Our tasting today consists of a couple of unusual peppery limited releases – the Drunk Coffee coffee beer (but not a stout!) by Tamamura Honten and the Baird Smoke & Fire Habanero Stout.
Tamamura Honten x Trunk Coffee Drunk Coffee – Limoncillo
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 32
Pour – Very clear gold, looks like a pilsner almost, not much carbonation
Aroma – Lots of hops initially, but then a very strong jalapeño pepper smell
Flavor – Smooth texture, very crisp and initially a slight citrus flavor, then it starts to transition into a hoppy bitter jalapeño finish
Coffee isn’t such a rare ingredient for beer, even in Japan – the top-rated beer in Japan on RateBeer is still the Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout, and Baird and Ise Kadoya also make coffee stouts. However, coffee pale ales are not so common, no matter where you are. This is certainly the first one I’ve come across, so I’m quite interested in seeing what this turns out like.
First a little backstory though – this beer is a collaboration between Tamamura Honten and a relatively new hipster coffee bar in Nagoya called Trunk Coffee. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time Tamamura Honten have made a coffee beer, and it’s not a stout – it’s basically a coffee pale ale, so right in line with Tamamura Honten’s hoppy beer lineup except with coffee thrown in there.
The beer is labeled as Limoncillo from Nicaragua, and a bit of googling reveals Limoncillo to be the name of a coffee farm in Nicaragua. According to the Tamamura Honten blog post on this coffee bean, the particular kind they are using here is the Pacamara varietal from the Limoncillo farm. Pacamara, it turns out, is a hybrid varietal developed in El Salvador in 1958, and is known for its funky red-wine characteristics and berry sweetness.
In the Drunk Coffee final product, however, the coffee and hops combine to produce the unmistakable aroma of jalapeño peppers! It’s quite fascinating, and the flavor itself also carries some pepper spiciness, although it also has the trademark Tamamura Honten hops. According to them, they’ve used the same amount of hops here as they do for their IPAs. The bitterness doesn’t really show through that much though, and while there is a slight hop bitterness on the finish you would think that the amount of hops plus coffee would lead to a more astringent bitterness, but it was actually quite soft. The citrus is there, though, although a bit muted, and the end result is that it plays like a very spicy pale ale. I enjoyed the crispness of this beer as well.
It’s definitely not what I expected, and while unusual it’s a very nicely done beer. It appears that this beer was something of a one-off collaboration, but let’s see if it leads to some more interesting experiments down the line.
Baird Smoke & Fire Habanero Stout (スモーク＆ファイアーハバネロスタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 25
Pour – Very dark brown, almost black, not much carbonation but stays
Aroma – Very smoky and peppery, very strong, some roast as well as it warms up
Flavor – Roast aspect hits first rather than smokiness, then a bit of smokiness that quickly gets overwhelmed by a legitimately spicy finish (not beer spicy, but actually spicy)
Tamamura Honten and Baird are probably the two most prominent craft brewers here, not necessarily in terms of volume but in terms of domestic reach and mindshare (Hitachino Nest comes to mind as a brewer that makes and sells and exports a lot of beer but isn’t really given that much attention in the local scene here). Tamamura Honten kind of has the hoppy beer thing on lockdown here, but they haven’t focused on dark beers so much, whereas Baird are not bad at hoppy beers but tend to do better than Tamamura Honten in terms of dark beers (their Kurofune Porter and Dark Sky Imperial Stout are two of the best-in-class here in Japan).
So having had a hoppy coffee beer from Tamamura Honten that tasted like jalapeño peppers, I couldn’t think of a more perfect tasting companion than a habanero stout from Baird. Of course, if you are a spicy pepper aficionado you will probably laugh at me as jalapeño is absolutely no match for the habanero when it comes to spiciness, but who’s counting?
A couple of brewing notes before we get on with it – the head brewer likes both smoky stouts and habanero peppers, so the obvious thing was to put them together into a beer. The habanero peppers are grown locally, but I do remember that last year they were not able to brew this beer because they had some issues with the habanero harvest last year.
So on to the beer! I’d definitely say this is one of the more interesting Baird brews out there – I often think that they don’t make their beers bold enough, but this one definitely does not have that problem. If anything, it probably suffers from the opposite. It is a very spicy beer, and not just in a beer way – it is literally quite spicy, and you’ll feel the burn. It obscures some of the other potentially nice aspects of the beer – the aroma has some smokiness, but in the flavor while you get a little bit of roast initially it’s quickly overwhelmed by the habanero. The finish is even spicier, and while I personally enjoyed it I can easily see how it might be too much for a lot of people.
A pretty interesting beer to try, but simply due to the spiciness it’s hard to imagine drinking more than one of these. I think you can go either way on this one – toning down the habanero might make the beer more drinkable and bring out some other flavor characteristics to give it more balance, but on the other hand, without the crazy spiciness what’s the point of making a habanero stout? I’m in the middle somewhere – I don’t presume to tell them to change the recipe and I’m more than happy to drink one of these (but only one), but if they did achieve a better balance I’d be very interested in seeing what the results of that would be.
So a couple of very different but similarly peppery beers today! Both the Tamamura Honten Drunk Coffee and the Baird Smoke & Fire are novel in their own ways, and are both worth seeking out to try. I’m not sure that the Drunk Coffee is intended to evoke pepper, but the Smoke & Fire obviously is trying to, and they both are effective in carrying that out. If I was only going to drink one I’d choose the Baird, but any more than that and the Tamamura Honten is the easy choice.
I can’t recall any other specifically peppery beers in Japan, but if I do we’ll certainly follow up with them here later on, so stay tuned…