Japan Beer Grand Prix
Japan Beer Grand Prix
Friday, July 11, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
While this event is shorter and more expensive than the Japan Beer Festival just held on May 31st and June 1st, there is plenty of beer to be had, and extensive food buffets to gorge on, making it a pretty fair deal for 5,000 yen. Some 100 varieties of Japanese craft beer, on tap and in bottles, will be freely served. Sponsored by the Japan Brewers Association, an organization of microbrewers, the Japan Beer Grand Prix is not only a whole lot of fun, it's also a good opportunity to rub shoulders with industry people and Japanese beer geeks of all stripes.
Josui Kaikan Star Hall
2-1-1 Hitotsubashi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Near Jimbocho and Takebashi subway stations
Reservations must be made in advance by e-mail or fax
A beer tasting will be held on Friday, June 20th, from 8:00-10:30pm. at the Yaesu Language School just outside of the Yaesu exit of Tokyo station. Those unfamiliar with beer are very welcome to attend, and no beer knowledge is required. Reservations must be made by Monday, June 16th. The price is 3,000 yen, with plenty of beer and snacks included. For reservations or more information, phone (03)5255-3090 or e-mail beer(at)kokusaika.org
TY Harbor Brewery
A series of visits here last year left me with the impression that the quality of the beers offered is sometimes uneven. However, a visit on May 12th turned out to be a delightful experience, with all five beers on tap showing fresh flavors and good quality. It's best to start with the taster set, then move on to the beers you like best.
Pale Ale - Clear deep gold, thick and creamy ivory head, fresh clean Cascade hop aroma with a bit of sweet fruitiness in the background. Good crisp malt flavor, with hop bitterness behind it, the opposite of what happens in the aroma. Soft mouthfeel, yet quenching and not too heavy. Nice work!
Wheat Ale - Hazy dark yellow, thin off-white head, lovely Weizen yeast aroma with cloves predominating. The menu says this is a Belgian style, but it is distinctly German, and a good version at that, if just a tiny bit sweeter than usual. Light, with a good clean finish that's dry, yet the fine aromatics of the yeast linger nicely.
Honey Ale (Seasonal, so hurry!) - Very pale yellow, very clear, thin white head. Very faint honey notes in the aroma, with even fainter hop notes. Clean and smooth with pleasingly light sweetness and very low bitterness, though some alcohol is apparent in the taste. A session quaffer for a sunny weekend brunch. Likely the brewmaster is trying to make some young women happy with this one.
Amber Ale - Deep reddish bronze, creamy light tan head. Thrillingly complex malt aroma, with touches of plums and dried fruit. This continues into the taste, accompanied by a spicy hop flavor that's more floral than just bitter, like sticking your face in a huge mixed bouquet of flowers.
Porter - Deep hazy luscious chocolate brown color, with red highlights, tan head. Fascinating hard-to-describe aroma that holds tiny notes of a good grade of soy sauce along with the malt. Rich and complex roasted malt flavors, but not scorched and burnt like Guinness. These are backed by a strong and sharp hop bitterness, but with a smooth and almost creamy texture. The malt flavors fade slowly to allow the hops to come through in a long finish.
By the way, the BBQ Chicken Wings with tofu-blue cheese sauce are fantastic, and great with the beer.
2-1-3 Higashi Shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo
Open daily 11:30 - 2:30 and 5:30 - 10:00
A recent visit revealed some big improvements in the quality of their house draft beers, and though one of their recent ads claims they have the largest draft selection in Tokyo, apparently they have never been to Popeye in Ryogoku, which, at 40 taps and counting, boasts at least three times as many. The first three beers were tasted on May 14th, and the fourth beer on May 16th.
Marston's Pedigree (England) Bewitching very clear bronze color, ivory head. Faint floral hop aroma, with hints of malt fruitiness in the background. Crisp and light bodied but with full juicy malt flavors, and a clean yet complex herbal hop counterpoint. Nicely understated carbonation. Pleasing clean finish with faint lingering of malt and hops in good balance. Nice session beer with good character. 1,000 yen/pint.
