Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sapporo Premium Alcohol Free Black

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Wow, that’s quite a long name for a drink! So we’re back to drinking non alcohol, beer “taste” drinks. My last non alcohol beer taste drink was surprisingly positive so now that I found a drink mimicking my favorite kind of beer, dark beer, it must be good right? Well, we’ll see about that...Shifty

This spring/summer a lot of dark themed beers and beer like drinks have hit the market. Sometimes it makes me wonder if all the national breweries are collaborating with each other when they chose their theme of the season. Like some kind of twisted board meeting in a dark room heavy with cigarette smoke. Conspiracies abound! Well, this season it seems dark beers is the flavor of choice this time around which is fine with me but so far it hasn’t been as good as I had hoped.

My first impression before opening the can is that the packaging looks inviting enough. I like the black and gold text although I think the front of the can is a bit crowded with text with too many fonts. I think this kind of text crowding issue is a general problem with many Japanese products though. It’s really not all that unique so I can’t really knock them for it as they probably don’t know better. Text on a can isn’t what makes the drink taste good after all. So let’s crack it open and really get into this…

Premium Alcohol Free Black pours very fizzy like a cola. I thought it would remain heady like other drinks similar to it because of what I saw from the TV commercial and magazine ads advertising it over the past week or so. What was kind of neat is that the beer officially released on my birthday. Thanks Sapporo! Sorry I’m getting sidetracked here… The way the drink poured gave me a little concern for things to come. The drink did pour with a convincing authentic amber-brown color but the head did something unexpected…

Umai? I’ll be the judge of that Daisuke!

Although I am not into heavy beer heads I do appreciate one that sticks around long enough to keep the beer beneath it tasting decent. Premium Alcohol Free Black lost its head within moments of pouring. This could be due to how I pour beer but I poured it as I would a stout which usually leaves about a half inch of foam on the top. So that’s why the picture at the beginning of this post looks like it has been sitting for a few minutes after I poured it. I assure you the picture was taken immediately after I put the can down to take its picture.

So far the beer is totally not like the commercial. Sad smile I want whatever they were drinking in the commercial, it probably was the real deal from their Stout line… Even how the foam sticks to the glass in the commercial reminds me more of their Stout than what I got from this drink.

After taking its picture I decided to do a little scent test to get a preview of things to come. The smell wasn’t quite authentic as I had hoped but it had a sweetness to it. Before I get into taste, I want to list my loosely translated main ingredients that make this freak of science possible.

Ingredients:

Wheat, sugar, hops, caramel color, and other fun sciency stuff to make this thing work. I guess the caramel coloring is there to make it look more authentic for its light head that disappears quickly.

So how does it taste? Flat. Flat not in that it lacks carbonation, but flat in how it tastes. A better word may be “empty.” The drink lacks any thickness or weight to it even though its not one of those calorie free non alcohol drinks so I am not sure why they made it so watered down. It tastes more like a seltzer water than a beer, let alone a black beer. There is one tiny redeeming quality as it does leave a light aftertaste reminiscent of a dark beer but its not satisfying enough when its in my mouth to make it worth it. Its such a tease really!

The bottom line; while it may sound like I’m completely dogging this drink its really not too bad. It’s drinkable if you’re desperate for something that looks like a dark beer and you lost your sense of taste. If you are looking to drink beer without having to ingest alcohol (you’re removing the best part from the drink in my opinion) its not too bad of a substitute I guess.

I’m a little surprised to admit this but I think Asahi’s Dry Zero tastes slightly better. I kind of want a second opinion here and I might try to drink them both at the same time just to make sure what I am saying is accurate. Generally I prefer Sapporo products over all other Japanese bands, for example their Mugi to Hop happoshu brand is excellent, but this time around I have to admit Sapporo dropped the ball this time.

You can click here for the official website if you’re interested in the product. You’ll notice its pretty bare and doesn’t have a flash intro or any interesting design to its webpage. I have a feeling this product won’t be around very long.

I hope dark beers aren’t just a passing fad. I really hope that the breweries keep trying to improve their formulas. It brings more variety to the ho-hum beer market in Japan. Something many expats like me appreciate. I am not sure if this a permanent flavor or not but if you are feeling curious, pick one up. They’re not too expensive at around 119 yen a can.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Kirin Stout beer

DSCF0153I love my dark beers and I especially like them when they are affordable. Kirin Stout beer is not too hard to find and is sold at major nation wide supermarket chains like Max-Valu and Ogino.

