Brews News #80
Brews News #80 - September 2007
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.
Great Japan Beer Festival in Yokohama at Osanbashi Hall
September 15 (2:30-7pm), 16 (12:30-6pm), 17 (11:30am-5 pm)
The first GJBF in Yokohama was held last year, and it turned out to be one of the nicest festival experiences so far. Lines were minimal or non-existent, and the spaciousness of this beautiful venue in the midst of Yokohama Bay created a great atmosphere for enjoying beer. For the price of admission, you can enjoy as many 50ml samples as you like, and often the pours are more generous. Food is available, but limited.
Tickets are 4,000 yen at the door, and 3,500 yen in advance from many good beer bars; for a list see cgi.beertaster.org/user-cgi-bin/gjbf/07ticket.htm. You can also purchase tickets at Lawson and Family Mart stores; for details see www.beertaster.org/gjbf/date.htm.
Osanbashi Hall is a 7-minute walk from Nihon Odori station on the Minato Mirai line, or a 15-minute walk from Kannai Station. Map (in Japanese).
Japan Craft Beer Festival
September 30, 1 to 5 pm
This is the second year of this festival, organized by a group of eighteen small brewers and Aoki-san of Beer Club Popeye. While the beers to be served have yet to be announced, you will no doubt recognize the list of participants: Baird Brewing, Daisen G Beer, Echigo Beer, Fujizakura Kogen, Hakusekikan, Harvest Moon, Hida Takayama, Hitachino Nest, Isekadoya, Iwate-kura, Loco Beer, Minoh Beer, Sankt Gallen, Shiga Kogen, Shonan Beer, Swan Lake, Tazawako Beer and Yona Yona.
Tickets are 2,800 yen and include a commemorative tasting glass, and tickets for eight 120 ml pours. Extra beer tickets are just 200 yen each. Tickets are available at Beer Club Popeye, Ushitora, Kura Kura, and other great beer bars around town. See www.craftbeerfestival.jp/ticketpublist.php for a list. Tickets are now on sale on the site, but there's more fun and less hassle buying them at a pub. For more details on the festival, see www.craftbeerfestival.jp/ Map (in Japanese): www.craftbeerfestival.jp/access.php
German Beer Festivals for 2007
Sendai: Aug 28 - Sept 2
These festivals are a lot of fun, and feature free entertainment by musicians from Germany, Japan and other places. The one in Yokohama last year was a thorough pleasure, made even better by several German-style beers brewed in Japan and served at prices lower than the German imports. For details on these events, see: www.nihon-oktoberfest.com
The Bar Hunter Does the Oregon Brewers Festival
Glenn Scoggins, the Bar Hunter and Brews News National Treasure, files this report from The Oregon Brewers Festival, July 26-29 in Portland, Oregon
The largest beer festival in North America celebrated its 20th anniversary this summer, having grown in two decades from 13 breweries to 73 and from 15,000 participants to 55,000. It is the high point of the brilliant summer season in Beervana (known to the post office as Portland, Oregon) and deserves attention in your travel plans for 2008.
I was privileged to attend this year, and was overwhelmed by the friendly welcome everyone extended to me, including casual generosity that went well beyond the well-known camaraderie of our fraternity of beerophiles. It may have helped that I wore a Popeye T-shirt (never losing a promotional opportunity) and rarely missed a chance to point out that I had come 9000 kilometers for the event. However, the proud hometown hosts seemed to show the same happy spirit of hospitality to everyone from across the continent who had come to Portland, which was for four days the Center of the (beer) World.
The weather cooperated as well (for the 20th straight year, I was told), as the unseasonable summer rains, prompted by our mid-July typhoon in Japan, vanished on the eve of the festival. Blue skies, dominated by soaring Mount Hood, and warm sunshine were relieved by a cool breeze off the Willamette River flowing next to spacious Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the festival venue.
Portland and Oregon are the epicenter of the North American brewing renaissance. The state hosts eighty separate brewing facilities (none of them macro) employing 4200 workers, while Portland itself has 29 breweries and brewpubs, narrowly pipping Munich for the world title. Oregon craft brewers produced the equivalent of 263 million bottles in 2006 (an annual increase of 17%), and 38% of all draft beer consumed in the state is made by Oregon craft brewers, compared to a nationwide average of less than 2%. The craft beer business pumps more than $2.5 billion into the state's economy, which explains why Governor Kulongoski proclaimed July as Oregon Craft Beer Month and enjoined everyone to observe the occasion in an appropriate manner. I, for one, needed no further encouragement!
