Sushi and Beer

Friday, August 13, 2010

The fact that one of my favorite meals contributes to fish de-population and over-fishing doesn't trouble me. Sushi doesn't trouble me at all; neither socially nor in terms of taste and texture.

What does trouble me are the beers you are usually forced to consume with sushi. Let me explain.

Even the freshest sushi is a tad...fishy. All those fishy oils that coat your tongue so lovingly tend also to mask all but the biggest, boldest flavors that beer can produce. Add to that the tastebud-searing wasabi dollops, fish-tank imbued seaweed paper and hyper-starchy sushimeshi (sushi rice), and I'll be damned if only beer you can taste is a massive Russian Imperial Stout. But of course, the huge alcohol, roasty-toasty and oil-slick molasses flavors of the stout will completely destroy any chance of tasting that lovely fresh fish.

What's a guy to do?

Most sushi bars suggest you go all-out Japanese. Since you're ordering slightly-endangered fresh fish and sitting at a knee-cramping table, you might as well also try some of Japan's finest beer "traditions." One of those is Kirin Ichiban.

This is a mistake.

Let's first discuss the finer properties of Ichiban, then let's chat about what you should do instead.

Strike 1: despite all of the kanji all over the bottle and the dragony-horsey thing, make no mistake. This beer is brewed by Anheuser-Busch right here in the U.S. False advertising? Could be.

For what it's worth, the beer looks good and refreshing. Great, sticky lacing clings all the way down the glass, leaving little rings down the inside to mark your progress. Kinda like the beer version of tree rings? Pale yellow, highly effervescent and beautifully crystal-clear. That's where the good part ends.

You know how you're driving down a country road late at night? You can't see that well. There's a lump in the road, which you easily drive around. Suddenly, without warning, the vents in the car emit that unmistakable nose hair-burning smell. Your eyes water. You gag just a bit. You try frantically to turn off your vents or turn of the recirculating air or open your windows or please God anything to get the smell to go away Jesus Christ my clothes are going to smell like this for a week!! That smell? That's what you get hints of in this beer. Ah, the fine aromas of skunk and cooked cabbage. What could be more inviting (to someone begging to die)? Under the layers of roadkill, one may experience a slight graininess and a hint of rice husk. But that takes a strong stomach to wade through all the carcass first.

A rice/grainy husk flavor upfront...oh who am I kidding? The grain and rice overwhelms what slight taste there already is to this beer. There is a puckery astringency (medicinal), the hop bitterness tastes like they strained any floral/earthy/grassy/citrusy flavors out of their hops and just kept the bitter. "Bitter" combined with "medicinal" yields a beer that is barely drinkable were I left alone in the desert.

Light body, highly carbonated, blah blah. Blech.

The beer tried to do one thing right: bitterness fights fish oil. Bitterness cleanses the tongue between sips, as does lots of carbonation. The problem is, Ichiban is so bad in and of itself that there is no compliment. It's merely to drink something (for your mouth's sake, pick water...) between bites. And even then, if you choose Ichiban to wet your whistle, you get what you deserve: a less than memorable dinner experience at what could have been a culinary delight.

This is exactly the opposite of what modern Japanese cuisine is attempting to do. Each different bite of fish yields vastly different flavors and textures. You drink a drink, then, that accentuates each flavor and cleanses the palate. This is why they put that pickled ginger shit on your plate.

If you go to a sushi place worth their weight, they'll have a nice IPA on tap (for example, San Su in East Lansing carries New Holland's Mad Hatter, which is a beautiful IPA). The heavy sweet malt provides a different flavor, and the hops, beyond simple bitter, provide their own flavors as well, along with cleansing your palate between different fish. The heavier carbonation in an IPA also serves to provide scrubby bubbles to your tongue and all in all enhances your sushi experience. A well-crafted IPA brings out all the flavors you want and helps get rid of the fishy aftertaste everyone tries to avoid with heaps of wasabi and pickled ginger. Imagine enjoying a beautiful chef's choice chirashi bowl; texture after texture, robust flavors and mild flavors, as naturally as possible without the mouth-searing condiments. You can! Just not every with Kirin Ichiban. Stick with water...and wasabi.


steves 7:03 PM  

I love sushi and I love beer. Now I know what I should order. The only other time I had sushi with beer was when Greg and I were at GenCon and I honestly don't remember what we ordered.

Anonymous,  6:27 AM  


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