Brews News #76
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Brews News #76 - April 2007
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.

Beer Here

Brown Beer Festival at the Black Lion in Meguro
April 14-15 weekend, from early afternoon to late
Cost: 2,700 yen (three pints) or 1,500 yen (three half-pints)

After the successful Black Beer Festival (December) and White Beer Festival (February), the Black Lion pub in Meguro is picking another color in the beer rainbow for their Brown Beer Festival. Some 28 beers will be served, including: Baeren Bitter, Baird Professor Munchener Dunkel, Echigo IPA, Fujizakura Smoked Lager, Fujizakura Doppelbock, Hakusekikan Pale Ale, Hideji Smoking Mole Ale, Iwate Kura Red Ale, John Smith Extra Smooth Bitter, Liefmans Oud Bruin, Minami Shinshu IPA, Minoh Double IPA, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Sankt Gallen Pale Ale, Shiga Kogen IPA, Swan Lake Brown Ale, and Weihenstephan Hefeweissbier Dunkel.

Buy them a glass at a time, or save money with the three-beer ticket sets. For details, contact the pub directly; for a map, see www.blacklion.jp

Black Lion Pub, 1-15-16 Meguro, Meguro-ku; phone 03-3491-2312

Seven Strong Beers at Osaka Beer Belly
February 5, 2007

by Nevitt Reagan

It was "big" night on February 5 at Osaka's Beer Belly, which featured a selection of seven high-alcohol beers. The ostensible reasons for offering these beers: to counter the effects the cool winter weather? to shake off the New Year's blues? to continue exploring the ever-changing offerings at Osaka's best microbrew bar? Maybe all of the above.

The event announcement was quite clear: One keg only of each of the seven beers would be on tap; when the kegs ran out, the event would be over. So forewarned, my trusty and trusted companions (the Beer Queen, Al, and Lefty) and I headed into Osaka and arrived at opening time on the very first night.

We started with the Ise Kadoya Weizenbock (6%). A pleasant lemony coriander-like aroma accompanied a mild undertone of tartness. While it went down smoothly, it had a very short finish. For the style, the alcohol was low and the body somewhat light. It was tasty, yet lacking in complexity; in other words, a good, drinkable wheat beer (the Beer Queen insisted) - but not really a bock.

We moved on Hitachino Nest Celebration Ale (8%), a winter warmer with an intriguing aroma, blending hops, coriander, lemon, and orange peel. The moderate malt backbone and hop presence became apparent in the mid-palate and lasted through to the finish. Pleasantly spiced, perhaps with cloves or cinnamon, and properly alcoholic, this amber beer cheered us as we moved on to the next beer...

...which was Daisen G Beer Barley Wine (8.5%). We all found this one to have a very restrained hop and malt aroma. It had a creamy mouth feel, yet without producing the characteristic tongue tingle of a high-gravity beer. Truly, the alcohol was somewhat on the low end for barley wine, which can range from 7-14%. It was sweet and easy to drink, yet weak-bodied, lacking in intensity. "Tastes too small for a barley wine," said Al. Lefty glanced over and intoned, "Bland...boring...not there."

Next up was Hakusekikan Hurricane (14%), definitely the most unusual beer of the evening. With absolutely no head and very little carbonation, this barley wine attacks with a sharp rush of alcoholic wine-vinegar fumes. Reminiscent of a port or a sherry, it had a charge of underlying sourness with very little hop presence. The malty sweetness surged in mid-palate and then the tartness returned. Al smiled and said, "It's growing on me." Not for everyone, but sure to be appreciated, one way or another. Lefty added, "Strong...interesting...different."

One beer was not named on the menu, but rather labeled a "secret beer." However, the friendly cook/barkeep soon revealed that it was a real-ale version of Hitachino Nest's award-winning XH (8%). This was a well-balanced beer with complex flavors and a great change from the initial taste to the finish. Perhaps this ale was still young (the bottled version of XH is aged between six and eighteen months); it seemed a tad light bodied and lacked carbonation. Made with four malts and a combination of Chinook and Styrian Goldings hops, it had a solid fruity hop aroma along with a sweet, yet slightly dull aftertaste.

