Saaz - hiding for a month and a half under my desk

Saaz - hiding for a month and a half under my desk

What’s this? 2oz of Saaz under my desk at work?! Here’s me thinking the whole time that Freshops screwed up when sending my monster hops order – but no, this Saaz has been baking away under my desk for the last month and a half, being blasted by the heat of computer fans. Gawd knows what condition it’s in now – at least it was vacuum packed and protected from the oxygen – and good job I didn’t bother to contact Freshops when I discovered the Saaz missing!

Speaking of hops…

Hoppy beers

Hoppy beers

…last night I went on a quest to drink Green Flash Imperial IPA on draft. Why? Because I keep hearing comments about how good it is, yet when I tried it last week at Dry Dock, Shinbashi, in bottles, it really didn’t impress me. Worse, I didn’t even want to finish it.

Green Flash Imperial IPA and Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA both have, to me, an unpleasant aftertaste which is difficult to describe. I’m going to try, but my description will be woefully inadequate.  It’s an aftertaste I’ve only noticed in certain bottled American IPAs, where instead of ending in a vibrant hoppy taste, it ends on a bit of a downer, taking a step backwards.

If you’re familiar with Chilean Chardonnay you might understand what I mean. An American or Australian Chardonnay will have a smoothness right until the end – a Chilean will have a smoothness, but then right at the end, the taste changes. I love it in Chilean wine – I don’t love it in IPA.

I really can’t pin the cause of this taste down. I know it’s not a taste which affects all beers – Yokohama XPA (an IPA) doesn’t have it, nor does the not-IPA-but-hoppy Liberty Ale, nor does any draft I’ve had. I wondered whether it’s due to certain brands using pasteurisation after bottling, but that idea has been poo-pood by my homebrewer friends.

At a loss to the cause and hearing others say how great Green Flash Imperial IPA is, I decided to head to Ushi Tora in Shimokitazawa to try it on tap. If it’s something about the bottling process that is causing it, I’ll surely notice the difference on draft.

For my own education about making IPAs, it’s important for me to track down this taste.

Ushi Tora in Shimokitazawa

Ushi Tora in Shimokitazawa

Ushi Tora is hidden behind a supermarket a few minutes walk from Shimokitazawa station. This is a bar that there’s no way you could stumble upon by accident – thankfully the very useful boozelist has a google map link with these directions:

Take the South Exit and turn left. walk along the right side of the tracks and go round behind the Ozeki supermarket. 2nd floor. Knock three times and say “cheese” then turn the doorbell anticlockwise 90 degrees to enter.

Ok, I made up the last sentence – but this place is so hidden it feels like a spy hideout.

Look at all those cool boxes thrown away by the supermarket. How many fermentation chambers could you make from those?!

Beer menu - in English!

Beer menu - in English!

On the face of it, a good selection of beers. It’s not until later that I’ll find out just how small “1 Glass” is.

Green Flash Imperial IPA and Fish and Chips... with nut batter (!)

Green Flash Imperial IPA and Fish and Chips... with added nuts

And here we have it, Green Flash Imperial IPA with some Fish and Chips to match. I’ve come to ordering fish and chips in Japanese bars just to see how they bastardise it – and I was not disappointed. The only f&c I’ve ever seen with NUT flakes in the batter.  Geeze.

Sadly, even though it tasted a bit better than the bottled version, the “step down” aftertaste was still there – so it appears to be nothing to do with bottles. What the hell is that taste?! Is it a hop that I don’t like? Something to do with the process? Pasteurisation? I have to find out.

Second Impact Extra Pale Ale, made by Baird (or is it Beard?)

Second Impact Extra Pale Ale, made by Baird (or is it Beard?)

Second drink was a half pint of Second Impact Extra Pale Ale – even though the half pints are tiny and more expensive, after drinking the Flash I realised that if I don’t like something, I don’t want to be stuck with a pint of it.

Turns out a half pint was a good choice in this case – not because it is bad as such, but it’s not what I expected. After Yokohama XPA, I was expecting this XPA to be an IPA – but it’s not. Made by Baird and only sold in Ushi Tora, it failed to make a first impact on me, never mind a second. Maybe if it was slightly colder I’d have enjoyed it more.

