It’s been a while since our last pilsner review, and sometimes you just want those bready malts. Today we’ve got a couple of Japanese standard offerings in the Tainai Kogen Pilsner and the North Island Pilsner, and from Sweden we have the CAP Bohemian Rhapsody.
Tainai Kogen Pilsner (胎内高原ビール・ピルスナー)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Bright gold, cloudy, healthy foam
Aroma – Malty sugar, some noticeable earth, bit of lemon
Flavor – Very creamy texture, a bit sweet with both malt and citrus, earthy bitter on finish, somewhat grassy as well, more creamy citrus as it warms up but also a lot more malts and sugar
This is our first look at Tainai Kogen, so let’s take brief look at the brewery. Located in Niigata-ken, they first started brewing in 1998 with an imported German brewmaster. From said brewmaster they learned all about the Reinheitsgebot beer purity law, and are very proud of still strictly following that German brewing philosophy. Of course, that means that their beer lineup is relatively limited, with a pilsner, alt, and weizen making up their regular lineup. I have also had their Rauch (which was unfortunately quite poor), and they’ve just released a bottled Citra Weizen that may be worth a look.
The Tainai Kogen Pilsner is a fairly well-done German pilsner. It has good balance and a lot of different nuances of flavor, including malt, citrus, earth, and bitterness. It’s relatively mild and not the most exciting beer in the world, and it does get to be a bit too malty sweet as it warms up, but overall it’s an enjoyable pilsner. I wouldn’t put it up there with the best pilsners in Japan but at the same time I would definitely try it again.
Tainai Kogen haven’t really been around too much, but they’ve been trying to up their presence recently, and I see them available on tap every now and then recently. Their bottles used to only be seen at the Niigata antenna shop in Omotesando but recently I’ve seen them showing up at Tanakaya, where I bought this one. Again, they’re a bit hit and miss in my limited experience with them so far, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one.
North Island Pilsner (ノースアイランド・ピルスナー)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Fluffy, pale straw gold, cloudy
Aroma – Very sweet with the malts, slight hint of earth
Flavor – Fairly subdued but malts are prominent, sweet, bready, just a bit of earth on the finish
We’ve reviewed quite a few of the North Island lineup (both regular and limited), but this is one of their regular releases that we haven’t gotten around to yet. We won’t spend too much time on their background, but while they do offer two German standards in this pilsner and in their weizen, they really excel at bolder styles, like their awesome IPA, Coriander Black, Coriander Black IPA, and Haskap Blonde. Let’s see how their Pilsner stacks up.
The North Island Pilsner is a pretty standard offering, with not a whole lot to set it apart. It’s quite bready and doesn’t have a lot of bite, without much hops or bitterness. It’s malt-heavy, which gives it the bready sweetness, and while there’s hint of earthiness at the end it’s not much. Ultimately this beer is not terrible but fairly mediocre, and not something I’d be too exciting about having again (this is actually my second tasting of it).
This was purchased at Le Collier before they went out of business, and as with most North Island beers it was a bit pricey at 540, even though Le Collier had very good prices for North Island (and other) beers. Again, as this was relatively poor compared to the Tainai Kogen, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing this one given the cost.
CAP Bohemian Rhapsody
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: Hops – Saaz
Pour – Very pale straw gold, soapy foam
Aroma – Very malty and grassy
Flavor – Very grassy from start to finish, malts are quite thick in the middle with some strange bubble-gum sweetness, finish also begins to show some of the earthy hops
CAP Brewery is a relatively youthful brewery in Sweden that was just founded in 2012. Surprisingly there isn’t a whole lot of information about them out there, although I see their bottles for sale in Japan at the usual places. I don’t really know what to make of them other than that it seems a bit surprising that they managed to get this much distribution in Japan without really being that prominent yet in the beer world, so let’s move on to the beer.
The CAP Bohemian Rhapsody is quite a distinctive pilsner, for better or for worse. First of all, the good: it’s very grassy with good earthy hops, and yes, as you might expect from the name this is a Czech pilsner, and so the grassiness and earthiness are certainly not a surprise. The less nice aspect of the beer is this strange and prominent bright bubble-gum sticky sweetness to it, which is fairly persistent and not pleasant. It really ruins what otherwise could have been a very nice and refreshing pilsner, but with that deep flaw I can’t recommend this one.
As I mentioned before CAP are distributed surprisingly widely in Japan, and I’ve seen their stuff at Tokyo Liquorland, Tanakaya, and Liquors Hasegawa. Mine was purchased at Tanakaya, but if you’re interested in this beer you should be able to find it without too much trouble, even though I wouldn’t say it’s a great beer.
Overall I’d say Tainai Kogen was the best here with a good range and balance of flavors, then probably the North Island even though it’s fairly standard and unexciting. The CAP offering just has too much of that strange bubble-gum harshness thrown in there to recommend it. Certainly there’s no shortage of pilsners in Japan so we should be able to be back soon with a look at some of them.