Brews News Issue #17 -- April/May 1999
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Japanese Microbrew Tasting Events

Here's your chance to sample some of the efforts of a handful of Japan's new microbreweries. In the first two events, particularly recommended are the Nest Beers from Ibaraki, and of course the Ezo Beers, which are actually brewed by Rogue Ales in Oregon, USA.

Zenkoku Ji-Beer Matsuri
May 1 - 9 / 10 am - 5 pm
Furusato Plaza in Harajuku / Harajuku LaForet II Bldg., 1F
(west side of Meiji-dori between Omotesando-dori and Takeshita-dori)
500 yen per 6 ounce (180 ml) glass

Seven brewers are participating:
1) Awa Bakushu (Chiba)
2) Niigata Sun Ji-Beer (Niigata)
3) Wakasa Beer (Fukui)
4) Ezo Beer (brewed by Rogue of Oregon, USA)
5) Oh La Ho Beer (Nagano)
6) Iki Iki Ji-Beer (Toyama)
7) Yokote Ji-Beer (Akita)
Special note: Between May 1 - 5, yell out the secret password "Michael" and get a free glass of beer (one per visitor) courtesy of event organizer Toshi "Michael" Saito.

Shibuya Tezukuri Fair
(Microbrew & More)
May 14 - 19 / 10 am - 8 pm (till 5 pm on the 19th)
Tokyu Dept. Store, Toyoko-ten
(At Shibuya station, 8F exhibition hall)
500 yen per 6 ounce (180 ml) glass

Eight brewers are participating:
1) Awa Bakushu (Chiba)
2) Niigata Sun Ji-Beer (Niigata)
3) Wakasa Beer (Fukui)
4) Ezo Beer (brewed by Rogue of Oregon, USA)
5) Nest Beer (Ibaraki)
6) Tama Megumi Beer (Tokyo)
7) Fukui Beer (Fukui)
8) Yukichi Beer (Fukuoka)

Japan Beer Festival 99
June 12 (4:30 - 8 pm) June 13 (11 am - 7:30 pm)
JA Bldg. 8F (Otemachi 1-8-3, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo)
Y3,000 per day (Y2,500 in advance)
More details: Japan Craft Beer Association, (03) 3708-1409

This event will offer beer from many of Japan's microbreweries, along with beer from various breweries around the world. Vistors will be served beer in 60 ml sample glasses, and the servings are unlimited. Last year, some 105 beers from 53 breweries were served. Held concurrently with this event will be the Japan Beer Cup competition (not open to the public), with the results of the judging to be announced at 1 pm on Sunday June 13.

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Special Offer for Brews News Readers:
One-Time Sale on Dark Strong Aged Ales from Rogue of Oregon
Phred Kaufman at Brewtex Tokyo 99 recently.

The beers in Phred Kaufman's interesting Ezo Beer line are brewed by Rogue Ales of Oregon, and many have won awards at a number of beer competitions in the U.S. and Japan. Phred also imports a few interesting Rogue products for sale in Japan.

Phred recently told me he has some older stock of certain high-alcohol, high-gravity brews that he planned to close out and offer to distributors at a discount. "Hold it!" I told him, "Why not let the readers of Brews News have a chance to buy these beers? They'll appreciate the lower prices, but more importantly, they'll appreciate the aged character of these heavy ales." I then explained that a distributor buying the beer at discount would only turn around and flog off these beers as cheap curiosities.

Since the beers have landed in Japan, they have been stored in Phred's chilly Hokkaido warehouse, a nice stable environment for keeping beer. There are several types to choose from:

1) Blizzard Ale (Rogue Mogul Ale in the U.S.), a strong dark ale, in 355 ml bottles.
2) 1996 Rogue XS Imperial Stout / in small 207 ml bottles
3) 1997 Rogue XS Imperial Stout / in small 207 ml bottles
4) 1996 McRogue XS Scotch Ale / in small 207 ml bottles
5) 1997 McRogue XS Scotch Ale/ in small 207 ml bottles
6) 1997 Wide Awake Drunk Ale with coffee and caffeine / in small 207 ml bottles
Note that the XS beers are unfiltered. Descriptions and tasting notes follow.