Depending on where you shop you may find it for about 10 yen more than your standard can of Asahi Super Dull Dry at 197 yen a 350ml can. That additional 10 yen makes all the difference in my book. I think other customers agree with my line of thinking as it always seems that the Kirin Black sells well. Or maybe there are a few other foriegners like myself who like variety in their beers.

Whenever I find Kirin Stout I usually buy it even if cheaper alternatives are availible. If my memory serves me correct, Kirin Stout is a bit lighter than most other stouts/dark beers I’ve had but it tastes alright for what it is. It has a trademark dark brown color to it with a nice frothy carmel colored head to it. It kind of reminds me of root beer a little. Not the taste but how it looks in a glass.

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I’ve never seen it in a longneck bottle. 考え中

Kirin Stout has a nice light yet sweet taste about it. It doesn’t have the heaviness of Guniess but its also not watered down gulpable like a standard Japanese beer. It is smooth though. I suppose you could chug it if you want… I don’t anymore as most of my canned beer drinking is done alone. 悲しい

Kirin Stout is good enough for what it trys to be as it is usually the only black beer on the shelf at most stores I go to. Even with recent competition from Asahi Dry Bleacgh Black, Kirin Stout isn’t in any danger of its unrivaled position.

Of course stout beers are best from the tap but I have yet to find Kirin Stout on tap in my area although I have seen Suntory’s Premium Black at my local izakaya which I may talk about in a later entry. It is pretty good… Since I can’t always head into a bar for a good stout, have to settle with getting my darker beers where and whenever I can which is usually in a can.

Living in Japan for this long made me forget what makes a good beer or at least what I used to think made beers taste good. I’ve had so much of the samey samey bitter Japanese beers that I may be off the mark when it comes to my delight in drinking Kirin Stout. It may just be the variety Kirin provides me that gives them higher marks. Oh whatever, at least I’m enjoying it. スマイル

For furter information in Japanese you can check out Kirin’s official Stout website HERE.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Annular solar eclipse in Japan with proper pictures!

105In my last blog entry I shared some boring pictures I took with my own cheapo Fujifilm Finepix 10.0 megapixel camera. I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the settings to stop it from being so sensitive to the sun.
I left home this morning thinking I’d have nothing else to write about the eclipse but I was wrong. One of my friends at school Mister Kikushima, who happens to be a pretty decent photographer, offered his collection of photos he snapped on the school grounds before school. He uses a really nice Canon EOS Kiss Digital camera with an assortment of fancy mega lenses.
Mr. Kikushima didn’t use any special filters to get these shots because he benefitted from the heavy cloud cover. In a way, the clouds helped his camera get better shots without much effort. At leat not much more effort than he’s used to. I am not sure I’d be able to get anywhere near the same result.
He took all kinds of pictures but I will share only a handful of the 100+ he gave me.
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This got me to thinking, maybe I should invest in a better camera and possibly learn how to use a camera properly as well. It might be useful one day… It would at least make this blog a bit more interesting.
Enjoy the rest of the pictures below. スマイル

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Again, thanks Mr. Kikushima for these awesome shots.

I experienced an annular solar eclipse!

DSCF0010I woke up to Huey Lewis’ Back in Time at 7am this morning. I quickly sprang out of bed and checked the skies for any sign of sunshine. My predictions of complete cloud cover came to prove mostly true though as there was a huge patch of clouds heading in my apartment’s direction just before full eclipse.

DSCF0005I managed to get some VERY amateur pictures but I wish I put a little more thought into how and where I was going to point my camera. I might have been able to get something a bit more visible. Well, I’m no photographer and I did what I could do. I got pictures mostly washed out from the sun without using the UV filter and reflections of my camera or myself with the UV filter on.

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-If you click to enlarge the photos you’ll notice a teeny tiny speck of the sun on the center of the film. Neat.

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Without the filter. My camera just saw sun. I wish I knew how to manually filter stuff with it. Oh well..

 

DSCF0017I watched a good portion of the eclipse live on Japanese TV. I must say that 30 minutes or so covering the solar eclipse was some of the best Japanese TV I’ve seen in a long time. The talentless morons were drawn back from the spotlight to give the true star its time to shine. It should happen more often, both the eclipse and holding back “talent.”

I guess that’s all there is left to say about the eclipse. Now I have a neat UV filter I can stare at the sun with… I kid, I won’t use it for that.

