By Cole Lubchenko
At the beginning of November I went to Spring Valley Brewery in Daikanyama to enjoy their large selection of unique beer. I really enjoyed the experience, so after chatting with the staff about the brewery, they mentioned to me that their third ever Sushi Festival was coming up and I decided to pick up some tickets. My girlfriend and I attended the festival during a fine autumn afternoon on November 20. The festival was held for two days on the 19th and 20th; however, Saturday was rainy, so I’m glad I planned to go Sunday
The atmosphere surrounding SVB Daikanyama was much more exciting and alive than my previous a few weeks earlier. I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of my first visit, but the festive atmosphere was contagious and I felt myself excited to be there before I even entered the doors.
The staff members had on festive clothes and there were many extra counters set up selling food and drinks. There was a small stage with people excitedly giving information about the festival as well as a fantastic performer who played the traditional Japanese instrument shamisen. I loved how he used a traditional Japanese instrument and meshed it seamlessly with contemporary music. It was fitting of the festival’s sushi and craft beer theme. It blended the old with the new.
Of the range of beer available at the festival the one that was most interesting to me was the DASHI-ZANMAI Experimental Ale. This beer featured Japanese ingredients that are very uncommon in beer. Other Japanese beer uses Yuzu or other citrus fruits which is common in craft beer, but this beer uses more atypical ingredients similar to those found in the Japanese staple, dashi. The beer’s ingredients included Shiitake mushroom and bonito flakes (dried smoked fish flakes known in Japanese as katsuoboshi).
Upon reading the description of the beer, I assumed it was going to be a very mild flavor. I have found that usually the uncommon sounding ingredients in beer are only very subtle in flavour, but this beer gave off both a strong dashi-like aroma and taste. The smokiness and umami flavors came out strong and it was one of the most unique beers I have tasted. It was hard to even judge the flavour of the beer itself as the other flavours were so interesting and complex but the ale’s flavours were there too. Generally, the beer flavours are complimented by the additional ingredients, be it citrus or coffee or any number of things, but it almost seemed like these unique flavours demanded my full attention. To be honest, I really enjoyed the beer. It was fantastic and the ingredients actually tasted great with sushi, but it is one of those beers were one glass is more than enough for the day. It’s fun to try, but not something you want many of, and I’m sure that was exactly the brewer’s intention.
The other beer that stood out to me was the Sasanishiki IPA, which is an IPA brewed with rice made by Sennan Craft Beer out of Miyagi Prefecture. Sasanishiki is a variety of rice from Miyagi Prefecture that is often regarded as being good sushi rice. This was a great IPA. It had a strong citrusy fruity smell with a bit of pine and a nice clean hoppy taste. The beer was very and and clean to drink which could maybe be attributed to the rice. However, I didn’t get much of a taste from the rice due to the pleasantly powerful hop flavours. I don’t think the strong taste of an IPA is a good match for the delicate flavours of sushi, but their was a Seared Yellowtail with Yuzu Miso nigiri that had bold enough flavours to compliment this beer’s floral and hoppy taste.
I love sushi, but I am not a sushi connoisseur and it is hard for me to describe the subtleties of this Japanese delicacy . The sushi here had many modern takes and twists on the traditional varieties. The Seared Yellowtail with Yuzu Miso sauce was really nice. The yuzu flavour matched very well with beer.
I also tried a cod nigiri with shirako (soft roe). Shirako is one of the strangest foods I have tried. It was hard to get over how it looked, and in my mind I expected it to be unpleasant, but I was surprised when eating it. I can’t say I enjoyed it, especially the soft gooey texture, but it wasn’t bad. Shirako is certainly an unusual food for people from western cultures, and even for some Japanese.
The chefs from Miyagi brought with them gyutan nigiri. Gyutan is cow’s tongue and is famous in Sendai. I tried it during my trip to Sendai and enjoyed it, so I thought it would be fun to try as nigiri. I enjoyed it, and as always, beef goes great with beer.
I also tried pressed mackerel (saba) sushi, and tuna, both were delicious. In fact, every piece I had was well prepared and enjoyable, even if it wasn’t exactly suited to my tastes. Having this wide range of sushi paired with the wide range of beer made for a unique experience. I don’t know if sushi is the best Japanese food to pair with beer, but sushi’s wide variety is fun to match with beer’s wide variety.
The festival was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The atmosphere was lively and the entertainment was unique and fun. The prices were reasonable and it was easy to enjoy a variety of food and drinks. It felt like a great mix of tradition and contemporary culture. The people who attended the festival were both old and young, foreign and local. I am looking forward to the next Sushi Craft Beer festival and I really hope I can attend it.