"White wine goes with fish and red wine with red meat.”
It’s common practice to match certain types of cuisine with wine or even sake. But what about beer? Can such a common, everyday beverage be brewed for fine food tastes, too?
Shiro Yamada thinks so. His company’s signature beer “Kagua” is produced specifically for Japanese cuisine.
“Before craft beer came out, people just drank beer quickly,” he says. “A quick pint and then move on. The thing is, beer has a lot of styles and some are suitable for pairing. Beer has a lot of flavours that can make your cuisine complex.”
Kagua, developed in Japan and brewed in Belgium, is the signature product of Yamada’s Nippon Craft Beer company. Marketed as “scented ale”, Kagua is flavoured with hints of Japanese spices "sansho" [pepper] and yuzu [citrus fruit]. Yamada believes these special tastes make his beer the perfect complement for Japanese fare like sushi, tempura and yakitori.
“I know from my experience in Europe that there are a lot of beer styles and that people choose beer for speciality food,” explains Yamada. “That inspired me.”
Specifically, the Nagoya-born entrepreneur got the idea for matching food with beer while studying at the University of Cambridge. An alumnus of Indian descent developed his own beer to pair with hot curry dishes. So Yamada decided to do the same thing in Japan.
“That hit me,” he says of his colleague’s initiative. “At that time, I was just like him, in his early stage. I had no beer background. But since he could do it, I thought I might be able to do it, too. And from that point, I had the idea for [creating] an original beer to pair with Japanese food.”
After first working as a venture capitalist and dot-com entrepreneur, Yamada established Nippon Craft Beer. Initially lacking funds to build his own brewery, Yamada did the next best thing — partnering with up-and-coming Belgian brewer Wim Saeyens to produce an award-winning beer.
“He’s very young and quite new,” says Yamada of his European brew master. “He’s keen on new things. When I brought 'sansho' and yuzu, people said, ‘Are you serious, putting those things in beer?’
“But when I first met [Saeyens], I brought him a package of dry 'sansho.' And he said, “Wow! Amazing! I’d like to use this for beer.”
Thus, Kagua beer was born. Available in lighter “blanc” or darker “rouge”, Kagua has three main features: a rich body, an aroma of Japanese spices, and a smooth, gentle finish due to a low level of carbonation.
“We do a bottle fermentation,” says Yamada. “The second fermentation is inside the bottle, just like champagne. So we get smooth, gentle and natural carbonation.”
Yamada believes this gentle carbonation is the key to pairing his beer with fine cuisine.
“When you drink beer with some food, you usually feel full with the gas,” he says. “But with natural carbonation, you don’t feel that way.”
Recently, Yamada developed a lower-cost product dubbed “Far Yeast” beer. Longer on hops and lower in alcohol content, Far Yeast is marketed as an easy-drinking, refreshing beverage for hot and humid Asian summers.
With Far Yeast yet to be sold overseas, Kagua remains Yamada’s main product. Priced about three-times higher than regular brew, Kagua has proven so popular that demand has outstripped supply. Now available in places like the U.S., the UK, France, Singapore and Hong Kong, Kagua can be found in more than 1,000 restaurants, hotels and shops around the world.
Nippon Craft Beer plans to establish its own microbrewery in Chiba next summer, making Yamada’s firm one to watch in Japan’s emerging craft beer industry.
“The thing is, Japanese restaurants all over the world are regarded as very high-end,” he says. “But the bad thing is, most of [them] serve beers available at the convenience store. That sounded very strange to me.
“At French restaurants, the finest chefs don’t serve French table wines for fine dining. The same thing shouldn’t happen with beer.”© Japan Today