Wychwood Dog's Bollocks (brewed in Japan under license especially for the Hobgoblin pubs). Quite clear bronze yellow with tight, dense ivory head. Hops dominate the aroma, but are interesting and complex. Rich malt flavor comes forward initially, and as it fades, a nicely complex bitterness emberges and remains through a long and flavorful finish. Subdued carbonation adds extra smoothness for "session beer" drinkability. 900 yen/pint.
Wychwood Special Ale (brewed in Japan under license especially for the Hobgoblin pubs). Deep reddish amber with faint lacy-creamy off-white head and good semi-dried fruit aromas with lovely floral hops in the foreground. Appealing sherry-like "aged" sensation in the beautifully complex malt profile, which rules over the hops, though they do poke up a bit. The malt is king here, and the complexity is exquisite. 900 yen/pint.
Wychwood Hobgoblin Draught (England) Deep orange bronze, very thick, dense and creamy head, faint hops and fruity yet tart malt aroma. Flavor is solid with good integration of tangy malt and hops, but a bit cloying and lacking in zip. Tangy and tart malt flavors linger together with the blunt hop bitterness in a long, tapering finish. The reason this beer has such a thick, creamy head is that a combination of nitrogen and CO2 gas is used to pump the beer from the keg to the tap. For some reason, though, these nitro-served beers are lacking in flavor, and seem to be liked for their texture more than anything else. On pure CO2 gas this beer might get a slightly higher rating. 900 yen/pint.
Also note that the plate of chips (fried potatoes) here is a generous helping of thickly cut and expertly fried spuds. 700 yen, with 100 yen extra for mayonnaise. (Yes, they do have Hoegaarden White on tap.)
2-13-19 Akasaka B1, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Monday to Friday 11:30 to 2:00 (lunch), 5:00 to 1:00 a.m.
Saturday & Holidays 5:00 to 1:00 a.m.
Brews in the News
Beer from Oregon U.S.A. via Sapporo, Japan
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.
We recommend that you avoid this product.
In this issue, Brews in the News will focus on the beers of the Rogue Brewery in Newport, Oregon, that are imported by Ezo Beer, based in Sapporo. Phounded by the pheisty yet phunny Phred Kaufman, originally phrom Los Angeles, Ezo Beer initially imported beers from Rogue Ales, but bearing the Ezo Beer brand. Later, Ezo Beer began importing Rogue Ales products with the original labels. Recently, Kaufman has arranged for the import of some very interesting specialty beers from Belgium and Scotland, among them a buckwheat beer and a seaweed beer, which will be introduced this summer. With the development of buckwheat ale, a stout containing real chocolate, the world's first beer with Hascup (a berry native to Hokkaido and Siberia), a highly caffeinated ale (named Wide Awake Drunk, now history), a beer made with Hokkaido mint (now history) and an oregano beer (also history) to his credit, Phred is undoubtedly one of the world's foremost beer pioneers.
When Phred got word that I was doing a comprehensive tasting review of all his products, he decided to offer all Brews News readers a 10% discount off the regular price of Ezo and Rogue beers ordered for home delivery. In addition, he is also offering some beers at closeout prices, and these beers are reviewed in a separate section below. Plus, he is offering free shipping if you order at least two cases (48 bottles) at once. (And, if you ask him nicely, he might mix beers in a case.)
Since many of these beers are unique and unusual, rating presented certain problems. A five star beer to some would be only two stars to others. Accordingly, these ratings not only reflect my personal appraisal, but also take into account what I perceive to be what Brews News readers, on the average, would think. In short, actual mileage may vary. Also, I have indicated the freshness dates of the beers actually tasted; those you order may bear later dates, except for those being sold at closeout prices. Beers are reviewed from lightest to heaviest.
Buckwheat Beer (2.9% abv; 55% buckwheat, 45% malt; best by Jan. 2004, 380 yen) Deep golden yellow, white head. Spicy honey-like aroma with hops in the background. A light spicy flavor, but with a good, solid body and lively tanginess. Honey-like sweetness that soon fades to reveal a rich, grainy flavor that is somewhat like the beer equivalent of rye bread. Good hop bitterness, but little aroma. This unusual flavor gives the beer a rather dry taste for such a rich brew. Also, at just under 3%, it is surprisingly low in alcohol for having so much flavor. Quite interesting and unusual, and a good beer for warmer weather.
