Daisen G Weizen / Daisen G Rauch Weizen

We haven’t yet reviewed the standard Daisen G Weizen, so we’ll do that today along with their limited smoked version of that beer, the Daisen G Rauch Weizen.

Daisen G Weizen (大山Gビール・ヴァイツェン)

DaisenG_Weizen

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.0%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Very hazy and cloudy, creamy and frothy, pale apple-juice gold

Aroma – Spicy banana and cloves, yeasty

Flavor – Spicy at first, good banana in the middle, finish is wheaty but also somewhat malty, good balance, slightly citrus tangy as well, loses a lot as it warms up

While Daisen G make some fantastic beers of different styles (see their Bock, Dubbel, and Grand Saison, Wheat Wine, and Yago), their good beers are usually their limited brews while their standard lineup is actually quite mediocre. Consisting of this weizen, a pale ale, a pilsner, and a stout, if my memory serves me correctly none of them even remotely approach the heights that some of their other beers reach. With that not-so-optimistic lead-in, let’s see how the official review of their weizen turns out.

I enjoyed the Daisen G Weizen a lot more than I remembered from before, and found it to be a very well-balanced weizen with a good amount of flavor. I liked the spice and banana aspect to it, but also thought that there was a good solid maltiness that balanced out the banana fairly well – often I find that some weizen have a lot of banana but not much else to match it with, leaving a very one-sided beer. This one also had a bit of citrus to go with it, so that was also a nice touch. It did suffer a little bit as it warmed up, though, losing some flavor across the board in terms of spice, banana, and citrus. That does necessitate docking it a fair amount, as it does really lose a lot over time. That’s quite a shame in this case, as when fresh it’s a very good weizen.

So while we have a mixed result here, it’s still the best of the Daisen G regular offerings in my view and worth checking out once. It’s a little pricey for what it is, running me 540 yen at the Tottori Okayama Shinbashi-kan satellite shop. If you do manage to make it to that satellite shop (which as you might guess from its name carries local products from both Tottori and Okayama), it’s a great place for picking up regular beers from both Daisen G (from Tottori) and Doppo (from Okayama), including their slightly harder-to-track-down Imperial Ale.

Daisen G Rauch Weizen (大山Gビール・ラオホヴァイツェン)

DaisenG_RauchWeizen

Vitals:

No RateBeer entry yet!

ABV: 5.0%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Deep and vivid reddish-orange, hazy, solid foam that sticks around

Aroma – Very mild, malty, slight smoke

Flavor – Tangy and citrusy, a little spicy, finish has slight smoky bitterness and lots of citrus, malty

Now that we’ve reviewed their regular weizen, this is probably a good time to check out their limited brew Rauch Weizen. On top of their base weizen recipe they’ve basically added roasted malts and malts smoked in buna. Buna is a Japanese beech tree native to Japan, and while it is quite widespread and can be found almost everywhere in Japan it hasn’t traditionally found too many human applications, due to its mass density and also its tendency to rot quickly. Will it finally find its purpose as a key ingredient for local smoked weizens? Let’s find out.

The Daisen G Rauch Weizen is a decent effort, but it didn’t quite have the smoky punch I expected it to (are we going to blame the poor buna for this?). It’s very mild all around, and doesn’t differ all that much from its regular forebear. It’s malty and tangy with some spice and citrus, and then the rauch part of the beer comes through in the finish with a mild but noticeable smokiness that lingers a bit. Overall I’d say that the balance and flavors are fine, but I was expecting a bit more excitement here, especially given that Daisen G are usually quite good.

So ultimately we came away a little disappointed with the lack of impact from the smoked buna here (it’s no Aecht Schlenkerla), and it certainly wasn’t cheap at 648 yen (at Tanakaya). However, it’s a pretty rare style in general and especially in Japan, so if you come across it it’s probably worth a shot. On the other hand, it isn’t too far off from its base weizen, so you might want to try the regular Daisen G Weizen first and see how you like it before spending the money on the smoked version.

There isn’t a huge tradition of smoked beers here in Japan, so we’ll definitely keep an eye out for them. On the other hand, there are tons of weizens here, so we’ll have more of those reviews coming up, so stay tuned!

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Brimmer Porter / Minamishinshu Porter

This week’s edition of BeerEast brings you a look at two local standard porters, with the Brimmer Porter facing off against the winter seasonal Minamishinshu Porter.

Brimmer Porter (ブリマー・ポーター)

Brimmer_Porter

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.5%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Thick oily-black, nice lacing, appealing pour overall

Aroma – Very nice deep chocolate roast smell, slight coffee as well

Flavor – Not much initially, creamy and smooth, then slight burnt chocolate bitter on the finish, overall flavor is thinner than aroma suggests, much more chocolate impact as it warms up

It’s been a while since we covered a Brimmer brew, and the last one a couple of years ago lamented the diminishing presence of Brimmer in the beer scene. I don’t particularly think that they make the most awesome beers, but they are usually at least slightly above average, and they had managed to generate a fair amount of attention since their relatively recent inception. They did some work on their brewing facilities, and although they appear to be back at full capacity it hasn’t led to any increased output. I suppose the shuttering of the Brimmer Beer Box in Aoyama impacted their visibility quite a bit, and even though they’ve opened up a replacement pseudo-taproom in Kuji their general presence in the beer scene is now almost negligible. You don’t see their bottles much anymore, and even on tap they just aren’t around much. With that somewhat downcast commentary, let’s see what their regular-lineup Porter has to offer.

The Brimmer Porter starts out quite mediocre, with perhaps the strong roast aroma setting expectations a bit too high. The texture and flavors are quite thin at first, and while there is some dark roast there it’s hardly perceptible until the finish. As it warms up though, not only the chocolate aspects but also the bitter aspects become stronger, giving it the flavor that it needs. The poor start and thin texture ultimately doom this beer, though, and it never becomes anything more than a serviceable porter. That’s a bit of a shame, as the aroma on this beer is very nice and it has potential if they could coax some stronger flavors out of it and fatten it up a bit.

