We’re continuing our look at Japanese pale ales with the Shiga Kogen Harvest Brew edition of their Pale Ale and the somewhat rare Noboribetsu Onidensetsu Kinoni Pale Ale. For comparison today’s foreign entrant is the Victory Headwaters Pale Ale.
Shiga Kogen Pale Ale (Harvest Brew)
(No Ratebeer entry)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Grapefruit juice gold, not much carbonation
Aroma – Very soft melon and citrus hops
Flavor – Soft texture, citrus tanginess, earthy fresh bitter finish
We reviewed the regular Shiga Kogen pale ale here, so this time we’re not doing a direct comparison of the Harvest Brew edition with the regular version like we did with the IPA and the Porter in our previous fresh hop beer reviews. Hopefully our memory and tasting notes are enough to recall the differences!
The fresh hop they used in this beer is Cascade. It does add some softness to the beer, but if memory serves me right it hasn’t changed the beer too much. With the IPA, we saw that the fresh hop really softened the bitterness in the IPA, which is fairly bitter in the regular version, and brought out some more citrus. Similarly, with the porter we saw the fresh hops round out the harshness of the regular version.
However, with the pale ale, as the original version emphasizes citrus but is relatively mild in terms of flavor, the fresh hops here don’t necessarily do a whole lot for it. The Harvest Brew Edition is also quite citrusy/lemony like the regular version, and the original didn’t have too much bitterness to begin with. The texture is lighter, and soft is the word I keep going back to, but I don’t think it’s a huge change from the original. I would like to try it side by side (next year, perhaps), but so far with the Shiga Kogen Harvest Brew editions, I think the fresh hops made the most difference with the IPA.
Onidensetsu Kinoni Pale Ale (鬼伝説・金鬼ペールエール)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Vibrant gold, moderate carbonation
Aroma – Hops very prominent, but also slight citrus and earth and dirt
Flavor – Lots of things going on here, initially hops are strong, but malts are also there as is the citrus, dirty bitter finish but not too bitter, solid body and texture as well
The Noboribetsu brewery is part of a group of companies called Wakasaimo that is located in Hokkaido. They actually got their start making snacks and baked goods, and then eventually expanded out into all kinds of things, including restaurants, kaiten sushi, resorts, ropeways (!), flowers, and country clubs. This kind of setup is not so common in the West, but as part of the zaibatsu way of thinking in Japan happens now and then here. For example, Hideji got their start as part of a petroleum company, Johana originated from a sheet metal company, and Preston is part of a Home Depot-like DIY chain store!
The Noboribetsu beer brand itself isn’t really a major presence in the beer world here, and they aren’t distributed too widely. Their pale ale, though, is considered to be one of the better ones here so let’s check it out.
This is actually a very good pale ale – it has a nice mix of components, giving you a pretty good spectrum of flavors. The hops are the single most prominent element, but the malts are definitely there, the citrus is there, and it also has some earthiness to it to boot, which is not so common in pale ales. As it warms up (and as you work through it) the earthy bitterness starts to become a bit heavy so you probably have to dock it a bit there, but still overall this beer’s a good one.
So now that we’ve decided we like this beer, unfortunately, this beer is not easy to find. They have it at Tanakaya from time to time, but that’s the only place I’ve seen it. Their homepage is hardly usable, and I don’t see anywhere online where you can buy it. However, Gremlin (covered in our bar reviews) almost always carries it, and it’s a really cool bar, so if you’re desperate for it that’s your best bet.
Victory Headwaters Pale Ale
Package: 12 fl oz bottle
Pour – Not much carbonation, copper in color
Aroma – Overall mild but malts are the strongest, also sugar
Flavor – Smooth malty flavor initially, bitter in the middle with citrus and hops leading to a bitter and slightly sugary finish, very crisp, pine aftertaste
Victory Brewing, based in Pennsylvania, is, of course, one of the best-known breweries in the US. While their HopDevil IPA may serve as their flagship beer and is their most popular, both of the founders were actually trained in Germany and initially thought that their lager beers would be their bread and butter. The Prima Pils is, of course, quite popular, but like most American breweries, their hoppy beers are what most people have come to know them for.
The Headwaters Pale Ale, which is intended to highlight their local water source, does, however, provide a good example of how their German training mixed with the unsatiable American desire for hops combine to make a nicely balanced beer. I find it to be quite subtle but well-rounded – the base is more malty than hoppy, but the hops are still there and noticeable. The citrus is also in there but not so in-your-face, and the sugar/pine finish also is noticeable but not too strong. It has a lot going on, but doesn’t lean too far in any one direction.
One strange note regarding the particular bottle I picked up – I bought mine at Tokyo Liquor Land, the Japanese label (pasted on by the local distributor AQ Bevolution) had an expiration date of June 2016, but the expiration date on the original Victory label stated July of 2015! So I’m not sure what happened here, but the beer certainly didn’t taste like it was past due. In any case, something to pay attention to if you’re buying Victory brews (or AQ Bevolution-distributed beers?) in Japan. For what it’s worth, AQ handles a lot of foreign beers here, and I haven’t noticed anything like that before.
So recapping the three pale ales, the Shiga Kogen probably loses out here – it just doesn’t generate that much excitement, even with the fresh hops. The Onidensestu Kinoni Pale Ale is a very good pale ale, with a good range of flavors, but I would give the nod by just a bit to the Victory Headwaters Pale Ale, which I think also offers a similar range of flavors (although focusing on the pine/malt effect whereas the Onidensetsu is more about the hops) but in a more understated fashion, which I think works better here. But really, I don’t see that much separating the two, and I don’t think you can go wrong with either of them.