We next sampled the Minoh Double IPA Real Ale (9%), which is fast becoming a favorite among Kansai-area microbrew fans. The aroma bestowed an exceptionally fruity explosion of Cascade hops. Sip by sip, hints of orange peel and raisin began to appear. The finish was long and well balanced, with malt and hop bitterness lingering on the tongue. This was by far the most drinkable and palate-cleansing brew of the evening.

The final brew on the menu was Miyoshi Becken Beer Dunkelbock (7%). It had a strong porter-like aroma, with a light-bodied maltiness. The smooth, creamy mouthfeel gave way to hints of roast coffee imparted by the blend of chocolate and caramel malts. We had mixed opinions on this one (Al wasn't completely pleased, but the rest of us were), but it still rated highly overall. No one in the bar seemed to know why the word "Becken" is part of the brewery's name. However, in German it means "basin" or "bowl." Perhaps one is beckoned to drink deeply this dark, satisfying brew?

Events such as this Winter Beer Fair are increasingly springing up at craft beer bars in the Kanto and Kansai regions, providing opportunities to sample new specialty or limited version brews. Get out and try these beers that, for most part, are not available in liquor stores. Brews News will do its best to keep you posted.

Seven Strong Ales: Very Subjective Average Ratings (on a 50-point scale)
42.66 Minoh Double IPA Real Ale
38.33 Miyoshi Becken Beer Dunkelbock
36.66 Hitachino Nest Celebration Ale
36.25 Hitachino Nest XH Real Ale
34.5 Ise Kadoya Weizenbock
33.5 Hakuseikan Hurricane
31.66 Daisen G Beer Barley Wine
(Scale: 28-36 Good / 37-43 Very Good / 44-50 Excellent)

Go to the following web sites (all in Japanese, except for Hitachino Nest) for more information on the six breweries featured during this strong ale event:
A.J.I. Beer (Minoh): http://www.aji-beer.co.jp/pro.html
Daisen G Beer: http://g-beer.jp/
Hakusekikan: http://www.hakusekikan-beer.jp/
Ise Kadoya: http://www.kadoyahonten.co.jp/
Kiuchi Brewery (Hitachino Nest): http://www.kodawari.cc/engpage/kodawari/html/
Miyoshi Beer Co.: http://www.miyoshi-becken.co.jp/

Seven Super Stouts from Baird Brewing
March 17 - 23, 2007

In a tribute to St. Patrick's Day, Baird Brewing served up seven different stouts for a week last month. A visit on the afternoon of Sunday, March 18th gave me the opportunity to try six of them, the first four in glasses, then the last two in sampler glasses. I was particularly interested in Baird's new seasonal, Snow Melt Chocolate Wheat Stout, which didn't fail to impress me, despite Bryan Baird's subsequent admission that the recipe didn't quite go according to plan.

Dark Sky Imperial Stout (!!!!!) was the big kid on the block, with its enormously thick, rich body. It's a "take-no-prisoners" jet black, with a tight creamy tan head, big aroma of complex roasty malts and hops, pushed by up by the prodigious 8.2% alcohol. Port wine-like "aged" initial taste, followed by an elaborate unfolding of flavors, leading to a long finish that tapers down into a tightly focused candy-like sweetness reminiscent of lightly caramelized sugar. Astonishing!

Snow Melt Chocolate Wheat Stout (!!!!!) was the most pleasingly offbeat participant, with a unique character all its own. Opaque hazy near-black brown, foamy "ice cream float" tan head (likely stronger and fluffier thanks to the wheat malt base), a distinct chocolate milk aroma with a hint of coffee. This featured a fabulously creamy sweet chocolatey flavor with a bitterness that creeps into the corners of your mouth and seeps under your tongue (forcing a smile if by some chance you don't already have one). The medium-length finish somehow leaves your mouth watering as sweetness is stripped away and bitter roasty flavors remain. After all this, you hardly notice the hefty 7.1% alcohol.