Distribution-wise it’s also a bit hard to track down recently – I found mine at Tanakaya (for a decent price of 491 yen), but of late I only see Brimmer beers there and at Izuya. I used to see them at Deguchiya but they don’t carry them anymore, and they are very intermittent at Liquors Hasegawa, although I believe they will still stock them from time to time. It’s not a world-beater so you won’t be missing much if you give it a pass, and I wouldn’t say it’s worth the effort required to find this beer in Tokyo.

Minamishinshu Porter (南信州ビール・ポーター)

Minamishinshu_Porter

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.0%

Availability: Winter

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Standard cola-black, relatively foamy at first but settles quickly

Aroma – Fairly mild, a bit of plum and caramel

Flavor – Initially a little bit of a strange sourness, then some plum on the finish with a slight hint of roast

If you’ve been following our Minamishinshu reviews, you’ll have noted that we’re usually not super impressed with them. We did like their WOWOW Akane Barley Wine, and though that at least their fruit beers and dunkelweizen were OK, but for the most part Minamishinshu occupy that space where they’re not terrible but we wouldn’t expect anything truly great from them. Mediocrity defined, if you will. It’s unlikely that their winter seasonal Porter (available January-February every year) will do anything to convince us otherwise, but let’s see what it has to offer.

The Minamishinshu Porter is also quite mediocre and thin, with more of a focus (if you can call it that, given how light the beer is) on the dark fruit aspects of a dark beer rather than on the roast chocolate characteristics. There’s a slight sensation of plum, and an even slighter sensation of dry roast chocolate, but overall this is a very bland porter. It also has a bit of that soapy sourness right smack in the middle that makes this a little unpleasant to drink, so definitely this one gets a thumbs down.

If you are interested in trying this beer despite its unenthusiastic reception here at BeerEast, I picked up my bottle at Shinshu Osake-mura for 514 yen. As a devoted Nagano alcohol purveyor they’re always your best bet for Minamishinshu beers, as they don’t normally get too wide distribution (although Tanakaya will generally carry their seasonals).

So unfortunately today’s local porter tasting was somewhat of a bust, with neither the Brimmer Porter and the Minamishinshu Porter being anywhere close to excellent. The Brimmer definitely was better and showed more promise, but even though it’s a clear winner today it wouldn’t stand a chance against a better local porter like the Baird Kurofune Porter. I suppose the standard porter isn’t so popular compared to the stout, even if stylistically nobody could really define the difference precisely, but if you’re looking for a good local example of a porter this isn’t it. Like I said, go with the Kurofune, but hopefully we can find some others around here that can at least give it a run for its money.

 

Iwate Kura Smoke Ale / Songbird Double Smoked Porter

We like our smoked beers here, so we’re going to review a couple of somewhat rare local ones – the Iwate Kura Smoke Ale and the the Songbird Double Smoked Porter.

Iwate Kura Smoke Ale (いわて蔵ビール・スモークエール)

iwatekura_smokeale

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.0%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Very reddish with a tinge of brown, fairly foamy and creamy

Aroma – Big smoked cheese aroma

Flavor – Actually has a bit of tartness to it surprisingly, some malts too, smoke is most prominent on the finish, dry with a touch of hops at the end as well, somewhat thin

Going back and looking at our past Iwate Kura reviews, it’s clear that we think they’re capable of making some very good beers (see their very good Oyster Stout, English-style India Pale Ale, or the unique Egoma IPA) but also with some duds thrown in there (any of their weizen-related beers). The pattern seems to be that they are pretty good with their English-style brews, but when they move away from there it starts to get dicey. Today’s Smoke Ale that we’ll be looking at is something of a rarity for them – as far as I know they don’t make any other smoked beers, but they were at least wise enough to go with an ale rather than a lager, given their track record.

This beer doesn’t have a whole lot of information out there in terms of brewing notes. Their product page notes that it is a fall seasonal (I do see it around then, but it’s pretty hard to find still), and that rather than the hops they’re trying to bring out the smoked and caramel malt characteristics. Let’s see if they’ve managed to do that.

The Iwate Kura Smoke Ale is an interesting beer that’s pretty heavy on the smoke, but also has a surprising sweetness and tartness to it. I really liked the smoked cheese aroma to start off with, and there was a good amount of smoke in the flavor as well. Overall though, it’s bit on the thin side and a bit spritzy, and as it warms up the nice smokiness gives way to a bit of a flatter, harsher maltiness that tastes a bit off. It’s too bad, as this beer definitely shows some promise, but it does need some improvement in its execution.

As I mentioned above, this fall seasonal is pretty hard to come by. I purchased mine at Izuya for a reasonable 560 yen, and while I’ve also seen it at Liquors Hasegawa before in general it’s not too widely available. Again, it isn’t a spectacular smoked beer so it’s probably not worth the trouble to track down if you don’t happen across it.

Songbird Double Smoked Porter (ソングバード・ダブルスモークドポーター)

songbird_doublesmokedporter

Vitals:

No RateBeer entry yet!

ABV: 8.5%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Thick oily black, almost no carbonation at all

Aroma – Very thick smoky medicinal gauze peaty aroma, very nice

Flavor – Lots of plum and cherry, some spice and sweetness in there, finish is combination of peat and bitter plum, very flat texture, bitter plum gets a bit harsh on the finish

We’ve learned here at BeerEast to not get our hopes up for any Songbird beer, as good as they might sound. They typically have a nice concept for a beer that isn’t done well at all, leading to disappointment (see their Peaty Oyster Stout or Myrtille Noir). That said, given the dearth of good smoked beers in Japan, we did find ourselves eyeing this beer, which again sounds great – a smoked Belgian double that uses peat and buna (a Japanese beech) smoked malts. Will this be the beer to break the Songbird curse?

The Songbird Double Smoked Porter is quite an interesting beer flavor-wise that just might do just enough to qualify as breaking the curse. It has a very strong combination of peat and plum coming at you somewhat relentlessly, that at first works well in its boldness, aided by the spice and sweetness present in the beer. After some time though it wears you down somewhat, and ultimately perhaps it’s a bit too much and gets harsh, although I think it’s certainly a good effort. Probably the biggest demerit for this beer is its very flat texture, which is so unbeery that it really gives the impression of being thin and watery to the point of distraction, even if it does have quite strong flavors.

