Baird are generally pretty solid with their dark beers, so with the release of the seasonal Pacific Porter we thought it would also be a good chance to review their regular Kurofune Porter.
Baird Kurofune Porter (ベアードビール・黒船ポーター)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 35
Pour – Very close to black, moderate but a bit creamy foam
Aroma – Lots of chocolate, roasted nuts, a touch of raisin
Flavor – Moderate at first with some malts, very slowly develops a coffee bitterness, slightly creamy, smooth, a bit of sweetness on the finish but restrained
Baird have a habit of incorporating local references into their beer names, especially their year-round ones. These include the Numazu Lager (Numazu is the fish market where they first got started), the Shuzenji Heritage Helles (Shuzenji is where their brewery is currently located), and the Suruga Bay Imperial IPA (Suruga Bay is the name of the big bay in Shizuoka where they are).
The Kurofune Porter, while it doesn’t have a proper noun in the name, is actually also a local geographical reference. Kurofune (黒船) literally means black ship, and of course black ships are most commonly associated with Commodore Matthew Perry, who was, essentially, one of the first American imperialists to arrive in Japan. At that time was closed off to the rapidly modernizing world with an isolationist policy, until
Tom Cruise Commodore Perry arrived and opened up Japan to foreign trade using the subtle arts of gunboat diplomacy.
Perry first landed in Edo in 1853, and after a prolonged period of threats and counter-threats, negotiations ultimately concluded with the signing of the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854, which officially opened the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate and established an American consulate in Shimoda. Shimoda, of course, is located in Shizuoka, and there’s even a bust of Perry in Shimoda to commemorate, well, I’m not sure exactly what they would want to commemorate about the whole affair.
So there’s the local connection to the name – and what does this have to do with the beer? Nothing, naturally, so let’s get on with it.
The Baird Kurofune Porter is a fairly solid porter, which exhibits a good amount of balance. It’s malty, roasty, sweet, and coffee bitter, all in a good amount without anything being too much. It is a tad on the thin side, although it is still smooth and has a slightly creaminess to it. Overall, though, it’s a good porter, and one of their better regular beers. In fact, it may be the best regular beer they make, especially when you consider that there aren’t that many great porters around in Japan. It’s also very very very cheap (405 yen at Tanakaya!), which is a great price for what may be the best all-around porter in Japan.
Baird Pacific Porter (ベアードビール・パシフィックポーター)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 40; hops – GR Taurus, NZ Wakatu & JP Shinshuwase
Pour – Soft darkish brown, good foam that stays
Aroma – Strong on the cherry, fruity and sugary
Flavor – Cherry and plum, sweetness increases especially in the middle, then fades to a roast chocolate finish, a bit of breadiness on the finish as well with a lingering sweetness
While the regular Kurofune Porter is a standard, albeit good, robust porter, the Pacific Porter is Baird’s take on a Baltic Porter, even though RateBeer categorizes it as just a porter. The major difference between the Baltic Porter and the standard porter is that porters are ales, and the traditional Baltic Porter is a lager (some brewers do up a Baltic Porter with ale yeast, but usually they are done with lager yeast). While like every other style of beer you can find plenty of examples made by modern craft brewers, it’s not all that common still.
The Baltic Porter is often described as the imperial stout of lagers, and that comparison makes sense. They are generally the strongest dark beer in their respective categories, and share characteristics of roast, chocolate, sweetness, and fruit over bitterness. They also tend to be pretty high in ABV, and while the Baird Pacific Porter only weighs in at a measly 8%, there are plenty of examples that are 10% or more.
The Baird Baltic Porter is also brewed using lager yeast, and does exhibit a lot of the characteristics mentioned above. It has a lot of cherry and plum, which is noticeable right off the bat in both the aroma and the flavor and is quite nice. It’s also got the roast, and the malts and sweetness as well. The most prominent aspect is the fruit initially, which is good, and the sweetness accelerates on the finish and as it warms up, which could be open to interpretation. It certainly isn’t too sweet overall though, and it’s a fine Baltic Porter indeed.
It’s not really fair to make a direct comparison between the two, as a standard porter and Baltic Porter will be quite different. The Kurofune Porter could use a small improvement in texture, but in general is a flavorful and well-balanced beer, and as I mentioned before this beer would contend for best regularly available porter in Japan. The Pacific Porter also does well, and with its strong fruity notes make for a great read on a style you don’t see too much here. In fact, I’m trying to think of any other local Baltic Porters and am drawing a blank – victory by default! But yes, Baird do well by their dark beers, and these are two good examples of that. The Pacific Porter is a spring seasonal and may not be available anymore, but the Kurofune Porter is a regular and should be around. That said, I find the Kurofune to be hard to come across still – many places that have other Baird regulars seem to be out of stock of the Kurofune often (or don’t carry it at all), such as Le Collier, Liquors Hasegawa, and Tokyo Liquor Land. But it’s a good beer and very affordable, so pick it up if you can!