Honey Cream Ale (5.2% abv; malt, hops, honey; best by Dec. 2003, 330 yen) Hazy honey gold, thick ivory head, sweet honey aroma with floral hop notes. Rich malty flavor, balanced by floral hop bitterness, highlighted by the flavors of honey, but not its sweetness as honey, being a simple sugar, ferments cleanly into alcohol. Overall, rich yet dry with good bitterness accented by the sparkle of faint honey flavors. The finish is long, dominated by hop bitterness. Quite likely one of the most macho honey ales in the world.
Rogue Dead Guy Ale (6.5% abv; all malt; best by Dec. 2003, 330 yen) This was probably my favorite of the bunch, and is apparently Rogue's version of a German Maibock, a spring beer. Hazy dark orange, thick ivory head, floral hop aroma with honey-like tones. Rich body of light malts continue the honey-like sensation into the flavor, with malt tanginess coming to the fore. Sweet malty tastes eventually subside, leaving a strong hop bitterness that lingers long.
Red Fox Amber Ale (St. Rogue Red in the U.S., 5% abv; all malt; best by July 2003, 370 yen) Deep reddish amber, thick tan head, very fruity malt aroma with notes of ripe figs, and hops in the background. Rich, tangy malt flavors backed by strongly bitter hops, with some flavors like burnt caramel or toffee that come in at the middle of the mouthful, then fade and linger sort of like a more lightly roasted and fruitier stout. A longtime favorite of mine.
Noboribetsu Jigokugadani Smoked Beer (5% abv; all malt; best by December 2003, 370 yen) Slightly hazy bright reddish amber gold, light tan short-lived head. Aroma like a smoky single malt scotch, but with hops in the equation. Made with a small portion of smoked malt, in the tradition of the German rauchbiers (smoked beers), though those are lagers and this is an ale. Rich malt flavors with a clean-cutting smoky taste that counters the sweet malt richness, and helps lead to an intriguingly clean finish. Of course, this beer is great with smoked sausages, barbecue and other smoky tasting foods. Could be interesting to cook with in place of liquid smoke. A fun and unique beer experience, though some may find the smoke flavor a bit too medicinal or iodine-like. I can't wait to try it in my chilpotle pepper chili recipe.
Rogue Mocha Porter (5% abv; all malt; best by December 2003, 370 yen) Opaque deep dark brown, almost black; virtually no light passes through. Big rocky tan head, with a clean and brisk hop aroma, but surprisingly little "dark malt" aromas. Somewhat like Guinness in that the body is actually quite light, but deep roasted malt flavors that linger long. At 5% alcohol, it is not at all a strong beer, though the flavors are fairly intense. Very smooth mouthfeel, soft and velvety. A very drinkable session beer for the "darker the better" beer fans.
Shakespeare Stout (Also sold in Japan as Brown Bear Beer, 5.7% abv; malt, oatmeal, hops; best by June 2003, 330 yen) Opaque black, light brown head. Rich complex aroma of deeply roasted malts, backed by some sweetness like fruitcake and molasses. Smooth mouthfeel with surprising softness. Deep, rich and complex flavors interplay with tangy, muted sweetness backed by strong herbal bitterness. Finish is long with both roasty malt and hop bitterness in good balance.
Chocolate Bear Stout (5.7% abv; malt, oatmeal, hops, chocolate; best by September 2003, 370 yen) From what I hear, this is the same as Shakespeare Stout, but with the addition of chocolate. Opaque near-black, gloriously dense light brown head, definite aroma of semi-sweet chocolate backed by rich roasty malt aromas that suggest caramel, dark cherries and prunes. Oh, yeah, and a whiff of hops somewhere in there. Very smooth yet rich body, but highly bitter with a blunt edge from the darker roasted flavors, so the effect is more like a cigar, with most of the sweetness in the aroma, and the actual flavor ragingly bitter. Fairly brisk yet fine carbonation. Long, lingering bitter finish with very fain chocolate in the background. It's sort of like how your mouth feels after having a double espresso with good "crema." And that's what it looks like. The cutesy label must have mislead SO many young Japanese women, who may purchase it expecting liquid dessert.
