We’ve been meaning to get around to this one for a while now, as it’s a very basic comparison – the two most well-known and widely available imperial IPAs in Japan. Today we’ll finally review the Tamamura Honten House IPA and the Baird Suruga Bay Imperial IPA.
Tamamura Honten House IPA
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – ~95
Pour – Apple juice gold, not too much carbonation for an IPA, cloudy
Aroma – Lots of melon, citrus, hops
Flavor – Very bitter on the finish, a little bit of melon initially but not as much fruit as you would expect from the aroma, pine and malt also in there but bitterness is the thing here
Since Tamamura Honten’s brewing philosophy can mostly be summed up by the equation more hops = more bitterness = better beer, it’s no surprise that their most bitter beer is server as their flagship. That, of course, is their House IPA, whose stated IBU fluctuates from time to time but is around the 95 mark. While I personally prefer the Indian Summer Saison, the House IPA is also a good one so let’s carry on with the show.
The Tamamura Honten House IPA is a nicely bitter beer, but also with a good amount of malts and pine. The aroma has lots and lots of fruit, which is quite pleasant, but the flavor doesn’t quite have as much citrus and fruit to as you might expect given the aroma. This leads to a slightly unbalanced effect in favor of the bitterness, so you might quibble with it there. Overall, though, it does have enough of the other elements and let’s face it, bitter is good! It’s a nicely done imperial IPA, and certainly one of the better ones in Japan.
One of the benefits of the House IPA is that it’s also relatively easy to find and a pretty good deal. It used to available at Le Collier for under 500 yen, but unfortunately Le Collier has shut down. Nomono also carries it sometimes for under 500 yen, but as that’s a bit out of the way your next best bet would be Deguchiya, which almost always has it and where I bought mine for 540 yen. Liquors Hasegawa also carries it but at a little bit higher price, and Shinanoya also carries it from time to time (don’t remember how much it costs there, but they normally have very good prices on their beers).
Baird Suruga Bay Imperial IPA (ベアードビール・スルガベイインペリアルIPA)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 90
Pour – More orange, like grapefruit juice, also not too carbonated
Aroma – Very sweet aroma, lots of sugar, just a hint of citrus
Flavor – Quite malty, a bit of a bitter and dry finish but not so much, some pine, a little citrus
Similar to how the House IPA serves as Tamamura Honten’s flagship beer, the Suruga Bay Imperial IPA also fills that role for Baird. Baird aren’t really known for their hoppy beers, but the Suruga Bay draws the most attention out of their regular lineup. I slightly prefer either their Angry Boy Brown Ale or their Kurofune Porter, but the Suruga Bay also tends to be a solid choice and is quite popular at their taprooms.
There isn’t too much of interest in their brewing notes, although they do take the opportunity to emphasize that they are using krausening (which basically involves adding actively fermenting wort to the beer right before packaging to ensure that live yeast will continue to ferment in the bottle/keg) in order to bottle-condition and naturally carbonate their beers. One other thing that I’ve just realized is that they always use sugar in their brewing process, which certainly isn’t unusual for beer in general but does not seem to be so common with Japanese craft breweries (Japan has relatively strict labeling regulations and Baird always has sugar on there whereas most other Japanese breweries do not, although I can’t be 100% sure that it would always appear on the ingredient list). The sugar won’t of course necessarily make it sweeter, although that’s one of the possible outcomes – it could also make it drier, lighter, or simply increase the ABV. Anyway, let’s see how the Suruga Bay fares in our imperial IPA comparison.
The Baird Suruga Bay Imperial IPA is very much a Baird beer. A strong malty base, balanced in the sense that it has a couple of different things happening, but too subdued to really be an excellent beer. It’s got some bitterness, but not so much; it’s got a little citrus, but not so much; it’s got a little pine, but not so much. It does have a lot of malts though, as many of their beers tend to. So again, not a terrible effort, but a bit too malty without enough of the bitterness to balance that out for my tastes.
Baird beers are in general pretty widely available, although I’ve also found that some of their regular beers are harder to find than others. The Suruga Bay isn’t always around at the usual suspects, but in general if you try the usual places (Deguchiya, Liquors Hasegawa, Tanakaya, Shinanoya, up until now Le Collier) you should be able to find it. It’s normally cheaper than the Tamamura Honten House IPA – I bought mine at Le Collier for 530 yen, but Le Collier tends to be more expensive for Baird beers. You should be able to find this for less than 500 yen at places like Tanakaya or Deguchiya or Shinanoya, which is a decent price for a decent imperial IPA.
Compared to the Tamamura Honten House IPA though, I would take the House IPA – just a lot stronger on the flavors in general, and I do like that bitterness. The Suruga Bay does have a slightly higher ABV though, if that is what you’re looking for! But in general, Tamamura Honten just make bolder and more flavorful beers than Baird, and that turns out to hold true in their imperial IPAs as well.
There actually aren’t a lot of bottled imperial IPAs in Japan – on tap the Shonan W-IPA was pretty awesome (even better than the Tamamura Honten House IPA), but not only did I never see a bottle it appears to have been retired by Shonan. I can’t recall seeing many other bottled imperial IPAs, but we’ll definitely pick them up when we do.