Duvel / Duvel Tripel Hop (2016)

We don’t normally do all-foreign beer reviews, but with Duvel being such a classic it’s probably a good one to have in the archive. Plus, we recently reviewed the Baird Bureiko Jikan Strong Golden Ale, which is essentially a Japanese Duvel clone, so this is probably a good time to do it. We’ll look at the regular Duvel along with the Duvel Tripel Hop 2016 version, which uses the HBC 291 hop.

Duvel

Duvel

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 8.5%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: Hops – Saaz-Saaz, Styrian Golding

Review:

Pour – Very creamy and foamy, straw gold

Aroma – Lemon, grass, hops, very sweet

Flavor – Sweet and tart at first, earthy and bready bitter on the finish, still some tartness at the end

Duvel, of course, is one of those iconic Belgian beers like Orval and Chimay that are basically only known by one name (which happens when you get big enough, like Jesus, Madonna, or Hammer). Unlike the others Duvel is not a monastery, but rather a family owned brewery that is officially called Duvel Moortgat. They’ve got kind of an interesting history to their beer that varies a bit from the traditional monk narrative – they were founded in 1871 by the Moortgat family, but when World War I happened they were exposed to English ales and inspired to try something closer to an English style. When the war ended they went to the UK to acquire a yeast sample (which apparently the UK brewers weren’t so forthcoming with), and they’ve been using the same yeast ever since. To commemorate the end of the war they brewed up a new now-Belgian pale ale called “Victory Ale”, but when a local shoemaker tasted the beer and remarked that it was a “duvel” (which mean devil in the local Flemish dialect), well, there was the new name!

Of course they’ve grown tremendously since then, and they are generally credited with having created the first tulip beer glass as well. The Duvel glass is actually now kind of a flagship product and giant marketing tool in and of itself, where they invent prominent artists to design their own take on the Duvel glass. Beer-wise, although Duvel don’t produce a lot of different kinds of beer under the Duvel name (in fact, they only basically produce three beers, two of which are the same recipe: the main Duvel in the standard bottle conditioned format and the single-fermented tap Duvel Single version, along with the added hop Duvel Tripel Hop that we’ll get to in a moment), they’ve been fairly active in the acquisition market. In addition to Belgian breweries like Achouffe and De Koninck, they’ve also purchased well-known American craft breweries like Ommegang, Firestone Walker, and Boulevard. That said, as they try to expand into the American craft beer world, Duvel is still their flagship product, so let’s see what it’s all about.

Duvel is certainly a very flavorful beer, with a lot of different things happening. Initially, especially straight out of the bottle, it’s very sweet, and it gets you thinking for a second that it’s too sweet to finish. But the flavors develop nicely, and the sweetness tones down into a nice citrus tartness. The transition to the finish is quite nice, and the Saaz hops really come out in an earthy hop finish, while the tartness and zest still remains. In some ways it plays as a stronger Belgian witbier – of course there are no added ingredients, but the citrus is quite strong, and it has that yeast quality to it that is like a good witbier but much more bitter and stronger overall.

With that kind of flavor and balance we’ll definitely give Duvel its classic status, but let’s see how the Tripel Hop version compares.

Duvel Tripel Hop – 2016

Duvel_TripelHop

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 9.5%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: Hops – Saaz-Saaz, Styrian Golding, HBC 291

Review:

Pour – Similar straw gold color, also creamy and foamy but foam settles more quickly

Aroma – Strong tropical fruit aroma, still some earthiness, lemon

Flavor – Very fruity, initially citrus, than passion fruit, finish is hop bitter and dry, becomes somewhat herbal as it warms up, spices are still there

Given that Duvel have a fairly limited product range, it’s not surprising that they would experiment with variations on the Duvel. In fact, they’ve tried adding a third hop to the usual Saaz and Styrian Golding hops since 2007, although it was only productized relatively recently. Every release (which tended to be every spring, although it wasn’t quite so regular early on) they tried a different hop: Amarillo in 2007 (the original) and 2010, Citra in 2012, Sorachi Ace in 2013, Mosaic in 2014, Equinox in 2015, and HBC 291 in this 2016 version. Eventually it devolved into a online marketing stunt, where they had people vote online for their favorite Tripel Hop version, which would then be turned into a regular product (spoiler alert – the Duvel Tripel Hop is officially now brewed with Citra).

As we mentioned above, this 2016 version uses the HBC 291 hop in both the standard brewing process and with additional dry-hopping. If the HBC 291 hop sounds familiar despite its futuristic alphanumeric name (although now it is called Loral), it may be because of Tamamura Honten’s usage of it in their Drunk Coffee Kibiru and Baby Miyama Blonde beers. It’s a hop that has very floral characteristics, so we let’s see how that impacts the Duvel.

The Duvel Tripel Hop is a very different beast from the regular Duvel. The most prominent aspects of the original Duvel are tart, spice, and earthiness, but the Tripel Hop is very fruity, hoppy and herbal. If you didn’t know that the base beer was the same I think it would be hard to discern that. That’s not to say that this is a bad beer, though – in fact, although it’s very different, it’s also quite a flavorful and good beer. Starting with the aroma, you can see the impact of the dry-hopping, as it is quite strong on the fruits and hops. That carries over to the flavor as well, along with the grassy herbal effects from the HBC 291 and some of the spice and zest from the original Duvel, and it all combines to make what ends up being a very nice strong Belgian IPA.

It’s hard to decide which of these I prefer, as while they are quite different from each other they are both very good. I suppose I’d just leave it at that and call it a draw – and note that I’m very curious to check out the new from-now-on official Citra version of the Duvel Tripel Hop and see how it compares to the HBC 291 2016 version we tried here.

