Japan from the inside out

We all scream for doburoku ice cream

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 10, 2008

WE ALL SCREAM for ice cream, goes the old children’s rhyme, which attests to the universal popularity of the dessert. Include the Japanese in that–they scream for ice cream as much as anyone else.

They like it so much that they’ve created new flavors to please the local palate that might cause folks in other countries to scream in a different way. Green tea and azuki ice cream are two examples that come quickly to mind. (The azuki is a sweet red bean.) I drink green tea every day, and have no problems eating azuki in bean form, but other people are welcome to my share of either of those ice cream flavors.

A small sake brewery not far from me has come up with a new and exotic flavor that just might cause screams of delight, however. The brewery, Sachihime of Kashima, Saga, announced it had developed doburoku ice cream and launched sales on the 4th.

Doburoku is a milky white, very sweet form of sake that has not been fully pressed from the fermenting rice solids, which are left floating inside. It has the image of an old-time country drink, and it is sometimes made for use in Shinto festivals. Try here or here for previous posts on doburoku, particularly the first if you want to see what it looks like.

But that milky quality and hyper-sweetness also make it a natural for combining with ice cream. It’s a wonder someone hadn’t thought of it before.

The new ice cream has an alcohol content of less than 1%, but the brewery says it definitely has that sake bouquet. The company president claims Sachihime is Japan’s first sake brewery to offer doburoku ice cream and explains, “We hope to sell it to people who normally don’t drink sake and thereby create more fans for the beverage, whose consumption is flat.” Sake’s market share is being squeezed by the popularity of shochu and beer. In other words, they hope women and young people will eat the ice cream and get hooked on the hard stuff later.

Founded in 1934, the brewery received a license to make doburoku in 2005 and began to produce and sell it. They brew six kiloliters a year, which is the equivalent of 1,585 U.S. gallons—this is a specialty item, after all—and ship 720-milliliter bottles nationwide. One cup of the ice cream contains 130 milliliters (slightly more than one-fourth of a liquid U.S. pint) and sells for 315 yen (about US$ 2.94 today). The brewery worked with a nearby dairy for two months and wound up with a mixture that is 95% vanilla ice cream and 5% doburoku.

On the day the product went to market, company representatives visited the nearby Yutoku Inari Shinto Shrine, one of the three most important Inari shrines in Japan, to pray for good sales. They were thoughtful enough to bring along some samples. One of the miko (shrine maidens), 22-year-old Kusaba Yu, sampled some and rendered her verdict: “Ordinarily I don’t drink sake, but this tastes so good I could eat two at one sitting.”

No, I don’t think they were trying to get the girl tipsy—with less than 1% alcohol content, Yu would have to make a pig of herself to feel even a little woozy!

They may be a small brewery, but they keep coming up with big ideas. They’ve also produced yokan (a jelly made with the ever-popular azuki) and cake using their sake. The president said the idea for doburoku sake came up during a conversation with a visitor to the brewery.

Sachihime hopes to sell 30,000 cups a year. The brewery is the only place where customers can buy it over the counter, but they’ve sent samples to Fukuoka City department stores and other companies to try to create sales channels. Said the company president, “Doburoku and ice cream make a better combination than I thought. I hope we can develop the product here in the Saga countryside and get national attention.”

What the heck–If you’re in Japan and want to know if they’ll ship you some, give the brewery a call at (0954) 63-3708 and see what happens. I might stop by and try some myself. After all, I tried green tea and azuki ice cream once, too!

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