Phred is offering these at the following low prices:
1 case: 7,000 yen (Y292 / bottle)
2 cases: 12,000 yen (Y250 / bottle)
3 cases: 15,000 yen (Y208 / bottle)
4 cases + 1 free: 20,000 yen (Y166 / bottle)
Mixed cases are also possible - contact Phred directly for details.
Best of all - FREE DELIVERY!

Interested?
1) Place your order by e-mail (beer@voicenet.co.jp) or fax (011-614-0191)
2) Send payment by bank transfer to: Hokkai Shinyo Ginko, Tsukisamu shiten, Account: (toza) #2406 Name: Yugengaisha Yamaka Kobayashi Shoten

You may also send the money via the post office to: Yugengaisha Yamaka Kobayashi Shoten Nishioka 4-jo, 1-chome 13-5 Toyohira-ku, Sapporo 062-0034 Phone 011-851-6828

When the payment is received, your beer will be shipped
Offer good while supplies last, or until May 10, 1999.

Ezo Tasting Notes

1) Blizzard Ale (Rogue Mogul Ale in the U.S.) 6.5% alcohol, brewed in December 97
This strong and complex dark ale is my favorite of the bunch. Assertively hopped with six different varieties (Perle, Saaz, Centennial, Cascade, Willamette and Chinook) to 50 IBU (International Bittering Units), with a strong malt body (16.5 plato) from the use of Northwest Harrington, Munich, Crystal and Chocolate malts. When I can't decide between the strong hoppiness of a West Coast microbrew and the rich malty sweetness of a Belgian Ale, I'll grab one of these because it's definitely got the malt, and is balanced nicely with some good, bitter hops. If kept in a cool, dark place, this beer should be good for another 18 months.

2) 1996 Rogue XS Imperial Stout / 11.2% alcohol
This totally pitch-black brew is truly a take-no-prisoners stout. I've never had anything darker or stronger. The aroma is very malty, with a good deal of alcohol present. It pours almost like pancake syrup because of its highly dense malt body (26 plato, compared to less than 10 for the average Japanese beer). Six different malts are used, along with rolled oats to get this thick, silky texture, while three different types of hops take it up to a whopping 87.5 IBU (compared to about 20 for the average Japanese beer). The result is a very soft mouthfeel, a smooth sensation going down, then an explosion of flavors -- roasty toffee, dark caramel, bitter chocolate and a touch of Italian roast coffee, ending up with a hint of dark sherry. Then the hops kick in, leaving a long lingering aftertaste.

3) 1997 Rogue XS Imperial Stout / 11.2% alcohol
Compared to the 1996, there is less alcohol in the aroma. The flavor is sweeter with a more pronounced roastiness in the malt. This version reminds me of Rochefort 10, a Belgian Trappist ale with the same alcohol, but far less hop bitterness. There is a dramatically extended aftertaste, with bitterness and roastiness similar to a double espresso coffee, right down to the light layer of tan foam on the top.

Both of the Imperial Stouts are powerful and pungent, and even though I don't smoke cigars, I would imagine that they are the most ideal beer to pair with a good, rich cigar.

4) 1996 McRogue XS Scotch Ale / 8.5% alcohol
Cloudy dark brown, with a rich malty/alcohol aroma. Very soft and mild, with malt lingering in the aftertaste, slightly sweet. Heavy malty body (17.5 plato) comparable to the heaviest strong ales from the U.K. Comparatively little bitterness (45 IBU), with a malty chocolateness dominating, followed by a hint of sherry-like flavor. People who like single-malt scotch whisky would really be at home with this beer.

5) 1997 McRogue XS Scotch Ale / 8.5% alcohol
This one is a hazy dark brown, somewhat more transparent than the 1996. Malty herbal aroma, with more hop flavor (due to less aging), and a stronger afterness with subdued bitterness. The flavor is a combination of sweet, dusky highlights of chocolate, dried fruit, and fruitcake. Interestingly enough, this tastes like quite a number of Belgian Dubbles I've had.

6) 1997 Wide Awake Drunk Ale with coffee and caffeine / 6.2% alcohol
This one you could really get a buzz on! This is not available in the Rogue line in the U.S. - it's an original brew thought up by Phred himself. In fact, his face is on the bottle. Wide Awake Drunk is a hazy opaque dark brown ale with heavy body and a distinct coffee aroma, likely because it contains coffee. The flavor is complex and a bit rough and alkaline, with a mineral-like flavor that reminds one of bitter herbal liqueurs such as Campari. This is likely because there is a surprising 200 mg. of caffeine in each bottle (the average tiny bottle of Japanese pep-drink contains a measly 50 mg.), so this one will allow you to stay in the poker game until sunrise, so to speak. Another use might be as an after-dinner drink in place of both coffee AND brandy. I would call it the Black Russian of beers. (Note that there is a warning in Japanese on the bottle that says that people with a heart condition should not drink this beer because the combination of alcohol and caffeine will elevate the heart rate.) This beer was brewed in 1997.

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Craft Beer in Shinjuku

Miyaji Beer from Isesaki (Gumma pref.) is now being served at Hokkaido-raku on Meiji-dori in Shinjuku. Although there are three varieties available (Pils, Weizen and Brown Ale), only one is served at any given time. Weizen was on tap when I was there, and I found it creamy and delicious, with the spicy character that comes from using a good genuine Weizen yeast. Hokkaido-raku is a large-scale izakaya that serves tasty food at reasonable prices. Check it out:

Hokkaido-raku
Rainbow Village Bldg. 6F
3-5-4 Shinjuku
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
(03) 3352-6552

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Echigo Beer Completes Bigger Brewery

Echigo Beer opened their brewpub in February, 1995, becoming Japan's first microbrewery. Since then, they have set the standard for quality beer in Japan, and have won several awards in beer competitions in the U.S. and Japan. Until now, their beer has been difficult to find in Tokyo, and often quite expensive when encountered.

This situation may change by the summer, as Echigo Beer opens a larger new brewery in their home town of Maki-machi, Niigata Prefecture. With a maximum yearly production capacity of two million liters, the new brewery is capable of producing ten times more beer than the original location.

New products planned are Pils and Weiss, which will be available in both 330 ml bottles and 350 ml cans, with the labels of both designed by pop artist Tadanori Yokoo. The good news is that both will be unpasteurized, and priced around Y300. Concerning availability, the Pils to be distributed throughout Japan, while the Weiss available only from Echigo's "registered dealers."

It is interesting to note that the Weiss beer will be a "happo-shu" owing to the fact that it will be brewed with coriander, orange peel and ginger along with wheat and barley malts. Although Weiss is a German style of beer, expect this Echigo version to be far more Belgian in character.

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The BEER Ratings

The following beers were all tasted by Bryan Harrell.

FINE PRINT: These are tasting notes on a random assortment of beers, many available only this season, tasted up to April 20, 1998.

Only beers which are sold in Japan by the usual means are tasted and rated. Unless otherwise noted, prices are 200-240 yen and all are in 330-355 ml bottles (normal beer size). These are unfiltered tasting notes, so please don't expect nicely edited grammatically perfect descriptions.

! ! ! ! ! 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.

! ! ! ! ! Exceptional, among the best of its type in the world.

    Rather than leave this space blank again this time, I went out and rustled up some likely suspects. Here's one that made the grade.

    Rogue XS Imperial Stout - see description above

! ! ! ! - Highly recommended, without hesitation or fine print.

