Brews News #97
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Brews News #97 - November/December 2009
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.

Beer Here

Popeye Strong Ale Fest

November 22 from 1 to 6 pm

This annual event at Beer Club Popeye comes just in time with cooler weather that enhances the enjoyment of strong ales. This year, the theme will be "aging collaboration" with five types of cheese matched with various strong ales. In addition to the cheese, light food will be served. Participants will get ten tickets, each good for a small tasting glass of beer. Admission is 5,000 yen and reservations are required. For details and reservations, phone Popeye at 03-3633-2120. For a map, see www.40beersontap.com

(Belgian) Beer Lovers Club

November 28 from 5 to 9 pm

For those of you who find Belgian beers a bit pricy, then this event is for you. Held at Bois Cereste in Akasaka only four times a year, you buy a book of ten tickets in advance for just 3,500 yen. Most Belgian beers are just two tickets, and tickets can also be used for food items. This makes the beer at least 35% cheaper than normal. Plus, the atmosphere is warm and cozy. For a map and more information on Bois Cereste, go to www.bento.com/rev/0818.html.

Baird Festival of Hops

November 7 - 15 at Nakameguro Taproom

Eight different single-hop ales will be featured at this event, giving you the opportunity to compare the flavors of eight popular brewing hops at this week-long event. In addition, special half-pint drink cards will be sold for 4,800 yen to allow you to taste the entire lineup, with completed cards entered into a raffle for prizes. The beers (named after the hop they contain) include Amarillo Ale, Cascade IPA, Centennial IPA, Glacier Ale, Hersbrucker Ale, Motueka Ale, Simcoe Ale, and Sterling Ale.

There will also be a Hop Character in Beer Seminar and Tasting on November 7 (in Japanese) and November 14 (in English) for 3,500 yen per person. Reservations are required; phone 03-5768-3025 or e-mail nakameguro-tap (at) bairdbeer.com. For more details on the Nakameguro Taproom, go to http://www.bairdbeer.com/html/taproom-nakameguro.html

Beer There

Maui Brews Cruise

October 10 at Dry Dock Beer Bar in Shimbashi

Over thirty beer enthusiasts joined in this Hawaiian beer event held jointly by Dry Dock and Andrew Balmuth, importer of Maui Beer. On tap were the tangy Big Swell IPA, the unforgettable Maui Smoked Rye Pale Ale and the bewitching Maui Coffee Stout. Much of the party was outside Dry Dock, which is a pretty small beer bar located right under the railroad tracks. Almost as striking as the great flavors of beer was the huge roar of trains. Still, people had a great time and enjoyed the event immensely. Andrew hopes to hold more of these beer events in the near future.

Nippon Craft Beer Festival

October 11 at Sumida Riverside Hall in Asakusa

It was a slightly less-than-capacity event this year, but still filled with lots of great beer selections. Easily the most notable was the Super Vintage from Hakusekikan Beer, in this case the 2003 version which has mellowed a great deal to reach a smooth flavor that was full and complex, with a slight hint of dark cherries. Also served (but not on the program) was the new Toshi's IPA (see Bar Beat below) which drew mixed reviews from attendees.

Since this is an all-volunteer event, there are naturally some rough edges. Most striking may have been a live band playing on a side stage while brewers were on the main stage trying to talk to the audience. Still, everyone rolled with the proceedings, helped by the great assortment of beers on tap. With extra beer tickets at 200 yen each, things pretty much carried on until the last hour, when the Sold Out signs started popping up.

Bar Beat

Cooper's Ales in Shimbashi

August Beer in Roppongi

Toshi Ishii, Yona Yona brewmaster until early this year, has certainly been on the move since he left his position last spring. He's been brewing in the UK, Norway and the Czech Republic. He's finally back in Japan and has started his own brewing company. His new Toshi's IPA is now being brewed at the Yonekyu Brewery in Gotemba, and is being distributed by August Beer, a small Fukushima brewery. Fortunately, August Beer has a new pub in Roppongi near the Hills complex, and they are now serving Toshi's new beer. It's essentially a US style IPA with good body and aroma.

