We reviewed the excellent Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock not too long ago, so this time we’ll take a look at their regular Rauch. We’ll try the Tazawako Beer Rauch together with it, although style-wise the Tazawako is actually a rauch bock.
Fujizakura Heights Rauch (富士桜高原・ラオホ)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 21
Pour – Very deep red-brown, cloudy, lots of fluffy foam
Aroma – Nice and clean smoked nuts smell, also fruity
Flavor – Very malty at first, then a bit of sweetness, smoke really comes through on the finish along with slight fruitiness
Although Fujizakura Heights offer only four regular beers (the Rauch, Pils, Weizen, and Schwarz Weizen), they’re all quite good and well-received. In particular, the Weizen is very highly rated and probably serves as their signature beer, but in some ways the Rauch really helps them stand out from the rest of the German-style brewers in Japan. While weizens are quite common and almost everyone makes one, smoked beers are somewhat rare here, and while you might see the odd brewer try one here and there (in addition to the Tazawako which forms the last half of today’s review, I can only think of the not-so-stellar Tainai Kogen Rauch) they don’t form a large part of the beer landscape. So in not only just offering up a rauch, but doing it quite well gives Fujizakura Heights a slight push in terms of Japanese brewery street cred.
The beer has a bit of an interesting backstory – as the brewery and restaurant are located in a forest near Mt. Fuji, their head brewer was tasked with coming up with a smoked beer that would combine well with the smell of the trees around the brewery (people here are big on atmosphere). We’re trying it at home mostly surrounded by a rather urban potpourri, but let’s see if we can still capture some of that magic.
The Fujizakura Heights Rauch is a very very nice beer, and for me the best of their regular offerings. The aroma is quite punchy with the smoke, but also has a discernible fruitiness which is nice. The flavor also does a good job of not falling into the one-dimensional smoky trap, with lots of malts and sweetness to balance out the smokiness that really hits on the finish. It’s very flavorful but balanced, and the plum aspects of it were quite well done (and increased in influence as it warmed up). This is an excellent beer, and one I would be happy to drink any day.
A minor brewing note – while the rauchbier category basically just means any kind of smoked beer and doesn’t differentiate between ales and lagers, this particular one uses a lager yeast. That’s certainly not surprising, given that they specialize in German-style beers, but it’s worth mentioning. Purchasing-wise, I bought mine at Le Collier for 480 yen, which is pretty reasonable given the quality of this beer and the rarity of the style. An awesome beer, so pick it up if you can. Fujizakura Heights regular beers aren’t so easy to find in Tokyo, but Nomono, Liquors Hasegawa, and Tokyo Liquor Land also carry their regulars from time to time.
Tazawako Beer Rauch (田沢湖ビール・ラオホ)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 37
Pour – Reddish-orange, cloudy with lots of sediment, moderate foam that settles quickly
Aroma – Lots of plum and malts, smoke as well
Flavor – Plum and fruits are quite prominent, caramel, some malts as well, mild smokiness and bitterness near the end, also sweet on the finish
Tazawako Beer, based in Akita, is another one of the small-scale but relatively well-respected German-style brewers in Japan. Like many of the other small local breweries, they got their start soon after the beer liberalization laws and studied in Germany. I haven’t tried too many of their beers, but other than their oddball Buna no Mori “sour beer” (it’s not sour), I think they’re quite good – both their Dark Lager schwarz and Pilsner are very good. And so we approach the rauch (spoiler – I’ve had it before and like it) with great optimism…
The Tazawako Beer Rauch definitely holds its own in today’s rauch showdown, but really has a different approach. This beer tones down the smokiness and emphasizes other aspects of the beer, especially the fruits. It’s sweet overall but not overly so, and has enough smoke and bitterness to counteract it. Overall, it’s a very pleasant beer, and well-balanced if a bit mild.
It should also be noted that this is an ale, as opposed to the Fujizakura Heights Rauch which was a smoked lager. That explains in some ways the less malty character of the Tazawako version, along with the emphasis on the warmer fruit flavors. Ultimately, however, comparing the two I prefer the Fujizakura Heights, in that it really emphasizes the fact that it is a smoked beer while at the same time offering other flavors. The Tazawako seems a bit embarrassed at its smokiness, and tries to play it down as much as possible. They’re both flavorful, but I’ll take the Fujizakura Heights Rauch over the Tazawako Rauch. I should also point out again that the Tazawako Rauch is technically classified as a rauch bock (with the 7.5% ABV), and if you were to compare the Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock as well, it would win out hands down. So we learn once again that Fujizakura Heights are awesome, so don’t mess with them. That’s not to take anything away from Tazawako Beer, who are a good brewer in their own right (and their Dark Lager runs circles around the Fujizakura Heights Dark Lager), but yes, Fujizakura Heights are good. Buy their rauch when you can!
Brief Tazawako purchasing note – I’ve only ever seen the Tazawako Rauch at Tokyo Liquor Land, and only in May/June at that. It’s fairly pricey at 873 yen, and it’s a good beer so definitely worth trying once. But for repeated tastings though, the Fujizakura Heights Rauch is not only much cheaper but also a better beer, so go with that one as your go-to smoked beer.