Sasazuka Beer / Niigata RJ

Today we’re going to look at a kind of very local novelty beer. So local, in fact, it’s named after a particular neighborhood in Tokyo – Sasazuka Beer (full disclosure – I used to live there so I may be impartial in this review).

As this beer was contracted out to Niigata Beer, I’ve paired it with another Niigata Beer offering, an intriguing little can called RJ, which stands for rejenndo, which I suppose in turn is supposed to mean legend.

Anyway, let’s start with the Sasazuka Beer.

Sasazuka Beer (笹塚ビール)

SasazukaBeer

Vitals:

(No Ratebeer entry yet!)

ABV: 4.5%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 310mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Mild carbonation, amber gold

Aroma – Malty and sugary

Flavor – Very fizzy on the tongue at first, slight sweetness and maltiness to it but bland and watery, mineral and musty bitterness on finish

A lot of regions/towns/neighborhoods like to do these things called machizukuri (まちづくり), where they try come up with some projects to raise the profile of the town in the hopes of attracting, well, more attention I guess (tourism? investment? residents? media publicity?). Sometimes they work (there’s the Echigo Tsumari Triennale, which is one of these deals but involves artists like James Turrell!), but I would imagine they don’t make much of an impression more often than not.

In any case, here is Sasazuka’s attempt to grab the limelight. For those who aren’t familiar with Sasazuka, it’s a quiet little neighborhood which is either the first stop from Shinjuku on the Keio Line or the third stop from Shinjuku on the Keio Shinsen. It’s not the most exciting neighborhood, but a nice quiet place to live that isn’t too far from Shimokitazawa. The organization that runs the Sasazuka machizukuri project is called the Sasazuka Mirai Project, but doesn’t seem to be too active outside of making this beer.

The beer that they concocted for this project isn’t sold at normal liquor stores, but instead is meant to be sold and consumed at local bars and restaurants around Sasazuka. The one that I’m drinking was a gift from our friend suzumecollege (hey, how about some posts, suzumecollege?), and he managed to cajole the bar owner into letting this sample off the premises.

The recipe for this beer was based on a sample from Niigata Beer, and then was adjusted and refined according to the taste they were aiming for. Even without knowing this bit of information you might be able to guess that it was contracted out to Niigata – it comes in the almost-unheard-of 310mL size bottle, and it has a 4.5% ABV, like many of the other Niigata beers. In keeping with the local theme, the label was designed by a local Sasazuka designer, and the image is supposed conjure up the famed Sasazuka skyline (or at least the Keio Line overpass).

In terms of the actual beer, the label says that it is supposed to be fruit with a hop bitter aftertaste. I get mostly mineral malts, and there is kind of a bitterness to the finish but not the good kind. It tastes a bit like a beer that’s on the verge of going bad (or perhaps slightly past). I’ve never had any kind of Niigata Beer before, but based on the specs and some review comments I’m going to hazard a guess that the base beer here is the standard Niigata Beer (the name of the beer, not the brewery). If that’s true then this is a Belgian ale, albeit a very watery one.

So, not a great beer, but in the spirit of Sasazuka and machizukuri if you are ever in the area, then as their tagline suggests, 笹塚の乾杯は笹塚ビールで!

Niigata Beer RJ (レジェンド)

Niigata_RJ

Vitals:

(No Ratebeer entry yet!)

ABV: 4.5%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL can

Review:

Pour – Almost no carbonation, a flat straw gold color

Aroma – Odd tomato smell, some sugar

Flavor – initially very bland and watery, then a slight sweetness in the middle, then a very sudden unpleasant medicinal bitter finish that lingers

There isn’t much information out there on this one, other than what is on the label itself – it’s a happoshu, 4.5% ABV, uses less than 50% malts, and makes use of Niigata-grown barley. But speaking of labeling… you want ad copy? You got ad copy:

Dune fields spread in the Niigata Nishi Kama District.
Due to the aging of farm producers,
the number of idle lands has recently increased
Owing to the shared by the government,
the academics and the industry,
not to waste the precious farmlands
and no to create any more idled lands,
the “san gaku kan rentai
(the collaboration of the industry,
the academics and the government)
sparkling” was created.
All the three units have united their forces to
cultivate the barley in the dune fields
for the first attempt ever in the region.
Drinking 4 bottles save 1m2 of the land overrun with weeds.
The more you drink, the more contribution you’ll make to your local.

Whew! So that was a lot to type out, but definitely worth it to record that for posterity. The beer itself is quite harsh and vacillates between utterly bland and startlingly medicinal, but I must admit they are spot on with the beer labeling (and naming as well – it’s quite something to come up with RJ -> Re jenndo -> Legend).

Wrapping up, Niigata Beer won’t be up for brewer of the year anytime soon. The Sasazuka Beer was definitely a better effort than the RJ, but perhaps the RJ makes up the difference in intangibles – I don’t envy the unfortunate (although probably very rare) soul who has to choose between the two.

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