So the final verdict here would be that certainly it’s less of a disappointment than many of their other products, but again, in many ways you could say that it’s also the same old story for Songbird – good potential here, but still unrefined. I found mine at Liquors Hasegawa for 750 yen, so it’s certainly not cheap, and while I won’t be buying another one anytime soon if you like the concept you may want to give it a try, as even though it has a ways to go it’s still better-executed than most of their beers.

We like our smoked beers here, so it’s always nice to find local examples. Unfortunately, both of today’s were somewhat flawed, with both sharing a nice smokiness to them but also a thin texture and suffering from some harshness. If I had to choose one I’d go with the Songbird, but both Iwate Kura and Songbird have some work to do before they can challenge any of the Fujizakura Heights smoked beers (see their Rauch and Rauch Bock) or the Tazawako Rauch for local quality!

Kujyukuri Ocean Beer Pale Ale / North Island KAMIFU100 Pale Ale / Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale

Today we’ll be looking at a couple of not-so-common local versions of the American pale ale with the Kujyukuri Ocean Beer Pale Ale and the North Island KAMIFU100 Pale Ale. Together with it we’ll also be looking at the Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale from New Zealand.

Kujyukuri Ocean Beer Pale Ale (九十九里オーシャンビール・ペールエール)

kujyukuoceanbeer_paleale

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.0%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 20; hops: Saaz, Northern Brewer, Cascade

Review:

Pour – Mild carbonation, cloudy amber

Aroma – Sweet malts, just a slight whiff of hops

Flavor – A bit malty but mostly just watery, slight banana on the finish

Even for those of you who are relatively familiar with Japanese beer would be forgiven for not being familiar with Kujyukuri Ocean Beer. They’re quite minor, and are again an example of local “ji-biru” as opposed to craft beer. Based in Chiba, the parent company is actually a sake brewer named Kankiku (寒菊), with a history they trace back to 1883.

The beer branch of the company only got its start in 1997, and they produce their brews under the name Kujyukuri Ocean Beer. The name comes from their location near the Kujukuri Beach in Chiba, and the origin of the name of the beach is also quite curious. Legend has it that Minamoto no Yoritomo ordered the length of the beach to be measured, so they stuck an arrow into the beach every ri (, an obsolete unit of measure that stems from ancient China and whose value has fluctuated through history fairly significantly, but during the era in question was somewhere between 545 and 655m to 1 ri). When it was all said and done there were 99 arrows in the beach, and so the beach became known as Kujukuri Beach!

Going back to their beer brewing for a bit, as I mentioned before they are not necessarily a craft brewer but more of a local beer producer who is in the game for reasons that aren’t necessarily too clear, other than the relaxing of brewing laws when they started brewing beer. Their regular lineup consists of the usual suspects like a pilsner, weizen, and stout in addition to this pale ale (and also a rice beer and recent IPA inclusion), but I have never seen their beers anywhere on tap and very rarely in bottled form. Actually, besides departments stores (I bought this beer for 399 yen at Takashimaya), the only other place I have ever seen their bottles for sale is at BiaMa in Kita-senju (and only for a short time). So while there isn’t a whole lot of reason for optimism, let’s see what the beer has to offer.

The Kujyukuri Ocean Pale Ale is a very poor beer, with the overriding effect being just watery. There’s no clear malt or hop direction at all, and if there is any flavor you can pick out it would be a tiny bit of banana (which is weird for a pale ale) and a touch of the medicinal. I think the less said of this beer the better, so let me just end this review by saying that I do like the dolphin on their label.

North Island KAMIFU100 Pale Ale 2016 (ノースアイランド・KAMIFU100 Pale Ale 2016)

northisland_kamifu100

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.5%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 30

Review:

Pour – Orange-gold, pretty healthy carbonation

Aroma – Lots of fruity hops, a bit of lemon and pine as well

Flavor – Pine and fruits initially, and then piney bitter with some grapefruit on the finish, bitterness quite strong on the aftertaste

North Island actually doesn’t make a pale ale as part of their regular lineup, which is perhaps surprising given how excellent their standard IPA is. Today’s KAMIFU100 Pale Ale also is not really what a potential standard North Island pale ale would look like, as it is a somewhat particular beer.

The reason why this is not likely to be a candidate to be a regular beer is given away partially in the name of the beer itself – the KAMIFU100 refers to the fact that this is a single hop (100%) beer made from Cascade hops grown in Kamifurano. Kamifurano (上富良野) is a nature spot in Hokkaido that also happens to have a large hop farm with a fairly long history (for hops in Japan, that is), having started growing hops in 1926. Hokkaido itself (where of course North Island is also located) had been the main location for Japanese hop-growing since 1872, with hop production propelled forward by Sapporo.

There were various ups and downs throughout the history of Kamifurano, especially with World War II. The history notes the hop tragedies suffered during the war, such as having to give up the hop harvest to the imperial government to help combat a clothing shortage, and a beer production ban imposed by the government shortly before the end of the war. While this history doesn’t mention anything about war atrocities or atomic bombs or human suffering during the war, it does mention that fortunately the war ended shortly after the brewing ban and they were able to resume hop production shortly thereafter.

While historically Kamifurano has grown mostly German and Czech-style hops (think Hallertau and Saaz), which makes sense given the German pilsner brewing tradition in Japan and Sapporo, Sapporo has also developed and registered their own hop varietals. Some of them include ones you’ve probably heard of, like Sorachi Ace and Shinshuwase, but the Kamifurano site lists Little Star and Furano Special as two varietals Sapporo has been trying to push, although a quick Google search indicates it has not taken hold much at all.

This KAMIFU100 Pale Ale, though, doesn’t use German-style hops – it uses Cascade hops instead. Furthermore, they’re using whole hops for this beer, which I doubt Sapporo does for their beers! North Island actually first brewed this beer in February of 2016, and this one we’re reviewing here is the second round.

 

The North Island KAMIFU100 Pale Ale is a solid pale ale, although the bitterness on the finish from the hops gets to be a little bit harsh. I like the pine and fruit, and overall it has a lot of good flavor. Again, the one improvement I would hope for would be to remove the excess harsh bitterness to round it out, but this is a pretty decent pale ale here. As always with Tanakaya the price does makes you hesitate (606 yen at Tanakaya), but this is probably worth at least trying once.

Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale

tuatara_aotearoapaleale

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.8%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 46; hops – Motueka, Pacific Jade, NZ Cascade, Nelson Sauvin

Review:

Pour – Nice and foamy, crisp gold orange in color

Aroma – Lots and lots of tropical fruit, also a bit like white wine, pine as well

Flavor – Nice balance, initially malts but with lots of fruit, gets piney, and then transitions to hop bitter finish, bitterness lasts but not too harsh

The only Tuatara beer we’ve reviewed here on BeerEast is their Weiz Guy weizen, which was pretty middling. Throwing in the fact that they’ve sold out to Heineken/DB, there wasn’t much good to say about that one. We’re hoping for better things from today’s Aotearoa Pale Ale, which is a New Zealand take on the American Pale Ale.

The origin myth of this beer is that they lost their US supply of pale ale hops in a fire, and decided to try substituting local hops. Those local hops would be Motueka (an all-around hop descended from Saaz), Pacific Jade (another NZ descendant of Saaz also used in their Weiz Guy), locally grown Cascade, and Nelson Sauvin (probably the most famous NZ hop with its white wine characteristics). With all of the Kiwi-ness happening here they’ve actually recently changed the name of this beer to Kapai, in the long tradition of white New Zealanders appropriating Maori culture (kapai means good or pleasant in Maori). Let’s see if at least they’ve committed cultural appropriation in service of a good beer.

The Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale is a very well-done pale ale, and the pick of today’s litter. It has a lot of elements in there, but really it’s the balance that the malts bring to it that I think keep it in line and prevent it from being too bitter. Of course it also has the fruit and pine to add a wider range of flavors, but really it’s the malt/hop balance that’s really nicely executed and key to the beer. It’s also quite affordable (thanks, giant brewing conglomerates!) at 490 yen at Liquors Hasegawa, and like the shiny affordable price distribution in Japan is also much more prevalent recently.

So today’s finish order is pretty clear – the Tuatara wins out in terms of both quality and price, but if you’d rather go local and non-macro then the North Island KAMIFU100 would be a good bet, except that you probably can’t get your hands on it anymore as it’s a limited brew. The Kujyukuri Ocean Beer Pale Ale is also somewhat hard to get a hold of, but that’s mostly because it isn’t in very high demand, and right so as it’s not very good at all.

If only all beer rankings were so easy!

Ise Kadoya Lush Hop IPA / Ise Kadoya Lush Hop IPA Revolution

As Ise Kadoya just released their “President’s Special” version of the Lush Hop IPA, we’ll take a look at the original Lush Hop IPA along with the revamped Lush Hop IPA Revolution.

Ise Kadoya Lush Hop IPA (伊勢角屋・ラッシュホップIPA)

IseKadoya_LushHopIPA

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.0%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 60; hops – Chinook, Simcoe, Amarillo, Cascade, Citra

Review:

Pour – Healthy creamy foam, relatively clear, copper in color

Aroma – Pleasant tropical fruit, little bit of malts

Flavor – Creamy, initially malts but pine comes out quickly, good combination with fruit, finish is mild bitter, overall mild but nicely balanced, very juicy

Ise Kadoya are currently releasing new beers like mad, and while there aren’t too many diamonds in there we still feel compelled to try anything we can get our hands on. The Lush Hop IPA is actually not a new beer, as they’ve been brewing it since 2015, but it is a limited edition beer that they release periodically. The main marketing point behind this beer appears to be the 5 hop varietals hand-selected by the president for this beer, with those varietals being Chinook, Simcoe, Amarillo, Cascade and Citra. Let’s see those hops in action!

The Ise Kadoya Lush Hop IPA is not spectacular, but still probably one of Ise Kadoya’s better IPAs. First off the juicy texture is very nice, and it has solid pine and fruit to complement the noticeable malt base of the beer. While all of that balances out nicely, I found it to be a little bit lacking in oomph and not so memorable. It’s pretty good, but that’s about it, and doesn’t go far enough to be a great one.

While this is marketed as one of their premier brews, it doesn’t really hold up compared to the IPAs made by Tamamura Honten or the excellent standard North Island IPA. It isn’t a regular beer per se, but like the Ise Kadoya Imperial Red Ale (which is excellent by the way) it’s a limited edition beer that seems to be released irregularly but not that infrequently. Price-wise it’s the standard price for an Ise Kadoya limited beer (605 yen at Deguchiya for mine), so it’s not super cheap either. Let’s see how it’s more premium Revolution sibling does.

Ise Kadoya Lush Hop IPA Revolution (伊勢角屋・ラッシュホップIPAレボリューション)

IseKadoya_LushHopIPARevolution

Vitals:

No RateBeer entry yet!

ABV: 7.5%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 60; hops – Chinook, Simcoe, Amarillo, Cascade, Citra

Review:

Pour – Similar in pour with creamy foam, also similar copper color

Aroma – Pine, a tad maltier

Flavor – Pine is still there, but malts are much stronger, much sweeter, pine turns into resin

The premise behind the Isa Kadoya “President’s Special” series is that their president deigns to come down from his throne and come up a with a beer recipe that he (it’s Japan, so always a he) wants to drink, and even participates in the brewing of it! As they are primarily a beer company (although they did get their start as a tea house over 400 years ago) I’m not sure what the president normally does instead of thinking about beer, but that perhaps is a bit of clue as to whether Ise Kadoya as a brewer is more focused on beer or other things.

In any case, this particular beer is “社長スペシャルNo.7”, or the seventh edition of the President’s Special. Even though they’d just released number 6 (a “Platinum Dragon” version of their Golden Dragon Pale Ale, which I have not tried but if their terrible standard Pale Ale is anything to go by will probably not be very good), they wanted to rush out a No.7 release for their president’s upcoming birthday, which to me seems a fairly weak reason to release a beer.

In terms of brewing notes, they’ve basically tried to stick to the base Lush Hop beer as much as possible. They used the same base ingredients and made some adjustments to up the ABV, but essentially they are aiming for the same Lush Hop IPA but with more of a kick.

In execution though, the Ise Kadoya Lush Hop IPA Revolution suffers a bit from the added strength compared to the original Lush Hop IPA – whatever tuning they did made it become too sweet and resiny. It loses a lot of the fruit and the pine becomes resin, and overall feels much maltier. In short it’s not very well thought out, and it looks like they just ramped up the ABV without giving a whole lot of consideration as to how that would affect the balance of the beer.

