This is our first review of the Masaji Beer Project brews, which we’ll explain a bit more about below. Today we’ll try the Iwate Kura Bravo! MASAJI R-IPA and the Tamamura Honten Masaji The Great W-IBA.
Iwate Kura Bravo! MASAJI R-IPA (いわて蔵ビール・Bravo! MASAJI R-IPA)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Cloudy dark red, foam settles quickly
Aroma – Dirty and floral hops, also some sweet malts, some fruit as it warms up
Flavor – Bitter hops from the start, then malts appear for an instant before tailing off into a dry bitter finish, quite fizzy texture-wise
In addition to the holiday beers, December is also the time in Japan when brewers release their Masaji Beer Project brews to commemorate the death of the Minoh Brewery founder and CEO Masaji Ohshita. Ohshita passed away in December of 2012, and in March of 2013 the idea for the Masaji Beer Project was hatched. The project essentially consisted of 11 craft brewers in Japan each making a special beer in honor of Masaji Ohshita – the full list is in the above link, but includes most major craft brewers such as Tamamura Honten, North Island, Swan Lake, SanktGallen, Baird, Fujizakura, and so on.
While not all of the brewers still release their contribution to the project, many of them brew their tribute beer every year and release it in the winter near the anniversary of Ohshita’s passing. Ohshita was a much-loved figured in the craft beer world here, and known for his enthusiasm and ardor for beer. As such, the beers tend to be quite bold, and we’ll see that immediately with the Iwate Kura offering.
Breaking down the Bravo! MASAJI R-IPA as part of the Masaji Beer Project, the Bravo in the name (while of course being a “Bravo!” for Oshita) also refers to the use of Bravo hops. The characteristics of the Bravo hop are supposed to floral and fruity, although in real life it seems opinions vary a bit. It’s mostly used as a bittering hop, and it is indeed quite bitter. The R-IPA here is very bitter but doesn’t exhibit a lot of fruitiness, although it does have a bit of a floral character to it in the aroma.
The R-IPA part of the name stands for Red IPA, and the word “red” is used to emphasize the passion that Oshita was known for. In the beer itself, not only is the label red but the beer is also a deep red color. As you might expect with a red ale, the sweet malts come out a bit in the aroma, and also appear in the flavor as well, which is a bit unusual in a beer this bitter.
Finally, the label also notes that wheat is also used in the beer. I don’t get a lot of it other than the fizzy texture to it – it doesn’t really manifest itself in the beer strongly. Again, the most prominent characteristic of this beer is its bitterness, which is actually surprising in the context of Iwate Kura. They’re not really known for their hoppy bitter beers, and their standard IPA is a not very hoppy English-style IPA. So in that sense a pleasant surprise, although overall I don’t think this is a particularly well-balanced beer.
I don’t know if they bottle this one every year – I don’t remember seeing it last year, but this year I found it at Tanakaya. It’s a bit of a departure from their usual brews, so while it’s not the best beer they make (that would still be their awesome Oyster Stout) I think it’s worth checking out just to see what an Iwate Kura hoppy beer tastes like.
Tamamura Honten W-IBA Masaji The Great
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 105
Pour – Cola black, almost no carbonation
Aroma – Very pungent but mellow fruit hops, almost smells like a fresh-hopped beer
Flavor – Very hoppy for a dark beer, fruity hops, coffee bitter and roast on the finish, overall very nice
Tamamura Honten’s contribution to the Masaji Beer Project was their W-IBA Masaji The Great black IPA. As they normally don’t brew a black IPA this is always quite a treat to find. They didn’t brew it last year, although instead they did release two whiskey barrel-aged versions of the W-IBA (the Masaji Ichiro Chichibu and the Masaji Ichiro Bourbon – we still have a couple of these left so may review them in the future).
This year, however, they’ve brewed the straight-up W-IBA, although the specs differ slightly from the original in 2013. The original recipe weighed in at a paltry 9% ABV, whereas this year’s edition has upped it slightly to 9.5% with an IBU of 105. Of course we should note that the Masaji Ichiro Chichibu and Bourbon barrel-aged versions are labeled at 11%, so I suppose in that light the regular W-IBA is a bit of a lightweight.
The reason why they chose to make a W-IBA for the Masaji Beer Project is because to them, the beers that defined Minoh were their stouts (the regular and the imperial) and their W-IPA, so they thought combining those to make a W-IBA would be an appropriate tribute. Although I personally don’t like the Minoh Stout and Minoh W-IPA, the Minoh Imperial Stout is a very nice beer, so with Tamamura Honten’s brewing chops behind this concept it bodes well for the final product.
In terms of the actual beer itself, if you think of a black IPA as a marriage between a stout and an IPA, the IPA is wearing the pants in this particular relationship. The aroma is mostly fruity hops, but they’re quite mellow as you might see in their fresh hop series, although from what I gather this beer is not wet-hopped. The flavor as well is dominated by a nice fruity hop sensation, although there is a coffee roast bitter sensation on the finish. The bitter finish lingers a bit as well, which is nice. While I think you could make a case that a black IPA that has more of an equitable marriage might be more desirable, I personally really liked this beer, and there is enough of the coffee roast to prevent the IPA-ness of it from becoming too one-sided (which is the main complaint I had with their Harvest Brew IBA).
Although this beer is a limited release, it was a fairly anticipated one, so the usual suspects made sure to carry this one – Liquors Hasegawa, Tanakaya, and Deguchiya all had it. As always, Deguchiya was a bit cheaper than Liquors Hasegawa (518 to 560 yen), but I bought one each from both – they’re both quality craft beer liquor stores and worth supporting.
So we’ve got another strong showing from Tamamura Honten, and a hoppy-for-them brew from Iwate Kura as part of the Masaji Beer Project. As I mentioned before not all of the brewers release their Masaji Beer Project brews, but we do have the Minoh Godfather 4 so we’ll be looking at that one shortly.