Surprisingly we haven’t had a stout comparison tasting, so as Hideji have released their winter seasonal Stout, we’ll try it along with the North Island Stout and the Brew By Numbers 08|01 Stout.
Hideji Stout (ひでじ・スタウト)
ABV: 4.5% – 5.5%
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Thick black, nicely carbonated
Aroma – Velvety chocolate, roasted malts are strong
Flavor – Initially roast chocolate is nice, but soon there is a slightly off-bitter patch that doesn’t quite taste right which lingers through the finish
We don’t have too much experience with Hideji here, having only reviewed their excellent Hana no White Weiss witbier. There isn’t a whole of information in terms of backstory on this one, but the one thing that stands out about this beer is that apparently they tinker with it quite frequently. The product page for the beer notes that the beer is 6% ABV (and given that the expiration date for the beer on that page has been updated I assume it is relatively current), but the bottle itself says 4.5% to 5.5% ABV on the label. On the RateBeer page it notes that the 6% version was first released in December 2013, and it appears that in the past they have brewed a weaker version of the stout as well. Which is all to say, I have no idea which version of the stout this really is, but let’s see what it tastes like.
The Hideji Stout is a bit of an uneven beer. The aroma is quite nice and balanced with sweet roasted malts and chocolate, and the flavor also starts out that way. However, just a bit into it, there’s a sharp skunky flavor to it, a bitterness gone bad that lasts the rest of the way. I’m not sure if this is a bad bottle or part of the usual flavor profile, but it obviously makes this less than an outstanding tasting experience.
Hideji beers themselves are relatively rare (although I feel like I see them more often these days than before), and the Hideji Stout I’ve only seen available at Tanakaya. I can’t recommend this beer given the skunkiness, but it could just be a bad bottle – I probably wouldn’t buy it again in a bottle, but I’ll try it if I see it on tap around town.
North Island Stout (ノースアイランド・スタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 23
Pour – Dark brown to black, not lots of foam but still a bit fizzy and then settles quickly
Aroma – Very mild roast nuttiness, a bit of chocolate
Flavor – Nice texture, creamy and full, roast bitter dry on the finish but quite mild overall
North Island are one of the better brewers in Japan, but surprisingly this is the first time I’ve tried their stout. They don’t release too many seasonal or limited beers, and the stout is part of their regular lineup as well. There isn’t too much information on this one out there so I’ll just put a link up the product page here.
The North Island Stout is a somewhat subtle beer – the aromas and flavors are very mild, but a nice beer to drink nonetheless. I especially like the texture on this stout – it’s very full and also creamy, very pleasant to drink in that way. Flavor-wise I would appreciate more roast and/or chocolate, but the lingering dry bitter finish is solid.
On balance this is a pretty decent stout, but as North Island make some of the best beers in Japan I expect a bit more from them. When you look at their IPA or Coriander Black from their regular lineup, you can see how they get very interesting and strong flavors but also with good balance, and I wish that their Stout had a bit more je ne se quoi to go with it. Again, not a bad effort and something I’d definitely drink again, but they can definitely do better.
Purchasing note – North Island regular beers are somewhat difficult to find, but periodically Liquors Hasegawa and Tokyo Liquor Land will have them. However, my go to place for them is the Hokkaido Foodist satellite shop near Tokyo station – they don’t always have North Island beers there, but when they do they are cheaper there than anywhere else I’ve seen. I bought this one for 540 yen, and while I think North Island is a bit pricey compared to some of the other brewers in Japan it’s not a terrible deal.
Brew By Numbers 08|01 Stout (Export Strength)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Smooth black, not much carbonation
Aroma – Roasted chocolate, sour cherries, licorice
Flavor – Roast is there, but also with sweet tartness to it, then finish is very dry and bitter with more roast
Brew By Numbers (also known as BBNo) is a relatively new brewery (officially selling beer since 2012) in London that’s been making a lot of noise recently. Aside from the fact that BrewDog are one of their big investors (which might also explain how such a small brewery has ramped up and distributed all the way to Japan so quickly), their beer naming system is probably one of the things that jumps out most. They’ve taken a very organized approach to it, and just name their beers with a 4-digit code, with the first 2 digits specifying the style and the last 2 digits specifying the recipe. So in this case, we have the 08|01, where 08 stands for Stout, and 01 is the Export Strength stout recipe. For the curious, their other stout recipes are Imperial (08|02), Chocolate & Orange (08|03) Irish Dry (08|04), and Oyster (08|05). Personally I also really appreciate the fact that they use the pipe character to separate the numbers rather than a more prosaic dash or colon or something.
The Brew By Numbers 08|01 Stout is a very good one – the roast chocolate characteristics are definitely there and come out more as it warms up, but it’s really kind of the cherry/licorice aspects here that steal the show. It’s a great combination of roast and bitter and sweetness that really comes together very well, and is easily the best of the stouts we tried today.
BBNo bottles are starting to appear here and there in Tokyo, and I see them at Europe-heavy craft beer places like Tokyo Liquor Land and Pigalle. Mine was purchased at Tokyo Liquor Land, and while at 648 yen it’s not on the cheap side, for a strongish stout from Europe it’s not too pricey.
Of course at a hefty 8% ABV, it’s not really in the same category as the Hideji Stout or the North Island Stout. If we’re looking for a moderate ABV stout, the North Island is a better one than the Hideji, but they can’t compete with the BBNo 08|01 for complexity and balance. As this is our first stout review we’ll definitely be looking at some others – Daisen G has a nice regular stout, so we’ll pick that up next time we see it.