Second Impact was followed by Nogne O IPA from Norway which was kegged in these funky little disposable kegs (I know this because they changed the keg before giving the beer to me):

Disposable keg

Disposable keg

And the top looks like this

And the top looks like this

These kegs are made by Key Keg – would be ideal for anyone exporting beer or selling to the public, because you don’t need to have the keg returned.

I was hit by the same aftertaste in this beer as hit me in the Green Flash, so now I know it’s not only an American thing – but it might be an American hop thing, or a beer treatment thing, or… dammit.

In case you didn’t notice on the menu, a pint of this IPA is 1500 yen. For my British readers, that’s approximately TEN QUID A PINT. If you’ve not fallen off your chair already, let me remind you that the normal price for a pint in Japan is about 1000 yen, around 6-7 quid. With these prices, is it any wonder I didn’t flinch at paying almost 1900 yen – 12 pounds – for a bottle of Westvletern 12 in Tanakaya off license a few nights ago, which I’ve still to drink. In a bar – Bis, Shibuya – W12 costs a staggering 15,000 yen, 95 precious pounds. It is supposed to be the best beer in the world though, and it’s not supposed to be sold outside the abbey of St. Sixtus of Westvleteren.

This digression into price is important because after ordering Zakkoku-Koubou Ale of Summer, I ordered a Kakusekikan Brown Ale and got this:

Hakusekikan Brown Ale - the best beer of the night

Hakusekikan Brown Ale - the best beer of the night, but an outrageously small amount

No, I hadn’t consumed any before taking this photo. My 850yen – almost 6 quid or 9 US dollars – got me half a wine glass. This isn’t even “1 Glass” as stated on the menu – it’s half a damn glass!

I have to say though, that unexpectedly this beer was the star of the night. Here’s me trying all these hoppy beers and a brown ale whacks me in the face of pleasure. Creamy, smooth, a little caramel but not too sweet and just right at Ushi Tora’s slightly warm temperatures – this beer was adorable.

If only there was more of it.

The Kakusekikan Brown Ale was followed by Mogura Pale Ale and then by Green Flash Le Freak Belgian IPA.

Echigo Pilsner with a ridiculous amount of head

Green Flash Le Freak Belgian IPA with a ridiculous amount of head for such a small glass

Now I like good head as much as the next man, but not if the next man is Japanese.

Japanese really love head – I have seen glasses of J-beer with as much as 50% head, and 30% is the norm. But this isn’t a J-beer, it’s an IPA – and an IPA shouldn’t have a 2cm head, not in a tiny American half pint glass. IPA is British after all, and we don’t like beers with too much head. And if you’re going to go down the “It’s a Belgian IPA and Belgians have head” then put it in a Belgian glass designed to accommodate head – don’t rob me of precious beer!

Maybe if the beer price wasn’t so expensive I wouldn’t mind – but it really irritates me paying Japanese beer prices and getting back a tiny amount (as with the brown) or a glass with a huge head. At Dry Dock I sent back two pints of Ballast Point (a damn good IPA) for having a head of around 3cm.

I didn’t send this one back though, I just photographed it in disbelief. Wasn’t that special actually – not very Belgian, not very hoppy. But the next beers I ordered with a rather blunt “The last beer had way too much head – please reduce the head this time.” To be fair, the Mogura Pale Ale and Echigo Pilsner both came back headless – but they were also pretty flat. Frustrated and rather tipsy, I called it a night.

Ushi Tora

Ushi Tora

I’m really in two minds about this place. Good selection of beer, but most of it was nothing special. It’s just a few stops from where I live, but the tiny amount which is “1 Glass” and the large head in a small glass… for someone who wants to drink, such smallness is frustrating – it’s like giving a thirsty man a bucket of water and telling him he can only drink from a thimble! And then there’s some flattish beers into the bargain. Not one of my favourite places. But I have to go back, because I realise now that I didn’t try the Sankt Gallen Pale Ale, specially “adjusted” for Ushi Tora. Different recipe? dry hops? – I want to try.

I still haven’t solve the IPA taste issue – but what I did find was something unexpected: the best beer of the night wasn’t a hop king but an innocent little brown. I’ll need to remember to try beers outside my usual choices in future.

Call this a logo? It looks like it was drawn by a drunk bloke

Call this a logo? It looks like it was drawn by a drunk bloke

Advertisements