Red IPAs aren’t such a popular style, either here or elsewhere. The only Japanese one we’ve reviewed before is the Iwate Kura Bravo! R-IPA so we were definitely interested in the Tamamura Honten Not So Red that was just released recently. For comparison we’ll also review the 8 Wired Tall Poppy India Red Ale.
Tamamura Honten Not So Red / IPA #13
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 60
Pour – Very cloudy, reddish-brown, not much carbonation
Aroma – Soft citrus hops, slightly sweet
Flavor – Initially somewhat malty with a bit of bitterness, then finish becomes very dry and hop bitter
Tamamura Honten, of course, are all about their hoppy beers. In fact, they’ve never been huge fans of red/amber beers, and this is basically their first beer that might fall under this category. Naturally, though, they’ve added tons of hops to it, with the main hop used being the relatively new HBC 431. This new hop, by the way, is a pretty interesting one, and is described as being the hop of the future in that it moves past the citrus-heavy hops that are all the rage now into more “earth, woody” characteristics. And with all of the heavy hopping, this red ale (which of course they also note as their 13th IPA) is indeed spec-ed more like an IPA, with an ABV of 6% and 60 IBUs.
The Tamamura Honten Not So Red is, in many ways, what you would expect out of Tamamura Honten. It’s heavy on the hops and the bitterness, and perhaps focuses a bit on that at the expense of other characteristics of the style. For example, as a nod to the red/amber style while there is a slight maltiness to it that you don’t normally get from their beers, it soon turns to a very dry, hoppy, bitter finish. This in and of itself isn’t a problem, and it’s something they do well, but it would have been nice to see a bit more caramel and sweetness to try to bring out a bit of a different character to the beer. Given the excitement about the HBC 431 hop of the future, this beer really didn’t bring out those woody or earthy tones, and indeed behaved similarly to their other hoppy IPAs.
This beer saw distribution at the normal places that carry Tamamura Honten seasonals, like Tanakaya and Liquors Hasegawa. I actually found this one at Shinanoya for 454 yen, and while they occasionally carry Tamamura Honten seasonals they definitely do not carry them all. This particular beer didn’t seem to be such a big hit locally, so it’s quite possible that this will be a one-off and they won’t release it again. In any case, it’s probably already gone from the shelves but if you do see it and are interested, you should grab it because it may not come around again for a while.
8 Wired Tall Poppy
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 60; hops – Warrior, Columbus, Simcoe, Amarillo
Pour – Dark amber, moderate carbonation, clear
Aroma – Sweet malts and caramel, citrus hops
Flavor – Solid malt base, sweet and bitter in the middle, followed by slight citrus tang and caramel on the finish, lingering sweetness but with soft bitterness throughout
8 Wired Brewing is a very well-respected brewery based in New Zealand, although their founder and head brewer is a Danish man by the name of Søren Eriksen who got started home brewing in Australia (and also happens to be a champion poker player). Interestingly their name is derived from a specific gauge of wire that apparently serves as the duct tape of New Zealand. In any case, they regularly pop up on best breweries of the world lists, so in a relatively short amount of time they’ve managed to make their mark on the craft beer scene in a big way.
The 8 Wired Tall Poppy is more true to style in terms of approach to a red ale, with a heavy dose of malts and caramel. However, there’s just enough bitterness to balance it, and a little bit of a citrus infusion. It is on the sweet side, and although that is what you would expect out of a red ale it may be a bit too much for some. Personally, I find it to be a well-done beer, and I like the fact that they’ve kept most of the characteristics of a red ale but added a touch of bitterness and citrus to it. Quite enjoyable, and something I would seek out again.
Comparing the Tall Poppy to the Not So Red, even though they share similar specs (note the identical 60 IBU), the Not So Red focuses on the bitterness, whereas the Tall Poppy actual doesn’t play very bitter at all – it’s more of a slight accent to the malt aspects. The Tall Poppy is also sweeter, and that may be a result of having a higher ABV at 7%. It’s interesting to try these two beers side-by-side and see how even with similar style and specs you can end up with two very different beers.
Purchasing note – 8 Wired are beginning to make some inroads in Japan, and while I haven’t seen them on tap yet their bottles can be found at the usual suspects. I bought this one at Shinanoya in Shibuya for 604 yen, but I’ve also seen bottles at Tokyo Liquor Land and Liquors Hasegawa, and while I can’t recall seeing it at Tanakaya I’d be surprised if they didn’t have it there. Given the generally high cost of living in New Zealand I’d consider 600 yen a bargain for this beer, although of course it’s still more expensive than the Tamamura Honten offering.
The other hoppy red beer we still haven’t managed to review here is the Ise Kadoya Imperial Red Ale, which is quite nice. We’ll see if we can pull up any other bitter reds to put it up against.