Tamamura Honten (overview here) just released a special “Shoubu” version of their Miyama Blonde, so we’ll do a review of it together with the normal Miyama Blonde. First, let’s take a look at the standard one.
Tamamura Honten Miyama Blonde
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Straw gold, not very carbonated
Aroma – Distinct but faint malt aroma, bready, citrus as it warms up
Flavor – Initially a bit malty with some sweetness, transitions into a hoppy bittersweet spicy finish that lingers, as it warms up lemon flavor becomes prominent
While we’ve mentioned before that we really like the Tamamura Honten saisons, the Miyama Blonde (part of their regular lineup) is the first one we’re reviewing here on BeerEast. Styled as a Belgian-inspired Japanese saison, it makes use of homegrown hops and homegrown rice to impart their local flavor onto the beer.
The hop varietal that Tamamura Honten grows and uses for this beer is called Shinshuwase (信州早生), and it is the first hop that was developed in Japan. Descended from the Czech Saaz hop variety (of pilsner fame), it was developed by Sapporo in the early 20th century, and this serves as the house hop for Tamamura Honten. This profile of Tamamura Honten in the Japan Beer Times has some more details on their hops, and for those who are interested, you can find more information on the Shinshuwase hop here, here, and here.
As for the rice, they use their homegrown Miyama-nishiki (美山錦) sake rice for this beer, which is where it gets its name from. Depending on harvest and production conditions, they have actually brewed this beer with Kinmon-nishiki (金紋錦) rice in the past, but normally it is the Miyama version and that is what we drank here.
All of this put together results in a fairly distinct take on a saison. The hops are there, especially on the finish, but there is also a strong lemon citrus influence, as well as some sweetness. I especially like how both the aroma and the flavor develop as it warms up – or more likely I am serving it way too chilled. Either way, it is not quite as obviously hopped up like many of their other beers, but it is an interesting and enjoyable mix of elements. Let’s see what adding shoubu does for it.
Tamamura Honten Shoubu Miyama Blonde
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 35
Pour – Similar to the Miyama Blonde, straw gold, not too much head
Aroma – Sharp grass/weed, some sweetness
Flavor – Raw grass flavor similar to the aroma that dominates initially, citrus kicks in on the finish that is similar to the original Miyama Blonde but this time spiciness really takes over
The Shoubu Miyama Blonde, then, uses the Miyama Blonde as a base but exchanges some hops for the shoubu (菖蒲) plant, which is generally called calamus or sweet flag in English (Wikipedia here). Shoubu actually doesn’t necessarily have strong name recognition here, but many will recognize it as the plant that gets thrown into the bath for small boys on Children’s Day. The sword-like shape of the leaves and the pronunciation of the word (in Japanese kanji shoubu can also mean something like fighting spirit) are supposed to bring about all kinds of martial goodness, so people throw this in the bath with their boys so that they may grow up to be great warriors (or salarymen).
As shoubu isn’t something one normally eats or consumes, I was curious as to what effect the shoubu would have. Comparing the shoubu version to the standard Miyama Blonde is quite interesting in that the shoubu does not appear to be a very subtle ingredient – it really makes the aroma quite sharp, and trades some of the hop bitterness for a grassy spiciness. In fact, I would say that the most radical difference between the two versions is that the shoubu version is very spicy (especially on the finish), whereas in the standard version the spiciness is just another component of the flavor profile.
Overall I prefer the original Miyama Blonde, as I think it has a broader range of flavors. However, it’s also quite interesting to try a beer with an ingredient like shoubu that isn’t used so much in beer, especially in a case like this where said ingredient makes a noticeable difference. If you can find this beer (I picked mine up at Shinanoya in Shibuya), it’s definitely worth comparing it side-by-side with the original Miyama Blonde to pick out the differences.