Kobushi-hana Marzen / Baird Fest Lager / Sierra Nevada x Mahrs Bräu Oktoberfest

This year we’re even later to get to the Oktoberfest beers, but here we go – we’ve the Kobushi-hana Marzen, Baird Fest Lager, and from overseas the Sierra Nevada and Mahrs Bräu Oktoberfest 2016 collaboration.

Kobushi-hana Marzen (こぶし花ビール・メルツェン)

kobushi-hana_marzen

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.0%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 20

Review:

Pour – Red amber, initially foamy but dissipates quickly

Aroma – Sweet bread, some earthy hops

Flavor – Very malty initially, finish quite bready but also with a bit of the earthy hops coming through

Last year in our Oktoberfest review we mentioned that the Marzen is basically the same beer as the Oktoberfest, with the history of the Oktoberfest basically being that they were the leftover cellared Marzen beers that were brewed in March (since at that time they didn’t have refrigeration and couldn’t brew beer in the warmer summer months) and had not been consumed yet, but needed to be gotten rid of so they could use the casks for the new beers. We haven’t actually tried a Marzen as such yet, but as they are essentially the same style we’ll try the Kobushi-hana Marzen today.

We’ve reviewed a couple of Kobushi-hana beers before, with our favorite being their Grand Cru Belgian triple. They are a little inconsistent though, and given that their other German strong lager Maibock was rather poor we should probably temper our expectations. As for this particular Marzen, there isn’t much out there in terms of brewing notes, so the only thing I’ll mention here is that they brew it as a year-round beer despite it seasonal origin. They do also note the style origins and the Marzen/Oktoberfest relationship, for what it’s worth.

The Kobushi-hana Marzen is quite bready all the way through. It has a very full texture with the bread and malts, and as it warms up you get a bit more of the earthy hops and bitterness on the finish. Overall I’d say it’s a solid effort – it may not be the most complex beer out there, what with the malt/bread dominance, but I found it enjoyable, and it wasn’t entirely without hop contribution.

If you’re interested in checking it out, you may be able find it at Tanakaya (where I bought mine for only 432 yen) or at Liquors Hasegawa, which carries their beers frequently. In fact, they’ve just received a new shipment of Kobushi-hana beers right now (May 2017) as the Grand Cru was just released, so you may be able to find it there. They are somewhat rare though, especially on tap, so happy hunting!

Baird Fest Lager (フェストラガー)

baird_festlager

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.0%

Availability: Autumn

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 24; hops – GR Magnum & Tradition, Hersbrucker

Review:

Pour – Deep orange amber, cloudy, not much foam but it stays

Aroma – A bit of caramel, good amount of bread

Flavor – Initially caramel, a tiny bit of spice, a sort of unpleasant sharp and past-date bitterness lingers, also very sweet

Instead of the usual damning with faint praise about Baird’s consistent decency and lack of pizzazz let’s just get straight to the beer.

The Baird Fest Lager has a fair amount of things happening in there, although by no means is this a great beer. First, the positives – it’s got a nice combination of caramel and cinnamon, so it starts out with some good flavors. However, the bitterness here is quite sharp and acerbic, and the sugary sweetness also becomes overwhelming pretty quickly. It lacks any kind of subtlety and sweetness and sharp bitterness are just too much. Unfortunately, we’ll have to classify this one as another one from Baird that’s better left on the shelf.

If you do want to be bold and give it a try, I bought mine at Liquors Hasegawa for 500 yen. While Liquors Hasegawa are often significantly more expensive for a lot of Japanese craft brewers, I find that their Baird prices are basically the same as other retailers. You’ll also see their seasonals at Tanakaya, Deguchiya, and sometimes Shinanoya so it’s worth checking those places as well.

Sierra Nevada x  Mahrs Bräu Oktoberfest

sierranevada_oktoberfest

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.0%

Availability: Autumn

Package: 12 fl oz bottle

Misc: IBU – 30

Review:

Pour – Straw gold, lots of carbonation, relatively clear

Aroma – Very grassy, some sweetness

Flavor – As with aroma flavor is very grassy, dirty, a bit of sweet malts start to appear in the middle, finish is combination of sugar and some hop bitterness, bitterness lingers on finish

In 2015 Sierra Nevada began to try give the Oktoberfest a bit of a kickstart in the American craft beer world by collaborating with the very old German brewery Riegele, which traces its roots back to 1386. The resulting Oktoberfest 2015 was a hit a by all means, but the idea from the start was to actually collaborate with a different German brewer every year so that Sierra Nevada could keep exploring and experimenting with the style.

This year’s 2016 version is a collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Mahrs Bräu, which compared to Riegele is a bit of a young upstart in the German brewing world, although Mahrs Bräu itself was founded in 1670. The Michel family has owned and operated the brewery since 1895, so even though that’s only about half of their history that’s still a couple of centuries of family ownership there. They are based in Bamberg in Bavaria, and make a big point of only using raw ingredients sourced from Bavaria. As for their beer, as a traditional German brewer they serve up the usual classics, such as a pilsner, weisse, helles, etc.

In terms of this particular Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest collaboration, the ingredient of note is probably the Record hop varietal. It isn’t actually an ancient German hop brought back to life, but rather a hop that originates from Belgium “sometime prior to 1970”. It was actually developed by breeding the Saaz hop (classic pilsner earthy hop) with the Northern Brewer hop, which is a hop that originates from England and is often described as woody. Northern Brewer apparently was one of the first hops used for hop breeding in the early 1900s, which led to it being the parent hop of quite a few hop varieties.

Anyway, back to the beer! The Sierra Nevada Mahrs Bräu Oktoberfest is a fairly complex beer, with a lot of things going on. The overall impression is very grassy and sweet, but it also has pretty good bitterness compared to the other examples we tried today. It is definitely less bready and malty, although it does get sweeter as it warms up and is perhaps too much there on sweetness. The combination of floral plus bitter works very well, and the malts aren’t forgotten about either. The only improvement I would make on it would be to tone down the sweetness a bit, but overall this was pretty impressive.

So today’s winner? The Sierra Nevada is better balanced and ends up on top due with an enjoyably complex Oktoberfest, with just a minor deduction for the sweetness. The Kobushi-hana was definitely not as well-rounded, but I did enjoy it as well. Bringing up the rear is the Baird Fest Lager, which was really too harsh to recommend.

That wraps up this year’s Oktoberfest review, although Fujizakura Heights just released their Marzen recently, so perhaps we’ll see if we can get a hold of that one. Stay tuned!

Nagisa India Pale Ale / Swan Lake IPA

Today we’ll take a look at a couple of local limited release IPAs – the Nagisa India Pale Ale and the Swan Lake IPA.

Nagisa India Pale Ale (ナギサビール・インディアペールエール)

nagisa_ipa

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.0%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Cloudy orange-amber, mild carbonation

Aroma – Malts are prominent, but can also get some soft hops in there

Flavor – Refreshing, initially malty but soon has a good mix of tropical fruit hops in there, caramel, eventually malts win out

The only previous Nagisa review we have up is the excellent Heaven, which was a very nicely done Helles. As I mentioned in that review Nagisa have begun to ramp up recently, and have been trying to release more varieties of beer to add to their normal lineup of two beers (the American Wheat and the Pale Ale). One of those is this new India Pale Ale, and as we don’t have much experience with Nagisa outside of the aforementioned Heaven, we’re not sure what to expect from this beer.

The Nagisa India Pale Ale is a fairly well-done beer, although I would have preferred to see a bit more hops in there. It’s not that the hops aren’t there – they do make themselves known briefly and that moment is nice, but they fade quickly and the malts begin to dominate a bit too much. Overall, though, it’s a pretty good and refreshing IPA, with a lot to recommend in there. The malts and caramel are good, and it’s a nice first IPA release for Nagisa with some potential for getting better.

Another bonus with this beer is its price – I bought it for only 388 yen at Tanakaya. You may not be able to find their beers easily, but I have seen both regular and limited releases from Nagisa at both Tanakaya and Liquors Hasegawa. I’m actually relatively impressed by them so far, so here’s hoping they can continue to put out some good beers.

Swan Lake IPA (スワンレイク・IPA)

swanlake_ipa

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 7.0%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Reddish-orange, cloudy, a bit more carbonation

Aroma – Fruity hops, also a bit of pine, quite subtle

Flavor – A bit fizzy and tangy initially, pine and resin initially, malts in the middle, sweet and hoppy bitter finish with more pine

We haven’t reviewed a Swan Lake beer in a while, but in general while I would characterize them as kind of hit and miss they are more on the hit side, and capable of making some very very excellent beers (see Imperial Stout). Their IPA is surprisingly not part of their usual lineup, but although I haven’t kept too close track I feel like this beer appears out there periodically rather than on a seasonal schedule. There isn’t much information out there about this beer in terms of brewing notes, but it does note that they use dry hopping to emphasize the hops a bit more.

The Swan Lake IPA is a pretty decent IPA, especially if you like pine. As with the Nagisa IPA, a bit more fruity hops in the flavor would have been welcome, but I think the piney hops still impart a positive impression here. It’s a little bit one-dimensional from that perspective, but I quite like piney IPAs, and it definitely has its share of malts and hoppy bitterness here.

This is a solid IPA, and certainly one I would consider drinking regularly, although again the Swan Lake pricing does give me some pause. It cost me 702 yen at Tanakaya, which is more than even the North Island IPA, which is possibly the best regular IPA in Japan. Given that the North Island IPA is a better beer and priced at around the upper limit of what I would want to pay for a single beer, the Swan Lake, while a decent beer, definitely loses out there. The Nagisa IPA, on the other hand, is not quite as good as the Swan Lake but about half the price. I suppose my end recommendation would be to try these beers once, but the standing IPA recommendation is still this – if you come across either the excellent but mid-price Johana Kagayaki W7 or the even better but expensive North Island IPA, treat yourself to a bottle (you won’t find these that often so it won’t run you that much), and for regular consumption stick with the very good and very affordable Shiga Kogen IPA. This hasn’t changed in a while, but we’re still on the lookout for even better local IPAs out there.

Minamishinshu Dunkel Weizen / Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier Dunkel

The dunkelweizen isn’t a beer style you see very often here, but there is one regular well-regarded one, which is the Minamishinshu Dunkel Weizen. We’ll try it together with the Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier Dunkel for comparison.

Minamishinshu Dunkel Weizen (南信州ビール・デュンケルヴァイツェン)

minamishinshu_dunkelweizen

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.0%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Cola black, not too much carbonation

Aroma – Nice soft caramel roast, fair amount of banana, also some wheat

Flavor – Soft wheat, chocolate is strong, sweet chocolate roast finish

We haven’t reviewed a dunkelweizen before, so let’s do a quick introduction. “Dunkel” in German means dark, so the dunkelweizen is basically just a dark wheat beer. Ingredient-wise, as a dark weizen, it should (at least in Germany) contain at least 50% wheat for the grain bill, with usually Vienna or Munich malt providing the dark beer aspects. Historically, German wheat beers were actually darker in the old days, with the focus on paler weizens actually being a relatively recent phenomenon. In that sense, what we today call a dunkelweizen might be closer to what the original wheat beers were like a long time ago.

