Brews News by Bryan Harrell
Issue #14 -- Fall 1998

How the Beers Rated in Tokyo and Osaka

There were two major beer events this season, the Great Japan Beer Festival (7/31-8/1) in Tokyo, and the International Beer Summit (10/9-10) in Osaka. Both events had rating contests, and for what it's worth, here are the results of both events, which were organized by the Japan Craft Beer Association based in Ashiya, near Kobe, and headed by Ryouji Oda. For information on the JCBA, phone them at 0797-31-6911, fax them at 0797-23-6701, or send e-mail to them at jcba@mxb.meshnet.or.jp.

tokyo food page

eating & drinking

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Great Japan Beer Festival - Japan Cup Beer Competition (Tokyo, July 31-August 1)

A. Pale & Brown Ales
Gold: Yona Yona Ale (Karuizawa Kogen Beer, Ya-ho Brewing, Nagano Pref.)
Silver: Yokohama Hakkeijima Beer (Yokosuka Sangyo, Kanagawa Pref.)
Bronze: Beer Works Amber Ale (Pokka Corporation Beer Works, Aichi Pref.)

B. Porters & Stouts
Gold: none
Silver: none
Bronze: Swan Lake Porter (Hyoko Yashiki no Mori Brewery, Niigata Pref.)

C. Strong Ales
Gold: none
Silver: Moku Moku Barleywine (Iga no Sato Moku Moku Beer, Mie Pref.)
Bronze: none

D. Koelsch
Gold: none
Silver: none
Bronze: Kiikin Koelsch (Kogane Beer, Shizuoka Pref.)

E. Alt
Gold: none
Silver: none
Bronze: Ohnuma Alt (Brauhaus Onuma, Hokkaido)

F. Weizen
Gold: none
Silver: Sohnan Kuramoto Weizenbock (Kumazawa Shuzo, Kanagawa Pref.)
Bronze: none

G. Pale Lager
Gold: none
Silver: Ohyama G Beer (Kumezakura Bakushu, Tottori Pref.)
Bronze: none

H. Dark Lager
Gold: none
Silver: Nasu Kogen Bock (Nasu Kogen Beer, Tochigi Pref.)
Bronze: Echigo Bock (Uehara Shuzo, Niigata Pref.)

I. Beer with Fruit and/or Spice
Gold: Hitachino Nest White Ale (Kiuchi Shuzo, Ibaraki Pref.)
Silver: Tanzawa no Shizuku Shizo Ale (Atsugi Beer, Kanagawa Pref.)
Bronze: Umenishiki Ume Sparkling (Umenishiki Yamakawa, Ehime Pref.)

J. Smoked Beer & Rice Yeast Beer
Gold: none
Silver: Iki Iki Smoke Beer (Iki Iki Beer, Toyama Pref.)
Bronze: Kiizakura Bakushu Sakagura Shikomi Gold (Kiizakura Shuzo, Kyoto)

K. Special Beers
Gold: Echigo Belgian White (Uehara Shuzo, Niigata Pref.)
Silver: Shirayuki Dark Beer (Konishi Shuzo, Hyogo Pref.)
Bronze: Ozeno Yukidoke White Weizen (Ryugami Shuzo, Gunma Pref.)

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International Beer Summit - International Beer Competition (Osaka, October 9-10)

A. English Light Ale
Gold: Scottish Ale (Nasu Kogen Beer, Tochigi Pref.)
Silver: India Pale Ale (Iida Beer, Nagano Pref.)
Bronze: India Pale Ale (Tokachi Beer, Hokkaido)

B. English Dark Ale
Gold: Swan Lake Porter (Hyoko Yashiki no Mori, Niigata Pref.)
Silver: Beer Works Porter (Pokka Corporation Beer Works, Aichi Pref.)
Bronze: Stout (Nasu Kogen Beer, Tochigi Pref.)

C. German Ale
Gold: Mori no Akuma (Joshu Mori no Beer, Gunma Pref.)
Silver: Koelsch (Kiizakura Shuzo, Kyoto)
Bronze: Alt (Tsuruga Beer, Shizuoka)

D. German Light Lager
Gold: none
Silver: Budweiser Budvar (Budvar of Czechoslovakia)
Bronze: Labatt's Blue (Labatt's of Canada, imported by Pokka Corporation)

E. German Dark Lager
Gold: Samuel Adams Double Bock (Boston Beer Co. of U.S.A.)
Silver: none
Bronze: Bock (Iida Beer, Nagano Pref.)