This is all I could see during the full eclipse at 7:33am Sad smile

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At least TV had my back.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Solar eclipse May 21, 2012 in Japan

Time to get nerdy!
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For the past couple of months businesses and news media in Japan have been ramping up their merchandising and coverage of this year’s solar eclipse. Solar eclipses are pretty rare events and any opportunity to witness one is quite a treat. From what I’ve heard, a solar eclipse hasn’t happened in my part Japan for about 173 years so this is quite a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I got a neat flyer from one of the schools I teach at along with a lot of supplementary information from the office. The flyer was some practical Japanese practice for me especially since it was about something I wanted to learn more about. I brought it home for my wife to read but she glanced it over and set it aside. I was hoping she’d be a little more interested in the technical aspects of this solar phenomenon but at least she wants to view it with me.
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In preparation for the solar eclipse my wife and I bought a special set of protective eye gear to block out retina burning ultraviolet sunrays. For the past month or so most places were selling things similar to the ones we bought for 1000+ yen each. We were fortunate enough to grab ours at a much more acceptable price. I know they work because I blasted it with UV rays from my TV remote. Couldn’t see a thing with my camera when the special glasses were between it ant the camera. Neat!
EPSON002Even with all the preparation and hype this whole eclipse can get poopooed by good old Japanese weather. For the past few days this week its been cloudy and tomorrow, when the eclipse will happen, it will probably be no different. The weather forecasters on TV have probably been walking on eggshells all week knowing that weather probably won’t be its best for viewing the solar eclipse. Even so, they continue to give wishy-washy weather predictions. Eh, whatever, I’m hoping for clear skies but I’ll most likely get patchy clouds at best. Just as long as I can get a picture of it with my camera through the lens of the glasses I bought I’ll be a happy amateur astronomer!
EPSON003The solar eclipse will happen early in the morning of May 21st. I usually wake up around the time the eclipse will be at its fullest so I’ve got to set my alarm forward so I don’t miss it.
The solar eclipse isn’t the only thing special happening this week. I also have a birthday and marriage anniversary around the same time. This is going to be a busy and probably expensive week all in good fun.

Edit- Depending on where you are in Japan, your times to view the eclipse will vary. Follow this link to see times for other regions of Japan. If you are reading this after the morning of the 21st of May 2011, sorry you're out of luck.

Edit 2: I wrote a separate blog post with picutres of the cloudy annular solar eclipse. It can be found here.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

子供の日 Children’s Day

-But its mostly Boy’s Day

My son was born in December of last year so this is his first Children’s Day ever. Before my son was born I really didn’t care or know much about this particular holiday besides really cool, colorful carp kites are hung outside and neat Samurai armor/helmet displays are put out for the sons of the family. Now I know a lot more than I ever cared to know. Smile

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I learned a lot about how much these ornaments cost along with what they symbolize for the children and parents. If you look closely at the carp kites are hung outside of people’s homes and over riversides you’ll notice that not all carps are the same size in a set. Usually the largest carps are the mother and father followed by a smaller carp being the son or sons. There’s no real particular rule about colors although it’s generally accepted that the largest carp of the family is the father and the red/pink one that is slightly smaller represents the mother. The kites can be found for as cheap as 105 yen at 100 yen shops or 100s of dollars for a large one like the ones in the picture above. Since I live in an apartment, we went for simple medium sized ones from a 100 yen store. I think carp kites really do a good job of getting me in the mood for a mild spring. Seeing the carps float in the spring wind is pretty therapeutic.

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The Samurai displays (Kabuto) were originally intended for the first son but have now been marketed to any son you have in the family. This can potentially make it very expensive for a family with more than a coupe of boys. The displays seem to be as expensive as you want them to be usually averaging around 200,000 yen for a decent sized one. You can get them cheaper, closer to the 15,000 yen range but quality and styles will vary greatly. Plus its all about price in Japan. Most will go for the higher priced ones even though they all seem the same to the untrained eye.

Lucky or not so lucky for the parents (me) its usually the Mother’s side’s parents buy the displays. If you have a daughter the Mother’s side also is expected to pay for the girl’s version Hina doll set. I feel sorry for the grandparents of large families.

Kabuto come in all shapes and sizes but generally they come in one of the following:

Helmet only

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Helmet and armor


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Since these displays are rather large and quite an investment my wife and I agreed that we would get a small one for the time being as we are not sure how much longer we’ll live in Japan. If we end up living longer, we’ll get an appropriately sized one. Here’s what we got. It’s quite small but it looks pretty nice anyhow. It’s only on display for a couple of weeks anyhow, so we won’t see it most of the time. Rolling on the floor laughing

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I missed a lot of details on Carp kites and boy’s day Samurai displays. If you are interested in reading more, please follow the link below to Wikipedia for more information.