Ezo Beers at Closeout Prices
World Burp Beer 2002 best by March 2003, 100 yen)
White Crane Bitter Beer (best by May 2003, 150 yen)
(Both sold in the U.S. as Rogue Golden Ale, 5% abv, all malt)
These are the same beer, brewed in batches made 2 months apart. The World Burp is a special bottling made to coincide with last summer's World Cup. Slightly hazy dark gold, creamy off-white head. Fruity honey-like aroma, with a faint whiff of floral hops in the background. Soft and mild fruity flavors, balanced by complex hop bitterness, leading to a tangy finish of medium length. Although these are the same, the World Burp was preferred 2 to 1 by the tasting panel because it is softer and slightly less bitter than the White Crane which is two months younger. Generally, the sharpness of hops gradually fades over time, and in this case, the difference of only two months is slightly noticeable. Both still tasted fine as of the end of May, and represent a great bargain for a party to kick off the start of summer.
Chitose Hascup Beer (5% abv; malt, hascup berry concentrate, hops; best by September 2003, 200 yen) Beautiful clear orange bronze, off-white head. Heavy malt aroma with minimal hopping and an unusual fruit aroma with a sort of blueberry-cassis vibe. Distinct blueberry-cassis flavor initially followed by solid malt flavor. The malt flavors are not particularly complex, but the unusual flavor of the hascup berry is, but only in a very subtle way. When the malt and berry flavors fade not too long into the sip, one is left with a fairly stiff herbal hop bitterness which does linger long. An interesting effect. A great beer for blind tastings among beer geeks - they'll NEVER figure this one out.
Namara Nigai Beer (Brutal Bitter in the U.S., 6.5% abv; all malt; best by June 2003, 200 yen) This is a heavy, massively hopped ale that can take plenty of aging. Hazy dark honey orange, creamy yellowish ivory head. Brisk and sharp herbal hop aroma, with a bit of malt in the background. Huge bitter citrus-like flavor from the hops greet you with zesty grapefruit and lemon peel flavors at the beginning, and these strong hop flavors cling to the back of the tongue and the roof of the mouth and just never seem to let go. A great experience for those who love hops. Not a lot of malt complexity, though the texture is solid and creamy. This one is all about the hops, lots of them, so brace yourself for the frightening roller coaster of beers. Known in the U.S. as Brutal Bitter - it figures.
Mc Rogue Scotch Ale, Rogue XS series (8.5% abv; all malt, unfiltered and unfined, bottled in March 1996, 207 ml bottle, 200 yen) This is an ale brewed for long-term aging, and many people drink these between five and ten years old, sometimes even older if they have the self-control. Accordingly, there is no "freshness date" as such, but I would caution people not to drink these chilled as much of the sweetness has already been muted, as have the sharp hop flavors. Hazy chocolate brown, small yet creamy light tan head. Rich and heavy aroma of chocolate, prunes, vanilla, oak, and touches of licorice, with alcohol very apparent. Fudge-like taste with just a touch of sherry-like tartness. Surprisingly lively flavors with a mellow, malty warmth that is seductive. A long finish, with lingering flavors of mild chocolate and roasted marshmallows. Very high in alcohol, it should be sipped slowly, as a special treat, and could be paired with chocolates or even marshmallows. I had this beer as a delayed dessert after a heavy meal, and it was a slow, satisfying experience. Again, this should NOT be served cold, at best only slightly chilled.
Rogue Imperial Stout, Rogue XS series (WARNING - 11.2% abv; all malt, unfiltered and unfined, bottled in March 1996, 207 ml bottle, 200 yen) Opaque black, short-lived brown head, smoky hoppy aroma that is herbal and slightly redolent of cloves and pine in a sharp, fleeting way. Enormously deep and richly powerful flavors that suggest roasted nuts, molasses, dried figs and a dash of soy sauce. This is as close as beer gets to a solid material, and begs the question "If beer is liquid bread, then is bread solid beer?" This one is somewhere in between. Not for the faint of heart, but would I ever love to make every single Guinness fan try this at least once.
To order any of the beers in this section, please e-mail Phred Kaufman at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 011-614-0191.
Ezo Beer: www.ezo-beer.com
Rogue Ales: www.rogue.com
Next month, Brews in the News will feature the beers of the Ginga Kogen Brewery and the Yaho Brewing Company, maker of Yona Yona Ale.
