Following up on our Daisen G and North Island IPA review, we’re looking at two more local standard IPAs here, although neither are all that common in bottles. Today we have the Shonan Beer IPA and the Aqula Namahage IPA.
Shonan Beer IPA (湘南ビール・IPA)
Package: 300mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 45
Pour – Orange gold, fluffy and creamy
Aroma – Noticeable malts, sweet, slight hint of fruit
Flavor – Definitely malty, lots of pine, slightly bready on the finish, a little bit of dry bitterness at the end as well, tinge of grapefruit
We haven’t covered too many Shonan Beer products here, mostly because their bottles are pretty hard to come by. However, they make some of the best beers in Japan, and among the very best of theirs is their W-IPA. It’s super citrusy and bitter, and just very flavorful and balanced. Their Belgian Stout might actually be the single best beer I’ve had in Japan, and their Imperial Stout is right up there with the Swan Lake Imperial Stout vying for best imperial stout in Japan. So yes, we like Shonan Beer, with the usual caveat of their bottles not only being generally not available but also being green and only 300mL.
The Shonan IPA is, however, quite frankly a disappointment. As we mentioned above, Shonan Beer are usually very very good, and especially their W-IPA and Black IPA are pretty awesome. This regular IPA, though, is very middling, and while it’s certainly an acceptable IPA it’s nothing memorable. It’s very piney, with lots of malt, and some but not much bitterness. If it wasn’t Shonan Beer it would be a perfectly acceptable IPA, which it is, but Shonan can do much better.
As with most Shonan Beer products, this beer isn’t easy to track down. I found mine at Tanakaya for 511 yen (again, for the 300mL green bottle), and I think there are much better deals out there if you want just a regular IPA. The best is probably the Shiga Kogen IPA, which you can find bottles of for less than 400 yen, or if you want to pay a little bit more you could go with the North Island IPA, although that will set you back about 650 yen. Anyway, the main point is that there are much better regular IPAs at both lower and higher price points in Japan, so I don’t think there’s much value in seeking out the Shonan IPA. But do keep an eye out for their awesome W-IPA!.
Aqula Namahage IPA (あくらビール・なまはげIPA)
RateBeer (as Kiwi IPA)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 55; hops – Motueka, Nelson Sauvin
Pour – Beautiful orange-ish ruby red, cloudy, mild carbonation
Aroma – Passion fruit, bubble gum
Flavor – Lots of passion fruit, transitions to bubble gum and pine, dry and bitter finish, fruit also there at the end
Aqula aren’t really one of the premium craft brewers in Japan, as we saw when we reviewed their two regular Helles beers (the Akita Bijin no Biru and the Nme Neiger). However, in the craft beer world here, their Kiwi IPA served basically as their flagship beer, and was a well-respected IPA that could be found on tap at a lot of the good beer places around town. The Kiwi IPA, though, wasn’t available in bottles, although it must have been a common request that they received. However, about a year ago, they started to package just a small quantity in bottles, and only distributed it to members of their beer club. Finally, a few months ago they released it to the general public, but this time with a new name – the Namahage IPA. It is, for all intents and purposes, the Kiwi IPA, but as we’ll get into below it’s not clear if it is indeed actually the same beer.
A quick naming note – Namahage is an ancient demon native to Akita (where Aqula is located) that they trot out every year during the New Year’s festivities. I’ll admit that it’s a fairly frightening looking thing, so I suppose it’s a decent enough thing to name your beer after. Aqula quite like it apparently, as they also have a bock beer called the Namahage Bock, so it’s a good fallback for a strong beer name that has local connections.
The Aqula Namahage IPA is, in many ways, a test of how much passion fruit you like in your IPAs. This beer is very very strong on the passion fruit in both the aroma and the palate, and veers off into bubble gum territory at least more than once. I’m not too fond of the bubble gum, but I do like the passion fruit combined with the hop bitterness, and overall it works for me.
I do have some doubts about it though, and one of the main ones is I wonder if they have been tinkering with this beer for the worse. I remember having this on tap a few years ago, and it was fantastic – lots of melon, kiwi, tropical fruit, etc. along with the same dry bitter finish, and without the candy bubble gum. As we mentioned above the name of the beer has changed, and while of course there could be any number of reasons why they would change the name, I feel like this isn’t quite the same beer that was so loved by all on tap a couple of years ago. I know that personally for me as well, the bubble gum here is a noticeable difference that works against it, and prevents me from endorsing this beer as wholeheartedly as I would have the old Kiwi IPA.
So summing up, the Aqula Namahage IPA is a solid IPA, and certainly delivers some strong flavors. Some of you may find the passion fruit a bit too strong, or the bubble gum a bit too noticeable, and that’s understandable. Warts and all though, I think it works better than the Shonan IPA, which is not bad but ultimately pretty forgettable. They’re about equivalent in price, so perhaps the best way to compare them is to say that the Shonan is the safer choice, but the Aqula the more flavorful choice. Neither competes for the title of best IPA in Japan, but as we said above, if that’s what you’re looking for, go for the North Island or the Shiga Kogen (note – this is not best imperial IPA – that would be a very different discussion!).