The Oregon Brewers Festival is organized differently from many others, in that each participating brewery is limited to one beer. This deprives larger breweries of any advantage over smaller ones and forces them all to bring their very best; it also provides room for many out-of-state operations, so that local drinkers can enjoy less familiar brews from Idaho or Michigan. Well-known names like Deschutes, Pyramid, and Red Hook shared the same trailer with BJ's Restaurant, Oregon Trail, and Montana's Spanish Peaks - a democratic approach with the thirsty drinker the ultimate arbiter.
Like all festivals, a mishmash of styles risked confusion in the throat unless one planned out an itinerary in advance (often side-tracked by intriguing discoveries). The Pacific Northwest infatuation with dynamic hops was fully in evidence, with lighter fruit beers and hefeweizens outnumbered by hoppy IPAs (21 of the total). Seventeen beers had IBUs over 60, with Bear Republic's Racer X taking the crown: "Gotta love a brewer who packs 110 IBUs into an IPA and calls it balanced," claimed the program.
Stone Brewing's Ruination has an IBU rating of 115, but Stone was represented at the festival instead by its phenomenal Vertical Epic 07/07/07, a Belgian saison "farmhouse ale" with an aroma of citrus and ginger, finishing with cloves and cardamom. Pliny the Elder from Russian River (named after the Roman naturalist who first identified hops, it "pairs well with burgers or brie") at IBU 92, was another throat-scraper. Diamond Knot Industrial IPA (IBU 80) claimed with justification to be "an IPA on steroids." Rogue Imperial Porter was a meal in a glass.
Once my voice was reduced to a hoarse whisper by the steel-wool effect of all those stiff Pacific Northwest hops, I sought out gentler alternatives. Hennepin from upstate New York's Brewery Ommegang (watch for it in Japan from Andrew Balmuth's Nagano Trading) was another farmhouse saison, a rich golden ale with a hint of ginger snaps. Other non-hoppy favorites included Eugene City Brewery's Honey Orange Wheat (a good substitute for breakfast), SummerAid from Portland's New Old Lompoc, which resembled a golden Helles, and Ballast Point's Yellowtail Pale Ale, a misnamed Kolsch.
The festival's hosts had put the lessons of the past 19 years to good effect with their seamless organization. Only $1 for a poker chip entitled one to a four-ounce sample (four chips for a full glass), encouraging adventurous drinking. (I ambitiously bought fifty but received at least another twenty as gifts, many of which I similarly passed on.)
The festival was open from noon to 9:00 pm, which on weekdays meant a relaxed and uncrowded venue until early evening, when the poor schmucks with real jobs arrived. By last call at 8:30 pm, scrums had developed in front of the most popular taps, but civility and good spirits were maintained throughout. Everyone complained about the rent-a-cops from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, but I found them much less intrusive than Seattle's Orwellian Beverage Enforcement Officers.
What to do in Portland after the festival ended (or even before it opened)? Silly question! Some of America's finest brewpubs are within stumbling distance of the riverside park or easily reached by the MAX light rail network and streetcars (all of which are free in the downtown area).
East of the Willamette River is Alan Sprints' Hair of the Dog brewery, responsible for some of the most distinctive high-alcohol beers in the world, including Blue Dot IPA and Adam. Nearby is the pioneering Horse Brass Pub, which introduced British pub culture to Portland many decades ago. Holding court at Horse Brass is its founder, Don Younger, who claims that he's "an overnight success that took forty years." While Don may give a first impression of a Hell's Angels dropout or a roadie for the Grateful Dead's last stadium tour, he is a fiercely intellectual thinker beneath a crusty demeanor, who can deliver an impassioned defense of Reaganite supply-side economics between drinks.