Morning Coffee Stout (!!!!!) is opaque jet black with a thick, creamy light tan head. Full-on coffee aromas thanks to an actual espresso coffee blend used alongside the malts and hops. The high 6.4% alcohol is largely hidden by the rich tangy dark malt flavors, which slowly fade away, and a stiff bitterness remains, just like your first cup of morning coffee. An eye-opener.

Midnight Oil Foreign Export Stout (!!!!!) is opaque ebony, with a creamy light tan head, a faint roasted malt aroma. On first taste you notice the bewitchingly smooth mouthfeel and distinct coffee flavor within an understated malt profile and sweetness, which gradually erode to reveal a lingering yet light bitterness. It is smooth and very drinkable and only the 6.1% alcohol keeps this from becoming a session beer.

Mama's Milk Stout (!!!!!) is an opaque ebony, with a frothy light tan head, bold dark toffee aroma, and a good sweetness that's muted not at all sharp. The mouthfeel is very, very smooth with rich roasty/coffee/chocolate flavors intermingling despite the light body and low 4% alcohol. Strong bitterness is kissed by a bit of tartness give this beer an oddly refreshing finish, leading you on for yet another sip.

Lucky Seven Toasted Oatmeal Stout (!!!!) is a "total eclipse" jet black with an off-white head, super smooth with great deep roasted malt flavors in a comparatively light body and moderate 4.2% alcohol. This, and the Mama's Milk Stout, are both ideal as session beers.

Also tasted was the Island Country Irish Red Ale, but after tasting six stouts, I hesitated to give it a rating. Still, this deep gold 4% ale with a creamy off-white head has a faint hop aroma and a rich and tangy flavor.

Sign up for Baird Brewing's e-mail news on their Web site (www.bairdbeer.com) to get advance notice of upcoming events. The Fishmarket Taproom is a brisk 25-minute walk (or short bus or taxi ride) from Numazu station in Shizuoka prefecture, phone 055-963-2628.

Bar Beat

Bar Beat: Frigo Est opens in Nishi-Kanda

First there was Frigo in Shibuya, followed by Belgo in Shinjuku. A few years later, the same company opened Favori in Ginza. Now, Frigo Est opened last month in Nishi Kanda, a short walk from either Jimbocho or Suidobashi stations. The format is the same; you go in and choose your bottled pleasure from a refrigerator, or order a draft beer at the counter, such as the new Witkap Pater Stimuro, an interesting 6% "low alcohol" (for Belgium) blonde ale. This location, however, seems just a bit more spacious than the others, yet still has that cozy dark wood interior that has made these bars the choice for fans of Belgian beer. Other versions of Witkap Pater are slated for introduction in the weeks to come: the Dubbel, Tripel, and others. Worth a visit.

Frigo Est
2-1-12 Nishi Kanda, Chiyoda-ku
03-3262-1138
Map http://www.eurobeer.net/frigo-est/images/est-map.gif

Copa and Trafalgar in Machida
by Glenn Scoggins, The Bar Hunter

Machida is a bustling outpost of Shinjuku, nestled among the central Kanagawa suburbs. The JR and Odakyu lines intersect at a busy commuter station, surrounded by department stores and specialty shops that wouldn't look out of place in Shibuya's Dogenzaka, as well as several blocks of long pedestrian-ized shopping streets. One such street has promising bars anchoring either end: Copa, specializing in Belgian beer, and Trafalgar, upholding British tastes.

The original Copa restaurant opened in Aobadai in northwestern Yokohama ten years ago. The full food menu and a well-stocked kitchen provide a complete dining experience, with a Belgian beer list to accommodate every taste. Copa was also a pioneer in Japanese craft beers, as one of the first restaurants to serve Baird beers over five years ago. (A personal note: the first Baird Rising Sun pale ale I ever tasted was at Copa in 2002 - a life-changing experience.)

Two years ago, a second Copa branch opened in Machida, mere seconds from the Odakyu station exit. Managed by the personable and versatile Yokomizo Masashi, it has a friendly atmosphere, with space for about 25 eager drinkers in a cheerful second-floor room festooned with Belgian banners and memorabilia, much of it contributed by loyal patrons. In return for their devotion, handyman Yokomizo built a wooden rack for individual steins and jugs.

