This is our second brown ale review (first part here). Today we’ll be taking a look at the North Island Brown Ale, the limited release Tamamura Honten Smoky Brown, and the Anchor Brekle’s Brown.
North Island Brown Ale (ノースアイランド・ブラウンエール)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 22
Pour – More deep orange-red than brown, good carbonation, lots of sediment
Aroma – Nice soft aroma of hops and malts, caramel, very nice
Flavor – Caramel malts are strong initially, very smooth texture, moderately bitter sweet finish
We’ve been reviewing a lot of North Island beers recently – we reviewed the Stout, which was OK but not too exciting, and the X’mas Cinnamon Ale, which was not bad but again could have been better. There isn’t much brewing information out there in terms of context so let’s get straight to the review.
The North Island Brown Ale is a nicely balanced and flavorful brown. The caramel malts are the star of the show here, and are quite prominent in both the flavor and aroma. While the hops don’t play too big a part here, they come out well enough in the aroma and contribute to the finish. I don’t think many will think this the most exciting beer, but I have to say that I quite enjoyed it. It’s low-key, but still has flavor and balance.
That said, the one thing about it that would prevent me from buying it again is its price – North Island beers are somewhat expensive, and although I found this at Hokkaido Foodist for 540 yen if you buy this at Liquors Hasegawa or Tokyo Liquor Land it might run you closer to 600 yen. It’s a decent brown ale, but I can’t recommend it at that price.
Tamamura Honten Smoky Brown
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 55
Pour – Lightly carbonated, dark brown but with a reddish tint
Aroma – Smoked hops? Fruity hops and smoke are fighting for aroma supremacy, but the hops clearly win out
Flavor – Again citrus hops are most prominent, a bit of smoke and malts come out in coffee roast bitter hop finish
A while ago Tamamura Honten released their first brown ale, which was a collaboration with Pizza Port called the So Sexy Brown. That beer was very excellent, with a good balance of malts, hops, and roast. Building on that experience, they’ve come up with their second stab at a brown ale, with a smoked twist.
The brewing notes say that they’ve used 8 different malts here, in addition to oats. Being who they are, they’ve also dumped large quantities of two kinds of American and New Zealand hops into the brew. Interestingly enough, they also note that while they do use smoked malts that the smoke effect may not be as strong as you expect.
And they’re right, of course – this beer is probably the least smoky of any smoked beer I’ve ever tried. As with most of their beers, the hops are really the focus of the beer, and the fruity hops dominate both the aroma and the flavor. There is a slight sensation of smoke in the finish, and it’s a pretty good finish at that – along with the smoke you get the roast effect, and a coffee bitter hop finish. In terms of the oats, Tamamura Honten themselves describe the texture as oily, but I’m not getting much of that – it’s certainly a smooth texture, but to me I don’t get the creamy/oily texture effects I would expect from oats.
Overall I think it’s an OK beer, but a letdown when you compare it to their awesome So Sexy Brown collaboration with Pizza Port. The So Sexy Brown had a great balance between the malts, hops, and roast, but the Smoky Brown is really heavily tilted towards the hops. While normally I like the hoppy style of Tamamura Honten, with a brown ale I think they would have benefited from dialing down the hops and letting some other aspects of the style come forward a bit more. The brown ale is still a bit new for them, so let’s hope that either they learn from this or bring back the So Sexy Brown!
Anchor Brewing Co. Brekle’s Brown
Package: 12 fl oz bottle
Pour – A nice deep ruby red color, moderate carbonation that settles quickly
Aroma – Caramel malts are very strong, slightly floral, sour cherries
Flavor – Initially mostly malts, caramel as with the aroma, in the middle a sudden whoosh of citrus, then a sweet finish with a bit of tartness to it, cherries as it warms up
Naturally the first thing that comes to mind with Anchor Brewing Company is Anchor Steam (which, by the way, I really like). They’re so closely associated with each other that it’s hard to remember that Anchor Steam is the name of a beer and not the brewery. Anchor, though, have a pretty fascinating history, and claim to be the oldest craft brewery in America, having been established in California in 1871. If you look around on the Anchor website, you can see that they use a lot of traditional brewing methods like open fermentation and whole cone hops, and definitely are not shy about playing up their history and tradition.
This beer, though, while named after Gottlieb Brekle, who was the original founder of the brewery, is a relatively recent addition to the lineup. It was first brewed in 2010 and first bottled in 2011. Interestingly, it’s a single hop beer, making use of the Citra hop in both the boil and the dry-hop stage. Let’s see how it performs.
The Anchor Brekle’s Brown is a pretty interesting beer, although not because of the standard brown ale aspects of it. Sure, the brown ale aspects are there, starting with a pretty hefty does of caramel malts in both the aroma and the flavor. However, what makes this beer a bit different is the cherry flavor that somehow appears. The first hint of cherries is in the aroma, where you get a sour cherry whiff. In the flavor, although initially the malts are strong, as it warms up the cherries become the most prominent in the flavor, and there’s a sweet and tart finish to it as well.
I don’t know enough about brewing or hops to tell if that’s the magic of the Citra hop, but if so, Anchor definitely made the right choice in going with a single-hop Citra brown ale for this. The cherries are awesome, and mixed with the caramel malts it’s a unique but very tasty combination. Although as mentioned above it’s not such an old beer, it is part of their regular lineup and shouldn’t be too hard to find. I purchased mine at Tokyo Liquor Land for 444 yen, which is very very cheap for an imported beer of this quality.
So today’s winner is clearly the Anchor Brekle’s Brown, but the North Island Brown Ale is also a fine enough beer, if not the most exciting and overpriced. In a somewhat rare development Tamamura Honten didn’t do so well with their Smoky Brown, but their previous So Sexy Brown brown ale was great, although no longer available. Ise Kadoya also make a brown ale, so we’ll evaluate that one too at some point.