Children’s Day and Kabuto

Monster Energy sold in Japan

-Finally!
2012-05-09 13.28.44The energy drink industry is pretty big in Japan. Unlike where I come from in America, energy drinks are generally sold in small gulp sized aluminum cans or brown glass phials/bottles here. All energy drinks including Japanese energy drinks generally use similar main ingredients like Taurine and Ginseng. The only big difference between east and west is how large the serving container is and how much sweetener has been added.
Over the years, the western style energy drink market has been slowly cracking away at with Red Bull seeming to hold the biggest brand recognition. With few exceptions, I’ve been able to find Red Bull sold in most convenience stores across Japan but it doesn’t come cheap. Averaging over 250 yen for its iconic sized small and slender can, Red Bull costs nearly as much as a tall can of beer! Japanese energy drinks on the other hand can range anywhere from a low bargain price of 40 yen all the way up to near 200 yen for the fancy new brands that also remedy hangovers.
While I enjoy having a Red Bull from time to time,  it is not my energy drink of choice. My number one spot is a dead heat between Monster Energy and Rockstar. Depending on how I feel will decide which one I buy. But or the past five years I’ve been in Japan, I’ve never come across a Monster Energy. I've seen and bought a Rockstar energy drinks but never a Monster. I've always hoped Monster would bring their brand to Japan and it looks like they finally have.

I finally came across an unusually small can of Monster at my local Family-Mart convenience store going for 200 yen even. While the price was a bit high for something I’m used to getting at nearly twice the size and half the price, I couldn't resist. Usually I'd think it over for being nearly the same price as a large can of beer, but since its the first time I've ever encountered it in Japan I had to have it now.

The convenience store I bought it at was selling only the standard flavor of Monster but that's totally cool with me as the others aren't that great to me.  The can is about as slender as a Red Bull but about 20 percent taller. Hooray for more volume! The logo and can’s design are about as I remember it being on its large sized American cans. As for taste, it seems to be what my taste buds remember. The Japanese Monster (Godzilla? More like baby Godzilla) has an overly sweet initial taste followed up with a long lingering tartness.
I may be the last person in Japan to find it but Monster may have been available in larger, much more urban areas of Japan than where I live but its new to me. Living out in central land-locked Japan takes away a lot of creature comforts like familiar non-Japanese brands and awesome places like Costco/Ikea. Maybe my area is starting to get cooler? Probably not, but at least I can buy a can of Monster whenever I want... well as long as the convenience stores feel its profitable to keep in stock...

Edit- It appears 2 flavors of Monster are sold in Japan currently according to Monster’s Japanese website. Neat.  

Edit 2- Max-Valu (at least the ones in my area) seem to sell Monster as well. Double neat.

Edit 3- I came across Monster at 7-Eleven and Tsuruha Drug Stores as well. It looks like Monster is trying hard to get a foothold. I hope they succeed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Kirin Mets Zero - fat absorbing cola?

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Is this Cola a product of the New York Mets? No? I sure did a double take when I saw the brand name for the first time…

Mets Cola Zero is a cola that is advertised to be drank with a meal to help with fat absorption but this has to be too good to be true right? Well, if they meant fat absorption into your body, I wouldn’t be surprised as that’s what all colas do. Mets Cola is advertised to absorb the fat you are ingesting while drinking the cola. This cola allegedly prevents the body from absorbing fat.

I think the cola has been on sale for about a month now but I haven’t really cared enough to grab a bottle till a day or so ago. Kirin has been using the popular classic comic characters from Ashita no Joe to promote the cola in their TV commercials.

If Joe digs it, it must be good!

The commercials put the super lean fictional Japanese boxer in situations where he’s pigging out and drinking a bottle of Mets cola at the shock and disapproval of his trainer. But everything’s OK because its not a regular cola, it’s a “health drink” without really saying it outright. At least that’s what I get out of the commercial. I may be a little off maybe.

2012-05-11 17.53.08So how does this stuff taste? I have to be honest here, I really don’t like diet colas so Mets already had a lot going against it before it even touched my lips. But this wouldn’t be fun to read if everyone’s opinions happened to be the same right? Compared to a traditional Cola like Coca-Cola, its tastes flat even though it seems to be well carbonated. I wasn’t expecting much but to me Mets tastes even more bland than a regular dirt diet Coke or Coke Zero.  I figure it would be acceptable to people who can’t tell or don’t mind the difference between Diet and regular colas.

