Brews News #59
Brews News #59 - July 2005
Sapporo International Beer & Food Festival
June 24 - 26, 2005
By Glenn Scoggins
Hokkaido International School (HIS) in the leafy suburbs of Sapporo was the venue in late June for a beer festival organized by the foreign community and local craft breweries. The first of what is hoped to be an annual tradition, the festival was well-attended on all three days by an eclectic mix of foreign residents of the northern island, curious local Japanese, and a handful of beerophiles from further afield. The setting, a hilltop school gymnasium, was spacious and breezy despite an unseasonable heat wave, with continuous live bands and food from four continents creating a carnival atmosphere.
The festival organizer and guiding spirit was hyperenergetic impresario Phred Kaufman, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his pioneering Sapporo bar, Mugishutei. In his dual role as beer importer and board chairman of HIS, Phred persuaded a dozen local eateries and twice as many musicians (including an a capella group of Waseda University alumni, his alma mater) to participate. A thrill for the HIS students in attendance was the sight of their headmaster (and festival host), Wayne Rutherford, singing lead vocal with his oldies band, while another band simply introduced itself as Phred Zepellin.
The key to the festival, of course, was the beer. Phred arranged for eight American breweries to send their most distinctive flavors, augmented by premier labels from Germany (Schneider Edel-Weiss), the Czech Republic (Pilsner Urquell), and of course a variety from Belgium. Rogue Brewing of Newport, Oregon, supplied many of the most memorable tastes, including beer with pine ingredients, as well as their well-established soba (buckwheat) beer, originally pioneered by the Phred-ster himself. Particularly interesting were Fat Tire amber ale from New Belgium of Colorado, Smoked Porter from Alaskan Brewing of Juneau, the attention-getting Arrogant Bastard Ale from San Diego's Stone Brewery, and a spruce-based beer from Siletz Brewing of Western Oregon.
The foreign beers, many of them making their debut in Hokkaido, were not the only attraction for adventurous drinkers. Six brews made locally were on tap: Taisetsu Beer from Asahikawa, Kami-furano Beer, and Onuma Beer from near Hakodate, along with three contrasting tastes from the Sapporo environs: Ishikari Beer and a brew made by local Sapporo enthusiasts conveyed the raw energy of dedicated hobbyists, while Otaru Beer exuded the professionalism and high standards of braumeister Johannes Braun. (For more information about Otaru Beer, see Brews News Issue #57.)
Two breweries familiar to Kanto-area drinkers also made their Hokkaido debut at the Sapporo event: Hitachino Nest from Ibaraki and the ever-popular Yona Yona Real Ale from Karuizawa, Nagano. Yona Yona brewer Toshi Ishii shepherded his beer to the festival and manned the pumps all three days, despite a grueling travel schedule. Other familiar faces from Tokyo included Fujiwara Hiroyuki (who plans a section on Sapporo beers and bars in an upcoming issue of his Beer and Pub magazine) and Popeye's Aoki Tatsuo and his Hokkaido-born wife. Other pilgrims from afar came from Osaka, but the prize for real dedication was won by Phred's friends from Oregon, making a 16,000-kilometer round trip for the occasion. The fun continued after the festival closed each night, as old friends reunited at Mugishutei to drink more of Phred's remarkable collection.
Beer fans from Honshu should pay attention to the websites for Phred's Ezo Beer and HIS (listed below) next spring to check the details for next year's festival. Sapporo is at its best in June, with the raucous Yosakoi-Soran Festival and a colorful flower display filling the verdant downtown Odori Park. The weather is usually cool and pleasant, and Hokkaido's low humidity (and lack of "tsuyu" rainy season) provide a welcome relief from the mold and sweat of Tokyo or Osaka. See you next year in Sapporo!
