Issue #12 -- February 1998
Hello patient readers,
Here's the newest edition, which follows the one I did in October. I still haven't decided how often to do Brews News, but I'm now thinking of putting it out four times a year. As always, your input is welcome. Share any new beer information you have, and do let me know what you think of Brews News. Thanks! -- Bryan
Japan Craft Beer Fair '97|
by Bryan Harrell
The craft beer fairs held in Tokyo each November in '95 and '96 helped set the tone for a yearly event, but with the sponsor of the first two years deciding not to continue, the future looked uncertain. However, the Beverage Japan organization took the initiative and held the "Ji-Beer Fair '97" in a new venue last November. Held concurrently with the massive AsiaBev '97, the craft beer fair hosted only 21 of the nearly 150 small breweries and brewpubs now operating in Japan.
Nonetheless, the participants represented a good cross section of the industry, and I was quite pleased to find many more well-made beers than I had experienced in years past. I was also pleased to make the rounds with none other than famous beer writer Fred Eckhardt, who was visiting from Portland at the time. Fred helped me hone my tasting skills, while I helped him out with a little interpreting between English and Japanese.
Glasses of beer were priced at 350 yen each, which is a lot more user-friendly than the 600 yen charged in years past. For not too many thousand yen, one could taste a good variety, and leave fairly satisfied. Fortunately, there were many good beers this time, and I managed to taste a few beers that were clearly outstanding. Best of all, this year I encountered far fewer beers showing defects such as diacetyl and harshness from improper mashing.
Among the many delicious beers I tasted, the one that still lingers in my memory (but, alas, not on my taste buds) is the India Pale Ale from the Echigo Brewery in Niigata prefecture. It was superb in every respect. Although this unfiltered elixir was a cloudy reddish gold color, the flavors were crisp and well focused. The soft, creamy texture was balanced nicely by the crisp bite of Cascade hops. The Echigo Oatmeal Stout was also a standout, with a rich, roasty tang that quickly faded to leave tiny traces of licorice poking out through the long finish.
The best Weizen on the floor this year was again from Satsuma Brewing (Kagoshima pref.). The heady floral aroma redolent of cloves of this bright bronze brew carried over into the taste, indicating the use of genuine German Weizen yeast, while the clean spicy aftertaste was marked by a tiny kiss of sweetness. Close behind the Satsuma offering was the WAOH Hakugin Weizen from Yamato Brewing Company of Nara prefecture.
There seemed to be more beers from sake makers this year, and most of them could be characterized by mild, understated flavors. Perhaps one reason for that is that the flavors of sake are generally far more subtle than those of beer, and this aesthetic may carry over into the way they want their beer to taste. There were a few exceptions, however. The Pale Ale from Iwate Kura (Iwate pref.) had a surprisingly strong Cascade hop aroma, with a nice creaminess despite its light color and body, giving the impression they were possibly thinking of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale when they created this brew. Umenishiki (Ehime pref.) offered a Doppelbock with a thick, slightly burnt toffee aroma, and a pronounced chocolatey sweetness that lingered into the aftertaste.
Shinano Brewing (Nagano pref.) is also operated by a sake maker, but their beers had a distinct American edge to them. The Amber Ale has a clear golden amber color with well-defined hop flavors and a clean, sharp finish. Their dark bronze Dragon Ale, had heartier, roastier flavors with just a hint of astringency which hardly detracted from the overall impression.
Also of note were the offerings from Sankt Gallen, who just opened a rather large, new brewery in Atsugi (Kanagawa pref.). Although their Golden Ale had the kind of in-your-face floral hop aroma I like in an everyday beer, I couldn't help but be similarly impressed by the candied coffee/chocolate aroma of their Brown Porter, which had a rich flavor that was far less sweet than the aroma would leave you to believe. Somewhere in between was the light bronze Amber Ale, which was nicely understated with a mellow maltiness and low bitterness. All three beers are now being retailed in the greater Tokyo region area for 290 yen for a 355 ml bottle.
Despite my previous pessimism about Japanese microbrew, the '97 event not only gave me the chance to try some great tasting local stuff, it also gave me much more optimism about the future of craft beer here. Two or three years from now, let's hope we're able to pause between sips of good Japanese ale and count our blessings.
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Sankt Gallen Beers Delivered to Your Door
The fabulous Sankt Gallen microbrew beer is now available in bottles. (Some readers may have fond memories of their now-defunct dim sum restaurant in Roppongi, which was Tokyo's very first brewpub.) My favorite of their beers is the amber ale (rich, fruity and complex); they also do an excellent golden ale and brown porter. As of January this year you can order by the case from the brewery in Atsugi. It will probably also be available in some department stores in the future, but they haven't finalized arrangements yet. In the meantime, you can order direct from:
The beer comes in cases of 12 or 24; you can order a mixed case, or specify that you want more bottles of whichever type you like best. The beer is a very reasonable Y290 per 355ml bottle, plus a shipping charge of approx. Y900 (depending on where you live). They ship it out by refrigerated truck within a day or two of receiving your payment.
If you want to try before you buy, Sankt Gallen is available on tap
MicroBeers International Takes a Break
MBI, who brings the freshest US microbrews to Japan as part of their beers-of-the-month club, is now shopping for a new import/retail partner, and will be suspending operations for a few months. In the meantime, you can still order several types of beer they have in stock for just Y7,560 per case of 24, including delivery. While North Coast Brewing's Wintertime Ale, a luscious dark and spicy ale made with Belgian yeast, is already sold out, their hoppy Red Seal Ale is still in stock. Other recommendations are the Golden Gate Original Ale (a bold and complex brown ale) and the lighter Golden Gate Copper Ale, a mildly hopped brew with a nutty flavor and dry finish.
Sapporo Silver Star
Well, well. A heavy beer with 7% alcohol from Sapporo. The initial
sensation was nice ("great body") but sadly the flavor was lacking, and
the overall result comes off like Asahi Super Dry on some sort of
athletic performance enhancement drug. Not as much fun as Sapporo's hefty
9% On The Rocks of about ten years ago, but still worth a try just once.
Tip from Richard Vliet:
FOR YOUR INFORMATION: this past Sunday afternoon I was wandering in my Setagaya-ku neighborhood and came across the Liquor & Import Boutique OM (tel. 03-5760-5222) about a 15 second walk from Todoroki station. They have lots of imported foods, clothing etc., but most importantly, beer, wine and liquor. The beer selection was quite extensive (40-50 different labels) and reasonably priced. [Todoroki is a couple of stops from Futagotamagawa and the next stop from Juugaoka, so it is very convenient for people in that part of Setagaya-ku.]
Tip from Peter Evans:
My local little grog shop has gone virtual: http://user.parknet.co.jp/miyataya/beer/index.html.
Now anyone in Japan can order the Belgian and other goodies: walk-in prices include Hoegaarden for less than 300 yen a bottle, three kinds of Chimay for less than 400 yen. (I haven't examined the website in detail.)
Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.
Continued: Part 2 (Desert Island Contest results, beer humor)
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