F. Weiss
Gold: WAOH Hakugin (Yamato Brewery, Nara Pref.)
Silver: none
Bronze: Weizen (Kogane Beer, Shizuoka)

G. American Ale
Gold: Amber Swan Ale (Hyoko Yashiki no Mori Brewery, Niigata Pref.)
Silver: National Trust (Karuizawa Kogen Beer, Ya-ho Brewing, Nagano Pref.)
Bronze: Golden Ale (Pokka Corporation Beer Works, Aichi Pref.)

H. American Lager
Gold: none
Silver: none
Bronze: none!

I. Fruit Beer
Gold: Hitachino Nest White Ale (Kiuchi Shuzo, Tochigi Pref.)
Silver: Tanzawa no Shizuku Honey Ale (Atsugi Beer, Kanagawa Pref.)
Bronze: Cherry Ale (Pokka Corporation Beer Works, Aichi Pref.)

J. Smoked Beer & Rice Yeast Beer
Gold: Echigo Ginjo Beer (Uehara Shuzo, Niigata Pref.)
Silver: Ezo Beer Noboribetsu Jigokudani Ibushi Bakushu (made by Rogue Ales of U.S.A.)
Bronze: none

K. Belgian & Special Beers
Gold: Wild Forest (Karuizawa Kogen Beer, Ya-ho Brewing, Nagano Pref.)
Silver: Hitachino Nest XH Belgian style ale (Kiuchi Shuzo, Tochigi Pref.)
Bronze: Echigo Belgian White (Uehara Shuzo, Niigata Pref.)

At the International Beer Summit, ordinary people who attended were asked to rate the beers they had, and here is the results of the survey:

1) Oyama G Beer Weizen
2) Kogane Beer Weizen
3) Yona-yona Ale
4) Corona Extra
4) Hida Takayama Pale Ale
5) Echigo Belgian White

Please note that Brews News endorses neither the methods of categorization nor the results of the competition in both events.

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Brews in the News: How WE rated this season's beers

Revised New Beer Rating System

Starting last issue, I introduced a new way of rating the beers sampled by me and my varying group of tasters. I kept it simple, with four categories. After having some particularly unworthy products this time, I've decided to add a fifth category for beers that are totally extraordinary, and among the world's very best. Also, we are now indicating beers we've had which should be avoided. Previously I wrote that if a beer isn't mentioned, it means it is either not recommended or it hasn't been tried. Clearly this was a cop-out, and now I've decided to come clean and mention the beers that I think are best left on the shelves. Please do remember that it is only a matter of opinion, and that it is not our intent to do whatever little damage we are capable of to beer producers. Rather, we feel that the customer has a right to know our opinion on everything that passes through our lips. -- Bryan Harrell

! ! ! ! ! Exceptional, among the best of its type in the world.
! ! ! ! Highly recommended, without hesitation or fine print.
! ! ! Recommended as being good, interesting, worth a try.
! ! SOME people may like it; otherwise close but no cigar.
! We don't think you'll like it, but there's some reason why we mention it. You're on your own with this one.
ugh We recommend that you avoid this product.

NOTE: All bottles and cans are 330-355 ml (normal beer size) unless otherwise noted.

And now, to the beer. Here's what we managed to get our hands on through the summer and up to October 11.

The ! ! ! ! category...

