SanktGallen

SanktGallen (サンクトガーレン)

Based in Kanagawa, SanktGallen are kind of interesting in that while they are a fairly major player (and one of the oldest) in the craft beer scene here, they’re often overlooked. There are a couple of reasons for this – one, they have a fairly set lineup of beers and don’t really make many seasonals and add new beers to their lineup. Two, which is possibly related to the first reason, is that they do 70% of their sales in bottle form – given how large they are, you don’t really see too many of their beers on tap that often, especially at the more adventurous craft beer bars.

Part of this probably has to do with the kinds of beers they produce. They essentially have two “lines” that they focus on – one is American-style ales, which in their regular lineup consists of the Golden Ale, Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Brown Porter, and Yokohama XPA. The other line of beers they produce is the “Sweets Beer” series, and is something they conceived to try to attract more women to their beers (you find this a lot in Japan, the assumption that women will only like fruit beers and such and not hoppy or bitter beers). The year-round beers in this series are just the Sweet Vanilla Stout and the Kokutou Sweet Stout, but they have set seasonals every year that include the Sakura, Shonan Gold, Pineapple Ale, and Apple Cinnamon Ale.

Having those two lineups in and of itself is not a problem of course, but their execution leaves a bit to be desired. They tend not to be too bold when they make their beers, and these days that tends to be a big minus. For example, with their American-style beers, many of you will find them to be somewhat uninspiring – the Yokohama XPA is their IPA, but it isn’t a very exciting one. Similarly their Brown Porter is a bit bland, the Pale Ale is an OK but not highly memorable malty pale ale, etc. Out of these beers my favorite is probably the Amber Ale, and while it’s not the best in Japan it’s at least on the higher end here.

With the Sweets Beer series as well, they suffer from just not being bold enough. Often the beers taste like fruit juice, without either the tartness/sourness or hoppiness that many brewers are now getting from their fruit beers. I do think the Sweet Vanilla Stout is a great beer though, that manages to balance the sweetness of the vanilla with a nice hoppy background throughout the beer. Unfortunately, the Kokutou Sweet Stout is not quite as good.

However, I actually haven’t mentioned the one time of year when SanktGallen transform themselves into awesomeness – the winter! That’s when they produce their barley and wheat wines (El Diablo and Un Angel respectively), and especially the barley wine is a fantastic brew. Again, like the Sweet Vanilla Stout, it has a hoppy bite to it that you don’t get too often with barley wines and provides balance.

If you’ve noticed a theme developing, it continues with another one of their excellent winter seasonals – the Imperial Chocolate Stout also has a bit of an unexpected hoppiness to it, and it makes for possibly the best imperial stout in Japan. The Imperial Chocolate Stout is released annually around Valentine’s Day, along with three other stouts – the Orange Chocolate Stout, a repackaged Sweet Vanilla Stout (same recipe as the usual one though), and a stout that changes every year – last year it was a Smoked Chocolate Stout that was quite nice, and the year before was a Mint Chocolate Stout.

While they don’t produce too many special or limited beers, they do also produce an April Fool’s beer every year – the 2015 edition was a beer supposedly made with baran (バラン), which is a plant but also refers to those green plastic film-like pieces that serve as bento dividers. Of course plastic doesn’t make for a great beer ingredient so the actual extra ingredient is wasabi.

SanktGallen does not currently operate any taprooms, but they have a bit of an interesting history here. They actually started up a brewpub in San Francisco first in 1993, but because of the brewing laws in Japan then they were not allowed to start up a proper brewery in Japan. To get around that, they opened up a brewpub in Roppongi that only brewed non-alcoholic beer in Japan, but imported the beer they were brewing in the US. Of course, the brewing laws have since changed so they no longer need this kind of chicanery, and have since closed their Roppongi location. They actually did operate a taproom in Atsugi for a little while as well, but that has also closed and they don’t have one at the moment.

Fortunately for SanktGallen fans, their bottles are not hard to come by. In Tokyo, their regular beers can be found in the usual places (Liquors Hasegawa, Le Collier, Nomono are where I see them most often) in addition to a few supermarkets and such – I’ve seen them in Precce and Peacock, and they are also carried by some department stores as well.

Limited release beers (including the El Diablo and the Imperial Chocolate Stout) are most reliably found at Liquors Hasegawa, but I’ve also seen them at Aeon Liquors and Shinanoya. Interestingly enough, long after the winter season, I saw the Imperial Chocolate Stout pop up at my local Daiei, so most likely the overstock started flowing out to different retail outlets owned by the Aeon conglomerate.

As the El Diablo and Imperial Chocolate Stout are well-loved in Japan, you’ll be able to find those on tap when they are released in the winter. Craftheads in Shibuya, which normally does not carry too many of the regular SanktGallen beers on tap, actually had the current and last year vintages of the El Diablo available for tasting. You’ll also find their beers at places like Ant’N’Bee, iBrew, Watering Hole, Craft Beer Market, etc., but the reality is that outside of their winter seasonals their beers on tap are not really in high demand. They’re around, of course, but not really consistently at the best of the craft beer places like you might see with some of the more popular breweries around here, like Tamamura Honten or recently, Kyoto Brewing or Shonan.

Overall, they’re not really my favorite brewery, but they do make a couple of my favorite beers here in Japan. Definitely try the winter seasonals if you can – both the barley and wheat wines and the Valentine’s Day stouts are definitely highlights of the Japanese beer calendar.

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Places to buy in Tokyo:

  • Regular beers can be found at Liquors Hasegawa, Tokyo Liquor Land, Le Collier, Nomono, and also some supermarkets and department stores as well
  • Limited beers can be found at Liquors Hasegawa, Shinanoya, and Aeon Liquors, among others
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