Following up on our review of the Tamamura Honten Drunk Coffee Kibiru, today we’ll be looking at probably the two most prominent Japanese coffee stouts. First we have the Baird Morning Coffee Stout, and then we’ll go to the Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout.
Baird Morning Coffee Stout (ベアードビール・モーニングコーヒースタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 40; hops – US Galena, Northern Brewer
Pour – Cloudy deep brown-black, not too foamy but nice chocolate lacing
Aroma – Very strong roast coffee aroma, chocolate, very nice
Flavor – Smooth texture, coffee roast bitterness is quite strong, develops a bit sharply as it continues, finish is very sharp and bitter
Much like Tamamura Honten have Trunk Coffee from Nagoya as their go-to collaborator for coffee beers, it appears Baird have found their coffee muse as well. They work with Hug Coffee in Shizuoka (where Baird are based), and while in the past they used to change up the coffee provider they’ve gone with Hug Coffee for two years in a row now. This year’s version of the Morning Coffee Stout uses the Holiday Blend, which is source from Los Pomos of Colombia and Kirinyaga of Kenya.
The Baird Morning Coffee Stout is a fairly good effort, with a wonderful aroma to start things off. It smells of a very nice roast coffee and chocolate, and the coffee feel carries over immediately to the flavor. Initially the chocolate and the coffee sense blend together quite nicely, but if I have a complaint about this beer it would be that the coffee bitterness overpowers the stout aspects of the beer. Ultimately this leads to the beer feeling a bit harsh, and dampens the initial enthusiasm I had for the beer. Still, it’s far better than I remember it being last year, and even though I wouldn’t say it’s an amazing beer it’s still a good one and worth trying.
Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout (常陸野ネストビール・エスプレッソスタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 36; hops – Chinook, Kent Golding
Pour – Good foam, black, appears thick
Aroma – Gentle roasted chocolate, very subtle, also malts
Flavor – Light and fizzy at first, a bit of hop bitterness in the middle, chocolate bitter on the finish, then long after comes a bit of coffee bite, some lingering sweetness, malts as it warms up
Hitachino Nest, as we’ve mentioned before, is probably the Japanese brewery that gets the most exposure in the West. Some of that is timing, as they were earlier in the game than most of the other major players here, and some of that is due to a focus on making their name overseas. Some would actually say they focus a lot more on the overseas market than the domestic market, and that has a certain element of truth to it. The Espresso Stout, in fact, is said to have been brewed with the export market in mind rather than the domestic market, and that very well may be true given that a coffee stout couldn’t have been expected to do very well in Japan before the recent craft beer boom.
If that was indeed their thinking, it certainly worked – on RateBeer this beer has been the number one Japanese beer for some time now, although of course personally I can think of many beers I’d put ahead of it. But if you look at the rankings a bit more carefully, you can see that it has way more ratings than any of the other contenders, and either due to the RateBeer algorithm or the bandwagon effect the Espresso Stout sits above many more-deserving brews.
But enough griping! The Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout does indeed use roasted espresso beans, but the effect is quite subdued. Overall the sense is of a very well-made stout with a hint of coffee on the finish. As a stout it works very well, with noticeable malts and hops to go with the expected roasted chocolate, and only at the finish do you get some of the coffee bitterness mixes with some sweetness. It’s a good balance that works quite well, and I quite enjoyed it.
In some ways how much you like this beer might depend on how much coffee you want in your coffee beer. I usually find myself disappointed somewhat in coffee beers because they tend to heavily emphasize the coffee aspect, so I really liked the Hitachino Nest approach of basically brewing a great stout and adding some coffee hints to it. Baird takes the standard approach and really goes heavy on the coffee – in fact, you can see this difference from the labels. As Japanese labeling regulations require that the percentage of “beer ingredients” (malts and hops, essentially) be noted, we can see that the Baird is at 50% whereas the Hitachino Nest is at 99%. That would explain the big difference in how the coffee is perceived in the beers – coffee dominates the Baird, and provides a nice accent to the Hitachino Nest.
Since that’s the perspective that I come at it from, I much prefer the Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout to the Baird Morning Coffee Stout. The Hitachino Nest is available year-round and runs about 500 yen, which is not as cheap as most other Hitachino Nest beers but is still quite reasonable, so it’s definitely a beer that can and should be enjoyed regularly. While I still don’t think it deserves its number one ranking on RateBeer, it’s a very good beer. You shouldn’t have much trouble tracking it down (Liquors Hasegawa, Yamaya, even Don Quixote), and not so expensive. The Baird is also worth trying once, and in fact this pairing makes a great comparison in that while they are both coffee stouts they use the coffee quite differently.
There aren’t too many coffee stouts in Japan yet, but Ise Kadoya did have a Mandheling-based stout last year, so if they release it again this year we’ll take a look at it.