  • 1. Fukairi Bakushu Brown Beer from Suntory, limited edition. A beautifully clear reddish brown lager beer with a fine, complex aroma and a rich, malty flavor. Number three in the Kodawari Gentei Shuzo series, this one created by Noboru Itoh, brewmaster at Suntory's Tonegawa Brewery. With a lingering yet subdued malty aftertaste, this one is for enjoying slowly and quietly. All malt, 5.5% alcohol. Y240/can.
  • 2. Iwatekura Pale Ale. This is a clean, crisp light ale with a fair dose of Cascade hops in both bittering and aroma. Seems like the brewer was aiming for a beer like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It's certainly nice, but definitely not cheap. All malt, 5% alcohol. Y670/bottle at Tobu Department Store in Ikebukuro.
  • 3. Tanchozuru White Crane Bitter Beer, brewed by Rogue Ales of Newport, Oregon USA and sold in Japan under the Ezo Beer brand as Hokkaido ji-beer. This is a good, standard pale ale that's available in Japan, though a bit hard to find in Tokyo. All malt, 5% alcohol. Y340/bottle.
  • 4. Hida-takayama Dark Ale. This was a surprise, and far better than beers we've had before from this brewery. There were pleasant vanilla notes in the aroma, a good sweetness that didn't intrude or linger, and an aftertaste that wasn't at all cloying. A little expensive, but almost worth it as a refreshing, dark beer. All malt, 5% alcohol. Y780 for a 500ml bottle.
The ! ! ! category...
  • 1. Koln Kara no Okurimono by Sapporo, limited edition. Slightly fruity light ale, with fine carbonation and a soft mouthfeel, though not super smooth. Different from average Japanese beer, and worth trying at least once. All malt, 5% alcohol. Y225/can.
  • 2. Weiss, Kirin Europe Series, limited edition. This pale yellow, briskly carbonated wheat ale is a credible example of a Bavarian Weizen, having the signature "clove and banana" phenolic aroma characteristic of the top-fermenting ale yeast used in the real thing. However, it's lacking in sufficient body and creaminess which would make it at least a good example. Still, it's nice to get something from the Big Four that tastes markedly different from their regular product, and we think many people might buy this on a regular basis while it's available. All malt, 5% alcohol. Y225/can.
  • 3. Aki Aji from Kirin, limited edition. Said to be made with 30% more malt than ordinary Kirin Beer, so presumably it contains correspondingly less rice and cornstarch, which is a good thing. Aki Aji tastes like what Kirin Lager should have tasted like all along. Richer body, good quality hops evident, more flavor, higher 6% alcohol. Good replacement for those who normally drink ordinary Japanese beer. Y225/can.
  • 4. Koedo Ji-beer No. 1, from Koedo Brewery in Kawagoe, Saitama. This beer is interesting because Koedo used to produce only happo-shu, but apparently got a license to make beer. It's also interesting because at Y250/bottle it's the least expensive Japanese microbrew we've ever come across. Although it has an aroma similar to mass-produced American beer, it is more malty and rich, with a fairly clean taste. Nonetheless, it is not particularly distinguished, but it is way better than Koedo's previous attempts at craft brew. All malt, 5% alcohol.
  • 5. Ginban Pilsener. This is a malty yet clean-tasting pilsener with some good bitterness. Competent, yet still undistinguished. All malt, 5% alcohol. Y341/bottle at Odakyu Halc.
The ! ! category...
  • 1. Hama Kirin, spotted by Kim Scheufftan who mentioned it in our summer issue. [Hey Kim, I finally found a can!] Richer and sweeter than normal Kirin Lager, which it resembles, but has a more "buttery" feel as one taster put it. Tastes like a good version of normally bad U.S. malt liquor. Has 6% alcohol, and is made with malt, rice and cornstarch. Y225/can.
  • 2. Bock, Kirin Europe Series, limited edition. This pale gold version of the heavy German lager known as Bock comes off a little too faint in the aroma, while the complex malty sweetness of the style is not sufficiently developed, leaving the beer too dry and a little too harsh. Too much bittering hops flattens the complexity of the malt, but this was no doubt done to give the beer the dry finish and lack of aftertaste preferred by the average Japanese beer drinker. Still, the 7% alcohol puts it right in Bock territory. Note that the use of rice and cornstarch would prohibit the sale of this beer in Germany under the venerable Beer Purity Law. Y225/can.
  • 3. Pale Ale, Kirin Europe Series, limited edition. This is definitely a, uh, pale version of something like Bass Pale Ale, which itself is a pale, mass-produced version of the great pale ales from many of England's smaller brewers. It's a very pale amber, and it's excessively lager-like, no doubt to cater to existing tastes rather than expose beer drinkers to other flavors in beer. It tastes like a mixture of one part Bass, two parts Kirin Lager, so the brewers of Bass won't lose any sleep over this one. In short, Kirin's really got it all wrong with this beer, and in England it's more likely to be embraced by lager drinkers than by people who normally drink pale ale, or its draft version, bitter. Still, it's worth a try once because it might be a good substitute for your everyday lager. We also had the draft version, and it's essentially the same beer. Made with malt, rice and cornstarch; 5% alcohol. Y225/can.
  • 4. Brau, from Sapporo. This one was really a surprise. It's a happo-shu, and it's amazing how much it tastes like a full-on beer, despite the fact that some of the grain content is not malt. Sapporo claims that Brau is brewed with organic hops, which are added at three stages during brewing to give the beer a full hop flavor, from initial underlying bitterness to aroma. Made with malt, rice, cornstarch and sugars, but tastes better than that all sounds. While it's not exactly a great lager, it's easily the best happo-shu we've tasted, and certainly worth a try. Good for hopheads on a budget, I suppose. Y145/can.
  • 5. WAOH Yamabuki Ale from Yamato Brewing of Nara prefecture. This tastes just a little too caramelish, and has a limp, undistinguished character. Something should be livelier, perhaps it could use more aroma hops. All malt, 4.5% alcohol. Y563/bottle at Tobu Department Store in Ikebukuro.
  • 6. Ozeno Yukidoke Brown Weizen from Ryugami Shuzo in Gunma prefecture. We had trouble deciding why we didn't like this beer. Someone said "languid" while another taster said "funky." So it has a languid funkiness that makes it lack focus on flavors. Presumably this is a dunkelweizen, but there was little weizen character, and it was way too cloudy besides. All malt, 5% alcohol. Y380/bottle at Keio Department Store in Shinjuku.
The ! category.
  • 1. Sapporo Real Clear, limited edition. Only "pretty clear," it tastes like Asahi Super Dry but not as smooth. Watery, with hay or straw notes at the end. Not much different than the average happo-shu, but priced like normal beer. Made with malt, rice and cornstarch, 5% alcohol. Y225/can.
  • 2. Sapporo Gokoku, Japan's first seriously multi-grain brew. This is one weird happo-shu. While beer can only contain certain specified ingredients and must have at least 66% malt in the grain bill, happo-shu, on the other hand, is a completely different animal, and brewers are allowed to put damn near anything they want in it. For this beer, Sapporo used malt, rice, two kinds of millet (awa and hie), and soybeans. Sounds like an early 70s bread recipe for this late 90s beer. It tastes unusual, grainy, and has a lot of carbonation. We decided not to put this in the "avoid" category because we feel that Brews News readers should experience beer made with soybeans (not to mention the twin millets) at least once. Would this be the Next Logical Step for those who enjoy edamame with their beer? You'd better hurry, we predict that by the time you read this the brand may have already been discontinued. Y145/can.
...and the ugh category.
  • 1. Buddy's Extra Strong, brewed in the U.S. for Budweiser Japan. This one shouldn't be around for long. It's a high-alcohol (6%) happo-shu (low-malt beer-like beverage) and tastes like a poor example of U.S. malt liquor, which is a poor excuse for beer that is invariably marketed to the urban poor due to its low price and relatively high alcohol. We got a dishwater-style head, and very strange lingering sweetness coupled with a grainy taste. Made with malt and miscellaneous sugars. Was this designed for Japanese bikers or soccer hooligans? We sure don't know. Cheap, but still not worth it.

