Brews News #98
Brews News #98 - January/ February 2010
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.
Tokyo Real Ale Festival
Sunday, February 14, 1 to 5 p.m.
This year marks the 8th Tokyo Real Ale Festival, and like last year, it will be held at the Sumida Riverside Hall, across Azuma-bashi bridge from Asakusa station. The list of beers being offered, and the list of breweries participating, has yet to be posted on the event's website. Check later at www.tokyorealale.org if you are interested. With no other event like it in Japan, it's always a must-attend festival for serious beer enthusiasts.
Admission is 3,500 yen, which includes a commemorative tasting glass and ten tickets, each good for a 120 ml sample. The tickets can also be used for food, and additional tickets are available at the event. Please note that admission tickets must be purchased in advance, and the best way to get them is at a participating pub such as The Aldgate, Beer Club Popeye, Bois Cereste, Bulldog, Towers, Ushitora and Yokohama Cheers. Get your admission tickets soon, as they sell out early in some places. For a list of participating pubs, see http://www.tokyorealale.org/pc/ticketlist.php
Popeye Strong Ale Fest
November 22 from 1 to 6 pm
The Strong Ale Fest at Popeye, held on November 22 last year, had sold out completely, and was split up into two "sessions" to facilitate smoother operation. The first session got rolling at 1pm and people were allowed to stay until they could no longer stand (or stay awake -- I love how in Japan it's not embarrassing or illegal to fall asleep in a bar - or anywhere for that matter!) I was in the second group which got started at 3pm. For Y5000, patrons were given 10 tickets (one per beer); included also was a fancy-cheese plate, and a main course (more on that later...).
Having called numerous times to confirm my reservation, they were clearly expecting me; as I walked up to the maitre d' he took one look and greeted me with a cheerfull "Ahhhh Justin-san"; and then proceeded to seat me at a table with 3 other locals who knew enough English to entertain me throughout - this was specifically arranged for me and I was truly taken aback by their concern of my comfort.
At this point let me say that although I was not taking any particular notice - I did not see any other Westerners. I was surprised but also happy to see so many Japanese taking pride in their domestic microbrews, as I was beginning to get the impression it was Westerners here in Japan that were at the forefront of the consumer end.
But enough introduction - on to the beers!: [Disclaimer: descriptions are based on my taste-buds and palate; if you have sampled any of these same beers and have different thoughts, please feel free to send your thoughts to Brews News.]
1st up: Ozeno Yukidoke - Heavy Heavy '09 [IPA] [8.2% ABV] [100 IBU] [60ml] - This IPA was brewed with hops for 60 minutes in honor of Dogfish Head 60 Minute; however this was quite stronger in taste than DFH - the hops here were very present and dominated the flavor (nice!). Clear and golden in color, leaving behind layers of lingering lace; and hoppy aroma all around. An impressive IPA that didn't try to balance its hops with other needless fruits!
2nd: Minamishinshu - Kido [Icebock/Winter Ale] [20% ABV] [unknown IBU] [30ml] - Cask aged for 1 month and yes you read that right - a whopping 20% ABV! They called this style "Icebock" but I'd call it some tasty syrup; sure there were hints of raisins & dates but with its smooth velvet-like texture you could honestly pour this over a stack of steaming pancakes. The color was a deep golden-brown which only helped to further its resemblance to maple syrup; it smelled as sweet as you'd expect.
3rd: Harvestmoon - [Double Stout] [9% ABV] [60 IBU] [60ml] - I love me some stout and the more coffee taste I get out of a stout the better; needless to say this had the jolt I was looking for! However true to the 60 IBU listed it was more on the sweet side than bitter. A beautiful pitch black, with no lucency even when held up against the light; a stained frothy head held for a few minutes before settling in. The aroma was subtle but hinted of coffee with honey.
4th: Isekadoya - [Imperial Smoke Porter] [8% ABV] [25 IBU] [60ml] - For me, stouts and porters complement each other nicely - so it was porter time indeed! Complex in taste (a good porter always is) with an all-around smokey taste and hints of black licorice; low IBUs allowed the smoke to proclaim itself here, but not overstatedly, a good balance for me. Holding against the light revealed deep dark shades of brown, and whiffs of smoked malts were detectable. I didn't take many pairing notes, but this beer was just begging for some stinky blue cheese - oh lucky me, I just so happened to have some! A perfect match!
