Payne selected for his movie The Descendants. Payne discovered the enchanting Hawaiian music of the late singer and slack key guitarist Gabby Pahinui, and showcased him on the soundtrack, along with a roster of other past and present Hawaiian music standouts.

Fortune magazine writer Mina Kimes did a thorough investigative job on this story of corporate malfeasance and the deaths that resulted following illegal clinical trials and the off-label use of a type of bone cement.

Reuters anchor and reporter Fred Katayama delved into the science behind baseball's knuckleball to explain why it's so hard to hit, and Houston's KTRK ABC 13 reporter Adela Uchida filed this report on the Vietnamese American fishermen who were hit hard by the 2010 BP oil disaster,

Here's an introduction to all the winning pieces that Heidi Chang posted on YouTube, taken from the AAJA awards night gala. Congratulations to all!

September 3, 2013

Craft Food and Drink in Columbus, Ohio

  • New Yorkers and their urban counterparts on the West Coast think they have the market cornered on small-batch foods made by artisanal savants. But the truth is that superior handmade eats are being dreamed up by entrepreneurs in every corner of the country.

    In Columbus, Ohio, for example, where I spent a few days not too long ago, here’s what you can buy under one big roof:  a mango habanero Bavarian pretzel, bubble tea, goat cheese made in Cleveland, a Vietnamese bรกnh mi sandwich, and cherry lambic sorbet. Granted, this is one special roof, belonging to the not-for-profit North Market,  a 19th century wooden structure packed with 35 different vendors. Outside the downtown structure, an outdoor farmer’s market takes place every Saturday featuring the handiwork of 22 different farmers. It reminded me of Toronto's great St. Lawrence Market.

    Quiver Full Family Farm Buckeye popcorn.
    Rick Harrison Wolfe, who came on as North Market’s executive director earlier this year, was surprised at how developed the locavore movements was here: “I couldn’t believe how into it people are and how much they care” about where their food comes from, he notes. Part of it that may be due to the fact that if you drive 45 minutes from Columbus in any direction “you’ll hit a farm."

    Doug Denny's The Fish Guy's shop.

    Although North Market, which began in 1876, is the oldest farmer’s market in the city, the boom in the local foods movement has led to a mini-tsunami of markets. Up until probably ten years ago, North Market was the only game in town, says Wolfe. “Now," he adds, "just about every enclave has some sort of farmer’s market. There’s a full schedule for farmers."

    Increasing diversity—in the form of large influxes of Somali, Vietnamese and Latinos—has added color and excitement to the once white-bread food culture of the city, too.

    Mike Kast''s Curds & Whey.

    Wolfe, who returned to his Ohio roots after a career in the fashion industry and a stint as a food truck owner, has also been impressed with a revitalized restaurant and drinks scene. “I’ve been back for almost three years,” he notes, “and during that time at least a dozen super-interesting things have popped up close to downtown, some in neighborhoods that are being revitalized because of these restaurants.”

    Ohio residents receiving food assistance can shop at the market.
    Old-school Ohio pizza at Rubino's.

    One place he likes is Chris Crader and Bethany Lovell’s Harvest Pizzeria and craft cocktail bar Curio in the city’s German Village. While the traditional Ohio pizza (see photo above) sports a crust as thin and crispy as a cracker and cut into party squares, Harvest makes a thick-crust, chewier pizza showered with local meats and produce, many of the latter produced at the owners’ small farm.

    For more on the local craft foods movement, check out the Columbus Experience.

    Local favorite Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

    The North Market is just one part of this scene, and one that Wolfe plans to grow selectively. With a finite amount of space in which to expand, he’s in the position of sifting through hundreds of applicants and selecting the best of the best upcoming food businesses, making the market an incubator for start-ups. “From this point on, it has to be about what do our guests need, what don’t we have?” explains Wolfe. If it’s not in that stack [of applicants], then I need to seek it out.” 

    North Market
  • 59 Spruce St.
  • Columbus, OH 43215
  • 614-463-9664
  • Website: