Today we’re looking at a couple of limited release local strong lagers – the usually reliable Y.Market W-IPL, along with the Iwate Kura Bakusui Lager.
Y.Market W-IPL (ワイマーケット・ダブルIPL)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 63.7; hops – Citra, US Simcoe, US Mosaic
Pour – Full orange-gold, very frothy and creamy
Aroma – Very fruity hops, lemon zest
Flavor – Initially a bit of malts, then sweet and piney with lots of citrus fruit, finish is earthy bitter with lots of lemon peel, quite zesty and refreshing
We’ve only reviewed one Y.Market beer here before (the excellent Table Pils), but don’t mistake our lack of frequency for a lack of enthusiasm. In fact, Y.Market are one of the best brewers in Japan right now and we’d love to review more of their beers, except they almost never release bottles of them. Aside from the Table Pils we reviewed earlier, the only other ones I can recall seeing are “Prototype” bottled versions of their Craft Heart Red and Hysteric IPA. All of their beers are contract brewed at Gotemba Kogen, who themselves don’t really make earth-shattering beers but seem to do a good enough job with the Y.Market contract brews.
I should also come clean here about the tremendous back log at BeerEast we’re working through here. It’s currently December 2017, and this W-IPL was actually released in February 2017. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons why this review is being written up right now is that Y.Market just released bottled version of the W-IPL’s little siblings earlier this month – the standard IPL, which is being released for the first time, and the Session IPL, which was also released in February 2017 and has been brewed again. Recipe-wise, the Session IPL and the W-IPL (which were first released at the same time) actually have similar specs, with both using Citra, Simcoe, and Mosaic hops. Despite the difference in ABV (8%+ for the W-IPL and 4.5% for the Session IPL), their stated IBU values are not that far off, at 63.7 for the W-IPL and 55.3 for the Session IPL. Armed with that knowledge, let’s get to the beer.
The Y.Market W-IPL is a very nicely done imperial lager, with a few different elements working together nicely but boldly. There’s a fairly solid malt base, but the hops really shine through with the citrus fruits. It’s malty enough to remind you it’s a lager, fruity and piney enough to bring together the “India Pale” part of it, and to boot has a tangy and zesty quality to it that mixes well with the malts and hops. It’s a very very refreshing beer, and at 8% quite dangerous – the only giveaway to its high ABV might be that it’s just a tad sweet, but otherwise you wouldn’t notice. An excellent beer, and while there aren’t too many competitors in Japan for IPLs this is undoubtedly the best so far.
Given how nice this beer is, it’s a shame they don’t release this regularly. I purchased mine back in February 2017 at Tanakaya for 550 yen, which is quite a bargain in Japan. Y.Market bottles are of course rare in and of themselves, and you also won’t find many places selling them – Tanakaya, Izuya, and Le Petite L’ouest are the only places I’ve seen them. Again, it’s not currently available, but if you ever see this anywhere snap it up, as it’s a great beer.
Iwate Kura Bakusui Lager (いわて蔵ビール・麦酔ラガー)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Pink reddish-orange, cloudy, not much carbonation
Aroma – Dirty malts, sweet, slight hint of citrus
Flavor – Quite malty and bready, dirty hop bitter on the finish, a bit of caramel, just a hint of yuzu tart on the finish
We’ve liked quite a few of the Iwate Kura beers so far, including their excellent Oyster Stout, their interesting Egoma IPA, and their solid takes on English style beers like their India Pale Ale and their Stout. I haven’t tried any of their lagers before though, so this will be a first in that respect.
Of course, if you look carefully, you’ll also see that this isn’t really an Iwate Kura beer per se. While Iwate Kura is the final brewer of the beer the Bakusui Lager is actually the result of something called the Tohoku-damashi Beer Project (東北魂ビールプロジェクト, which they themselves translate as the Tohoku Soul Beer Project). This collaboration is a meeting of the minds of 5 Tohoku brewers after the 2011 earthquake, with the stated purpose being to further their knowledge and research through collaboration and lift up all the participants. The 5 brewers involved in this beer are Iwate Kura (which is the largest here), Aqula, Michinoku Fukushima, Zumona, and Sennan. To be honest, other than Iwate Kura (who garner a fair amount of respect here) and Aqula (who aren’t that major but do get a bit of recognition), the other three breweries hardly register on the scene here. I suppose this project is a way to balance that out somewhat, so perhaps that is also part of their intent here.
In any case, this Bakusui Lager is the 5th beer resulting from this group project. It’s a strong-ish imperial lager at 8.6% ABV, and the secret ingredient here is locally sourced yuzu. In fact, the yuzu is from Miyagi-ken and is said to be the northernmost naturally grown yuzu in Japan, and they use both the peel and the flesh here in this beer. The other brewing note they publicize is that they’ve lagered this beer for a longer period than normal – 2 months as to their usual 3 weeks.
One quick naming note – the name “Bakusui” is a play on words and normally means fast asleep (爆睡), but the kanji they use here is a made-up homonym and uses the characters for barley and drunk (麦酔). With that, on to the beer!
The Iwate Kura Bakusui Lager is decent but overall not so exciting given the ABV. It’s quite bready and malty, but there isn’t much else there. You get a little bit of citrus on the nose and a slight hint of tart on the finish, but otherwise the yuzu doesn’t add a whole lot here. There’s also a little bit of hop bitterness near the end as well, so while there are slight touches of other elements, none of them are sufficient enough to alter the perception that this is just very bready and malty. It’s certainly not offensive or bad but just not that great, so while I don’t think I would personally buy too many of these I could at least recommend trying it once to see what you think.
So comparing these two strong lagers, the Y.Market W-IPL is the clear winner here – it’s bold and flavorful and complex and balanced, and might be one of the best beers in Japan period, regardless of style. It’s definitely the best lager of any kind here, and reinforces how good Y.Market really are, even though they haven’t been around that long. The Iwate Kura Bakusui Lager isn’t terrible, but there’s no way it can hang with the W-IPL here, so do yourself a favor and pick up the Y.Market offering if they ever release it again.
As I mentioned before part of the impetus for finishing off this review was the release of the Y.Market IPL and Session IPL, so hopefully we’ll be able to try those soon as well.