    Kirin Europe Series Pils - all malt, 5% alcohol. Pale gold, looks like an ordinary mass-produced Japanese, but has a faint malt aroma. This one barely made the four stars category, but it is still quite an accomplishment for one of the beers in Kirin's normally so-so Europe series. What you can expect is a full malt flavor, yet with very little malt sweetness, making for a dry and light refresher. The star here is the hop flavor - fresh, herbal and brisk - in a wonderful bouquet. It seems to me that this beer tastes like Kirin Lager did about 20 years ago, but my tastes have evolved, so this claim is likely to be a ways off. Still, this is a nicely balanced and very refreshing lager. Let's hope it's still on the shelves in July. It's one of the best beers Kirin has ever made.

    Ezo Beer Blizzard Ale - see description above.

! ! ! - Recommended as being good, interesting, worth a try.

    Kirin Beer Shokunin - all malt, 5.5% alcohol. Golden color, some malt aroma, rich malty taste tempered with some hop bitterness, which increases during the finish. This is a rich, satisfying lager beer, and is what Kirin Lager should really taste like. A serious alternative to Yebisu, which seems to be enjoyed regularly by a number of Brews News readers.

    Kirin Europe Series Dunkel - all malt, 5% alcohol. This is a lovely beer to look at, with a bewitching reddish amber hue and an ivory-colored head. There is some roasted malt aroma, but once you begin drinking it the malt features fade away and the bitterness and carbonation take over, detracting from the malt flavors that should normally be prevalent in a dunkel-style beer. This would have been better if it were made a bit maltier and sweeter, and given less bitterness and carbonation for a smoother feel. Instead, you get the typical bitter Kirin finish, which is really out of place for a beer in this style.

    Lowenbrau Original from Germany - all malt, 5.2% alcohol. Rich malty and herbal aroma, full malt flavor at the onset, followed by herbal bitterness with somewhat heavy, full flavors. Y230 at Shinanoya in Shinjuku Kabukicho

    Lowenbrau by Asahi - all malt, 5% alcohol. This beer has the distinction of being the only all-malt beer brewed by Asahi. It's a slightly lighter tasting and crisper version of the Lowenbrau export version described above. There's a good chance that the German version is pasteurized, while Asahi's isn't, which may be the reason for the Asahi's lighter, crisper flavor. Discounted to Y175 at Kawachiya in Shibuya.

! ! - Some people may like it; otherwise close but no cigar.

    First Lady Silky by Asahi - malt, hops, sugars, flavoring (read on); 4.5% alcohol. Pale yellow, faint malt aroma, mild "lite" beer flavor. I was surprised by this new version of Asahi's First Lady light beer because there was a surprising amount of good hop bitterness from a style of beer you don't normally expect it from. I called Asahi's PR department to ask about the "flavoring" and was told that it's actually liquid hop extract (used by quite a number of European brewers), but according to law, since it's not really hops it has to be called "flavoring." This one is certainly worth picking up and trying if there is someone in your household who prefers "light beer."

    Fujisan by Asahi - malt, rice hops; 5.5% alcohol. Golden yellow, some malt aroma, but tastes like a heavier version of Asahi's massively popular Super Dry, with somewhat more malt sweetness. Perhaps they had intended to create something like Kirin's Beer Shokunin or Yebisu, but the effort falls short. Although I appreciate the elevated malt levels of this beer, what I don't care for is Asahi's signature hopping style which manages to make the beer bitter without leaving very much hop aroma. My guess is that they put all the hops in at the beginning of the boil. The result is a brassy, bright bitterness will little hop character or dimension.

! - 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.
    Lucky this time. [No beers in this category.]
ugh - We recommend that you avoid this product.
    Ditto. [No beers in this category.]

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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. Cheers, BRYAN HARRELL brewsnews @ bento.com

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Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.

Brews News #18
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