This is our second review of Japanese pale ales (first installment here), and we’re looking at the limited release Tamamura Honten Draft Pale Ale (we looked at their regular pale ale in the first review), the Brimmer Pale Ale, and the Mikkeller K:rlek, Vår/Sommar 2015 edition.
Tamamura Honten DPA (Draft Pale Ale)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 33
Pour – Hazy straw gold, very light carbonation for a pale ale
Aroma – Earthy grassy smell, light hops and citrus
Flavor – Earthy, slight hop bitter finish, overall very clean flavor
I’m not exactly sure what it means to have a draft pale ale in a bottle, but that’s exactly what Tamamura Honten have done. They’ve been brewing their DPA for quite some time now, and it’s actually a regular beer on tap and a big local favorite around Shiga Kogen (during ski season in the area it is their best-selling beer). So why release a beer called Draft Pale Ale in bottles? Apparently they’ve always had lots of requests for it, and finally decided to bottle a batch and only sell it through a few retailers that have been big supporters of them (in Tokyo you’ll see the usual suspects – Tanakaya, Deguchiya, Shinanoya, Liquors Hasegawa, and Shinshu Osake Mura).
Interestingly, the original concept behind this beer was to make a craft beer that could be enjoyed as a substitute or replacement for something like an Asahi Super Dry or a Kirin Ichiban-shibori after a day on the slopes. As such, the emphasis for ths beer has always been on drinkability, and it is a lighter in color and also lighter in alcohol than their regular pale ale (5.0% for the DPA, 5.5% for the pale ale). They use 100% Maris Otter malts for this beer, which should make the beer a bit softer.
Comparing to their usual pale ale, this is definitely lighter in color, and has a very crisp clean flavor. The regular pale ale has more citrus notes, whereas this one is a lot earthier and grassier. I find they both have a similar very mild level of hoppiness, although the DPA may have a slightly less bitter finish. Overall, it’s not too different from the regular pale ale but is definitely a bit lighter. In terms of preference, hard for me to say, but I think I like the earth/grass flavor of the DPA, although it’s a close call.
Side note – they also brew a fresh hop version of this called the DPA Harvest Brew – I don’t know if they also have plans to release this version in bottles, as the original DPA bottle release also appears to have been a one-off. Of course if it does become available I imagine we’ll be writing about that one as well!
Brimmer Pale Ale (ブリマー・ペールエール)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Dark amber, well carbonated
Aroma – Pine hops, malts, caramel, not bad
Flavor – Mild pine flavors, sugar rush in the middle followed by a dry bitter finish
Brimmer Brewing is a fairly new (est. 2011) and small-scale operation in Kanagawa, and despite their poor distribution people definitely know who they are. The Japan Beer Times has an excellent profile of them here, and if you read it you’ll find that the founder actually cut his teeth at Sierra Nevada (and studied brewing at UC Davis), before moving to Japan and working a bit with Baird and Gotemba Kogen.
The Pale Ale is one of Brimmer’s three regular beers. Given the brewmaster’s history with Sierra Nevada, it’s not surprising that it profiles as somewhat similar to the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It’s neither as complex or as bold in its flavors as the Sierra Nevada but you can see what they were going for. It’s not a bad effort, although I wouldn’t characterize it as very exciting and falls short of the Sierra Nevada.
As I mentioned before, Brimmer’s distribution is quite poor – you may see them on tap here and there, but their bottles are pretty tough to find – you’ll see them pretty regularly at Deguchiya, but other than that you’ll only see them once in a while at places like Liquors Hasegawa and Tokyo Liquor Land. They did use to have a tasting room called the Brimmer Beer Box in a shipping container on near Aoyama, but it just shut down recently. A shame, as while I don’t think they’re the most exciting brewer in Japan they definitely do have potential to make some pretty solid beers.
Mikkeller K:rlek (Vår/Sommar 2015)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: Hops – Magnum, Centennial, Bramling X, Tettnanger, Citra
Pour – Gold orange amber, lots of carbonation
Aroma – Lots of citrus and hops, some pine, melon
Flavor – Citrus and hops are there, but much more mild in the taste than in the aroma, very soft citrus leads to mild hop finish, relatively creamy
Any Scandinavian language speakers out there? If so, you may have noticed that this beer is labeled Vår/Sommar, which means Spring/Summer in Swedish. And then this is where you go, but wait a minute! Mikkeller are Danish! Why are they labeling their beers in Swedish? Information on this beer is a bit sparse, but it appears that this beer was originally brewed as a collaboration between a Swedish wine and spirits importer named Brill and Mikkeller.
On a language side note, the word for spring in Danish is “Forår”, which is used in the RateBeer page. The word for summer is “Sommar” in both languages, so no confusion there! Of course the real mystery is what K:rlek means, but we’ll have to investigate that one later.
OK, getting to the beer itself, it’s a quite drinkable hoppy pale ale. The mellow citrus and light bitterness are quite soft and smooth, and the creamy texture adds to that effect. It has oat flakes according to the ingredient list, but I’m having trouble detecting any flavor from that. It could certainly be contributing to the creamy texture of it, though.
A purchasing note – quite a few bottle shops carry Mikkeller here, including Liquors Hasegawa, Tanakaya, Tokyo Liquor Land, Pigalle, and Shinanoya. I bought this one at Shinanoya, which I find to be the cheapest overall for Mikkeller stuff. Also it should be noted that the Mikkeller bar in Tokyo opened a couple of weeks ago, so if you need your Mikkeller fix that is a good place to go.
So this time again we’ve managed to look at three different types of pale ales – the Tamamura Honten DPA was very grassy, the Brimmer Pale Ale was pine malty, and the Mikkeller K:rlek was hoppy. If I had to rank them it would be a tough call as to whether the Mikkeller or the Tamamura Honten would be win this group, but they do both beat the Brimmer.
Since both Japan and the world do not lack for pale ales we’ll definitely be doing more pale ale installments – stay tuned!