Our Japanese example today is the Minamishinshu Dunkel Weizen, which although isn’t really their flagship or most well-known beer, but scores the highest on RateBeer for them. Their seasonal Alps Weizen was not very inspired at all, but in their brief product description it mentions that this is their own original interpretation of a dunkelweizen so we’ll see if their dunkel version fares any better.

Compared to their bland Alps Weizen, the Minamishinshu Dunkel Weizen is a much better effort. It has lots of banana on the nose, although the overall flavor is mostly chocolate wheat. Although it’s not overwhelmingly superior, it is a decent enough beer. I would have like to see more of the weizen aspects carry over to the flavor – the banana is there on the aroma but the flavor is dominated by the darker aspects.

Overall this isn’t bad, and as the dunkelweizen is a pretty rare style here in Japan it’s worth tracking it down if you can. Minamishinshu seasonals are not so easy to find, but you might be able to find it at Izuya, Shinshu Osake-mura, or Tanakaya.

Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier Dunkel

paulaner_hefeweissbierdunkel

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.3%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 500mL bottle

Misc: Hops – Herkules, Taurus

Review:

Pour – Amber-brown, quite frothy, cloudy

Aroma – Lots of wheat and banana, not as much roast

Flavor – Tart and tangy and fizzy, solid wheat in the middle, banana finish, just the slightest hint of caramel but not much

We’ve done a couple of Paulaner reviews before (the Oktoberfest Bier and the Münchner Hell), so you kind of know what you’re getting with them. We would expect to see a traditional German beer that adheres to style pretty closely, and has the consistent quality you would expect out a brewery a few centuries old and now owned by a massive conglomerate. They don’t have too much in the way of brewing notes about this beer, but it does note that they use a fair amount of Munich malt in this beer (Munich malt is supposed to be very malty, bready, and nutty flavor-wise), and that it is unfiltered.

The Paulaner Hefe-Weißbier Dunkel is in some ways kind of a mirror image of the Minamishinshu Dunkel Weizen, in that it focuses more on the weizen and less on the dunkel (whereas the Minamishinshu took the opposite approach and was more dunkel than weizen). This means that while it has a bit of caramel, it’s behaves mostly like a weizen, despite the brown coloring. The aroma is very strong on the wheat and banana, and that carries over to the flavor as well, where it has a nice slight tart wheatiness to it with a very banana finish.

Interestingly, you can see this in the colors as well – the Minamishinshu pours very very dark for a dunkelweizen and looks like a porter, where normally you would expect a dark brown like you see with the Paulaner. Accordingly the Minamishinshu is much darker flavor-wise as well, with strong roast chocolate notes to it. Of course, reading the style guidelines again it states that “roasted malt character is inappropriate” for a dunkelweizen, so perhaps this is what Minamishinshu meant when they said this is their original variation on the beer. The Paulaner, on the other hand, adheres to the style guidelines pretty closely, giving you mostly weizen with a nod to some caramel.

Both of these dunkelweizen examples are pretty solid, and while neither is super exciting it’s interesting to be able to see these two different approaches side by side. The Paulaner is closer to what you would expect from the style, whereas the Minamishinshu is a lot more roast than normal for a dunkelweizen. I’d certainly recommend trying them together to see the different approaches, and we’ll keep an eye out for more local examples if we can find them.

Ginga Kogen Extra Pale Ale / OH!LA!HO Captain Crow Extra Pale Ale

If there’s one thing that keeps me up at night, it’s trying to figure out what is the best extra pale ale in a can in Japan. Towards that end, we’ll look at the Ginga Kogen Extra Pale Ale and the local favorite OH!LA!HO Captain Crow Extra Pale Ale.

Ginga Kogen Extra Pale Ale (銀河高原ビール・エクストラペールエール)

gingakogen_extrapaleale

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.0%

Availability: Autumn

Package: 350mL can

Review:

Pour – Cloudy orange amber, healthy carbonation

Aroma – Malty and bready

Flavor – Somewhat tangy initially, some citrus and some spice, quite fizzy, finish is moderate hop bitter but also slightly metallic

Ginga Kogen is one of those local “ji-biru” (地ビール) producers in Japan where you can’t really tell if they can be called a craft brewery or not. Certainly they operate on a smaller scale than the macros like Asahi and such, but they make fairly bland beers of a predetermined set of styles that includes the weizen, pilsner/lager, and pale ale. They do also get fairly wide distribution in supermarkets and convenience stores around Japan, so they fill that space between macro and craft where you could at least avoid the giant breweries but end up with something that’s almost the same in terms of quality.

For their part, Ginga Kogen was established in 1996 as one of those local breweries that might bring some economic benefit to Sawauchi in Iwate-ken, where they are based. The name of the brewery, which essentially means Galaxy Highlands (銀河 = ginga = galaxy, 高原 = kougen = highlands), is actually derived from a Kenji Miyazawa book turned anime called “Night on the Galactic Railroad” (銀河鉄道の夜), as Miyazawa was from the area and 1996 (the year of the brewery founding) was the 100th anniversary of his birth.

As far as beer goes, when they set up the brewery they weren’t necessarily sure which direction they would go in, and visited a few different breweries in different parts of the world. Eventually they settled on Augustiner in Munich as a good brewery to emulate, and voila! – another German-style brewery is born. They adhere to the good ol’ German beer purity law and use all German malts and mostly German hops, and for their flagship weizen also make sure they are using 50% wheat.