In terms of price, I bought the Revolution version at Izuya for 600 yen, so it turns out you don’t actually have to pay any extra for the extra 1.5% ABV. Good deal if you’re after the extra alcohol, but the regular Lush Hop is a better beer then the extra strength Revolution version by virtue of keeping the sweetness under control better. That said, the regular Lush Hop itself is no great shakes, so while it’s not a terrible beer I’d save my money and get anything from Tamamura Honten instead.

Y.Market W-IPL / Iwate Kura Bakusui Lager

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)

YMarket_WIPL

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 8.0%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 63.7; hops – Citra, US Simcoe, US Mosaic

Review:

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)

IwateKura_BakusuiLager

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 8.6%

Availability: Limited

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

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.

Ise Kadoya Imperial Red Ale / AleSmith Double Red India Pale Ale

One of my personal favorite beers in Japan here, and perhaps the only one from Ise Kadoya that I really really like, is their Imperial Red Ale. We haven’t had it for a while so we’ll try one today along with another hoppy red, the AleSmith Double Red India Pale Ale.

Ise Kadoya Imperial Red Ale (伊勢角屋・インペリアルレッドエール)

isekadoya_imperialredale

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 6.0%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 85

Review:

Pour – Nice deep dark reddish-brown, healthy carbonation

Aroma – Big tropical fruit hops, but also caramel malts, very nice

Flavor – Initially malty with a bit of caramel sweetness, then very fruity in the middle, followed by big hop bitterness on the finish with caramel aftertaste

While at BeerEast we never get too excited about Ise Kadoya (although I’ve noticed that we do review their beers somewhat frequently even though we’re not big fans), this is the one beer of theirs that is really top-class. It’s described by them as an “American-style Double Red Ale”, which essentially is a red IPA.

A couple of minor brewing notes – it was first brewed in 2011, and it’s been one of their most popular beers ever since. At first it was only available in larger 500mL bottles, but in that last couple of years those have been replaced by the standard 330mL bottles. Strangely enough, they describe it as being a limited release, but you see it fairly often throughout the year, so I’m not sure exactly when they release this. Finally, as for the specs of this beer, they are very proud of the 85 IBU, which is plastered very conspicuously on the label, and as we’ll see those 85 IBUs certainly get their work in.

The Ise Kadoya Imperial Red Ale is a very very good beer, with the right doses of the red ale aspects (caramel, maltiness, sweetness) but aided by very fruity and juicy hops. Really what makes this beer is the right balance between sweet and bitter, and even those those two elements are very present and strong, neither overpowers the other. This is by far Ise Kadoya’s best beer, and at 6% a reasonable go-to beer to have on hand.

As I mentioned above this is available at pretty regular intervals throughout the year, event though they mark it as a limited release. You can usually find it at Deguchiya, Liquors Hasegawa, and Tanakaya, and it will normally run you around 600 yen (510 yen without shipping on the Ise Kadoya website!). Again, this is a very good beer, so definitely try to find this one if you can – the best red beer in Japan!

AleSmith Double Red India Pale Ale

alesmith_doubleredipa

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 8.5%

Availability: Winter

Package: 12 fl oz bottle

Misc: IBU – 80; OG – 1.090

Review:

Pour – Lots of sediment, cloudy, a brighter orange-red, moderate foam

Aroma – Lots of pine and resin, fruit hops as well, some caramel malts

Flavor – Very smooth and creamy texture, initially quite strong on the pine and sweet malts, some bitterness and fruit hops on the finish but somewhat subdued there, a bit of caramel at the end that lingers

We haven’t covered any AleSmith beers here yet, so even though you are likely familiar with them as they are generally considered one of the best breweries in the world we’ll do a quick overview. They’re based in San Diego (Miramar, to be more precise, which of course is also the backdrop for perhaps the greatest-movie-ever-starring-F-5s-masquerading-as-MiGs), and started up in 1995. Even within the gaggle of great breweries in the area (Green Flash, Alpine, Stone, etc.), AleSmith stands out as one of the best. While most of the other San Diego breweries are associated with the West Coast IPA and that kind of aggressively hoppy beer, AleSmith have focused more on Belgian style beers, with a strong barrel-aging program and a lot of high-ABV releases in 750mL wine bottles.

Our particular AleSmith beer today is their take on the red IPA, now called the Double Red IPA. It used to be known as the Winter YuleSmith and was only available during holidays season, but now with the new name is now available all winter. In case you’re wondering their Summer YuleSmith has also been renamed to a much more generic sounding Double IPA, but there you have it – a win for truth in labeling, a loss for creativity (in Japan it’s most common to just name the beer for the style, but that’s not much fun, is it?).

The AleSmith Double Red India Pale Ale is a good beer, but actually plays more as just a very good strong malty IPA – which is not really a surprise, as their regular AleSmith IPA is essentially a very good strong malty IPA. The question here is whether it does enough with the “Red” part of it, and I guess I don’t see it so much. There is a lingering caramel aftertaste to it, but on the whole it’s quite strong on the pine and resin, with a heavy emphasis also on the malts. As such, it probably is more fair to label this a double IPA with some slight red ale characteristics, rather than as a red IPA.

Comparing to the Ise Kadoya, the Ise Kadoya does a better job of combining the IPA and red ale aspects, with a strong sense of both caramel sweetness and hop bitterness. Interestingly they both boast about the same IBU (in the 80s), but with the stronger alcohol and piney nature of the AleSmith Double Red IPA, the bitterness is masked much more, and the Ise Kadoya Imperial Red Ale has a lot more tangible bitterness to it. The nature of the hops is also quite different – piney with the AleSmith, fruity with the Ise Kadoya. With two very different approaches to the style, it’s hard to directly compare, but I’m comfortable saying that overall I prefer the Ise Kadoya Imperial Red Ale. It’s got caramel, fruit, and bitterness all rolled in one, and is just very well-balanced. The AleSmith is also of course a good one, but as a malty double IPA it doesn’t have the style characteristics I’m looking for here.