Of course, they have their own beers - August Beer is an unfiltered lager, and August Maduro is a dark beer with a smooth, clean flavor. The pub is certainly worth checking out. For details, go to http://www.augustbeerclub.jp/

August Beer
Nishi Azabu 3-2-21 / 03-6804-1655

Six Pick

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.

Craft Beer Selections

Here is a good fall beer selection for the cooler weather now upon us. These beers are sold at Tanaka-ya in Mejiro.

!!!! Tokyo Black from Yaho Brewing (Yaho Brewing, Nagano Pref., all malt, 5% abv) This ale, indicated as a porter, is dark opaque brown with a medium tan head. There is a faintly sweet dark caramel aroma, with a touch of vanilla. It has a tangy flavor, with hints of chocolate and coffee. The deep roast flavors are minimal, with a taste more like brownies.

!!!!! Iwate Kura Oyster Stout (Iwate Pref., all malt with oysters, 7% abv) This brew is a deep opaque brown with a dark tan head. The brisk hoppy aroma carries hints of the sea. The rich bittersweet chocolate flavor has a strong, almost meaty foundation, leading to a solid finish with moderate malty sweetness. Try it with oysters, of course.

!!!! Echigo 90 Days Stout (Niigata Pref., all malt, 7% abv) This stout is a very deep reddish brown, and sports a loose tan head. There is a faint dark toffee aroma, with a tangy nutty flavor and dark caramel notes that linger long into the finish. There are practically no deep roasted flavors, so it is more like a porter in style.

!!!! Shonan Beer Liebe (Kanagawa Pref., all malt, 5% abv) The beer is deep reddish brown, with a tan head. The aroma is of coffee and dark caramel. The rich flavor of coffee and dark toffee exhibits minimal sweetness, with good tanginess. There is just enough hop bitterness to keep everything in balance. The tangy finish is long with roasty flavors.

!!!!! Harvest Moon Schwarz (Chiba Pref., all malt, 4.5% abv) This easy going beer is dark chocolate brown with a light brown head, and sports an aroma of toffee, dark rye bread and coffee. The rich chocolatey flavor and hint of licorice leads to a brisk refreshing finish with minimal sweetness. The roasty flavor notes linger. A superb match with roast pork.

!!!!! Hitachino Nest XH (Ibaraki Pref., all malt, 8.3% abv) This strong monster of a beer is a deep reddish amber, with a light tan head. The aroma of sweet fruitcake with herbal hop notes greets you, while it has a rich and tangy malt profile with dried fruit sweetness. It is a bit like port wine, with a tangy, sweet finish.

Beer Talk

Hair of the Dog Brewing Company

Alan Sprints of Hair of the Dog Brewery. Photo by Nevitt Reagan

Portland, USA

By Nevitt Reagan

The approach was not promising, the map less than clear. Lefty and I got off the Portland city bus in a starkly industrial area, where years of factory grime collected in the gutters and bits of green weed poked up through cracks in the pavement. Yet a couple of fellow riders had seemed to think that we were near the place. Following our vague directions, we backtracked to an overpass, through a break in a chain link fence, down a flight of cement stairs, and past several deserted warehouses. And then, magically, there it was!

One of the premier small breweries in United States, Hair of the Dog Brewing Company has been in operation since 1993. Founder, owner, and sole brewer, Alan Sprints had been president of a Portland area homebrew club for a short time when a friend suggested that he go into business. For sixteen years now, he has been making some of the most sought after strong bottle-conditioned beers in the United States.

When we arrived, Alan was busy preparing a delivery, twirling thick sheets of shrink-wrap plastic around a stack of small kegs and cases of beer. He then jumped onto a forklift, expertly scooping up the pallet, and deposited it into a waiting truck.

He welcomed us into his small, cluttered brewery and led us to a simple sheet metal bar table with eight taps behind it. As he poured out generous samples, he described his brewing process

With a single ancient looking 100-gallon brew kettle, Alan usually brews up three to four separate batches and then ferments them together, which tends to smooth out any differences. His boiling time is longer than most -- with multiple hop additions. He uses the same yeast strain for most, though not all, of his beers and adds a small amount of fermenting beer for bottle conditioning. He works alone, bringing in a few workers every couple of weeks to help with bottling and packaging.

Here are the eight beers we sampled:

Ruth (5%): A creamy mild American Ale, hopped only with Amarillo. Our sample was 4 months old and had a crisp tartness.