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New for Brews

The Tokyo Brewing Company is now in business, and is selling their beer by the case. Their first beer, Tokyo Ale No.3, is currently being contract-brewed in Japan and sold by mail order, but there are future plans for a brewpub restaurant. We haven't had their beer yet (to our knowledge), but you can check them out on the Internet at: http://www.tokyo-ale.com .

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Speakeasy Brewpub has opened in Ikebukuro, serving pale ale, amber ale, wheat beer, and stout. Although we haven't managed a visit yet, initial reports are uneven and nobody has been enthusiastic. This could change at any time, since it usually takes a brewery a few months to sort things out and stabilize the quality of the beer. You can check them out at:

Speakeasy
Sega Gigo Bldg. B2F
1-21-1 Higashi-Ikebukuro
phone: 5985-8117

Open daily from 11:30am-2pm, and 5:30-11:30pm.

(Thanks to Wayne Gabel for the tip. Check out his beer column "Foaming At The Mouth" every two weeks in the Mainichi Daily News.)

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From Heinz Kuhlman, who noted "No comments :-)"
(This is from the Internet, and author is unknown)

Beer For The Brain

A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo, and when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole keeps improving by the regular culling of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can operate only as fast as the slowest brain cells. An excessive intake of alcohol, we all know, kills off brain cells; it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker cells, constantly making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. The results of this in-depth epidemiological study verify and validate the causal link between all-weekend parties and engineering performance. It also explains why, after a few short years of leaving university and getting married, most engineers cannot keep up with the performance of the new graduates. Only those few that stick to the strict regimen of voracious alcoholic consumption can maintain the intellectual levels that they achieved during their university years. Therefore, this is a call to arms. As our country is losing its technological edge we should not shudder in our homes. Get back into the bars! Quaff that pint! Your company and country need you to be at your peak, and you shouldn't deny yourself the career that you could have. Be all that you can be!

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We look forward to your feedback, and your contributions to Brews News. If you're interested in being on our tasting team, please send us a note telling us why you want to join. That's all for now.

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Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.

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XREF: [ Tokyo brewpubs and beer bars | imported beer stores | Japanese microbrew beers ]

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