Quick purchasing note on the AleSmith – they’re making a fairly big push in Japan recently, so you might see bottles and cans of theirs at various shops around town (I’m even seeing cans at Aeon Liquors!). In general their beer is not cheap though (about 2000 yen for a 16 oz. can of their admittedly awesome Speedway Stout!), and the Double Red IPA set me back 862 yen at Tanakaya for a regular 12 oz. bottle. Even considering that AleSmith is awesome in general, that’s pretty steep, so I certainly won’t be buying this regularly over on this side of the Pacific at least.

Anyway, both beers today were very good in their own way, so I’d definitely call this a successful tasting. Trying them both together is an interesting way to see two very different takes on an imperial red ale, so if you can track these beers down it’s worth doing.

Minoh Godfather 5 Red Lager / Johana Beer Ore no A.J.I – MASAJI THE GREAT

Today we’ll look at a couple of beers from this year’s crop of Masaji Beer Project beers. First we have the Minoh Godfather 5 Red Lager, followed by the Johana Ore no A.J.I pale ale.

Minoh Godfather 5 Red Lager (箕面・Godfather 5 Red Lager)

minoh_godfather5_redlager

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.0%

Availability: Winter

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Vivid red, cloudy with some sediment, creamy foam

Aroma – Very slight caramel malts, a bit of dirt and pine

Flavor – Sweet caramel candy malts, some pine in the middle, sweet and bready bitter on the finish, more bready overall as it warms up

Last year we managed to look at 3 of the annual Masaji Beer Project beers (quick summary of the project here, which is basically in memory of the founder of Minoh Beer Ohshita Masaji, who is considered the godfather of modern craft beer in Japan) , covering the decent Iwate Kura Bravo! Masaji R-IPA, the excellent Tamamura Honten W-IBA Masaji The Great, and the somewhat mediocre Minoh Godfather 4 Belgium Stout.

The last few years they have gone with that Godfather Belgian Stout (with yuzu) as their Masaji beer, but beginning with this year they’ve decided to brew a new beer every year. As such, this year’s fifth edition of the Masaji Beer Project for Minoh brings us this red lager, with red being the color most associated with Ohshita Masaji. Their brewing notes say that they’ve tried to tone down the hops and emphasize the malts more, so let’s see how this year’s Minoh Masaji Beer Project offering works.

The Godfather 5 Red Lager definitely does emphasize the malts over the hops, and it plays as bread and sweet for the most part. There’s a little bit of piney hops in there, but the caramel sweetness is a bit artificial and ends up being too much. This isn’t a terrible beer, as does have some flavors present, but it isn’t a very well-balanced beer and definitely needs some work to limit the sweetness and bring the hops a bit more.

I purchase mine at Liquors Hasegawa for 560 yen, which is probably a bit more than I’d want to pay for this beer but is about the going rate for a not-spectacular one-off beer. Minoh seasonals are usually carried by Liquors Hasegawa, Tanakaya, and Deguchiya, so those would be your best bets in terms of finding it.

Johana Beer Ore no A.J.I – MASAJI THE GREAT (城端麦酒・俺のA.J.I – MASAJI THE GREAT)

johana_orenoaji2016_paleale

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.5%

Availability: Winter

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 35

Review:

Pour – Pale orange, a touch cloudy, lightly carbonated

Aroma – Prominent dirty tropical fruit hops, pine

Flavor – Lots of tropical fruit, grapefruit, finish is very mellow fruity hops, pine, finish is a bit harsh on the bitterness, resiny at times

Johana is a fairly minor brewery based in Toyama-ken, and we’ve only reviewed one of their beers before here on BeerEast. However, the one beer that we did review was the excellent Kagayaki Wheat Seven, which very well might vie for the title of best regular IPA in Japan along with the North Island IPA. , so hopefully some of that Kagayaki magic rubs off on this pale ale.

This beer has a fairly strong and direct connection to the Masaji Beer Project – when Johana was expanding their brewery a few years ago, they were able to acquire some secondhand brewing equipment from Minoh. For the very first beer they brewed on that equipment, Johana collaborated with Minoh to make a pale ale in the image of Minoh’s own pale ale, which is easily one of Minoh’s best beers. In terms of actual brewing notes, the only minor mentions I want to make are that the recipe notes tea leaves in the ingredient list, and the ABV is listed as 5.5% on the product page but 6% on the bottle.

A quick note on the strange name – A.J.I is a reference to the official name of the Minoh brewery, which is actually not Minoh but エイ.ジェイ.アイ.ビア (or A.J.I.). “Aji” is also, of course, flavor or taste in Japanese (味), and A.J.I was the original name of Minoh in order to signify their intent to make beer with flavor. Of course, over the years, they became more known as Minoh, and eventually they changed the name of the company to Minoh but kept the A.J.I name for their brewing subsidiary.

Overall the Ore no A.J.I – MASAJI THE GREAT is an easy-to-drink pale ale. It’s initially quite fruity, and as it warms up it becomes more piney. I really like the bold grapefruit and tropical fruit, although eventually some of elements begin to go overboard a little bit – the bitterness becomes harsh, and the pine overloads into resin. It’s a decent pale ale bordering on good, but it does require a bit of refinement.

Purchasing note – I bought this one at Tanayaka for 548 yen, which is not bad (but also the same price as their much better Kagayaki W7 IPA). Johana beers are actually quite rare in bottled form and I’ve only seen them at Tanakaya and Liquors Hasegawa, so that’s where you want to be if you’re interested in giving this a try.

So overall this year’s Masaji Beer Project tasting had two similar beers in that both the Minoh Godfather 5 Red Lager and the Johana Ore no A.J.I were not bad flavor-wise, but overdid certain components. My personal preference is for the Johana, which attained higher peaks than the Minoh. Many Minoh Beer Project beers don’t change from year to year (the Johana, Tamamura Honten, and Iwate Kura beers are always the same), but we’ll keep an eye out for anything new we see next time around. Certainly Minoh should be releasing something new, so hopefully they can come up with something a little more satisfying.

North Island Weizen / Mojiko Retro Weizen / Tuatara Weiz Guy

With the abundance of weizens in Japan we’re still working our way through some of the standard weizens here. Today we have the North Island Weizen, the somewhat-less-common-but-still-regular-offering Mojiko Retro Weizen, and from New Zealand the Tuatara Weiz Guy.

