Surprisingly we haven’t had any IPA comparison tastings yet, so we’ll do our first today. Like any reasonable beer culture there are plenty of very well-done IPAs in Japan, but the Ozeno Yukidoke I.P.A. and the Harvestmoon India Pale Ale are perhaps two relatively obscure examples. For comparison we’ll look at the Victory HopDevil IPA.
Ozeno Yukidoke I.P.A. (オゼノユキドケ・I.P.A.)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Nice orange amber, moderate foam
Aroma – Tropical fruit, melon, hops, very nice
Flavor – Initially quite fruity, then hops kick in, finishes bitter
Ozeno Yukidoke is a fairly small brewer based in Gunma. In fact, they’re so minor (or perhaps out of touch) that their official website is just a lonesome static page for their parent company Ryujin. Ryujin, while obviously not so internet-savvy, are actually a very very old sake producer, and their origins can be traced back to the 1300s. They’re mostly a German-style brewer, with their Brown Weizen dunkelweizen and White Weizen wheat beer being the most popular. In fact, as far as I can tell, those two are the only regular beers they make, but they do also make this seasonal I.P.A., so let’s give it a go.
Checking in at only 5% ABV, the Ozeno Yukidoke I.P.A. serves basically as a nice session IPA or hoppy pale ale. The nose is very typically IPA, with tropical fruit and hops. The flavor profile as well is standard but pleasant – fruity initially, with strong hops and a bitter finish. Unfortunately, like most session IPAs, it loses a bit of its bite and fruitiness as it warms up, although it does retain most of its bitterness.
In short, a pretty good session IPA, but drink it fast – it loses some flavor as it warms up. Ozeno Yukidoke beers are not distributed so widely, and this I.P.A. I’ve only seen at Tokyo Liquor Land. I’d consider it a bit pricey for what it is at 548 yen, but it’s not a bad beer by any means.
Harvestmoon India Pale Ale (ハーヴェストムーン・インディアペールエール)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Reddish brown in color, not much carbonation for an IPA
Aroma – Lots of sweet caramel malts, not much hop presence
Flavor – Malts are strong, but with strange hint of citrus in the middle, followed by hop finish
We’ve done a few Harvestmoon reviews before, and I tend to think they’re pretty solid. However, they don’t really have an image as a producer of hoppy beers, so I was a bit surprised to find out they brew an American-style IPA – let’s see what it’s like.
I can’t say if it necessarily works or not, but the Harvestmoon India Pale Ale has a very interesting flavor profile. As the aroma suggests it starts out very malty, but fairly soon you get a citrus effect. However, it’s not a citrus + hop effect that you normally get with IPAs, but it kind of mixes with the malts to create an unidentifiable bitter fruit juice effect. On the finish though the hops really come through for a bitter finish. Overall it’s an interesting one, although I can’t say if I like it. It certainly belies its aroma – based on the smell I thought it would be just a very malty IPA, but the malty citrus was a bit of a curveball, and the bitter hops at the end were a nice touch.
Over time the citrus fades a bit and the malt become more dominant, which means it ends up as a relatively standard malty IPA, but out of the bottle it’s quite interesting. I’ve seen this at Tanakaya (which is where I bought it for 463 yen) and Liquors Hasegawa, and while it won’t be the greatest IPA you’ve ever had it’s worth trying, and it won’t set you back too much.
Victory HopDevil IPA
Package: 12 fl oz bottle
Misc: IBU – 28
Pour – Also reddish-brown, mild carbonation
Aroma – Mild citrus hop aroma, malts, some pine as well
Flavor – Almost a roast bitter coffee effect initially, malts also quite strong but blended with pine hops, followed by mildly bitter finish
We reviewed the Victory Headwaters Pale Ale before, but we didn’t go too much in to Victory as a brewer, although we did mention their German training. One of the things about Victory is that they use whole flower hops for all of their beers, whereas most brewers use hop pellets. So what’s the difference, you ask? Good question – the answer to that is not so cut and dried.
First of all, there are two different stages for potentially using whole hops instead of pellets – one is at the boil stage, which is relatively uncommon, and one is at the dry-hopping stage, which is more common. There’s a pretty good experiment written up here where a brewer tried dry-hopping with both pellets and whole cones and tried to see what the differences would be. The result? Again, not so clear – initially there was a clear winner in that the whole hops produced much more intense aromas, but after a short time (basically just a couple of weeks) the differences disappeared.
However, what Victory is doing (and what Sierra Nevada and Deschutes also do, but not many others) is not just dry-hopping with whole flower hops but actually brewing using whole cone hops from start to finish. There is a lot of debate over whether this leads to any perceivable differences in flavor, and ultimately it’s inconclusive. Some people claim that whole hops impart more flavor, but on the whole the decision to use whole flowers vs pellets seems to come down to mostly convenience (pellets store better and longer and obviously are much smaller to warehouse) and/or philosophy rather than the effect it would have on the beer.
So now that we know what the whole flower hops may or may not do for the Victory HopDevil IPA, let’s see what it actually tastes like. Initially there’s a surprising roast bitterness to it, followed by a blend of malts and piney hops. It strikes a very nice balance between malts and hops, and as it warms up the malts tone down and hops shine through more for an even better balance. The hops are not as upfront as you find in many American IPAs, but they serve this beer very well, and I think it’s an excellent IPA.
I see Victory most reliably at Tokyo Liquor Land, and the price tag of 608 yen is a fair one. Overall this is was the best IPA we had today, but I liked all three of them in different ways. The Ozeno Yukidoke IPA was a good standard session IPA, the Harvestmoon India Pale Ale had the most unusual flavor profile, and the Victory HopDevil IPA had the best balance. One of our more satisfying review sessions here with no duds!