Becoming the Fraud Squad
Imagine reading an advertisement telling you that a brewer you know from a microbrewery out in the countryside is coming to Tokyo to give a beer seminar at a department store. You like the brewer, you like his beer. The event is free, and on a nice Sunday afternoon. You show up to see your brewer friend, who you last saw about two years ago. You take a seat in the presentation area. His name is announced, and applause breaks out. The brewer comes up to the stage, but he is NOT the brewer you know. In fact, he's someone else you know, and he goes on to introduce himself as the brewer. You are shocked, and you can't believe your eyes. Then, when he proceeds to read a script so ridiculously full of half-truths about the beer, you can't believe your ears either. Your friend, the real brewer, would never say such things about the beer he brews.
This is not a weird dream. This actually happened to me. The story will be continued in the next issue.
In the meantime, send me an e-mail and tell me what you would think if this happened to you. email@example.com
A common people separated by two different kinds of beer?
I have run across more than a few English people in Tokyo who express muted suspicion about me when we meet in a beer situation. Invariably, they all but tell me "How can you know anything about beer when American beer is so terrible?"
I try to counter with the fact that even the world's most famous beer writer, Michael Jackson, regularly heralds in his writings the advances made by small American brewers. Mr. Jackson makes it his business to maintain a detailed knowledge of things beer, not only in his native England, but also everywhere in the world. (He is also a subscriber to this humble effort.)
More dishearteningly, I meet more than a few English people who are woefully uninformed about things beer in their own country. Sadly, a small number of them work in pubs in Japan. All I can suggest to them is to learn more about brewing traditions and styles of beer in the U.K. before judging the beer knowledge of a North American.
Of course, we have all met people from North America who have grave misconceptions about English Beer. Fortunately, for those people there is some help in the form of a wonderful article in the February-March issue of the Celebrator Beer News, America's leading Brewspaper.
Unraveling the Myths of English Beer by Bob Barnes
The Celebrator Beer News offers a wealth of information on the U.S. beer scene, spend a little time on their website, www.celebrator.com, to see what's happening. "We put the Pub in publication," they often proclaim. (You may also find stories from Japan I have written as their Tokyo Correspondent.)
Annual AIDS Walk Appeal
When I meet readers in person, they sometimes ask how they can pay for Brews News. (Not often, but sometimes.) While this is a volunteer effort, I do ask readers every year to make a small contribution to help sponsor me on the AIDS Walk, held every July in San Francisco. Each year, Brews News readers collectively contribute a few hundred dollars which goes to a variety of AIDS charities active around the world. The walk is 10 kilometers long, and winds through Golden Gate Park. Already, Ake Nordgren of Stockholm, one of the most distant Brews News readers, has made a donation. Perhaps you will, too. The donation doesn't need to be much - the price of a few pints is plenty. Send yours to:
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0063
For more information on the San Francisco AIDS Walk, go to http://www.aidswalk.net/sanfran/index.html
Brews News Reader Starts Brewery
Mr. Kjetil Jikiun, a beer fan from Norway who often visits Tokyo (and reads Brews
News to keep up with the beer scene here), has started a microbrewery in Norway,
and brewed their first batch in April. Although the Web site of his brewery is
in Norwegian only, it does have some interesting photos, not to mention one of
the most intriguing URL names: www.nogne-o.no
Check it out.
Send your beer-related ads to firstname.lastname@example.org
There is no charge for Brews News readers.
Where can you find, if at all, Alaskan Amber in Tokyo? You recently mentioned the Alaskan Smoked Porter, but I was wondering if they had their "flagship" beer in Tokyo.
Also, why do ice beers usually have a higher alcohol content than non-ice beers?
I have seen Alaskan Amber here, and believe you can find it at Tanaka-ya in Mejiro and at the basement liquor section of the Tobu Dept. Store in Ikebukuro. To my surprise, in January I found the Alaskan Smoked Porter in both places.
About ice beers, I really hadn't noticed that they are typically stronger than comparable non-ice beers, but now that I think about it, I believe you are right. Two possible explanations:
1) Apparently the beer is frozen at one point, and if the ice is removed, then the beer gets marginally stronger since only some water is removed and the alcohol remains.
2) It could be part of the style of ice-beer, and the higher alcohol content is deliberate to achieve a certain flavor profile -- a cleaner, zippier taste.
Letters are always welcome in Brews News. Write to: email@example.com
Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.