That said, this Extra Pale Ale certainly isn’t German in style. It’s an American style pale ale where they are aiming for the same amount of bitterness as you would get with an IPA. To achieve this they’ve brewed a single-hop beer, using Citra as their bitterness vehicle of choice. Let’s see how well they can pull it off.

The Ginga Kogen Extra Pale Ale actually punches above its RateBeer weight (it scores a miserable 21 overall, 7 style on RateBeer). It isn’t a great beer by any means, but actually not too bad. The Citra hops don’t really come across that strongly in either the aroma or the flavor as it is neither super hoppy nor citrusy, but there is a bit of tang and moderate hop bitterness in there. As it warms up the hops wear out quickly and it becomes more malty, and there is a metallic off-tasting aspect on the finish, so again, this is a pretty mediocre beer, just not as bad as RateBeer would have you believe. If you do try this one drink it fast, at it deteriorates a lot as it warms up.

On the plus side, this beer is quite cheap. I bought mine at Aeon Liquors for a paltry 289 yen, which is encroaching on macro beer price territory. I don’t remember where else I’ve seen it, but you should see it popping up in the autumn in various supermarkets and liquor stores around town. Of course, if you want to have a very good beer for about the same amount of money, then keep reading…

OH!LA!HO Captain Crow Extra Pale Ale (オラホビール・キャプテンクロウエクストラペールエール)

ohlaho_captaincrow

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.0%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 350mL can

Review:

Pour – Gold in color, cloudy, lightly carbonated

Aroma – Very nice tropical fruit hop aroma, pine, malts as well

Flavor – Solid malt base throughout, very piney hops, quite bitter finish

OH!LA!HO is certainly an unusual name for a brewery, and certainly doesn’t evoke much of anything, much less good beer. It turns out that in the local dialect (they’re based in Nagano-ken), おらほ (o-ra-ho) means “us”, or “our home.” It’s fitting that they wanted to choose a name that represents their region, as their parent company is less a company but rather an incorporated organization called Tomi-shi Shinkou Kousha whose main purpose is to promote and sell goods from the city of Tomi in Nagano. As such, they run hotels, onsen, restaurants, and naturally a brewery on top of all of that.

For the most part, OH!LA!HO aren’t too major of a player in the craft beer scene here, and you almost never see their stuff on tap. However, this Captain Crow Extra Pale Ale is a very well-respected beer here, and generally considered one of the better pale ales in Japan. The beer is actually a collaboration between OH!LA!HO and Transporter, which is kind of an industry craft beer webzine that seems to carry a lot of weight within the industry even though it publishes almost no content for the general public. They’ve collaborated with a couple of other brewers as well (I’m thinking of their Ise Kadoya Golden Dragon collaboration) so they certainly have connections, if not content. It’s not their straight-up logo, but for some reason Transporter is loosely associated with pirates, so the Captain Crow can also features a pirate theme. There isn’t much out there about brewing notes, so let’s get straight to the review.

Overall the OH!LA!HO Captain Crow Extra Pale Ale is a great pale ale. It really does a great job of balancing some critical aspects of a pale ale, such as the pine, citrus, hop bitterness, and malts. It’s pretty focused on the hops, both in the aroma and flavor and especially on the finish, but the malts are really like the the pine and hop bitter finish, but malts are also there to provide a solid base. It’s just a wonderfully done beer, with a great aroma to go with it.

To boot, this beer can also regularly be found for under 300 yen. I also bought this one at Aeon Liquors, and it was only 298 yen. You won’t see it on tap that often (IBREW near Kyobashi often has it on tap), but the cans are pretty readily available. In addition to Aeon Liquors you’ll find it not only at craft beer specialists like Deguchiya and Liquors Hasegawa, but you’ll also find it at places like Daiei/Aeon Style and Seijo Ishii. At that price and quality, this should basically be your go-to beer in Japan. In fact, regardless of price, this might be the best pale ale in Japan, with perhaps the Onidensetsu Kinoni Pale Ale the only other pale ale here able to give it a run for its money.

So definitely the Captain Crow is the big winner here, whereas the Ginga Kogen Extra Pale Ale comes out with not much going for it other than its price and the fact that it’s not awful. At last I can rest easy now, knowing which extra pale ale in a can in Japan is in fact the best.

Minoh Smoke Weizen / Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen

I certainly didn’t expect to see a smoked weizen in Japan, as this is a pretty unusual style, so while I’m not too big a fan of Minoh I was still excited to see that they tried their hand at it, releasing it as the Minoh Smoke Weizen. We’ll put it up against the best-known smoked beer producer and sample the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen with it.

Minoh Smoke Weizen (箕面・スモークヴァイツェン)

Minoh_SmokeWeizen_1

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.0%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Cloudy, apple juice gold, creamy foam

Aroma – Noticeable smoke, strong banana as well

Flavor – Very thin and watery, mild smoke, a bit of cloves and banana but very faint, some sugar on the finish

We’ve covered a couple of Minoh weizens before, with their not-s0-good regular Weizen, and also their somewhat interesting but ultimately falls-a-bit-short Kokusan Momo Weizen (a peach weizen). As we haven’t had great experiences with them so far, we certainly aren’t expecting a lot out of this one. However, they should be given credit for even attempting one, as this is the first smoked weizen that I’ve seen here. Incidentally, they brewed this beer for White Day, and while I can’t think of why a smoked weizen would be particularly suitable for that they do mention in their release notes the usual sexist marketing of saying that weizens are popular with the ladies. Perhaps they are trying to combine their manly image of the smoked beer with their feminine image of the weizen and that would make it perfect for White Day? I have no idea, but they do need to stop with the whole women-like-weizens thing.

