The India Pale Lager style is not too common in Japan, so I was excited to pick up a couple of local varieties. We’ve got the Hansharo Bait Trap IPL, the Baird Hatsujozo 2016 India Pale Lager, and the Ballast Point Fathom IPL for comparison.
Hansharo Bait Trap IPL (反射炉ビヤ・ベイトトラップIPL)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Grapefruit juice orange-pink, cloudy, not much carbonation but stays
Aroma – Lots of hops, grapefruit, more tropical fruit and melon as it warms up
Flavor – Fizzy, initially a bit malty and bready, then very sweet, finally hop bitter finish that lingers but also with citrus, overall a bit sugary
For those not familiar with the India Pale Lager style, it’s essentially what it sounds like – an IPA but with lager yeast instead of ale yeast. While in some ways it’s very American in the sense that you just take whatever beer style and then add tons of hops to it, the theory behind it is that by using a clean lager yeast they can emphasize the hop characteristics even more. However, there is quite a range of interpretations here (and the style is quite new), so you get some IPLs that are very close to IPAs and some IPLs that are much closer to lagers. On balance, though, we can basically expect to see beers that share both the malt characteristics of lagers and hop characteristics of IPAs. Let’s take a look at our first effort from Hansharo.
Hansharo is a relatively minor brewery located in Izu-no-Kuni in Shizuoka. They don’t necessarily get around that much (for a while, Le petit L’ouest was the only game in town for their bottles), but what the beers that are available I’ve generally found to be pretty good. I especially thought that their Daiginjo Masako sake beer was quite interesting, and I found their Nohei Steam and Yoritomo Porter to also be pretty good efforts.
The Hansharo Bait Trap IPL also qualifies as a decent effort, but ultimately I find it too sweet and sugary. The aroma on this is great, though, with lots of tropical fruit and grapefruit, but eventually the sweetness becomes too overwhelming. The sugars become stronger as it warms up, and by the end they dominate even the bitter finish. It’s a shame, though, as this beer has the potential to be a good one – the initial breadiness is nice, and if they could tone down the sweetness if would make for a pretty good combination of malts, hops, and fruit.
It may not be so easy to track down this beer though – this was a fairly limited run and it’s already sold out from their website. As mentioned above Le petit L’ouest in Shimo-kitazawa use to be the only place to get Hansharo bottles in Tokyo, but this bottle I picked up at Tokyo Liquor Land. It’s not a terrible beer, especially at first, and if you’re interested in checking out Hansharo you may as well pick one up if you see one.
Minor brewing note – they do also make an IPA called the Bait Trap IPA, but as they haven’t published the brewing details for the IPL I can’t say for certain how much they share in common.
Baird Hatsujozo 2016 India Pale Lager (ベアードビール・初醸造2016インディアペールラガー)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 70
Pour – Gold-orange, lots and lots of foam
Aroma – Very very malty with sugar, caramel, grain
Flavor – As with the aroma quite malty, earthy bitter finish, texture is clean and crisp
In Japan, the first (x) of the new year often carries meaning, and especially important is the concept of the first shrine/temple visit of the year. Many people, instead of ringing in the new year in a massive crowd in a plaza waiting for fireworks, ring in the new year in a massive crowd at a shrine or temple, waiting for the clock to hit twelve. It’s called hatsumoude, and even has an English Wikipedia entry. It’s a big deal here, and most people will visit a shrine/temple (perhaps we’ll cover this later but of course while shrines are Shinto and temples are Buddhist in some contexts in Japan they are interchangeable) not too long after New Year’s Day to pray for good luck/good health/good test scores in the coming year.
So piggybacking off of that concept, Baird has a tradition of releasing Hatsujozo beers. Hatsujozo (初醸造), literally, means first brewing – 初 (hatsu) is first, and 醸造 (jouzou) means to brew. Baird has releases them on or shortly after New Year’s Day, but of course, to release a beer on New Year’s Day, it has to be brewed before then, not really making it the first brewing of the year, but more the first sales of the year. This year’s batch, for example, while released on New Year’s Day was actually brewed November 21 of 2015.
Anyway, I digress – let’s review their brewing notes before moving on to the review.
Whereas more IPLs are more IPA than lager, the Baird Hatsujozo 2016 IPL is very much a lager. The aroma is quite malty and has a fair amount of grain in it, and the taste as well if very heavy on the malt. While the hops are certainly there, as the brewing notes state they are German, and that means you get a much more earthy feel to the hops than the citrus blast you would get with American hops.
In that sense this is much more of an imperial lager than a lager version of an IPA, and while that’s less common for an IPL in my experience, that’s OK. It really is an amped up lager, with a lot of malts and earthy hops, with the ABV right up there at IPA levels at 7%. It’s not the most exciting beer out there, but solidly executed if you know what to expect. For those expecting something more approaching an IPA, this will disappoint, but if you want a strong German-style lager with a noticeable hop presence this fits the bill.
Ballast Point Fathom IPL
Package: 12 fl oz can
Misc: IBU – 70
Pour – Very golden in color, lots of foam, cloudy
Aroma – Lots of citrus, some pine as well, dirty
Flavor – Initially quite sweet with some malts, then hops start to shine through with very bitter finish but also with some grapefruit tartness on the finish as well, gets very sweet as it warms up
This is our first Ballast Point review – of course, they’re one of the best-known breweries in San Diego, and distributed globally. Of course, the big Ballast Point news was that they were bought by the massive beverage conglomerate Constellation Brands (of Corona and Negra Modelo fame) for a whopping $1 billion in December of 2015. Before then Ballast Point had actually filed for an IPO, so clearly they were looking to grow and were looking for a cash injection. Clearly they get that with this deal with Constellation, so we’ll see how it goes – there’s a great write-up of the transaction here. So yeah… they sold out… but here we are with the Fathom IPL anyway so let’s give it a go.
The Ballast Point Fathom IPL is an interesting, if not altogether successful, take on the IPL. While at first it is quite sweet, the initial sweetness is balanced out somewhat by the malts. The finish is quite bitter with the citrus hops, and there’s also a nice tartness on the finish. However, much like with the Hansharo IPL, the sweetness eventually takes over and becomes way too much. At first, before it warms up, the flavor profile is interesting in the way that initially it is very much lager, and then as it progresses through it is very much West Coast IPA. However, when it warms up a bit, the sweetness takes over to the point where it becomes overwhelming.
The profile is not far off from the Hansharo, but the Hansharo is a bit more timid about it’s lager-ness, and while the malts are there you get the sense that it’s trying to emphasize the IPA part of its heritage. The Ballast Point is fine splitting its time evenly between lager and IPA, but ultimately both are done in by the sweetness.
So once the Constellation deal with Ballast Point settles down, presumably they’ll be hawking them from every street corner, but even now Ballast Point is pretty well-distributed in Japan. You can find them at Liquors Hasegawa and Deguchiya among others, although the only place I’ve seen the Fathom so far is at Tokyo Liquor Land, which is where I bought this one.
Taking everything into account, it just might be that the Baird Hatsujozo IPL, which is definitely more lager than IPA, takes it. I don’t think the Hatsujozo IPL is a stunning beer, but without an overwhelming flaw I think it takes this round. The Hansharo and Ballast Point are both too sweet, but the IPA qualities of those nonetheless make for an interesting comparison with the lager qualities of the Baird. The Fathom should not be hard to find, but the Japanese IPLs won’t be around much longer so if you’re interested pick them up now while you can.