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Food For Thought Fish Beer
(Entered May. 21, 2009)
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After watching the A-bomb destroy Hiroshima, the commander of the Enola Gay apparently wrote in his diary, 'My God, what have we done?'.
It's interesting to note that this is exactly what the president of Tosa Kuroshio said the morning his company's fish beer first hit the market...

fish beer tosa kuroshio bonito

Some would say that making a fish flavoured beer is a bad idea, but let's not be too hasty here. When an artist piles a bunch of toilet seats in the middle of the floor, puts a rope around it and declares it to be a masterpiece, can we simply say 'junk' and roll our eyes? In the case of the toilet seats, yes you can, but with fish beer it's not so simple. It's easy to say, as a number of websites out there already have, that fish beer is bizarre, gross, horrible, etc., but what is readily apparent is that these said websites haven't gotten their hands (or livers in this case) dirty, so how can they know if it's really as bad as it looks? Somebody needs to try this stuff....

To be honest though, it's not as simple as going to your local combini and grabbing a six-pack, these fishy brews can only be gotten one of two ways:
a) By telephone order. You can call the company up, give them your address and they'll deliver a six-pack to you in one or two working days provided you're willing to pay for the cost of the beer, the shipping charge, the service charge and the COD charge which comes to a grand total of 4090 yen. Ouch.
b) By taking a trip to the Tosa Kuroshio micro-brewery which is located somewhere on the outskirts of far away Kochi city on the remote island of Shikoku.

fish beer bonito flavour

Maybe there are some maniacs out there who would take time off work and travel halfway across the country to taste a beer with fish flakes in it, but I went for the slightly less painful route of telephone order. I tried hard not to think about the fact that with 40 bucks back in Canada I'd be able to buy a two-four....
Keep in mind that you have to order at least six beers. Tosa Kuroshio only makes three flavours (one is fish, not sure what the other two are, octopus? dolphin?) so we ordered two of each flavour as I wasn't at all confident that I could enjoy fish beer six times.

So how do they make it? Do they chop up some fish guts and mix it in with the yeast? Not quite. On the list of ingredients in the picture below you'll see two Chinese characters that look like 鰹節, which is pronounced 'katsuo bushi' or 'dried bonito flakes' in English. What the heck is that? Bonito is a fish similar to tuna, and in Japan it is caught, fermented and dried out until it has the appearance and consistency of a piece of wood. Then, very much like wood, a planer is used to shave off thin strips, or 'flakes'. Katsuo bushi looks just like wood shavings, with the small difference that wood shavings don't smell like rotten fish.
Katsuo bushi has a myriad of uses from being sprinkled on okonomiyaki, takoyaki, rice and tofu, being used in soups and salads, basically pretty much everything as the Japanese love it like nothing else. I tend to stay away from it though, and unless you like the idea of eating fish flavoured paper I wouldn't recommend it. To each his own of course.
And somehow these fish flakes found their way into beer. Surprising? Not really. Keep in mind that this is the country that makes soy sauce ice cream and squid chocolate....

fish beer fish flakes katsuobushi

The six beers arrived the next day, and the other two flavours turned out to be pretty normal, one just a regular lager, and the other also light, but more yeasty and fruity. All of them contained rice though.
And the moment of truth. I cooked up some salmon fillets to ease ourselves into the world of fish beer.

fish beer pouring for dinner

Initially it wasn't half bad, the beer was light, wheaty and not too bitter. Then about 2 seconds later a wicked fishy aftertaste hits you, which will probably disqualify this beer from any competition it might enter. If you drink the beer while eating fish though, you'll barely notice it. Be warned, this is not a beer that can stand alone. Kumi and I both took a few sips before eating, and it wasn't pretty...

Kumi sees the fish!

fish beer kumi sees the fish!

A side note, there seems to be some confusion on other websites that the beer is made from dashi, which is a mix of fish flakes and seaweed, but there was no mention of either dashi or seaweed in the ingredient list. I'm sure the people that brought us fish beer no doubt realized that the ice was thin enough without adding seaweed to the mix as well.
I ponder the meaning of life, and fish beer.

fish beer mike drinking

So what's the final verdict? Fish beer is only 5% alcohol which means that you can drink a few before your eyes go glassy and your mouth starts to gape, but most people will probably stop at one. Kumi refused to drink any of the other bottle, and I doubt I'll be ordering any more or heading to the brewery any time in the near future. Not exactly a win fish beer, and definitely not worth almost 7 bucks a bottle, but not a complete fail either. Definitely an A for originality and effort. Let me know when that dolphin beer comes out though ok?




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