One sip was enough for me to decide I won’t be buying this stuff again. If I want to lose weight or prevent myself from getting fatter, I’ll stick to water, a balanced diet paired with some cardiovascular exercise.

Haha, who am I kidding? I just drink regular Coke if I want Coke. Never substitute, just don’t drink colas all the time and you’ll probably be fine. Smile

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Abbey-Beer Produced by Saint-Omer

…and sold at Ogino supermarkets for a low price of 179 yen!

DSCF0002I’ve noticed a trend in my website page hits over the past month or so and it seems a big portion of page hits have been directed toward my zero alcohol-zero calorie beer drink and Asahi Dry Black reviews. So I figured I’d go out on a limb here and see if its really a trend or just a fluke with a third review.

I usually don’t shop at Ogino because I live closer to Max-Valu and prefer the lower prices of Max-Valu but that isn’t the point of this review really. I decided to walk through the liquor aisle to see if I could find another can of Mugitohop Kuro since I liked it a lot last time. I was a little bummed out because the Ogino I went to didn’t sell any but they did have the less than desirable Asahi Dry Black (no thanks). I was just about to leave the store empty-handed but I happened to come across a unique label and noticed it was a cheap beer. So I decided to snatch it up because not only was it a beer I had never tried, it was a “Belgian style beer” weighing in at 330ml (a tad smaller than usual) and a whopping 6.0% alcohol by volume compared to the usual 4-5.

Without hesitation and much to my wife’s disapproval, I grabbed a can of Abbey-Beer  trotted over to the register where I paid a satisfyingly low 179 yen. I also stopped by Max-Valu for a tall can of Mugitohop Kuro (158yen) as well because I wanted to clear the possible bad taste out of my mouth just in case I made a mistake with the Abbey-Beer.

So with my Mugitohop Kuro ready at hand, I poured a nice cold glass of Abbey-Beer. I put my nose over the open can and took a whiff and found it to be not as appalling as I was expecting. At 6% alcohol I was a bit worried the flavor of beer would have been overpowered by a cheap liquor taste or something. Well, I was wrong and was pleasantly surprised with a decent welcoming beer smell very different from what I’ve been accustomed to in Japanese beers. To say the least, it was a nice change of pace from the usual.

Before I get into the details of Abbey-Beer, I’d like to share some facts from the can before I begin. First of all this beer was made in and imported all the way from France by the Tominaga Trade company. The receipt didn’t list the beer as Abbey-Beer but rather the Tominaga Trade company which I found kind of amusing. Its main ingredients are hops and wheat buds. Not much more is on the can besides a short introduction to what Abbey-Beer is. Basically its an old recipe passed down from generations and all that nonsense to make a creamy, golden, sweet tasting drink. Your usual fluff to make it sound important. Maybe its true, but I couldn’t really find anything on it in a short 5 minute Google search because it really wasn’t worth my time. Smile with tongue out

The Abbey-Beer poured well and had a nice, rich, dark-yellow color to it. It also had a decent head for pouring and wasn’t overly obnoxious with foam like many Japanese beers I drink often.  Although that could just be me being a careful pourer. Whatever.

DSCF0003So how did it taste? Pretty good. It was a little sweet and I think that’s what Belgian beers are like. I really can’t remember well as its been a while since I’ve had one. All I can say is that for the price and taste, I’d buy another. What’s really funny about beers like Abbey-Beer is that they are imported beers YET they are cheaper than domestics. Max-Valu also has their own store brand ‘German’ brewed Barreal brand beer which is significantly cheaper at 158 yen a can and tastes decent as well. It really makes me scratch my head to how other better well know import beers like say Heineken, Becks, or even Samuel Adams are much more expensive than domestics. Oh well its just one of those wonky Japanese loop-holes or something I guess.

Finally back to the topic of Abbey-Beer, bottom line, is it’s not bad for its price and is surprisingly drinkable for a random no-name economy beer. I’m thoroughly pleased that I at least have some options at the supermarket outside of the 3 headed beast of Japan (Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo) Sorry Suntory, Premium-Malts doesn’t seem to have that strong a foothold although I do enjoy drinking you.

-EditConfused smile

Shortly after publishing this post I decided to look up Saint-Omer and Beer and found that a beer style does exist for it. Abbey-Beer does seem very similar in appearance to other images of beer sharing the same name on Google images. Go figure. I still don’t think it’s a real main-stream brand. Meh, it’s still drinkable.