Normally we like to focus on Japanese beers in this blog, but sometimes there are just some kinds of beers that they don’t really make here yet. We’ve got two examples of that today – one is a spicy Belgian ale from Epic called the Utah Sage Saison, and one is a “smoked imperial rye porter aged in bourbon barrels” (this was a gift from PartyInMyMouth, and apparently he chose whichever beer had the most adjectives) from The Bruery called Smoking Wood.
Epic Utah Sage Saison (Release #21)
Package: 22 fl oz bottle
Pour – Nice reddish amber, lightly carbonated
Aroma – Rosemary is strong, very very herbal, minty
Flavor – Initially slightly bready, then herbs dominate, but still mild enough to be pleasant, slightly medicinal finish, spicy, overall very interesting
Epic Brewing, based in Utah, have a fairly interesting series called Exponential, which is where they place their more creative brews. This beer, also released under that series, certainly qualifies as creative. While the base beer is intended as a Belgian farmhouse ale, the generous usage of sage, rosemary, and thyme (yes, they also note the Simon and Garfunkel lyric) really turns it into something different. It’s a very very herbal beer, both in aroma and flavor, and the surprising thing is that it works. There is just enough maltiness and saison spice to balance the herbs, and it’s surprisingly complex and easy to drink.
A small note on sage – while it’s certainly a bit of a rare ingredient for beer, it’s not unheard of. Interestingly, as this article outlines, sage used to be a normal ingredient in beer a long long time ago, but eventually fell out of favor. It’s certainly making a comeback, as that article notes, and in fact, the Stillwater Cellar Door (which we just reviewed here) also incorporates sage.
One interesting thing about Epic is that on their website they publish details of each release. For this particular version, which is Release #21, the details are here. You can see that based on the package date of 2014/09/25 we tried this beer after about 2 years of aging, and it certainly didn’t taste any worse for the wear (I haven’t tried it fresh so can’t make a direct comparison). Compared to Release #1, the ABV is up a bit from 7.5% to 7.9%, and they’ve added some dry hopping, but the recipe has basically stayed the same. I don’t think there’s anything too revelatory in there, but as someone who also likes to catalog stuff it’s fun to see that they do it with each release of their beer.
Bottles (and some cans as well) of Epic have been popping up in the usual suspects here (I’ve seen them at Liquors Hasegawa, Tokyo Liquor Land, and Le Petite L’ouest), and it’s not terribly overpriced (this one cost 1348 yen at Tokyo Liquor Land). i haven’t tried any of their regular beers but I have had a couple from the Exponential series, and I quite like them. They’re perhaps not quite as inventive as the makers of our next beer (The Bruery), but still very interesting and high quality. Highly recommended.
The Bruery Smoking Wood (2014 Edition)
Package: 750mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 30
Pour – Thick, oily, low carbonation, black
Aroma – Chocolate and bourbon quite strong initially, as it warms up an alcoholy plum aroma becomes very prominent
Flavor – Oak at first, then bourbon, then the chocolate, then very long smoky finish, as it warms up becomes spicy, also plum flavors show up, very complex and interesting progression
Wow. Again, wow. This is definitely a contender for best beer of all-time in my book. The complexity of the flavors, the way that it moves through them, the way that all of them are prominent but none are overpowering, wow. And you’d never know that this beer clocks in at 14% – it is amazingly smooth and easy to drink.
I’m also excited to find bourbon or whiskey barrel-aged beers that achieve a good balance, as I find that it’s not so common for a beer to be able to have noticeable effects of the aging without it becoming too strong in the flavor. Of course, it’s not surprising that The Bruery are able to do this, since even as far back as 2012 they were barrel-aging 40% of the beer they were brewing. The link is a pretty interesting interview where he talks a bit about the financial challenges of doing so much barrel-aging, as having 40% of your output go away for 14 months before it can be sold has some serious implications for cash flow.
However, The Bruery may in fact be more known for their sours than anything else. As they ramp up production (and have to worry about contamination between their sour and non-sour beers), they’ve moved their sour beers over to a new brand called Bruery Terreux. As one of my favorite breweries more Bruery beers can only be a good thing for us, so that’s something I’m looking forward to.
Orange County (and Torrance) is turning into an unexpected hotbed of craft beer – along with The Bruery, places like Bottle Logic, Bootleggers, Noble Ale Works, Smog City, Monkish, and Strand are starting to make a name for themselves (Monkish and Strand can actually be found on tap at Craftheads in Shibuya!), so next time I am in the area I will be trying to sample as many of those as possible.
In Japan The Bruery on tap is quite rare (I’ve only seen them once in Tokyo at Ushitora), but bottles (and they only produce 750mL bottles) can be found pretty regularly at Deguchiya, Tanakaya, and Tokyo Liquor Land. You should be forewarned though – they are definitely not cheap (I think the lowest I’ve seen any Bruery beer is probably about 2000 yen). However, they are one of the best breweries in the world, and their beer is a must-try.
The Smoking Wood, in particular, is an awesome beer, if you can find it. It’s only been brewed twice – once in 2012 and once in 2014, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to pick one up. This one was purchased at Tanakaya, so if you like smoked imperial rye porters aged in bourbon barrels, you’ll definitely want to try there first. Definitely a special treat!