Today’s theme is local winter seasonal chocolate dark beers that don’t actually have any chocolate in them – the Shonan Beer Chocolate Porter and the Baeren Chocolate Stout.
Shonan Beer Chocolate Porter (湘南ビール・チョコレートポーター)
Package: 300mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 14
Pour – Black, initially foamy but dissipates quickly, good lacing
Aroma – Lots of roast chocolate, some plum as well
Flavor – Chocolate, roast, plum, lingering nuttiness and bitterness on finish, decent mix of flavor but somewhat mild overall
If you’ve read some of our other Shonan Beer reviews here, you’ll know that we love them in general but their bottles are hard to find, and their awesome beers are even harder to find in bottles. Their Belgian Stout might the best beer of any kind in Japan, and their Imperial Stout, W-IPA, and Black IPA are all very very awesome but basically impossible to find, whereas you might come across their less exciting beers that hew to their German brewing roots (like their Alt or their Schwarz) every now and then.
This Chocolate Porter, though, is one you can actually find relatively reliably, mostly because it’s released every Valentine’s day. If the concept of a Valentine’s Day beer sounds a little bit unusual, we’ve got it covered here. And since as always labels are the single most important factor in a beer, they’ve got a special heart-shaped Valentine’s label:
They started brewing this beer for Valentine’s Day in 2006, and they’ve continued to release it every year since. Although it’s called the Chocolate Porter, as we mentioned in the introduction it contains no chocolate or any other adjuncts. Given how well they do with their Belgian and Imperial Stouts, let’s see if this lighter dark beer holds up in comparison.
The Shonan Beer Chocolate Porter is a solid porter, with a good variety of flavors in there. There’s a fair amount of standard stout-y stuff, like the roast chocolate and nuttiness, but you also get the plum and dark fruit that you often see in much heavier dark beers, so that was nice to see in a normal ABV porter. There’s actually some bitterness there as well, so in terms of the kinds of flavors here this beer does a good job. Unfortunately, all of those flavors mentioned above are pretty mild, and this beer would be a very very good beer if not for that mild nature holding it back. The Shonan Imperial Stout and Belgian Stout are also bursting with flavor and are much fuller in texture, so certainly they know how to bring out that kind of texture with the flavor, so if they could replicate that in a lower ABV dark beer this would be an unconditional success. As it is though, I’d say it’s relatively well-made and worth trying, but it may not knock your socks off.
Baeren Chocolate Stout (ベアレン・チョコレートスタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – A very fluffy and foamy black
Aroma – Nuts, burnt coffee, a bit of fruit
Flavor – Very smooth creamy texture, very good roasted chocolate, finish is mixture of faint plum with dark bitterness, rich
While the Baeren Chocolate Stout doesn’t have the fancy Valentine’s label (although there is a conspicuous red ribbon on the label), this is also released as a Valentine’s beer. However, Baeren go to great lengths in their ad copy to make sure that they are credited with being the first chocolate beer in Japan. Brewed since 2005, they refer to it as Japan’s “元祖チョコレートビール”, which amounts to calling it the Godfather of Japanese chocolate beers (or the OG Japanese chocolate beer, if you prefer a somewhat more modern reference).
They also emphasize the fact that a lot of the chocolate beers here use additives, like cacao powder and such. This is only partially true though, as we saw above with the Shonan Chocolate Porter and also previously with SanktGallen’s Imperial Chocolate Stout. There certainly are some beers that add cacao, such as the Ise Kadoya Chocolate Porter, so you do see both kinds of chocolate beers around.
Given Baeren’s strong German brewing tradition, it’s also a bit unusual that they were the first to really introduce this style to Japan. They characterize the Chocolate Stout as English style, but it’s one of the few beers that they ship that is not a German-style beer. However, even though I personally think they make some very very good German beers (my favorites are their Classic Dortmunder and their Ursus weizen bock), they don’t get much buzz around here, and you almost never see their beers on tap at the more exciting beer places in town. They might be feeling a little bit of pressure to branch out, as their new beer is actually a saison, and they’ve also been releasing their Iwate Yuzu Wit Belgian witbier every year. It’ll be a shame if they focus less on putting out excellent German beers, as Baeren and Fujizakura Heights are the only ones really doing that a very high level here, but in the meantime let’s see how this Chocolate Stout works.
The Baeren Chocolate Stout is a very rich beer, and I really liked this one. It has a very full texture, which puts it over the Shonan offering, and it also has very strong flavors. There is of course a lot of roasted chocolate, which is quite nice, but it also has the plums and the bitterness, which isn’t something you would always see in a regular stout like this (OK, it’s a bit stronger than the usual 5% ABV standard stout here, but nothing close to the 10% ABV you might see in imperial stouts these days). As it warms up the bitterness fades a bit but the fruit and toffee flavors really come out more, and it all combines to make a really good beer.
Despite our desire to see Baeren continue to put out good German beers, they’ve definitely shown they have the chops with other kinds of beer as well. The Baeren Chocolate Stout is not only a very good beer, it’s actually quite affordable at 450 yen (at Liquors Hasegawa, probably cheaper at Tanakaya). I wonder if they would consider releasing this year-round, as this is a quality beer that is low enough ABV to be a regular purchase. The Shonan Chocolate Porter is also not bad, but the Baeren definitely takes this one.
Baeren also release an imperial version of this beer called the Chocolate Stout Vintage, so hopefully we can get a review of that one up soon as well.