The Duvel-model strong Belgian pale ale isn’t something we see a lot of in Japan, so we’re happy to have a chance to review the Baird Bureiko Jikan Strong Golden Ale. Together with it we’ll try the Guldenberg from the usually reliable Belgian brewery De Ranke.
Baird Bureiko Jikan Strong Golden Ale (ベアードビール・無礼講時間ストロングゴールデンエール)
(Update 2017/06/24 – new label released this year)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 30; hops – GR Taurus, GR Tradition, US Sterling, SL Styrian Golding
Pour – Lots of sediment, hazy orange-gold, very healthy head of foam
Aroma – Nice earthy and spicy aroma
Flavor – Spicy, fruity sweet, floral, lots of yeast, finish is sugary, very creamy, splash of earth hop bitterness on finish
While Baird are a consistently decent brewery, they don’t really excite, and they really don’t too much in the way of Belgian beers. In fact, Belgian beers are a pretty inconsequential part of their lineup, whereas some of the other more interesting breweries in Japan such as Tamamura Honten and Daisen G and Kyoto Brewing are experimenting a lot with Belgian-style beers, and a lot of new Belgian breweries such as Songbird and Kazakami are popping up as well.
Be that as it may, the Bureiko Jikan is one of their stronger Belgian offerings. It’s “inspired” by Duvel, and as we’ll see it’s pretty close to the original in many ways. As far as brewing notes go, the most interesting is probably that it’s brewed not using Belgian yeast but Scottish ale yeast.
However, before we get to the beer, I would like to discuss a bit about the name of the beer and the constant cultural misconceptions carried by foreigners in Japan (like the head brewer of Baird) that seem to popup all the time in Japan. The “bureikou” part of the name (無礼講 in kanji, with jikan [時間] just meaning time) does indeed mean something like impertinence or a setting aside of the usual societal politeness, as Baird mention in their brewing notes here. However, what follows from there is just pure amateur cultural sociology misinformation, as often happens in Japan:
“’Bureiko jikan’ (literally, ‘time for impertinence’) is a classic Japanese cultural construct – a moment when, generally fueled by alcohol, the strict bonds of hierarchy melt away and the lower-rung individual in a relationship (generally a work-related one) can let out his or her true feelings without threat of recrimination. It is a cathartic venting mechanism and Bureiko Jikan Strong Golden Ale is its perfect beer lubricant.
A couple of things are very wrong here, the first being that in Japan people need carthatic venting (through craft beer?) because society (especially at work) is so rigid that people will explode otherwise. This reminds me of an episode early in my stay in Japan when a coworker was always harping on how homogeneous and mass culture Japanese people were all the while being dressed from head to toe in Gap clothes and sipping from a Starbucks cup. This Baird commentary is basically in that same category of lack of self-awareness; people in America aren’t telling their bosses off whenever they feel like it, because, just like in Japan, in America you would also get canned for mouthing off to your superiors. Societies have rules, and American society has rules regarding behavior and expression that are not that dissimilar from the rules that govern Japanese society. Furthermore, the concept of “bureikou”, rather than being a “classic Japanese cultural concept” (Baird’s words, and I love the armchair sociology authority dripping from that phrase) is in itself a myth, because it turns out that in real life, just like in America, you don’t declare a “take-no-offense zone” and expect that anything goes without repercussions. People have actually been fired from their jobs because they took the bureikou concept too literally – perhaps they were getting their cultural advice from Baird beer labels?
OK, so that’s enough of that rant – let’s see how the beer itself does. Despite the cluelessness of the brewing notes, the Baird Bureiko Jikan Strong Golden Ale is actually a very nice beer, and probably one of their best offerings overall. It’s very spicy and floral, with sugar and hops on the finish. It’s also quite earthy, and probably the only real flaw to the beer is that there’s a little too much sweetness. The other aspects of the flavor are quite strong though, and while they don’t quite balance out the sweetness they do enough to make it a very flavorful beer. Not perfect, but pretty good, and pretty close in spirit to its original Duvel inspiration.
De Ranke Guldenberg
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 40; hops – Hallertau Mittelfrüh
Pour – Lots of sediment, very creamy foam, nice orange-gold color
Aroma – Mild sweet earthy hops
Flavor – Creamy but fizzy texture, initially mild yeast, then sugar and bitter hops near the end, quite earthy and dry, a bit of pepper as it warms up
I’m sure most of you are familiar with De Ranke, as they are one of the most respected not-super-old Belgian breweries out there making essentially very classic Belgian styles of beer. We reviewed their excellent XX Bitter not too long ago, and while we don’t have any other De Ranke reviews up yet every beer I’ve tried from them has been very good.
This particular beer they refer to simply as an abbey beer, rather than assigning it a specific style. This is similar to how they label the De Ranke XX Bitter, which is basically a Belgian IPA although they don’t label it as such. In this case, the Guldenberg is mostly considered a Belgian strong ale (as RateBeer has it), although Beer Advocate has it listed as an abbey tripel. As far as the name goes, it’s named after a former abbey in a town called Wevelgem, where one of the De Ranke brewers is from.
The De Ranke Guldenberg is markedly different from both the original Duvel and the Baird Bureiko Jikan in that it isn’t overly sweet. It’s focused much more on its hops, which comes across mostly in an earthy fashion, and overall it’s a relatively mild beer given it’s 8% ABV. It does have different flavor components, such as the yeast and earthy bitter and sweetness and dryness, but I found it to be a little bit lacking and wished it was stronger in its elements. Probably the earthiness is its most salient feature, which might be expected given that Hallertau Mittelfrüh is the only hop used, which is a noble hop associated mostly with German pilsners.
So looking at both of these beers together (and with the giant shadow of Duvel looming in the background), even though this might be a crime of beer heresy I enjoyed the Baird Bureiko Jikan a bit more for its strong flavors, even though by no means is it a flawless beer. In some ways this depends on what kind of beer you might have been expecting here – if you are looking for a Duvel clone, the Baird would serve you better. It’s not as good as the original Duvel and does play too sweet, but it’s also got a lot of yeast and floral-ness and fruit spiciness to it; in short, in a pinch it would make a good Duvel substitute. The De Ranke Guldenberg, on the other hand, isn’t really that close to Duvel. It’s a good beer in its own right, but is more earthy and dry than anything else, and doesn’t really spend a lot of effort emphasizing sweetness or yeast. It’s enjoyable, but not as punchy as I would have liked.
So there you have it – an upset victory Baird, who although not what I would consider one of the most exciting breweries in Japan did an excellent job with this effort at a Belgian strong ale. Again, it’s even more surprising in the sense that they don’t really do that well with Belgian beers, but this one is definitely a success. Go have a Duvel if you want the best, but if you want to see a good Japanese attempt at it, try the Baird Bureiko Jikan.