Mugishutei and Ezo Beer
Hokkaido International School
Baird's Taproom 5th Anniversary Weekend
|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.|
Mabu Dachi Imperial Pilsner (bottled), Brewed by Baird Brewing for Beer Club Popeye to commemorate their 20th Anniversary in June. Cloudy dried-apricot orange gold color, short-lived ivory head, immense aroma of dried light-colored fruit with little hop aroma apparent. Fairly low carbonation in the glass, but nice little pinpoints of it when you drink. Massively rich concentration of pale malt flavor, which somehow quickly subsides to allow a very refined hop bitterness to emerge. As it warms in the glass, it becomes obvious that this is a barleywine, but one quite different from the norm. There is minimal cloying sweetness, and very few ale characteristics; instead, the hard-edge quenching character of a lager somehow comes through despite the intensely heavy body. This is a very hard beer to rate as it is so distinctive; needless to say, most all Brews News readers will react favorably, yet I imagine that those who normally drink ice-cold Corona would push this away after one sip. I came to the conclusion that this beer is probably too young, as a beer this big requires extended aging time in the bottle. Give it six more months in the bottle, in the refrigerator, and it's likely I'd give it five stars. I suspect that Popeye's Aoki-san is holding back some kegs of this for the year-end holiday season.
Note from the brewer, Bryan Baird: "Twenty years ago, Aoki-san opened his Ryogoku izakaya, Popeye. Roughly ten years ago, at the dawn of craft beer in Japan, Aoki-san transformed his izakaya into a pioneering multi-tap pub specializing in Japanese craft beer. Today, with forty-some taps dispensing properly refrigerated and pristinely maintained craft beer, Popeye continues to lead the field. It was an honor, therefore, to be asked by Aoki-san to craft a special beer commemorating Popeye's 20th anniversary. Mabu-Dachi Imperial Pils is, we think, much like Aoki-san himself: bold and strong yet balanced and principled.
Ginga Kogen White Shot Beer (Tochigi; 100% malt, hops, unfiltered) Very pale whitish yellow, nice rich white head, an aroma like witbier with yeastiness apparent. Tart and creamy texture, with a witbier flavor minus the spices, backed by fine carbonation. Some fruitiness emerges mid-palate, followed by a tart, dry finish. A rather nice example of a white beer. Designed to be mixed with the companion Black Shot Beer, also in a half-size 160 ml can.
Ginga Kogen Black Shot Beer (Tochigi; 100% malt, hops, unfiltered) Nearly opaque dark brown, tan head quickly dissipates, sweet roasty coffee/toffee aroma, dry stout flavor with minimal bitterness and some dark, deep roasted malt flavors. Little overall sweetness, with a dry finish and some bitterness emerging in the end.
Ginga Kogen Black and White Shot Beer blend (50/50 mixture of two beers above). Well, it is fun to get the two little cans and pour them together; I suppose that's what Ginga Kogen had in mind when they dreamed up this cute marketing exercise. Thing is, they should have consulted with the brewers, because these two beers were not made for each other. (In fact, can you think of any two beers that are improved by mixing? I can't.) Anyway, I poured the White first, and then the Black, and the head remained white, but quickly dissipated. The 50/50 ratio resulted in a fairly opaque brown beer with a bit of clarity at the edges. The end product lacked the characteristics of either beer, and tasted, well, confused - a brown, non-descript quaff with a light body and a fair amount of tartness. If you do buy these Shot Beers, drink them separately. You could polish off a six-pack in less than an hour.
Hite Stout Extra (South Korea; 100% malt, hops) Dark reddish brown, sudsy light tan head, very faint dark malt aroma. Essential a lager-tasting brew with faint stout overtones. Not even as "dark" tasting as a schwarzbier or even most Japanese dark beers like Asahi Black. Little malt flavor and minimal bitterness. Essentially a dark 'lawnmower' beer that is best served ice-cold. While calling this a "stout extra" is really a total joke, it is not bad as a dark beer for a very hot summer day.
Hoppy Black non-alcoholic beer-type mixer (Japan; malt, glucose, hops, citric acid, flavorings). This product was originally developed to be mixed with sho-chu for a beer-like drink at much lower cost. I find this version interesting all by itself. Deep amber color, tight yet minimal tan head, faintly sweet malty aroma, well-balanced initial taste similar to less expensive European beers but with a very slight amount of graininess on the level of the better German n.a. brews. Clean bitterness and a faint tartness that helps create a very clean and refreshing finish. While not as flavorful as most good beers, this brew is remarkably good for a non-alcoholic beer, and far superior in flavor and maltiness to nearly all low-malt happo-shu I've had. Actually, not too far from Hite Stout, but a lot less expensive. Of course, it's way better than the regular "blonde" hoppy that's far more widely available. What's more, there's only 40 calories a bottle, and no purines which are said to contribute to gout. 105 yen at Yamaya
It isn't often I read something in Japanese that strikes me as thrillingly direct. This is why I got such a big kick out of the editorial in the June issue of the Good Beer Club's quarterly magazine. The editorial was written by GBC chairman Ichiri Fujiura, who, in a pointed, specific rant worthy of Lewis Black, lambastes the Japanese media for their knee-jerk summer "beer special" articles devoid of anything new. (Well, a look at beer articles in some of Tokyo's English-language magazines will prove this sort of beer journalism is not limited to the Japanese media.) Below I've loosely translated Fujiura's uncharacteristically Japanese editorial into colloquial English as I understand it. Several of his phrases rendered in larger bold type in the original are rendered here in all caps, the best I could do in Brews News' text-only format. I hope you find Fujiura's words and refreshing and true as I did.
