Songbird and Kazakami are actually two quite similar breweries in that they are relatively new, Belgian-style, very small-scale breweries that, to be honest, are still a ways from managing to turn out quality Belgian beer. That said, we’re still curious about how they’re doing, so today we’ve got two spiced Belgian dark beers from there – the Songbird Ginger Noir and the Kazakami Muishiki no Shounin.
Songbird Ginger Noir (ソングバード・ジンジャー ノワール)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Almost no carbonation, vary dark and cloudy brown-black
Aroma – Sharp ginger but also strong chocolate
Flavor – Ginger at first, a bit of roast in the middle, then medicinal ginger and bitter chocolate on the finish, thin and watery texture
Songbird, based in Chiba, is one of those breweries whose creativity seems to be outpacing their execution. Of the Songbird beers we’ve reviewed so far (review index here), I’ve enjoyed their ideas and had high hopes for their beers, but the actual beers themselves haven’t managed to live up those hopes. I find their beers to lack balance, and usually end up going too far in the direction of that particular beer context and as a result being somewhat harsh. We haven’t tried a Songbird beer in probably about a year or so, so it might be a good time to revisit them and see if they’ve made any progress.
Today’s tasting is the Songbird Ginger Noir, which they describe as a Belgian dark ale with ginger. It should be noted that as they haven’t received their normal beer license yet they are still brewing 発泡酒 (happoshu), which means they are required by law to use adjuncts in their beer. They tend to try to use this as an excuse to use different ingredients (whether that be blueberries or oysters), and today’s ingredient happens to be ginger.
Unfortunately, the Songbird Ginger Noir also (like their other beers) really goes all out on the ginger, which ends up wiping out any other flavors you might be looking forward to in a Belgian dark ale. The ginger is very very strong, and it turns quite medicinal partway through. The other major strike against it is a very watery and thin texture, and taken together those make this a poor offering. There is some chocolate that comes through, but again it’s shaded by the ginger and isn’t enough to create anything resembling balance.
I’ve only seen Songbird bottles at Liquors Hasegawa, and that still holds true – you may see their beer on tap at Wiz, but their bottles are pretty rare. As you can see from the picture, they still haven’t graduated to making proper labels yet, but I suppose first they still need to focus on improving their product. As I mentioned before though, I do like their creative approach to beer, so I really hope they manage to work out the kinks.
Kazakami Muishiki no Shounin (風上麦酒製造・無意識の承認)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Very dark black, quite foamy
Aroma – Very sharp spice smell
Flavor – Strong anise flavors, overwhelming spice, some chocolate though, overall just not that good
Kazakami, like Songbird, is also a small Belgian-style brewery located near Tokyo (Songbird is in Chiba, and Kazakami is in Kanagawa) that is still trying to find their groove beer-wise. They also only have the happoshu license, which means they also must use adjuncts in their beer. In the previous beer we reviewed (the Manseiteki Sanka Belgian tripel), they used ginger in there and it was really overwhelming.
Today’s Muishiki no Shounin porter uses linden and cloves as the adjuncts (linden was in the Manseiteki Sanka as well, so perhaps that is their go-to adjunct). In addition to linden, their beers also share a somewhat pompous (poetic, if you want to be generous) naming style, with the name translating roughly to “subconscious approval” (無意識 = muishiki = unconscious/subconscious and 承認 = shounin = approval/acknowledgement). Consciously or subconsciously, let’s see if this beer can win our approval.
The Kazakami Muishiki no Shounin is unfortunately another example of the Songbird/Kazakami tendency to go too far overboard on the flavor concept. The cloves were intended to bring out a bit of a refreshing and healing aspect (in the brewing notes the brewer talks about how when he worked as a prep school teacher it was killing his soul so he self-medicated almost to the point of addiction with alcohol, and so he wanted to offer up some healing cloves in here), but instead it becomes oppressive. This beer is way too spicy and medicinal, and while at least you get a tiny bit of chocolate (the tripel was just all spice) it doesn’t really help. Surprisingly, even with all of that spice this beer feels flat, so definitely it’s back to the drawing board with this one.
In terms of distribution I used to see them only at Le petit L’ouest in Shimokitazawa, but I recently just saw them at Tanakaya as well. I certainly don’t recommend this beer flavor-wise, but if you’re interested in a new-ish Belgian brewery you may want to give them a try. I think both Songbird and Kazakami are not that close to making great beer, but at this stage I would probably give the slight nod to Songbird. Here’s hoping they both make good progress soon.