On that note, let’s move on to the beer! The Minoh Smoke Weizen is doomed by its thin, watery texture (much like it’s regular Weizen elder sibling), and frankly is quite a disappointing beer. The aroma starts out pretty decent with smoke and banana, but there is almost nothing in terms of flavor here. If you squint hard enough you’ll see some weizen-like banana and cloves in there, and the smoke is at least noticeable (if weak), but there’s nowhere enough there to overcome how thin and watery this beer is. Unfortunately another poor offering from Minoh, but at least let’s give them a bit of kudos for having a go at this.

Although it’s not a good beer you would have been able to find this at Liquors Hasegawa (where I bought mine), but also at Izuya, Deguchiya, and Le petit L’ouest as well. They may be out now, but if you’re curious to try a local (but not good) smoked weizen, you may still be able to find one.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen

aechtschlenkerla_weizen

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.2%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 500mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 20

Review:

Pour – Very cloudy and murky, brownish-red, some carbonation but not so much for a weizen

Aroma – Smoke is strong, but also can detect wheat and cloves

Flavor – Smoke is quite strong at first, but ends with a good amount of tartness and lemon citrus, a fairly unique and interesting beer

If you’ve caught our earlier review of the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock, you might note that we really loved that one, so you might consider us one of the many fans of this brewery. As we mentioned above, smoked weizens aren’t very common, but if anybody is going to do it right it would be Schlenkerla. In case you’re curious, their product information page clarifies that only the barley malt is smoked, while the wheat malts are not. Let’s see what it all leads to.

The Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen is surprisingly balanced, and while the smokiness is of course quite strong it doesn’t completely overwhelm the weizen aspects. There is actually some lemon tartness here, which is a pleasant surprise, and it does a great job of combining the smoky aspects with the wheat and fruit aspects that you might expect out of a weizen. This is indeed a very very interesting beer, and another winner from Schlenkerla.

Interestingly I bought mine at Bon Repas in Naka-meguro at an incredible discount, where they were basically offering two bottles for less than the price of one. I had to ask the store clerk to clarify because it sounded way too good to be true, but essentially it was cheaper to buy two bottles than buy one bottle – I guess they really wanted to move them! Ultimately that meant I paid 250 yen for this 500mL bottle (one bottle was 550 yen, two bottles were 500 yen total), so especially given that this is a very good beer that was quite a spectacular deal.

Alas, they were only offering this deal as it was relatively close to the expiration date of the beer, so you won’t find it at those prices there now, but if you can get your hands on it try this beer. It’s a good one, and really shows you how good this unusual style can be. Clearly it’s a far superior beer compared to the Minoh Smoke Weizen, and we give it a very strong recommendation.

Brimmer IPA / Ise Kadoya Triple Hop IPA / Anchor Go West! IPA

Today’s review takes a look at a couple of seasonal but not-so-rare local IPAs – the Brimmer IPA and the Ise Kadoya Triple Hop IPA, and together with it we’ll try the Anchor Go West! IPA.

Brimmer IPA (ブリマー・インディアペールエール)

brimmer_ipa

Vitals:

No RateBeer entry yet!

ABV: 5.5%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Orange-amber in color, cloudy, a bit of carbonation but not much

Aroma – Big piney hops smell, some citrus as well

Flavor – As with the aroma pine is quite strong, malts in the middle, finish is fairly bitter with pine still there, bitterness hangs on for a long finish

We’ve actually reviewed only one Brimmer beer before, which was their decent but not overwhelming malty Pale Ale. They’ve been pretty quiet of late, especially since their shipping container taproom in Aoyama shut down a couple of years ago. It does appear that they are revamping their current brewing facility, and as it’s scheduled to come online in March perhaps they will become more of a presence when that work is done.

The Brimmer IPA is perhaps not the world’s most exciting IPA, but a solid effort. Similar to their Pale Ale, it is also definitely on the malty and piney side, rather than the straight up hoppy bitter side. It does have a decent amount of bitterness though, and I enjoyed this one. For some reason in Japan piney IPAs are not so common, and brewers here tend to focus more on the citrus hops for their IPAs. I suppose this is the norm outside of Japan as well, so it’s good in that sense to see a local brewer going for this style of IPA.

Brimmer has never been that easy to find in Tokyo, and I feel like their presence has shrunk even when compared to about a year ago. This bottle was purchased at Liquors Hasegawa, and you might see their stuff occasionally at Tanakaya and Izuya as well. At 560 yen I would say that you can definitely find better IPAs at both higher and lower price points, so while this isn’t a bad IPA it’s hard to really recommend going out to try to track it down.

Ise Kadoya Triple Hop IPA (伊勢角屋・トリプルホップIPA)

isekadoya_triplehopipa

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.0%

Availability: Autumn

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 45; hops – Simcoe, Citra, Mosaic

Review:

Pour – Also orange-amber, lots of sediment, not much foam at all

Aroma – Fairly mild aroma, faint fruit punch sweet smell

Flavor – Mild, a bit of malts, a bit of bitter on the finish, but really nothing much here

We haven’t been too excited about Ise Kadoya beers in the past, but for some reason we still tend to review them when we find anything that sounds interesting. In particular, although the only Ise Kadoya IPA review we’ve done before is their Grassy India Pale Ale, most of their IPAs that I’ve tried have always been somewhat disappointing. The Triple Hop IPA is not necessarily their flagship beer (that would probably be their excellent Imperial Red Ale), but it’s a beer you see around town whenever they brew it. It’s nominally an autumn release (I can’t verify, but I feel like I’ve seen this at other times as well but not sure), and intended to be a fairly restrained IPA with an IBU of only 45 (for comparison, the Shiga Kogen IPA has an IBU of 60, and even the Tamamura Honten Africa Pale Ale session IPA has an IBU of 50). As for the three hops, they use Simcoe as the bittering hop, with the Citra and Mosaic adding the fruity aspects to it. Let’s see how this modest IPA plays out.