The kitchen is small but produces a range of delights, including salads, stews, pasta, and pizza, with prices ranging from 600 - 1,200 yen. There are over 100 brands of beer available, including six on draft. A recent visit featured Baird's Professor Munchner Dunkel, Baeren Chocolate Stout, and a dark IPA made by the Copa staff, alongside Hoegaarden and other standard choices. Two pretty young waitresses, Mogawa Natsuki and Tsuchiyama Noriko, make up in enthusiasm what they lack in experience, and likely they will soon acquire the encyclopedic beer knowledge displayed by manager Yokomizo. This is a local pub with a cosmopolitan clientele: at their second anniversary party in March, one regular flew in from Seattle carrying smoked salmon direct from Pike Street Market to share with all the celebrants!

Just down the street and downstairs is Trafalgar, a British-style pub complete with salty snacks, Premier League football banners and video game machines that would not be out of place in Brighton or Blackpool. The loud BGM and subdued lighting create an atmosphere somewhat less hospitable and welcoming than Copa, but amiable publican Nakayama-san will soon make you feel at home - if you grew up in a brewery.

Eight beers and a cider are available on draft, including Yona Yona pale ale and Tokyo Black porter, both in their real-ale incarnations, as well as John Smith's Extra Smooth, with 25 more brands in bottles or cans, including the entire line of Baird standard beers. Notable among the bottled beers are three from Weihenstephan and three Hobgoblin varieties, all part of an assortment representing eight countries. The guest tap during my recent visit was occupied by Sankt Gallen's highly drinkable Golden Ale. (Like Copa, Trafalgar may base its identity on one national tradition but is not restricted by it.) Pint prices are just south of 1,000 yen, with a 200 yen discount during Happy Hour, from 5:00 to 8:00 on Monday through Thursday.

Food items range between 500 - 1,000 yen, with fish and chips the predictable best seller. I can vouch for the sausages and the sesame-seasoned salad, in both quantity and quality. Bring your own fun: the gloomy ambiance and the seating arrangement discourage interaction amongst patrons.

Of the two establishments, my choice for a return visit, if by myself, would be Copa. However, a common pattern amongst Machidans is the package deal, hitting first one and then the other in a single outing.

Copa and Trafalgar cooperate actively with each other, under the portmanteau name of "Toracoppa." Staff and patrons have brewed their own recipes at breweries offering B.O.P. opportunities, including an orthodox foreign export stout which I enjoyed. Both have held a number of joint events, including a cherry blossom party which will have taken place before you read this.

Last fall's joint Beer Hoppers festival will take place again in autumn 2007. Brews News readers may want to join an upcoming event on Sunday, April 22: an all-day bus tour to Fujizakura Kogen (at Lake Kawaguchi), Bayern Meister (near Gotenba), and Bryan Baird's Fishmarket Taproom (in Numazu). The group will set off at 9:00 am from Machida, returning (sodden and disheveled) at 10:00 pm. The itinerary plans 90 minutes at Fujizakura, including lunch, an hour at Bayern Meister, and three hours including dinner at the Taproom (from 5:30 to 8:30 pm). The cost for your seat on the bus is a mere 5,000 yen, which includes all incidentals, including snacks, en route. However, off the bus you must pay separately for what you consume at the three destinations. Contact Nakayama-san at Trafalgar or Nakajima-san at Copa if interested.

Ji-biiru Chubo (Craft Beer Kitchen) Copa
2F Fugetsu-Aoyama Kyodo Bldg.
6-11-7 Hara-Machida
Machida-shi, Tokyo 194-0013
Tel 042-709-5361
Website: www.beercopa.com
One minute (if that) from the Odakyu exit of Machida station

English Pub Trafalgar
B1F Kishima Bldg.
3-2-7 Hara-Machida
Machida-shi, Tokyo 194-0013
Tel 042-723-3335
Website: http://members.jcom.home.ne.jp/english.pub.trafalgar/index.htm
Five minutes from the main JR exit of Machida station

Good news if you're in Yokohama for the weekend and thirsty: Craft Beer Bar, reviewed in the previous issue of Brews News, has changed its closing day from Sunday to Wednesday. In addition to its already early opening hour of 4:00 pm on weekdays (excluding Wednesdays), this bar specializing in Japanese craft beer will open from 2:00 pm every Saturday, Sunday, and holiday.