5th: Yo-Ho - [English Ale '07] [9.23% ABV] [67.65 IBU] [60ml] - Obviously this brewery takes their measurements seriously, as it was the only beer listed where the ABV and IBU each went into double-decimal-point digits! Two years of cask aging helped to add layers of flavor to this ale resulting in a complex taste, featuring bitters, sweets, and dried fruits; with aromas of nectar and whiffs of alcohol contrasting against a nice earthy-malt essence. A lighter shade of brown nicely complemented this elaborate beer.
Main course arrives: At around this point in my euphoria a waitress arrived with a hot plate of food... well, okay, lukewarm - but no reason to complain as I was overwhelmed by the variety of dishes served: Stew-beef baked inside a flaky-critter; a Japanese-style quesadilla, a slice of quiche, a steamed sausage over veggies and all the tempura you could eat - yeah that's right, a waitress circled the room with a platter of tasty batter piled high for you to poke at with your chopsticks! I guess the only down-side to all this food was that it completely soaked up any buzz I was starting to feel... oh well, still had 5 tasters to go!
6th: Hakusekikan - [Brown Ale '99] [8.8% ABV] [22 IBU] [60ml] - I'm a sucker for Brown Ale and anything Hakusekikan! This particular batch had actually been aging since '99 - hard to believe, but who am I to question the Master?! While the hops as expected laid low, tastes of earth, malt, syrup and alcohol danced on my tongue. The aroma was low key as well due to the low bitterness levels, but I detected whiffs of earth and malt. The color was a lovely golden brown reminiscent of a quality brandy.
7th: Preston - BaBakan '08 [Double IPA] [8% ABV] [75 IBU] [60ml] - Off-the-bat the name "Babakan" struck me funny - however it turns out it is actually someone's name... whose I'm not sure?... Finally hops were back on the radar here with a nice 75 IBU and as with most ji-biru I've tasted there was a distinctive sweet syrup-y taste in the mix. Also this was lightest hued beer of the evening with what I would describe as a clear liquid-golden color; the aroma produced hops and sugar.
8th: Hakusekikan - [Brown Ale '07] [8.8% ABV] [22 IBU] [60ml] - Back to my precious Browns; this one the same style as before but from an '07 batch. Nearly identical to my palate to the '99, but definitely had a little more life to it (not that a subdued ale is anything bad if aged with care). I couldn't decide if I liked this one any better though - just another great Brown really! A darker shade of brown was noticeable against the '99; and again, gave off detectable whiffs of earth and malt.
9th: Hakusekikan - Super Vintage '03 (Dry Hop Version) [Barley Wine] [14.5% ABV] [35 IBU] [30ml] - Barley wine is always a great nightcap, especially this one; being a dry hop version brewed in '03 - another oldie! I really think Japanese have a sweet-tooth as again syrup was the overwhelming flavor here - this is not a bad trait though as the quality of sugars is top notch. A beautiful deep golden brown in color and aroma of sugar and dried fruits.
10th: Hakusekikan - Super Vintage '07 [Barley Wine] [14.5% ABV] [35 IBU] [30ml] - As I wiped away the tears building under my eyes, I reminded myself how all good things must come to an end... and with that I took a sip of the '07 Super Vintage. Seems that the more this ale is aged the sweeter it becomes, as this batch retreated just a tad in sweetness from the '03, and to me that made for a more balanced taste, as fruits got a chance to remind me they were in there... somewhere. Nearly identical in looks and smell to the '03.
So here is my wrap-up on this wonderful experience: This was truly a unique peek into a new world of beer for me. I finally saw Japanese get loud, break glasses, and seem truly enthusiastic about the lesser known breweries from their homeland. If there was one overwhelming theme found throughout the beers, it is this, they are sweet! Coming from America where we love our hops to dominate, it was nice to see the Japanese have found something of their own.
I know that this was a "strong" ale fest and high alcohol levels bring out the sugar in beers, but this is something I've noticed in ji-biru of lesser ABV. Hops are here too, just not the dominating factor. This experience only makes me more excited for ji-biru and I'm looking forward to my next drink! Cheers Japan, you deserve it!
Justin Denune is a beer enthusiast from Brooklyn, New York.
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Here is a selection of interesting darker beers for the cool months ahead. Most all are available at Tanaka-ya in Mejiro.
