Today we’ll be looking at a couple of not-so-common local versions of the American pale ale with the Kujyukuri Ocean Beer Pale Ale and the North Island KAMIFU100 Pale Ale. Together with it we’ll also be looking at the Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale from New Zealand.
Kujyukuri Ocean Beer Pale Ale (九十九里オーシャンビール・ペールエール)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 20; hops: Saaz, Northern Brewer, Cascade
Pour – Mild carbonation, cloudy amber
Aroma – Sweet malts, just a slight whiff of hops
Flavor – A bit malty but mostly just watery, slight banana on the finish
Even for those of you who are relatively familiar with Japanese beer would be forgiven for not being familiar with Kujyukuri Ocean Beer. They’re quite minor, and are again an example of local “ji-biru” as opposed to craft beer. Based in Chiba, the parent company is actually a sake brewer named Kankiku (寒菊), with a history they trace back to 1883.
The beer branch of the company only got its start in 1997, and they produce their brews under the name Kujyukuri Ocean Beer. The name comes from their location near the Kujukuri Beach in Chiba, and the origin of the name of the beach is also quite curious. Legend has it that Minamoto no Yoritomo ordered the length of the beach to be measured, so they stuck an arrow into the beach every ri (里, an obsolete unit of measure that stems from ancient China and whose value has fluctuated through history fairly significantly, but during the era in question was somewhere between 545 and 655m to 1 ri). When it was all said and done there were 99 arrows in the beach, and so the beach became known as Kujukuri Beach!
Going back to their beer brewing for a bit, as I mentioned before they are not necessarily a craft brewer but more of a local beer producer who is in the game for reasons that aren’t necessarily too clear, other than the relaxing of brewing laws when they started brewing beer. Their regular lineup consists of the usual suspects like a pilsner, weizen, and stout in addition to this pale ale (and also a rice beer and recent IPA inclusion), but I have never seen their beers anywhere on tap and very rarely in bottled form. Actually, besides departments stores (I bought this beer for 399 yen at Takashimaya), the only other place I have ever seen their bottles for sale is at BiaMa in Kita-senju (and only for a short time). So while there isn’t a whole lot of reason for optimism, let’s see what the beer has to offer.
The Kujyukuri Ocean Pale Ale is a very poor beer, with the overriding effect being just watery. There’s no clear malt or hop direction at all, and if there is any flavor you can pick out it would be a tiny bit of banana (which is weird for a pale ale) and a touch of the medicinal. I think the less said of this beer the better, so let me just end this review by saying that I do like the dolphin on their label.
North Island KAMIFU100 Pale Ale 2016 (ノースアイランド・KAMIFU100 Pale Ale 2016)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 30
Pour – Orange-gold, pretty healthy carbonation
Aroma – Lots of fruity hops, a bit of lemon and pine as well
Flavor – Pine and fruits initially, and then piney bitter with some grapefruit on the finish, bitterness quite strong on the aftertaste
North Island actually doesn’t make a pale ale as part of their regular lineup, which is perhaps surprising given how excellent their standard IPA is. Today’s KAMIFU100 Pale Ale also is not really what a potential standard North Island pale ale would look like, as it is a somewhat particular beer.
The reason why this is not likely to be a candidate to be a regular beer is given away partially in the name of the beer itself – the KAMIFU100 refers to the fact that this is a single hop (100%) beer made from Cascade hops grown in Kamifurano. Kamifurano (上富良野) is a nature spot in Hokkaido that also happens to have a large hop farm with a fairly long history (for hops in Japan, that is), having started growing hops in 1926. Hokkaido itself (where of course North Island is also located) had been the main location for Japanese hop-growing since 1872, with hop production propelled forward by Sapporo.
There were various ups and downs throughout the history of Kamifurano, especially with World War II. The history notes the hop tragedies suffered during the war, such as having to give up the hop harvest to the imperial government to help combat a clothing shortage, and a beer production ban imposed by the government shortly before the end of the war. While this history doesn’t mention anything about war atrocities or atomic bombs or human suffering during the war, it does mention that fortunately the war ended shortly after the brewing ban and they were able to resume hop production shortly thereafter.
While historically Kamifurano has grown mostly German and Czech-style hops (think Hallertau and Saaz), which makes sense given the German pilsner brewing tradition in Japan and Sapporo, Sapporo has also developed and registered their own hop varietals. Some of them include ones you’ve probably heard of, like Sorachi Ace and Shinshuwase, but the Kamifurano site lists Little Star and Furano Special as two varietals Sapporo has been trying to push, although a quick Google search indicates it has not taken hold much at all.
This KAMIFU100 Pale Ale, though, doesn’t use German-style hops – it uses Cascade hops instead. Furthermore, they’re using whole hops for this beer, which I doubt Sapporo does for their beers! North Island actually first brewed this beer in February of 2016, and this one we’re reviewing here is the second round.
The North Island KAMIFU100 Pale Ale is a solid pale ale, although the bitterness on the finish from the hops gets to be a little bit harsh. I like the pine and fruit, and overall it has a lot of good flavor. Again, the one improvement I would hope for would be to remove the excess harsh bitterness to round it out, but this is a pretty decent pale ale here. As always with Tanakaya the price does makes you hesitate (606 yen at Tanakaya), but this is probably worth at least trying once.
Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 46; hops – Motueka, Pacific Jade, NZ Cascade, Nelson Sauvin
Pour – Nice and foamy, crisp gold orange in color
Aroma – Lots and lots of tropical fruit, also a bit like white wine, pine as well
Flavor – Nice balance, initially malts but with lots of fruit, gets piney, and then transitions to hop bitter finish, bitterness lasts but not too harsh
The only Tuatara beer we’ve reviewed here on BeerEast is their Weiz Guy weizen, which was pretty middling. Throwing in the fact that they’ve sold out to Heineken/DB, there wasn’t much good to say about that one. We’re hoping for better things from today’s Aotearoa Pale Ale, which is a New Zealand take on the American Pale Ale.
The origin myth of this beer is that they lost their US supply of pale ale hops in a fire, and decided to try substituting local hops. Those local hops would be Motueka (an all-around hop descended from Saaz), Pacific Jade (another NZ descendant of Saaz also used in their Weiz Guy), locally grown Cascade, and Nelson Sauvin (probably the most famous NZ hop with its white wine characteristics). With all of the Kiwi-ness happening here they’ve actually recently changed the name of this beer to Kapai, in the long tradition of white New Zealanders appropriating Maori culture (kapai means good or pleasant in Maori). Let’s see if at least they’ve committed cultural appropriation in service of a good beer.
The Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale is a very well-done pale ale, and the pick of today’s litter. It has a lot of elements in there, but really it’s the balance that the malts bring to it that I think keep it in line and prevent it from being too bitter. Of course it also has the fruit and pine to add a wider range of flavors, but really it’s the malt/hop balance that’s really nicely executed and key to the beer. It’s also quite affordable (thanks, giant brewing conglomerates!) at 490 yen at Liquors Hasegawa, and like the shiny affordable price distribution in Japan is also much more prevalent recently.
So today’s finish order is pretty clear – the Tuatara wins out in terms of both quality and price, but if you’d rather go local and non-macro then the North Island KAMIFU100 would be a good bet, except that you probably can’t get your hands on it anymore as it’s a limited brew. The Kujyukuri Ocean Beer Pale Ale is also somewhat hard to get a hold of, but that’s mostly because it isn’t in very high demand, and right so as it’s not very good at all.
If only all beer rankings were so easy!