I was seized one morning with a strong compulsion to make a ale fermented over peaches. The beer would be pale and light so that the malt would not compete with the peach flavor—this got me thinking that the recipe should incorporate rice for lightness and a little bit of wheat to ensure there was a nice head. I would use a clean-fermenting Kveik yeast, would also leave very few flavor traces as it did its work.
The peach and the rice started to coalesce in my mind into a Japanese flavor cluster. This revealed the third leg of the stool: matcha powder, for a little herbal character and bitterness. I added the matcha to my boil and when I racked the wort into the fermenter, it was a rich green. Over the process of fermentation all of the matcha seemed to fall out of solution and the final beer ended up a very pale straw color. The ale doesn’t have a strong matcha taste but I do believe it adds a little something.
Henry was home from Baltimore for a spell, and we kicked around ideas for the beer name. We got to talking about the snow monkeys in northern Japan who have observed people enjoying soaks in the onsens (traditional hot springs) and have learned to mimic this behavior. We pulled up some photographs and I agreed this was about the cutest thing I have ever seen. The most famous monkey troop that does this lives in the park called Jigokudani—literally, “Hell’s Canyon”. The beer had found its name. It’s a nice coincidence that a traditional wooden hot tub looks a lot like a mash tun.
The label art clearly had to show a Japanese influence as well. In the manga world, kawaii is the trait of irresistable cuteness. My bathing snow monkey had to be as kawaii as possible. Laura came back for label duties and delivered an enormous “Awwwwwwwwwwwww……”
I am ill-equipped to put Ringo Shiina into context in the J-Pop landscape, but I’ll give it a stab and let other folks correct me. Her first couple of albums, Muzai Moratorium and Shousu Strip, made a huge impact in an Alanis Morisette way—angry girl with guitar speaks truths.
But she turned out to be more of a Bjork—a willful conceptualist with wide-ranging tastes. Her third album, Karuki Samen Kuri no Hana (rough translation: Chalk, Semen, Chestnut Flowers) experimented with odd arrangements, utilizing some 100 instruments (many of which she overdubbed herself). She often sequences her albums with a clear symmetry to the song titles, so there’s a dialogue between the first and last song, between the second and penultimate song, and so on. Some of her recent albums have pingponged between hard rock and big-band jazz on a track by track basis. This gives you a taste.
I’ll put the first side of Muzai Moratorium toe-to-toe with any other record for perfect album sides. The song “Gamble” has a compelling, dramatic sweep that needs absolutely no translation—it’s breathtaking. The harpsichord-driven raver below was the theme song to a Japanese TV drama and takes its inspiration from an ancient Japanese poem called the Iroha, famous for using each character of the Japanese syllabary exactly once.