Blue Dot IPA (7%): Named for the tiny planet we all live on, the character of this astoundingly fruity beer changes from batch to batch, depending upon the hop varieties which Alan employs. It is dark amber with a huge citrusy aroma. The malt flavors are light but full of complexity.

Fred: This barley wine honors pioneering Portland beer writer Fred Eckhardt. It clocks in at 10% alcohol, on a solid base of pilsener and rye malts -- the same basic ingredients as Blue Dot -- but he adds candi sugar and brews it with less water.

Fred from the Wood (10%): The basic Fred, aged for at least six months in new American oak barrels. Alan uses each barrel a maximum of three times before discarding it. Thus, the second and third times, the beer will take on additional flavors. It is exceptionally sweet, and the oak aging creates an overpowering wood-like vanilla tang.

Bourbon Fred From The Wood (10%): This is Fred again but aged for a year in charred bourbon barrels, which are used only once. It goes down smoothly, with notes of sour plums, vanilla, and whiskey.

Fred Flanders (10%): Alan ferments this Fred with a blend of Brett and sherry yeasts and also introduces a small amount of bacteria. It is aged in French oak barrels. The sample we enjoyed had been maturing for 11/2 years, but he said it wouldn't really be ready until it was three years old. It was sourish, with multifaceted flavors and an unending bitter aftertaste. He also makes a Fred Flanders Red version.

Doggie Claws (11.5%): This ferocious barley wine, made from a malt bill of pils and crystal malts with added honey, is heavily dry-hopped in the West Coast style. Only 500 cases are produced each year. Ours was aged 11/2 years and had a huge hop aroma. It was smooth, fruity, warming, and full of tantalizing mid-palate flavors.

Adam (10%): This traditional dark old ale was the first beer Alan ever made and it is his signature beer. The adambier style was brewed long ago in the Dortmund region of Germany, but it disappeared with the advent of light, clear lager beers. It had been written about, but no one was making it, nor was there an extant recipe, when Alan started brewing. A blend of peat-smoked malts (chocolate, roast, and crystal) is balanced by generous additions of Magnum and Amarillo hops. He has also made Eve (12%), an ice beer ribbed out from Adam, as well as Dave (29%), which frozen twice to lift its potency.

After 16 years in business, Hair of the Dog remains small. Unlike many successful microbrewers, Alan has resisted the temptation to expand. He feels that, by definition, craft brewers should focus on quality and that getting bigger often leads toward more industrial-tasting beer. In addition, over the years he has not expanded the range of styles much. Rather, he makes eight main beers, with variations on each, such as aging with fruit (e.g., cherries or peaches), in different types of casks, or by blending vintages. He doesn't enter many contests and does almost no advertising. In fact, a full 40% of Hair of the Dog's revenue comes from just two annual dock sales held at the brewery. Alan did, however, mention that there might be a small outlet pub in Portland at some point in the future.

As we were on our way back downtown, Lefty sighed, "Geez, he's got to be one of the top five brewers anywhere." I ventured, "Well, maybe in the top ten anyway - and the other nine are probably all in Belgium." Later, checking on RateBeer.com, I discovered that for 2009, based on nearly two million reviews of 91,000 beers from over 8,700 brewers worldwide, Alan Sprints has been judged the 4th best.

Hair of the Dog beer is not easy to find. Releases are limited and most batches are small. You may be lucky enough to stumble upon it in a few specialty bars in Japan, such as Popeye in Tokyo, Sal's Cafe in Kanagawa, or Mugishu-Tei is Sapporo. If that's not possible, well ... seek it out in Beervana, otherwise known as Portland, Oregon.

News

BEERS Meeting on Tuesday, November 17 in Tokyo

The monthly meeting for the Beer Enjoyment, Education and Research Society (BEERS) will be held on the usual third Tuesday of the month from 8 pm. The cost will be about 2,500 yen and the location will be the Terminal Lounge in Shinagawa, see www.terminallounge.jp for details. If you are interested in attending, please write to Tim Eustace at tokyobeers (at) yahoo.co.jp.

Special thanks to Nevitt Reagan for his article in this issue. We'd love your contribution, too, so send your story ideas (or story) to brewsnews "at" yahoo.com


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