He is a compulsively quotable curmudgeon: "Make up your mind: are you a public house or just a restaurant with booze? I don't want to run a restaurant. People come to drink, and then they get hungry. Give the customers what they want. But how to educate them to know what they want? It's not about the beer, you idiots-it's ALL about the beer. If you have to ask what that means, you'll never understand the answer. When business gets bad, don't water the ketchup - get better ketchup. 95% of pubs go out of business; I just stay in the other 5%. I give people stuff they want, and they give me money." (However, like so many others I met in Portland, Don refused to let me pay for my drinks.)
West of the river, in the historic Pearl District, are BridgePort Brewing, the city's oldest brewpub and one of the festival founders, located in a former rope factory with a rich brick interior and an in-house bakery. Originally established in 1984 by Dick and Nancy Ponzi of winemaking fame, BridgePort has a strong line-up of ten beers on draft, of which I found Ropewalk impressive. New Old Lompoc runs a brewpub and restaurant, with Proletariat Red ("work is the curse of the drinking class"), Lompoc Strong Draft (LSD), Sockeye Cream Stout, and the epitome of the Oregon hop addiction, C-Note (100 IBUs, combining Crystal, Cluster, Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus, and Challenger hops).
Rock Bottom Brewery transcends its corporate affiliation with well-made beers (Multnomah Porter is a stand-out), served at an endless counter in a busy two-story bar complete with pool table. By the riverside marina is laid-back Full Sail Brewing, owned and operated by its employees. Henry's is an amazingly well-stocked bar with a long history. Greg Higgins wins awards perennially for his namesake restaurant's pairing of elegant cuisine with the best beers, following the culinary tradition of emphasizing local ingredients established by the legendary Alice Waters. Make your reservations at Higgins now for your next trip, as it is perennially booked solid.
The nerve center of the Northwest craft beer movement must surely be at Rogue Ales Public House and Distillery, also known as the Flanders Street Embassy of Rogue Nation. Jovial Al Jorgensen presides over an attractive interior with a lively and knowledgeable clientele. (As President of Rogue Nation, Al leads his citizens in the Oath of Allegiance, which all beer drinkers should memorize.) In addition to a wide selection of beers from its own brewery in Newport, Oregon, there are plenty of guest beers, and Rogue also operates a micro-distillery on premises and serves its award-winning cheeses.
Rogue also sponsored the festival's opening event: brunch and a parade to the festival grounds. Well-filled with eggs and sausage (and a few breakfast beers), several hundred participants donned complimentary T-shirts and tuned their kazoos to accompany the local firemen's bagpipe and drum corps on the one-mile walk to the riverfront park. Winding throughout downtown, this motley rabble was led by none other than Portland's mayor, Grand Marshal Tom Potter (a retired police chief and all-around good sport, who is the drinking buddy of Phred Kaufman during his visits to Portland's sister city of Sapporo).
Upon arrival at the festival, the inaugural keg (carried by a coven of "monks" led by Rogue's brewgenius John Maier) was tapped by His Honor, and the festival was on. Just like Munich's Oktoberfest, except that the ceremonial cry from the crowd was "World's Coolest Mayor!" rather than "O'zapft is!" Votes for re-election guaranteed, at least from the beer-drinking demographic. As befits a political and cultural event, the festival was well covered by the print and electronic media, including John Foysten of the Oregonian, Lisa Morrison of Northwest Brewing News, and Mary Izetelny from Brooklyn, drinking buddy of former Tokyo resident Wayne Gabel.
The entire festival experience was enhanced (especially for a visitor from overseas on his first trip to Portland) by the warm welcome from the iconic personalities of the Northwest beer world, as well as ordinary beer-lovers. Many of them, paradoxically, are SNOBs (Supporters of Native Oregon Beer) without a trace of snobbery. Chief amongst them is Fred Eckhardt (whom you already know as the eponymous inspiration of Hair of the Dog Fred), 81 years young this year and possessed of enormous erudition without affectation. Generous with his time and conversation, he was constantly surrounded by a coterie of admirers, dispensing wisdom with self-deprecating humor. "Most of the people in the world are nice most of the time, mostly in most situations, most often."