Six Pick

Various Shades of Japanese Beer

Rating system:

! ! ! ! ! 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.

Special thanks to Glenn Scoggins for the Sapporo Tezukuri Bakushu beers.

!!!! Biere de Garde from Karuizawa Kogen Beer (Nagano; barley malt, barley, wheat, hops; 6% abv) This limited edition 2007 seasonal is bright amber gold, with an off-white head, rich "aged beer" aroma with a bit of grassy funkiness. The flavor is similar, but with a fair measure of fruitiness, with a totally malt-forward finish. There is a hidden funky tartness and astringency that balances it all nicely. I don't have much experience with this biere de garde style, particularly one this fresh. www.yohobrewing.com

!!!! Kinshachi Alt (Nagoya; all malt, 5% abv) Bright reddish bronze, tan head, rich roasted malt aroma. Thick and tangy initial taste gives way to a mild, smooth sweetness which quickly tapers into a dry yet full-bodied texture.

!!!! Sapporo Tezukuri Bakushu Ale (Barley malt, barley, hops; 5% abv) Bronze brown, tan short-lived head, dry malty aroma with little apparent sweetness. In flavor, mild bitterness, but balanced maintained due to minimal sweetness. Simple yet elegant, refreshingly dry, superb as a session ale. This and the next two come from a small suburban Sapporo brewery that calls itself Canadian Brewery. www.2002cb.co.jp

!!!! Sapporo Tezukuri Bakushu Pilsner (Barley malt, barley, hops; 5% abv) Faintly hazy gold, short-lived off-white head, rich dry malt aroma in good balance with herbal hop aromas, Delicious and refreshing crisp pils style with just the right amount of carbonation. Like other beers from this brewery, it's a bit one-dimensional but the flavor is excellent - sort of like a good bull's eye in darts. (Not shown because all the bottles look the same.)

!!!! Sapporo Tezukuri Bakushu Stout (Barley malt, barley, hops; 5% abv) Opaque black, tan head, very mild dark malt aroma with little hops. Flavor is simple but very smooth. Pure one-note flavor profile, with little complexity, but very good nonetheless. A session stout, easy going, light body but rich flavor.

!!!! Kirin Golden Ale (all malt, unfiltered and unpasteurized; 6% abv) Faintly hazy orange amber, tight tan head, subdued dry fruit aroma. Smooth body with good bitterness. Dry for an ale, with minimal sweetness, making this still in the "after bath" mode as far as refreshment, and despite containing caramel malt, it still lacks richness and character from my perspective. However, from the general market perspective, this is an interesting beer and a departure from the norm, particularly because Kirin sees fit to advertise this on TV. The newest in the "chilled beer" series sold mainly in convenience stores.

!!!! Kirin The Gold pilsner (all malt, 4.5% abv) Very bright gold, dense white head, good dry malt aroma with complex hop aroma. Rich initial taste, with good balance between the mostly bittering (not aroma) hops. Nice, tight "square" flavor structure, wherein there is full, rich flavor followed by a quick finish. This reminds me of the Kirin Lager from the 1970s; and its moderate 4.5% alcohol is the same despite the fact that modern beers range from 5 to 5.5%. Overall, The Gold is a commendable beer. It's about time for a showdown between high-end beers from the Big Four.

Beer Talk

The Real Facts About Real Ale

By Bryan Baird (Baird Brewing Company - Numazu, Japan)

"Real Ale" is a term often heard in Japan today in the chatter among beer enthusiasts. The increasing use of this term is a sure sign that the niche market for beers of character and distinction is beginning to grow here. Unfortunately, the term "Real Ale" often is bandied about with little understanding of what it actually means. This is a shame because true real ale is one of the most sublime taste experiences available in the entire world of beer, and its production, dispense handling and genuine appreciation require knowledge of what it is.