I would say that rather than restrained, the Ise Kadoya Triple Hop IPA is quite bland for an IPA, and really could use a lot more punch. The bitterness is there but fairly mild, and that’s about the only sensation you can really detect in this beer. Yes, there’s a slight maltiness in the middle, but really, this beer needs more. It could be more malts, it could be more pine, it could be more citrus – ideally, it would be a combination of those to make a balanced IPA, but it needs something. Most of the Ise Kadoya IPAs that I’ve tried have been bland though, so this certainly isn’t a surprise. You could call it restrained if you want, but I think this one needs a bit more work to get something with some flavors. As for purchasing, this one was bought at Tanakaya for 515 yen, so while it’s not super pricey there isn’t a whole lot to recommend about this.

Anchor Go West! IPA

anchor_gowestipa

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.7%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 12 fl oz bottle

Review:

Pour – Pale orange, very cloudy, lots of carbonation

Aroma – Sweet pine and resin, also almost a brett oak smell

Flavor – Big combination of pine and tropical fruit, flavors really explode on finish, is appropriately bitter but not overly so

As we covered in our Anchor Brekle’s Brown review, Anchor is a fairly old and venerated California brewery, dating all the way back to 1871. However, for most of that time they only brewed their famous Anchor Steam Beer until the 1970s, when they started introducing some other classic beers like their Anchor Porter, the Liberty Ale (which basically started the hoppy IPA trend in America), and the Old Foghorn (which also basically started the American barley wine trend). However, they took another bit of a hiatus in terms of new product development after that until about 2010, when they started again putting out new beers such as Brekle’s Brown, the California Lager, a dry-hopped version of the Anchor Steam, and this Go West! IPA, which was first brewed in 2015. This relatively-moderate-for-a-West-Coast-IPA-at-6.7%-ABV is dry-hopped, and one of the hops used is the relatively new Eureka hop, which promises to be super piney. Let’s see how it plays out.

The Anchor Go West! IPA is a well-made IPA, and particularly interesting for how suddenly the flavor comes midway through the process. Initially there is a solid malt and pine sense to it, and then the pine really comes through in a big way together with a lot of fruit. It tails off into a moderate bitterness with some remnants of the pine and fruit, and it makes for quite an interesting IPA with a great flavor progression. It’s not quite the standard flavor profile, and I really liked it. The Eureka hops are clearly doing their job here with lots of pine and fruit, and while this is the first beer that I’m aware of that uses Eureka hops, it certainly makes me want to look for more.

As for purchasing, Anchor beers can be found at other places in addition to the usual craft beer shops – I purchased this one at Don Quixote for a mere 427 yen, which is a great bargain for a beer as good as this one. I’ve also seen Anchor beers available at places like Aeon Style, Yamaya, and Shinanoya, so this one shouldn’t be too hard to find. It’s much better than either the Brimmer IPA or the Ise Kadoya Triple Hop IPA (for what it’s worth I’d rate the Brimmer IPA above the Triple Hop IPA), and as it’s also cheaper than either of those it’s definitely the clear winner here.

Songbird Ginger Noir / Kazakami Muishiki no Shounin

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)

songbird_gingernoir

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.0%

Availability: Winter

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

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)

kazakami_muishikinoshounin

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 8.0%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

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.

 

 

SanktGallen Sesame Chocolate Stout / SanktGallen Sweet Vanilla Stout

As SanktGallen have released this year’s Valentine’s Day chocolate stouts, we’ll take a look at the 2017 limited release Sesame Chocolate Stout. We’ll follow that up with a review of their excellent regularly available Sweet Vanilla Stout.

SanktGallen Sesame Chocolate Stout (サンクトガーレン・セサミチョコレートスタウト)

sanktgallen_sesamechocolatestout

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.5%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 28; OG – 1.066; hops – Chinook, HBC 431

Review:

Pour – Moderate but creamy foam, cola black

Aroma – Smells very much like sesame and peanut butter (Nutter Butter!), a little bit of chocolate

Flavor – Initially roast sesame, chocolate in the middle, then a peanut buttery finish, very creamy texture overall, a bit more roast chocolate and bitter as it warms up

As we’ve covered before here, every January SanktGallen release four Valentine’s Day dark beers, with the solid Imperial Chocolate Stout being the centerpiece. They also release a Valentine’s Day special label of the Sweet Vanilla Stout (which is the same beer as the regular version, just with a different label), the not very good Orange Chocolate Stout, and a special version of a chocolate stout that varies every year. These are somewhat hit and miss, with the Smoked Chocolate Stout from 2015 being a winner, but the Strawberry Chocolate Stout from 2016 being a dud.

The 2017 special chocolate stout is a Sesame Chocolate Stout, which is quite unusual – I don’t think we’ve reviewed a sesame beer yet (nor even heard of one!). In terms of brewing process, they used black sesame, which they ground right before brewing, and threw it in at 3 different stages – the mash, the boil, and the secondary fermentation. Apparently they used 200kg of black sesame per batch, so that’s a lot of sesame (although Tamamura Honten named their 1t IPA after the fact that they used 1 ton of malts for each batch of that beer, which comes out to about 440kg of malts!).