Fred pioneered the field of beer journalism with his columns in the Oregonian and still writes on a wide variety of topics, including sake, on which he is an authority. His introduction to sake came during his first visit to Japan - in 1945 as an 18-year-old Marine invading Okinawa ("where I was too smart for the jobs they wanted me to do and too dumb for the jobs they really needed me to do"). I had the pleasure of attending his enlightening and amusing presentation, held at the Rogue alehouse just before the festival, which paired cheese with beer (his 16th annual tasting).
Some of the innovative pairings were Rogue's Chipotle Ale with Chipotle Cheddar, Brutal Bitter with Tumalo Farms Pondhopper, and Deschutes Inversion IPA with Yellow Buck Camembert. He can also match beer and chocolate in ways that will either extend your lifespan or just help you enjoy life more! Fred plans to come to Tokyo this autumn for the annual ginjo-shu sake event, and I advise everyone (regardless of your knowledge of or interest in sake) to make the time to make the acquaintance of this national treasure.
All in all, the 20th Oregon Brewers Festival was an unforgettable experience. Next year, at 21, it will be of legal age! Join the fun on July 24-27, 2008.
More information is available from:
www.oregonbrewfest.com, with links to all of the participating brewers and restaurants
www.oregonbeer.org, the website of the Oregon Brewers Guild
www.celebrator.com, for the largest U.S. nationally-circulated craft beer magazine
www.brewingnews.com, for Northwest Brewing News (focusing on northern California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska)
Addresses and websites for brewpubs, restaurants, and breweries (all in Portland, Oregon):
BridgePort Brewpub, 1313 NW Marshall, www.bridgeportbrew.com
Full Sail Riverplace Brewery, 307 SW Montgomery, www.fullsailbrewing.com
Hair of the Dog Brewing Co., 4509 SE 23rd, www.hairofthedog.com
Henry's 12th Street Tavern, 10 NW 12th, www.henrystavern.com
Higgins, 1239 SW Broadway, www.higgins.citysearch.com
Horse Brass Pub, 4534 SE Belmont, email@example.com
New Old Lompoc Pub & Brewery, 1616 NW 23rd, www.newoldlompoc.com
Rock Bottom Brewery, 206 SW Morrison, www.rockbottom.com
Rogue Ales Public House & Distillery, 1339 NW Flanders, www.rogue.com
A Cool Dozen
Baird Faded Glory Pale Mild (Shizuoka, all malt; 2.7% abv) This is a truly remarkable work of brewing, getting so much flavor and complexity from a very light-bodied beer. Luxurious golden amber, off-off-white head, tangy malt complexity with sort of subdued cookie-like sweetness, backed up by English hops in perfect balance. You would want to drink this all night, and thanks to the very low alcohol level, you can!
Swan Lake Amber Ale (Niigata; all malt, 5% abv) Hazy reddish amber with a dense tan head. Soft malt aroma with fresh apricots and dates in the background, along with floral hop aromas. Good forward malt tang, slightly understated hop bitterness. Rich yet quenching when cold. When warm, a soft mineral flavor comes up and hopes become more subtle. Luxuriously long finish, as malt flavors fade and hops linger. Quite superb.
Lamme Goedzak (Holland, Scheldebrouwerij; barley malt, caramel malt, berschbruck and spalt hops, candi sugar; 7% abv) Clear solid old, creamy white head, complex sweet aroma, with highlights carrying over into the flavor, but not as sweet as you would expect. In fact, it is surprisingly dry, but rich tasting. Like a very complex and interesting version of Duvel. One of a series of nine beers from the Scheldebrouwerij microbrewery of Holland. These are now being imported into Japan by Ezo Beer; for details, see www.ezo-beer.com/jpn/holland.html
't Schoenlappertje (Holland, Scheldebrouwerij; barley malt, caramel malt, hops, cassis berries, natural cassis essence, candi sugar, hops, 8.5% abv) Dull hazy pink, pale pink head, refreshing berry-grape aroma, strong tartness in initial flavor. Fairly sour, but not at all lambic-like. Very complex fruit emerges, but sweetness is minimal. A lot of fun.
Shiga Kogen IPA (Nagano; all malt, 6% abv) Rather reddish golden, light tan head. Strong bitterness apparent in aroma, with dried fruit scent in background. Fine prickly carbonation and stiff bitterness that increases as the beer warms. This IPA could stand to be a bit more complex, but it is still a great beer in the above-average category.
