Today we’re looking at a couple of somewhat rare beers in Japan, and coincidentally both are from small breweries in Chiba. The first is the Saison de Seigle rye saison from Locobeer, and the second is the Brett Table Beer (Lambicus edition) from a relatively new brewery called Songbird.
Locobeer Saison de Seigle (ロコビア・ライ麦セゾン)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Golden amber, clean and clear, fizzy
Aroma – A distinct earthy malt smell, some spice
Flavor – Crisp and spicy, sweet on the finish, but like the aroma earthiness and graininess dominate. As it warms up becomes a bit blander, especially on the finish
Locobeer isn’t unknown here, but they also don’t get around much. It’s a small brewery located in Sakura-shi in Chiba, and while you see some tap distribution around Tokyo bottles are extremely rare (this one, by the way, was purchased at Tokyo Liquorland). One of the distinguishing features of Locobeer is that the head brewer is female, which is quite rare in the craft beer world (whether in Japan or overseas).
I’ve only had a couple of their beers before and I’ve enjoyed them, but I can’t say that I was too impressed with the Saison de Seigle. The rye accounts for 25% of the malt in this beer, and while you do get a bit of rye spiciness it doesn’t figure too prominently in the aroma or the flavor. The beer is actually quite dominated by the earthiness, and I find it to be more like a pilsner crossed with a weizen. Apparently this beer uses saison yeast but it tastes a lot closer to a weizen than a traditional saison.
However, it is one damn clear beer – you have to give it that. Interestingly, Locobeer take pride in the clarity of their beer, which in this article is described somewhat vaguely as a secret filtering process. However, if you look at the ingredient list for this beer (and actually their other regular beers as well, like the Sakura Steam or the Kaori no Nama), you’ll see that every Locobeer brew lists Irish moss as an ingredient. What does Irish moss do? It clarifies beer (it should not alter the flavor of the beer). You’ll also note that the same article says that craft beer with that kind of clarity is rare, which when you think about seems pretty obvious – most craft brewers are trying to distinguish themselves from macrobrews, so not having crystal-clear beer is not necessarily a bad thing and may even be considered a positive. This is not to say that craft beer is always unfiltered, but certainly many of our favorites are. Anyway, just to say I find it interesting that Locobeer puts such a strong emphasis on beer clarity when most craft brewers (and craft beer drinkers) would not consider it an issue.
So to sum up, if clarity counts, you’d do OK with this beer, but I don’t think it’s a great beer otherwise. Rye beers are not so common in Japan (Baird has a rye IPA), so it might be worth trying just for that alone. On its own merits it doesn’t really hold up so well, especially if you are looking for something more saison-like.
Songbird Brett Table Beer (ブレッタ – テーブルビア) *Lambicus
(No Ratebeer entry yet!)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Reddish-brown, cloudy, a bit foamy
Aroma – It’s got the funk! Brett, slightly sweet, slightly sour
Flavor – Mild, but brett is clear – mild funk, sweetness, malts in the middle, slight brett sourness and sweet again on the finish
Songbird is a very new brewery which just received its brewing license in February of 2015 (side note – the post celebrating the license also notes that it is a happoshu license, and that it took them about a year to get it!). You can also get a sense of how new the brewery is by noting that the label is clearly an inkjet print job. Although now that I think about it, maybe it’s a Chiba thing – Harvestmoon in Chiba is actually relatively well-established, but they still have the inkjet thing going on. There’s also no expiration date on the label – as a brett beer, I suppose it will just continue to develop, but I didn’t think it was legal to bottle beer and sell it in Japan without some kind of expiration date!
As a brewery, Songbird look pretty interesting – they are focusing on mostly Belgian/European-style beers, which is still rare in Japan where most brewers are either American-style, German-style, or random-style. This particular beer is a brett beer, which is even more rare in Japan (the only one I’m aware of is the Tamamura Honten saison brett, although I’m sure there must be more). They brew a few different variations of this Brett Table Beer (they are in the midst of adding variations as we speak), and currently they are now up to 5 – Lambicus, Lambicus x Lactobacillus, Bruxellensis, Bruxellensis x Lactobacillus, and a combination one they call Mixlacto. As that is a lot of yeast and bacteria names to throw around, here is a good article that explains what that might all means.
The one that I happened to pick up is labeled Lambicus on the bottle cap, so I’m missing out on a bit of good ol’ lactobacillus tartness. There is a slight sourness in the aroma, which is mostly a mild but solid brett smell. The flavor is also mild but solid with the brett, the funk is there, sweet, slightly sour, overall a slow-developing flavor profile but nice. It’s not the best or most exciting brett beer in the world, but overall quite drinkable, and as a table beer this works just fine.
Just for the fact that they are brewing brett beers (we love brett!) makes Songbird a brewery worth watching, so I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for other Songbird beers, including the other versions of this Brett Table Beer. And as for Locobeer, the Saison de Siegle wasn’t a big hit but in general I think their quality is pretty good, so we’ll review other beers of theirs as well as we come across them.