One other minor brewing note – the hops they’ve used here are Chinook and HBC 431. Chinook, of course, is a hop commonly seen in pale ales and IPAs and such and known for being somewhat spicy and piney. The HBC 431, on the other hand, is one of those newer hops that we discussed briefly in our review of Tamamura Honten’s Not So Red crack at a red IPA. It’s an experimental hop that is supposed to less heavy on the citrus and more about earth tones. We certainly wouldn’t expect a sesame stout to be too citrus-focused, so let’s see how all that sesame and earthy hops play out in the beer.

The SanktGallen Sesame Chocolate Stout is quite an interesting and well-done brew, especially if you like Nutter Butters. Remember those? Rather regrettably the ingredient list certainly doesn’t look too appetizing now (for what it’s worth, there’s no sesame in the Nutter Butter), and apparently according to UrbanDictionary there are some rather unsavory alternative usages of the brand name now. Anyway, I used to really like those snacks, and it turns out that I still like them, at least in liquid alcohol form. The aroma is big, and pretty much initially is Nutter Butter spot on, with a strong combination of sesame and peanut butter, although you do get some roast and chocolate stoutness in there too. The flavor is also big too, although it is heavier on the roast chocolate than the aroma is. That doesn’t mean the sesame is ignored though, as it’s present throughout, and especially contributes to a nice peanut butter finish.

Overall this is a pretty unique beer, and I’m surprised at how well the sesame works here. I was initially somewhat skeptical, as some of their flavored Valentine’s Day stouts don’t work that well (see the Valentine’s Day regular Orange Chocolate Stout and last year’s Valentine’s Day one-off Strawberry Chocolate Stout). This one, though, definitely maintains strong stout-like characteristics and complements them with the sesame, rather than fundamentally changing the nature of the stout in favor of the special ingredient. We mentioned how they use quite a large quantity of sesame in this beer, and it definitely shows but works well. In sum this beer is rich and savory and definitely worth trying. In fact, it’s probably the best of the special one-off chocolate stouts that SanktGallen have released.

The Sesame Chocolate Stout can be found wherever you can find their Valentine’s Day beers, which get wider distribution than their normal beers. I found mine at Shinanoya for 540 yen (and they usually don’t carry SanktGallen), but I’ve also seen it at Liquors Hasegawa, Le petit L’ouest (who also don’t stock them normally), Izuya, and World Beer Market (formerly Tokyo Liquor Land).

SanktGallen Sweet Vanilla Stout (サンクトガーレン・スイートバニラスタウト)

sanktgallen_sweetvanillastout

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.5%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 28; OG – 1.068; hops – Chinook, E.K.G., Perle

Review:

Pour – Cola black, thin foam

Aroma – Roast chocolate and vanilla are strong in equal proportions

Flavor – Chocolate at first, but then soon enough vanilla comes in with great impact, and then chocolate returns on the finish with a bit of bitterness as well

The Sweet Vanilla Stout is part of SanktGallen’s regular lineup, although as we mentioned they include it as part of their Valentine’s Day set with a neck ribbon that says “St. Valentines’s Day”. The beer itself isn’t changed, and it makes uses of real vanilla beans rather than extract. They make a point of noting this, and also point out that they use grade A vanilla sourced from Papua New Guinea preferred by patissiers. A quick Google search turns up that this must be the Vanilla Tahitensis, which is a not-quite-as-vanilla-y variety than its stronger counterpart Vanilla Planifolia, and is indeed grown mostly in Papua New Guinea and used in pastry. So on to the beer to see the Vanilla Tahitensis in action!

As the aroma suggests, the SanktGallen Sweet Vanilla Stout is a solid combination of roasted chocolate and vanilla. It’s not sweet, and achieves a good balance of drawing out vanilla flavors without overdoing it while still having plenty of roast stoutness to it. There is also some bitterness just to let you know the hops are there. The use of the vanilla here is quite skillful, and it seems like they’ve made good choices with the type of vanilla (in that the Tahitensis isn’t going to be too overwhelming) and how they use it, with the beans allowing them to get a lot of vanilla in the aroma but not have it dominate and kill the flavor. Overall this is a nicely done beer and one of my favorites from SanktGallen. The only points I would dock it are for having a slight soda flash at the end, but not enough to really take away from the strong suits of the beer.

Given how good this beer is it’s surprisingly hard to find in Tokyo, especially since Le Collier shuttered their doors. I bought mine at Liquors Hasegawa, which stocks it occasionally, but it’s pretty rare to see this on the shelves anywhere in Tokyo. I did once see it at a very good price (under 400 yen, if I recall correctly!) at The Garden Jiyugoaka supermarket in Meguro, but I’m not sure where you could find it regularly. Liquors Hasegawa is still probably your best shot, and as it’s a quality beer I’d definitely recommend trying it out. I should also note that it’s very very rare on tap as well, so even though bottles aren’t that easy to come by it’s still a better bet than waiting for it to show up on tap somewhere.

So both of the flavored stouts we tried today were very very good, and while of course they have their misses SanktGallen have proven that they definitely are capable of making excellent stouts. Both the limited brew Sesame Chocolate Stout and the regular Sweet Vanilla Stout use their respective special ingredients in a way that draws out the unique flavor characteristics but complement rather than overpower the stout aspects of the beer. This definitely goes down as two more wins from SanktGallen, who again prove that they are indeed one of the best stout producers in Japan.

 

Baird Bureiko Jikan Strong Golden Ale / De Ranke Guldenberg

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)

Baird_BureikoJikan

(Update 2017/06/24 – new label released this year)

Baird_BureikoJikan_NewLabel

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 9.0%

Availability: Summer

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 30; hops – GR Taurus, GR Tradition, US Sterling, SL Styrian Golding

Review:

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

deranke_guldenberg

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 8.0%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 40; hops – Hallertau Mittelfrüh

Review:

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.