As we mentioned in the Japan brewery overview (here), SanktGallen’s sweet stouts and fruit beers are the most prominent of their lineup. Both their sweet stouts and fruit beers are released under the tag Sweets Beer, so I thought it would be fun to review one of each in a single sitting – the Shonan Gold representing the fruit beer, and the Kokutou Sweet Stout stepping up for the sweet stouts. I should note that in general I like their sweet stouts but do not like their fruit beers, but I haven’t had either of these before so let’s see how it turns out.
SanktGallen Shonan Gold (湘南ゴールド)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 18; OG – 1.046; hops – Chinook, Cascade
Pour – Very golden color, some head but not as frothy as I expected
Aroma – Orange peel, lots of zest, you can also get a whiff of the malts
Flavor – Initially some malt breadiness, but followed up quickly by a somewhat sickly, somewhat sour grapefruit flavor. Thins out quickly, a bit of a watery finish. Zest lingers.
As you may have guessed, I was not too impressed with the Shonan Gold. If you’re not familiar with the Shonan Gold fruit, it is a kind of hybrid orange citrus fruit that looks more like a small grapefruit and is grown mostly in Kanagawa (where SanktGallen is located). I’ve never seen this fruit anywhere but in Japan, and it is only available in the summer. It’s not something that I personally eat too regularly, but I do have it on occasion, and it tastes much better in fruit form than beer form. As a side note, there are a myriad of grapefruit/sour orange-like citrus fruits in Japan, and it’s hard to differentiate them. Yuzu is the most commonly used Japanese citrus in beer both domestically and internationally (there’s an interview with Patrick Rue of The Bruery here where he says that yuzu is the one ingredient he could get more of!), but as you can see with the Shonan Gold there are brewers here using other local fruit as well.
Getting back to the beer, the beer lacks any kind of bitterness to give it some balance. This happens with SanktGallen – sometimes they emphasize hops where you wouldn’t normally expect it and it makes for a great beer, and sometimes they neglect it altogether. This is one of those cases where they’ve forgotten the hops. You can detect the malts, so that is a plus at least, but it’s just barely there. There is a hint of sour, but not the kind of sour that people like in their sour beer – it’s the sourness of orange rind, and it starts to wear on you as you get through the glass.
Let’s move on to the sweet stout.
SanktGallen Kokutou Sweet Stout (黒糖スイートスタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU: 28; OG – 1.068; hops – Chinook, East Kent Golding, Perle
Pour – Cola black, decent head that settles down quickly
Aroma – Slight burnt chocolate smell
Flavor – Very mild initially, on the finish the burnt sugar becomes more prominent and leads to a coffee bitterness rather than a hoppy bitterness, texture is quite thin and watery, a bit like a flat coke.
If you can see the label well enough in the photo, you can see that it says it uses Okinawa sugar. Not knowing much about sugar, it’s hard for me to determine whether this is a relevant piece of information or not. I don’t find that the added sugar makes it overly sweet, but I do find that overall it is thin and bland. I wonder if the sugar masks the hops a little – the bitterness here leans heavily towards coffee instead of hops, and in terms of personal preference I would rather it was the other way round. SanktGallen are capable of making good stouts (see Sweet Vanilla Stout and Imperial Chocolate Stout), so this is a bit of a disappointment.
In terms of the two beers reviewed here, the Kokutou Sweet Stout fares better than the Shonan Gold, although both are fairly weak offerings. Fruit beers that can manage to impart the particular characteristics of a fruit while still keeping beer-like qualities are hard to come by. There are very few good examples of them in Japan so it isn’t necessarily unexpected that the Shonan Gold is underwhelming. As for the Kokutou Sweet Stout, it’s not up to the standards of some of their better stouts, but it might be worth trying for those who really enjoy coffee stouts (it doesn’t actually contain coffee like most coffee stouts, but the effect is quite similar).
Having written so much about SanktGallen perhaps a brewery review of SanktGallen is in order – let’s see if we can get around to it.