Blueberry beer? Not so common, whether in Japan or anywhere else, but Minamishinshu makes one (although we did review the Songbird Myrtille Noir that used blueberries a while ago). So today we’ll take a look at the Minamishinshu Blueberry Hop, and since they also make an apple beer we’ll try the Minamishinshu Apple Hop along with it.
Minamishinshu Blueberry Hop (南信州ビール・ブルーベリーホップ)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Cloudy ruby red grapefruit juice color, not much fizz
Aroma – Soft fruit juice and hop aroma, malts
Flavor – Slight sour and tart berry, finish is actually quite malty, malts become more prominent as it warms up and fruit fades a bit, becomes a bit lactic
Fruit beers are tough to pull off, and while Minamishinshu isn’t the best craft brewer in Japan their Apple Hop is relatively well-respected. The Blueberry Hop is not quite as well-known but as blueberry beers are relatively rare here it’s a welcome sight and one we’re excited about trying. From a brewing note perspective, Minamishinshu don’t say that much about it but it appears that the blueberries come from a town in Nagano called Oshikamura. I’ve never heard of this town either, but apparently its claim to fame is that the movie Someday (Japanese title: 大鹿村騒動記) was set there, although the movies itself seems to have nothing to do with either blueberries or beer. I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t say anything about that, so let’s move on to the beer.
The Minamishinshu Blueberry Hop is an interesting attempt at a fruit beer. I like the initial tart and sour berry (well, sour by Japanese beer standards at least), but there’s also a strong malt presence which becomes even stronger over time. Despite the “Hop” in the name there isn’t much hop flavor, although you can get them in the initial aroma. The beer doesn’t do too well as it warms up though, as it becomes a bit too malty and the berries start to taste like lactose, leaving a strange combination of flavors at the end. Bonus points for a rare style of beer, and a beautiful pink color.
It’s hard not to compare this though to the North Island x Mikkeller Haskap Blonde collaboration from last year, though, which was also a berry beer with a very similar color. The Haskap Blonde did much better overall with the tartness and bitterness, and while I really loved that one, for the Blueberry Hop I can say that I applaud them for brewing this beer but don’t think it’s a fantastic end product.
Minamishinshu Apple Hop (南信州ビール・アップルホップ)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Cloudy gold, yes, like apple juice
Aroma – Banana wheat, some apple there, apple gets stronger over time
Flavor – Lots of cloves and banana, quite fizzy, then definitely malty apple on the finish, also still lots of cloves on the finish
While the Blueberry Hop is somewhat rare here, the Apple Hop, on the other hand, is seen pretty frequently on tap at many of the craft beer bars around town. In many ways this is their flagship beer, and certainly the one they are most recognized for.
They now brew this beer year-round, but it being Japan where there are lots of different kinds of apples, they make this beer with lots of different kinds of apples. The list includes Tsugaru, Kougyoku (Jonathan), Shinano Sweet, Ourin, Jona Gold, Shinano Gold, and Fuji. This particular one we’re trying now is Fuji, as can be identified by the little sticker on the label.
If you’re interested in apple varieties, Fuji apples originated from Aomori in Japan, which continues to be the largest producer in Japan of Fuji apples, followed by Nagano (where Minamishinshu is located). Fuji apples are known for being very sweet and packed with flavor, and also have a long shelf-life and are available year-round, which makes them quite popular all over the world. In Japan it’s the best-selling apple, and in the US ranks 4th or 5th in terms of production.
In terms of the production of the Apple Hop, Minamishinshu are fairly strict about the apples they select for the beer. They only use apples grown in Nagano, and they make sure to only use apples that would have been destined to the table but were not able to be sold because of superficial damage to the outside of the apple. They pay very close attention to restrictions on pesticide usage, and go so far as to measure the chemical content of the apples they are using for their beer and publish them here.
The Minamishinshu Apple Hop shares some qualities with its blueberry sibling – namely the malt base that comes through quite clearly. They’re both also not too heavy on the fruit, something that many Japanese fruit beers quite frequently are, which ends up leaving the beer feeling artificial. However, they do also have their differences – the Apple Hop is quite fizzy in texture, whereas the Blueberry Hop wasn’t quite as much. There’s a slight difference in the malt content as well – the Apple Hop notes less than 25% malts in the ingredient list, and the Blueberry Hop lists over 50%. Can you taste it? Perhaps, as the Blueberry Hop is much maltier, especially as it warms up.
The one thing about the Apple Hop that really sticks out, however, is the banana clove aspect of it. It dominates the beer, really, and ends up tasting a bit like a weizen with some apple thrown in. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, and again, the fact that the apple doesn’t dominate the flavor is much appreciated. There are malts and banana wheat happening, and while it doesn’t make for the greatest beer it’s a good effort.
So both the Blueberry Hop and Apple Hop end up in a similar place – interesting, especially in light of the fact that most fruit beers in Japan are terrible and these aren’t, but also not great when compared to foreign fruit beers. I like both of these beers and wouldn’t refuse another glass, although I may not necessarily go out of my way to try them again. So in that light, yes, damning with faint praise, but decent fruit beer in Japan! Worth something, at least.
Perhaps in the future we’ll round up different apple version of the beer and see if we can detect any differences based on the apple variety – now that would be interesting!