When we think of the beers offered from the Land of the Rising Sun, we usually think about what we have seen in Sushi restaurants or Japanese-style pubs. But like the American beer market, there are two or three big multi-national macro-breweries, and a great diverse culture of interesting craft brewers. One of these special few that can be found with some regularity here in the states is Yo-Ho Brewing Company, and the beer I found was their Tokyo Black Porter. When I saw this one on the beer list at that new place called Le Thai I was trying out downtown, I knew had to give it a try myself. Not sure how much this is going for at your local beer broker, but lets just say it wasn’t the cheapest thing on the menu, nor the most expensive. Though, accounting for the experience, a bargain.
Yo-Ho Brewing has an impressive list of past seasonal and varietal beers under their belt, and the Tokyo Black Porter itself is one of their mainstays. Now usually, Japanese beer is a very light, malty number. In fact, it is a Japanese law that it can’t be called beer unless it is at least 67% malt – everything else is a ‘happoshu’ or low malt beverage. It is served in a heavy, ridged can that you could only see coming from Japan. Perhaps deterring overzealous college kids from ceremonial forehead-crushing?
Luckily, I sampled this before having my tongue endure a very spicy Tom Kha Gai soup and effectively rendering me taste-blind. The pour was black, even for a porter; light that hit this stuff wasn’t going anywhere. It left a lively tan head, which quickly subsided. It didn’t give off too much scent, but I could definitely make out some deep roasted malt and espresso, with just a bit of bittersweet chocolate. The taste was more of the same, but with more sweet caramelized flavor. Smokiness lingers at the back, but not smoky like bacon or scotch or anything. No, this is a very ashy smokiness, left over from the bittersweet chocolate notes. There is a bit of a creaminess to it, but not enough to drastically change the experience. I would imagine that a thicker mouthfeel would have helped this, and the thinness made the beer seem a touch watered down.
While this beer went well enough with my spicy Thai soup, I think it would have been many times greater if it was paired with something a little lighter, less oily. In fact, miso soup would have done the job well. It could have benefited from a little salty side-note, and wouldn’t have to contend with too much. I’ll have to track down a store that carries this to make some more direct observations. Me, a six-pack, and a kimono, as usual. But for now, I have a good Japanese beer I can come back to.