North Island Weizen (ノースアイランド・ヴァイツェン)

northisland_weizen

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.0%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Review:

Pour – Very foamy and creamy, gold but slightly dark for a weizen, relatively clean

Aroma – Spicy banana, lemon, wheat

Flavor – Initially somewhat tart, fair amount of lemon and wheat in the middle, finish is banana cream, loses bite as it warms up

While we like North Island quite a bit, they really get most of their kudos for their bolder beers, such as their IPA or their Coriander Black. Their weizen doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, and the only brewing notes I can really find mention their use of  “haruyutaka” wheat for this beer. That’s also the same wheat they use in their Coriander White, and it’s a locally grown wheat in Hokkaido that’s used for bread and noodles around the area.

The North Island Weizen is a solid weizen that’s quite flavorful at first. It becomes watery as it warms up, but if you catch it early there’s a good amount of flavor in there. Overall it is quite heavy on the wheat and banana, but also has some lemon tartness in there that is a nice touch. It’s not spectacular, but one of the better regular lineup weizens available in Japan.

Of course, it does suffer from the high price associated with North Island beers. I purchased mine for 590 yen at Liquors Hasegawa, and while the higher price for some of their beers may be justifiable for the more interesting ones, I can’t recommend this decent but not world-beating weizen at that price. Try it if you like, as the quality is OK, but I personally can’t recommend it at the standard North Island prices.

Mojiko Retro Weizen (門司港地ビール・ヴァイツェン)

mojikoretro_weizen

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.5%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 10

Review:

Pour – Unfiltered cloudy, creamy foam that settles quickly, pale gold

Aroma – Nicely balanced aroma of cloves, banana, and wheat, more banana aroma as it warms up

Flavor – Creamy texture, light but not watery, pepper, cloves, and wheat are strong, slight banana on the finish

This is our first entry on Mojiko Retro, so let’s take a quick look at the brewery. As you might guess from the name, the Mojiko Retro brewery is situated in Moji Port in Fukuoka. Mojiko Retro itself is the name of a redevelopment project based around the port and Mojiko Station to create both a historical site and a revitalized commercial/tourist district. One of those old sites is the Moji Mitsui Club, whose claim to fame is that Albert Einstein stayed there when he visited Japan in 1922 with his wife shortly after receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.

The brewery itself, which actually in Japanese is called something like Mojiko Local Brewery (門司港地ビール) rather than Mojiko Retro (which as I mentioned above refers to the port development site) was started in 1998. The inspiration for the brewery was, according to company lore, a trip to Tacoma, WA, where the founder was impressed with the quality of the craft beer there. He figured that if that small port city on the other side of the world could make great beer, then certainly they could approximate that port craft beer experience well enough over here.

As far as their beer goes, like many other breweries that got their start in the first craft beer boom in the mid-to-late-’90s, they make a hodgepodge of styles. Their regular lineup consists of a weizen, English pale ale, and a Vienna lager. They’re pretty minor as far as Japanese breweries go, and you almost never see their beers around either on tap or in bottles. However, we did manage to get our hands on this weizen so let’s give it a go.

The Mojiko Retro Weizen is an interesting take on the weizen, with a lot more pepper and spice as opposed to banana. The most interesting thing about it, though, was that while it was extremely light in touch and feel it wasn’t bland or watery at all. I liked the creamy texture, and I liked how it did still manage to touch all of the required weizen bases even though it was pretty mild overall. It isn’t the boldest weizen out there, but highly drinkable and well-made.

As I mentioned before it’s hard to find their beers, but I found this one at Tanakaya for 525 yen. They normally stock it together with the Mojiko Retro Weizen Strong, which is there decently-rated weizen bock. I’ve also seen their beers at Le Petit L’ouest in Shimokitazawa, so those would be your best bets for tracking down this beer.

Tuatara Weiz Guy

Tuatara_WeizGuy

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 5.0%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 15; hops – Pacific Jade

Review:

Pour – Super cloudy with lots of sediment, very pale yellow, not super-foamy

Aroma – Good banana, malts, wheat as well

Flavor – Very spicy initially, wheaty and malty in the middle, banana is quite restrained given the aroma, finish has some cloves but also more malts, fairly malty overall, loses a lot as it warms up

This is also our first look at Tuatara, which is a brewery located in Wellington, New Zealand. It’s another example of a successful craft brewery sold out, having been purchased by DB Breweries (a New Zealand macro-brewery owned by Heineken) in 2017. They were founded in 2000 with a view to providing a contrast to macro-beer, so it’s just another example of mindless hipster craft beer marketing speak before taking the money.

On a more fun note, the brewery is named after the tuatara, which is an ancient reptile native to New England that dates back to the Jurassic era. Although it looks like a lizard, it belongs to a different order (Rhynchocephalia in case you’re interested), and as the only remaining species of that order is very popular for research studies. The name tuatara comes from the Maori language and means “peaks on the back”, which is an apt enough description for it. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the tuatara is that it has a third eye on top of the head, which doesn’t quite “see” in the normal sense but is sensitive to light and may be used to help detect temporal or seasonal changes. Here’s a great video of a baby tuatara being hatched and looking for food.

As for the beer itself, the one brewing note that catches my eye is the use of the Pacific Jade hop. I’m not familiar with this hop, but it’s a descendant of the Saaz hop (famous for Czech pilsner usage) and is supposed to be rather spicy with also some citrus.

The Tuatara Weiz Guy is indeed very spicy, especially at first. The spice effect wears off relatively quickly though, leaving you with on the whole a malty weizen. It does not have as much of a banana effect as you see in many weizens, which was a bit surprising here given that the aroma was pretty strong on the banana, but it was clear on the tasting that this weizen was mostly about the malts and wheat. I personally didn’t think it was put together all that well, with a somewhat bland aspect to the weizen that expanded into a real wateriness. In short, this wasn’t terrible but didn’t quite come though on the flavors to make this a standout weizen.

I’ve actually had decent Tuatara beers before, so this one was definitely a disappointment. On the plus side, it’s pretty cheap (only about 400 yen at Tanakaya), but then again, on the down side, that’s most likely a result of them having sold out, which allows them to have more widespread and cheaper distribution. In fact, I’ve been seeing their beers around a lot more recently at reasonable prices, which isn’t all bad news, but given the mediocre nature of this beer and the brewery ownership I can’t really recommend it.