BEER IS FOR SUMMER!
"Hey, is THIS what you think beer is?"
by Ichiri Fujiura
Come summer, the talking heads on TV seem to A-L-W-A-Y-S switch to the standard greeting 'well, the season where beer tastes good is here!' Hey, what's the matter? SO YOU MEAN TO SAY THAT BEER WASN'T VERY TASTY UNTIL NOW?
The mass media are a particularly knuckleheaded industry. While they always run quite a number of special articles and programs on sake during the winter, even in this age where air conditioning technology is commonplace, and one hardly sees anymore the red-lantern festooned top floors of buildings indicating a beer garden in progress, why must we still be subjected BEER SPECIALS WITH NOTHING IN PARTICULAR SPECIAL TO REPORT AND ARE NEVER RUN ANYTIME EXCEPT SUMMER which are nothing really more than manifestations of some sort of modern seasonal tradition of summer? What's more, in Japan, if beer writers (who somehow do not seem necessary at all to editorial staffers who put together special articles on beer) have not had any talk of assignments by May can very well kiss off the idea of selling any beer articles until way into the next year. After all, beer writers are seasonal laborers, right?
At the least, Good Beer Club members certainly know that BEER IS A DRINK THAT IS NOT JUST FOR SUMMER, and that there is such a thing as beer brewed for winter enjoyment, as well as high-alcohol beers which actually warm the body. And they drink them! Just by that alone they get MANY TIMES MORE ENJOYMENT OUT OF LIFE. So, if there happens to be any unhappy friends in your life who think that 'beer is for summer' please do them a favor and teach them a few things about beer. They'll thank you for enriching their lives.
July 16th & 17th weekend (during the Gion Matsuri)
Bar K6 in Kyoto (phone 075-255-5009) from 6 pm till late.
Toshi Ishii will be serving his Yona Yona Real Ale from a wooden cask, along with Tokyo Black Real Ale, a porter. Toshi also has started an incredible Web site on Real Ale, which also has information on who brews it in Japan and where you can drink it. Unfortunately, the site is only in Japanese, but I plan to refer to it often for information to put in Brews News. Go to www.realale.jp
On June 23, Baird Brewing of Numazu, Shizuoka Pref., tapped the latest in their series of seasonal brews, Wheat King Ale. According to Bryan Baird, the beer's character is dominated by a single ingredient: malted wheat. As such, it provides a distinctly different flavor profile from most beers, in which malted barley is the main ingredient. The result is a lighter body, a tart flavor that gives the beer a certain zestiness, and a lighter, more refreshing aftertaste. Just the thing for summer. Alcohol is only 4.8% abv.
Wheat King Ale is best characterized as an American-style wheat ale, having none of the distinctive characteristics of neither German Weizen nor Belgian Wit. Baird's standard house ale yeast has been used to ferment the beer, leaving it with no pronounced yeast characteristics of Weizen or Wit. Wheat King Ale is slightly hazy and whitish gold, with a subtle floral-like aroma with a hint of tart fruit. The slightly sweet flavor from the wheat malt is quickly dissolved by a slightly sour edge, which leaves a refreshingly dry finish. I tasted Wheat King Ale at Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku on June 30th. Hopefully there will be some of this beer remaining for the 5th Anniversary Party at Baird Brewing's Fishmarket Taproom, to be held from Saturday, July 16th through Monday July 18th. See above for details.
Special thanks to Glenn Scoggins for his contribution to this issue. We'd love your contribution, too, so send your story ideas (or story) to brewsnews at yahoo dot com. Deadline for the next issue is July 25.