Acme California IPA (California; all malt; 6.5% abv) Very hazy dark yellow, thick off-white head. Faint hop aroma. Sharp hop bitterness in initial flavor, but quickly fades and what remains is a smooth, rich and tasty ale with superb drinkability. A session beer with just a little more. Served at Bulldog in Ginza, sold at Tanakaya in Mejiro.
Nippon Premium by Kirin (all malt, 5.5% abv) Okay, this doesn't quite deserve four stars, but for me it is one of the most compelling brews to come from the Big Four in years. Clear deep gold, dense white head. Solid malt aroma, augmented by floral hops. Very solid tangy malt flavor, almost heavy, but not really brisk and lively. Good balance of deep, satisfying malt flavor, a bit on the dry side, with solid bitterness in the classic "square" flavor profile of the old 1970s Kirin Lager, where there is a strong, solid flavor followed by a quick finish. This is a richly flavored beer with distinct character, all the more remarkable from a major brewer. So I gave it four stars.
Big Swell IPA (Maui Brewing, Hawaii; all malt, 6.2% abv) The first thing you notice about this beer is the huge high-definition hop aroma from dry hopping with English Kent Goldings. Hazy amber, light tan head. Rich creamy texture, bitterness up front but backed by huge malt body. Hmm, English hops at West Coast levels - this is really a tasty beer that is fun to drink. Available at Tanakaya in Mejiro and Shinagawa Queen's Isetan.
Bikini Blonde Lager (Maui Brewing, Hawaii; all malt, 4.5% abv) Bright gold, off-white head, little aroma. A crisp, somewhat rich lager with a strong initial sweetness, which fades as the hop bitterness emerges. Good balance - not quite light, but not that heavy, either. Available at Tanakaya in Mejiro, Shinagawa Queen's Isetan and Sugaya in Kawasaki. www.mauibrewingco.com
Mug Bitter (Holland, Scheldebrouwerij; barley malt, caramel malt, hops (hallertau, saaz and spalt) candi sugar, yeast; 5% abv) Hazy dull gold, creamy snow white head. Faint hops in aroma, with little fruitiness or sweetness. Full-on funky Belgian yeast character, but quite dry with minimal sweetness.
Hitachino Nest White (Ibaraki; malt, unmalted wheat, hops, spices, orange peel, orange juice; 5.5% abv) Hazy apricot-tinged yellow, huge fruity orange blossom honey aroma, sweet pie spices in flavor, but a bit over the top in fruit and spice flavors. Rather heavy-handed but not unbearably so. Selling very well in the U.S., apparently.
No Rating - Tomato Bibere from Echigo Beer (Niigata; 25% malt, hops, sugar, tomato puree (all organic), tomato color, spices, 5% abv). Gosh, just because something has malt in it, does that make it a beer? Well, maybe if it is from Japan's first microbrewery. This beer-based oddity even made the press in the U.S., where it was billed as yet another product from "those crazy Japanese." Never mind, despite the horrors you may imagine, this is quite an intriguing drink. It pours out pink, with a faint pink head. The aroma is very smooth and refined, and the flavor is, yes, tomato and beer, but also sweet spices. I detected light flavors of cinnamon and cloves way in the background. Overall, it reminded me of a Caesar (Canada's national cocktail?) without the clam broth flavor. I had no idea how to rate it, but I didn't dislike it. Costs about 400 yen a bottle - try it if you find it.
Beer Quality in the Fast Lane
"Japanese craft beer has exceeded the level of Europe and North America." Isao Tamura, in the introduction of Nippon no Ji-biiru.
Now before you rush out to the next bar and say "I'll have some of what he's drinking!" give a moment of thought to what caused Tamura-san to make such a clearly idiotic statement. His tenuous logic was that in ONE beer competition (World Beer Cup 2006 in Seattle), beer entries from Japan won a higher ratio of medals to entries than entries from any other country, except Belgium, of course.