Minoh Double IPA (Osaka; all malt, 9% abv). This is a great beer for winter, though it reminds me more of a barleywine owing to its comparatively understated hopping and lower levels of hop aroma. Nonetheless, it is worth seeking out wherever it is served. It is rich, tangy, and ultimately satisfying.
Kinshachi Chocolate Imperial Stout (Nagoya; malt, hops, sugars, 8% abv) It's a hazy dark brown, with a thick tan head. Surprisingly, the aroma was minimal. This was not as rich or flavorful as I had expected, with less sweetness than is normally called for in a brew like this. There is actually no chocolate used; rather, the combination of deeply roasted dark malts creates the chocolate sensation, with a fair amount of tanginess present. The upshot is that you could drink these one-after-another with no chocolate flavor overload.
Hakusekikan Super Vintage 2007 (Gifu Pref; malt, hops, sugars, 14.3% abv) This is easily the grand monster of Japanese strong beers, with loads of body and richness to completely back up the astonishingly high alcohol level. It is a deep reddish brown with a tan head. The initial acidity creates a surprisingly refreshing sensation at first. Then, the powerful concentrated flavor goes beyond that of barleywines, and is more like that of strong Belgian dark ales, with strong bitterness lingering among flavors of prunes and dried stone fruits.
Hakusekikan Shizen Bakushu (Gifu Pref; all malt, 5% abv) This is a remarkable beer, being fermented in the lambic style with the striking difference being the environment is not a special valley in Belgium, but rather Gifu prefecture in central Japan. As such, it doesn't taste like a lambic, but perhaps a relative of one. The basic beer is standard golden ale, fairly cloudy since it hasn't been filtered, with a heady aroma unlike any other. Certainly this is a one-of-a-kind brew, and
Samichlaus (Eggenberger, Austria; all malt, 14% abv) Deep amber red, powerful malty aroma, very rich and tangy initial flavor, lots of alcohol presence which highlights the malty aromas. Hops seem virtually non-existent since this beer is all about the malt. In fact, the malt flavors are so well developed and layered in this beer that it is a one-stop education in malt flavors. The beer is aged very well, and exhibits a wide array of flavors that range from dried apricots to figs, with a bit of sweet dates, and all tied together with a vanilla-like vibe. All told, it is a wonderful work of interesting beer.
Last year, Beer Club Popeye went to a "no smoking" policy within the entire pub, though customers may go out on the front balcony to smoke. A few months later, Bulldog in Yurakucho set aside an area just inside the front door, and the entire window seating in the back as non-smoking areas.
Certainly, for both places, this is a good trend. But, to be honest, I never noticed much smoking in either place. It seems that when really good beer is served, nobody seems to smoke much. In any case, the less smoking is allowed, the better, in my opinion. While the majority of good beer pubs do allow smoking, has it ever bothered you very much?
Alishan, the importer of Wolaver's organic ale from Vermont, is having a sale on the Brown Ale variety for Brews News readers only. It has been stored in a temp-controlled warehouse, and best-by date is the end of April 2010. Per 24-bottle case, it is 7,384 yen including shipping, which works out to 293 yen per bottle.
If you order three cases, the price drops to 5,922 yen, or just 235 yen per bottle, and you get a dozen Wolaver's coasters. For these special prices, you must contact president Jack Bayles directly at bayles "at" alishan.jp or phone him at during daytime hours at 042-982-4811. Supplies are limited, so order soon.
The monthly meeting for the Beer Enjoyment, Education and Research Society (BEERS) will be held week later than usual on the fourth Tuesday of January from 8 pm. The venue is Thrashzone in Yokohama; for directions, see www.beerdrinkinginternational.com The cost will be about 2,500 yen and the theme will be Hoppy Winter Warmers - how hoppy U.S. West Coast beers match the cold. If you are interested in attending, please respond by Friday, Jan. 22 to Tim Eustace at tokyobeers (at) yahoo.co.jp.
The February BEERS meeting will be held on Monday, February 15th from 8 pm at Craftheads in Shibuya (see http://craftheads.jp/craftheads/Info.html ). Special guest will be James Watt, Managing Director of Brew Dogs brewery in Scotland. Admission will be 2,500 yen, and some truly remarkable beers will be served. If you plan to attend, please send an e-mail to Tim Eustace at the above address.
February 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, thanks to the weather this will be one of the best times to attend. The 3,500 yen admission gets you a strip of ten tickets. 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.