"Real Ale" is a term brought into regular use by the English consumer advocate group CAMRA - the Campaign for Real Ale. "Real Ale" is defined as "a name for draught (or bottled) beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide." The two central elements of real ale are thus 1) secondary fermentation, and hence natural carbonation, in the keg or bottle from which it is dispensed and 2) no application of gas pressure during dispense.

The production of true real ale requires the following from the brewer: packaging of beer that is "green" or not yet fully matured and stimulation of a secondary fermentation within the packaging container (keg or bottle). The handling and dispense of true draught real ale demands the following from the publican: venting of the excess CO2 built up in the keg during secondary fermentation and dispense at ambient atmospheric pressure.

The genuine appreciation of true real ale requires the following from consumers: appropriate expectations regarding moderate carbonation levels and non-frigid temperatures and an insistence on the integrity of what is delivered to them under the banner of "Real Ale." For example, a keg of force-carbonated beer that undergoes no secondary fermentation in the keg but is later vented of the forced carbonation and hooked up for dispense on a hand pump is NOT "Real Ale." Nor is a beer that undergoes a secondary fermentation and natural carbonation in a conditioning tank at the brewery but is packaged dead and then hooked up to a hand pump for dispense as a "Real Ale."

The point here is not pedantry. Rather, it is that terms like "Real Ale" carry concrete meaning in an industry, and to use them willy-nilly without regard for what they mean renders them either irrelevant or misunderstood. True real ale deserves better than that. The tradition and history of real ale is one of the bedrock foundations upon which the modern craft beer renaissance has been built. Upholding its integrity will contribute much to the further evolution of our beloved craft beer industry. Cheers!

News

April 14-15 weekend, from early afternoon to late
Brown Beer Festival at The Black Lion in Meguro
See article above

April 17, 8 to 10:30 pm - BEERS meeting at YLS near Tokyo station. Andrew Balmuth is scheduled to speak on craft beers from the U.S. East Coast, with a few examples served. For more information on this event, send an e-mail to "tokyobeers at yahoo dot co dot jp". BEERS (Beer Enjoyment, Education & Research Society) is an English-speaking beer club that meets monthly. Meetings are open to everyone.

April 22 (Sunday) is the date of Beer Club Popeye's annual 100 Beer Selection Event where teams of drinkers rank over 100 beers from microbreweries across Japan, all in real time. Get your ticket early to be in on the fun. For details, inquire at Beer Club Popeye. www.40beersontap.com

April 22 (Sunday) - Join a three-brewery bus tour to Shizuoka Prefecture, leaving from Machida (Odakyu Line and JR Yokohama Line) at 9 am and returning at 10 pm. For details, see the Bar Beat article above.

Mark your calendars

Big Four Beer Festival 2007 at Roppongi Hills - May 24 - 27. Featuring beer, food and entertainment, this event will be held by Asahi, Kirin, Orion, Sapporo and Suntory to promote the consumption of beer, which has been in a slow decline since 1992. The official website is at http://www.beerfes.com/

9th Annual Japan Brewers Association (JBA) Craft Beer Festival
Saturday, June 2 in two sessions, 11:30 am - 3 pm and 4:30 to 8 pm
The JBA is an industry group of microbreweries in Japan which has held the yearly festival in the beer garden at the Tokyo Prince Hotel. This year they are moving the event indoors, in the New Tokyo izakaya near the Mita (west) exit of Tamachi station (JR and Toei subway lines) at 5-33-8 Shiba, Minato ku; phone 03-3453-4060. The 3,500 yen admission (3,000 in advance) includes 7 beer tickets and one plate of snacks. Extra beer and food are available for purchase. Expect over 100 beers from around 35 local Japanese breweries. For details, to be released on April 2, check the JBA Web site (in Japanese only) at www.beer.gr.jp which will also have details on how to make reservations.

Great Japan Beer Festivals - http://www.beertaster.org/gjbf/date.htm (in Japanese only)
Tokyo GJBF at Ebisu Garden Hall - June 15 - 16
Osaka GJBF in Umeda Sky Bldg - August 11 - 12
Yokohama GJBF in Ohsanbashi Hall - September 15-17

Special thanks to Bryan Baird, Nevitt Reagan and Glenn Scoggins for their contributions 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 May issue is Wednesday, April 25th.