But what really made him say that is simply that Japanese craft beer is getting better at an increasing clip. In the past two years, I have noticed that quite a number of Japanese craft beers from several breweries are really exceptional. The ramping-up of beer quality has been escalating, which means better beer from more breweries, and the very best brewers having to scramble to raise the bar. Baird Brewing, for example, no longer has a monopoly on What's Really Good. In response, Bryan Baird has come out with four or five seasonals this year that have been nothing short of exceptional. Yet among them have been a few duds, such as the Strawberry Milk Stout, but that's the risk of creativity.
Now we are seeing some interesting beers from all kinds of breweries. Recently I enjoyed a half-pint of Iwate Kura Yuzu Sansho Ale. Yuzu is the bitter aromatic citrus fruit that has showed up in a number of pale ales. Iwate went just a bit farther out on the limb and used Japanese sansho pepper, commonly found on unagi. This showed up grandly in the aroma, and wanted me to send out for an unagi bento to enjoy this beer with.
I recently had Carsten Jancker, a Doppelbock from Aizu Beer in Fukushima, which featured an unusually complex and layered malt profile, something that only really skillful brewing can accomplish. The other day at the Coedo Brewery restaurant I had Beniaka lager, the one made with sweet potatoes. Ten years ago this brew was a pure disaster, now it is their flagship beer and excellent in nearly every respect. What this illustrates is that there is interesting beer and innovation coming from all directions. No wonder it is taking me more time to decide what beers to have when I visit Popeye, Ushitora and other great beer bars in Tokyo.
Earlier this year I was asked to research and write the Japan section in the upcoming new version of Michael Jackson's Beer Companion book, due out in October. Due to space considerations, I had to limit myself to ten small breweries in Japan to write about. Five years ago, I could barely think of ten to include. This year, however, it was pretty hard to limit the number to ten.
Finally, there is a growing interest in Japanese craft beer in the U.S., with people willing to pay $4 a bottle in a store for Hitachino Nest, for example, which sells about half its production there. An agreement for a New York importer to bring in Kinshachi Miso Lager will be concluded soon, and there are more to follow.
I predict Japanese craft beer will be hitting a very good stride around 2010. Watch for it.
Buy This Book!
Nippon no Ji-biiru is the first comprehensive guide to microbreweries in Japan. Released at the end of July, this handy resource is just 15 x 21 cm and 430 grams, making it an ideal addition to your travel bag as you make your way around Japan checking out microbreweries. Most certainly worth the 2,520 yen price. Published by ASCII corporation, 287 pp, ISBN 978-4-761-4941-1, www.ascii.co.jp/beer/
New Beers from the Majors:
Sapporo Zeitaku Malt, on sale August 22. This is an all-malt beer, made with 1.5 times the amount used in normal Sapporo beer; 5.5% abv. Expect a taste similar to their autumn seasonal beers. www.sapporobeer.jp/product/beer/zeitaku/index.html
Kirin Aki Aji, a richer version of their normal lagers, will go on sale August 22. www.kirin.co.jp/brands/akiaji/index.html
Kirin Ichiban Shibori Stout, on sale September 19. This is an all-malt beer; 5% abv. The site offers no information about whether this product is top fermented or bottom fermented. www.kirin.co.jp/brands/ichibanstout/index.html
Sapporo's 2007-8 version of Fuyu Monogatari winter beer will hit the shelves on October 10th. This is the 20th year they have produced this seasonal beer. www.sapporobeer.jp/product/beer/fuyumonogatari/index.html
Kirin has also released an Ichiban Shibori Premium, on tap only, to be sold through the end of this year in Gunma, Ibaraki, Nagano, Niigata and Tochigi prefectures only. The beer is said to be tweaked with special quality malt and an exclusive "Aphrodite" strain of yeast, and delivered in refrigerated trucks. http://www.kirin.co.jp/brands/taruzumepremium/index.html
Kirin Ichiban Shibori "Toritate Hop" (fresh-picked hops) will go on sale November 17. It is brewed with fresh hops from the Tono region of Iwate prefecture. www.kirin.co.jp/brands/toretatehop/index.html
Ezo Beer Specials
Special offer to Brews News readers! Ezo Beer has some discounted beers from the US, Scotland, Holland and Belgium. Some have ripped labels, and some are close to expiration date, but flavor is guaranteed. Find out what's available now by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to Glenn Scoggins as always for his 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 October issue is Wednesday, September 20.