So if we have to pick a winner today, I’d probably call it a draw between the North Island Weizen and the Mojiko Retro Weizen, with the Tuatara Weiz Guy bringing up the rear. The North Island has stronger flavors at first but thins out some, and also has a higher price. The Mojiko Retro is milder to begin with, but well-balanced and offers enough flavor even without that punch. It’s also a bit cheaper, although still not that cheap necessarily. I’d say they’re both worth a try at least once, although for regular drinking you may stick to the nice standard and limited weizens (another plug for the Mandarina Bavaria) that Fujizakura Heights conjure up very nicely.

Baird Bakayaro! Ale / Stone Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard

Today we’re looking at two American strong ales with names that are essentially personal insults – the local Baird Bakayaro! Ale and the import Stone Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard.

Baird Bakayaro! Ale (ベアードビール・ばかやろー!エール)

baird_bakayaro

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 9.0%

Availability: Winter

Package: 330mL bottle

Misc: IBU – 90; hops – US Sorachi Ace, Warrior, Summit, Columbus, Centennial, Amarillo

Review:

Pour – Cola brown, good creamy foam

Aroma – Very hoppy aroma, lots of citrus hops, also mild sweet malts, nice combination

Flavor – Smooth texture, initially strong malts, then floral and peppery, very nice earthy nuttiness on finish, hoppy throughout, hides alcohol very well

The American Strong Ale isn’t a style of its own per se as more of a catch-all for, well, American strong ales. This might include beers that share characteristics of barley wines, imperial IPAs, and old ales but can’t really be classified wholly as such (maltier than most IPAs, hoppier than most old ales). Naturally it follows that there’s a lot of variation here, and as long as it passes the 8-9% ABV mark, is dark but not black, and isn’t referred to as an IPA or barley wine by the brewer it can go here. Let’s see how the Baird version slots in among these guidelines.

The Baird Bakayaro! Ale is a very good effort from Baird, and packs a lot of flavor into the beer. It’s got a big does of both malts and hops, which is nice, but also has good spice and earth to add a bit of variety in there. It hides the ABV quite well among all of the flavors, and is very nicely balanced. I particularly appreciated how this is not very sweet, as many of Baird’s strong beers tend to be, and I would say overall that this is probably one of their best beers.

So obviously the recommendation here is to go give it a try – it’s an annual winter release, and you can find it wherever they stock Baird seasonals. I purchased mine at Liquors Hasegawa for 550 yen, which is a reasonable price to pay for an excellent beer like this one. Go find it!

By the way, if you’re curious about what “bakayaro” means, it basically just means idiot. Here’s a famous memed clip from Death Note with handy translations in multiple languages if you’d like to explored the subtleties of the usage of bakayaro in conversation.

Stone Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard

stone_bourbonbarrelagedarrogantbastard

Vitals:

RateBeer

ABV: 8.1%

Availability: Year-round

Package: 12 fl oz bottle

Review:

Pour – Dark ruby-red, relatively clear, standard foam

Aroma – Malts, soft aroma of bourbon

Flavor – Spicy, malts in the middle, lots of oak, slight hint of hops, bourbon on the finish, quite oaky overall

This is our first review of a Stone product here on BeerEast, so although I’m sure you know all about them we’ll go over them quickly. Based in Escondido, they’re one of the San Diego group of brewers that have gone on to really popularize the notion of West Coast beers, including other industry stalwarts like AleSmith (1995), Ballast Point (1996), Coronado (1996), and Green Flash (2002). Stone are currently the 9th-largest craft brewer in the US, and they’ve managed to build that scale and increase international operations without selling out to any other larger partners or investors (see Ballast Point and Constellation).

In fact, Greg Koch, their legendary founder, has been quite adamant that they will not sell out, and really want to keep the craft part of craft beer meaningful. And even further, to put their money where their mouth is, they started a program called True Craft where Stone essentially committed to starting with a fund of $100 million to invest in small breweries to help them get off the ground and grow without needing to sell out to AB Inbev and the likes.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t use some of the same tricks, or even the same staff! Mitch Steele, who was their head brewer from 2006 to 2016, famously came from Anheuser Busch and was always very quick to point out the high level of quality brewing that AB did, even though of course most craft beer people don’t actually like the resulting product. They’ve even co-opted the marketing trick of having sub-brand, with Arrogant Brewing being the product line based around the Arrogant Bastard Ale.

While Arrogant Bastard marketing probably sums up what lots of people hate about how craft beer is marketed (bold and rebellious and etc.), the beer itself has always been one of their most popular and has come to kind of become a stand-in for Stone Brewing itself. In that sense perhaps it is perfectly normally that now it has grown unchecked into its own thing, but it does reek of a marketing trick, which it undeniably is.

As for the origin myth of the beer itself, the first Arrogant Bastard was apparently borne of a brewing mishap during the brewing of the Stone Pale Ale. Since then it’s fathered in lots of variations on it, including today’s Kentucky bourbon barrel-aged version, an oak version, and a much stronger Double Bastard version among others. Let’s see how our bourbon version today fares.

The Stone Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard is surprisingly easy to drink, and while it is a pleasant beer it is somewhat dominated by oak and bourbon. However, the beer overall feels quite relaxed and certainly not arrogant, which is a testament to the skill of the Stone brewers. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more contribution from the hops and malts, but I can’t complain – this is a very very nice bourbon beer which brings out the bourbon nicely without it being too aggressive, which often happens with these whiskey beers.

So this one also is a definite winner, and although it’s a pricier at 691 yen (from Deguchiya), it’s also a reasonable price to pay for a quality bourbon beer. You don’t really find great barrel-aged beers so much in Japan, so I’d definitely say this is worth purchasing if you can find it. Deguchiya usually carries it, and as we discussed earlier Stone actually has great scale, so you’ll find them at lots of places around Tokyo.

In any case, both of today’s beers were definite winners. It’s hard to directly compare the two since the Stone offering was bourbon barrel-aged whereas the Baird was not, but they are both great beers, so do give them a try.