Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Osaka’s Craft Beer Scene Featured in The New York Times / ニューヨーク•タイムズ -- 大阪のクラフトビールシーン




Osaka's still small -- but growing – number of craft beer bars are described in a recent New York Times online article.

More accurately, six of the better beer bars are discussed, all of them in one central area of downtown Osaka and all of which opened just in the past two years or so. The places considered are Beer Belly Tenma, Garage 39, Marciero, Beer Stand Molto, Yellow Ape Craft, and Dig Beer Bar. This is definitely becoming one of the better areas for ji-biiru, and most of these spots are within walking distance of each other.

The writer also samples some of the very good to great beers being produced in Japan, among them Minoh W-IPA, Shiga Kogen Imperial Black IPA, Iwate Kura Weizen, and Fujizakura Weizenbock.

In addition, Mark Meli, author of “Craft Beer in Japan,” provides color commentary and essential background to the author’s observations on the history and growth of the business, as well as the development of beer styles in Japan.

The article appears in the April 27, 2014 edition The New York Times and is available online here: A Craft-Beer Pub Crawl in the ‘Kitchen of Japan’.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Stillwater Artisanal event at dig beer baR 4/18/2014

Brian Strumke, the brewer of Stillwater Artisanal, came to Osaka's dig beer baR (yes, it is written that way) last week for the Japan launch of his beers

One of a fairly limited class of gypsy brewers, itinerant beer-makers who use other breweries facilities and equipment to create their beer, Brian has worked at many places throughout Europe and the United States. Stillwater has been selected as one of RateBeer's Top 100 brewers in the world the past four years in a row.

Brian is in Japan for a number of events, including Tokyo Beer Week, a Meet the Brewer event at Tokyo's Watering Hole, and a simple beer party at Osaka's Asahiya Liquor Shop.

Brian gave a brief talk, in which he explained how he works and why he makes the Belgian-inspired beers that form the the greater part of Stillwater's list.

                                       Brian with Nishio-san of dig beer baR

                                                Brian w/ Albert Kuwano (of AQ Bevolution) translating

I had a chance to speak with him and asked him how he decides where to make his beer.
His answer was simple and judicious: he goes to breweries he admires and with whom he wants to work.

Stillwater's distributor, AQ Bevolution, obtained a good selection of beer for the event, inlcuding Classique, Stateside Saison, Why Can't IBU, Cellar Door, Folklore, As Follows, and Existent.



Here are a few of the beers we sampled and how they shaped up:

Stateside Saison
Mild peach and tangy apples, some funk. Hazy light straw color. Light tangy fruit mix / mid has little spikes of roughness and some light hopping emerges / fades slowly into nips of bittering. Smooth. Very mild and pleasant. 

As Follows 
Fruity aroma, estery, peaches -- similar to Stateside Saison, but bigger. Pale champagne color. Sharp fruit, alc. spiked peaches / yeast and more fruit / some alc. warmth / dry finish. Medium body, warm on the tongue. A kind of blondish fruity tripel.

Why Can't IBU?
Nice floral nose, light peaches and a touch of funk. Cloudy apple juice color. Light tang and good bittering, punchy peach. Thin-medium body, with a yeasty pull. Saison-y... but the hops really come through nicely.

Existent
Dirty dark fruit nose, with esters and some funk. Dark brown with ruby highlights. Nice melange of dark fruits and sweetness / a bit of rude fermented dates / trickles of chocolate with some sourness. Medium body.The flavors are mildly defined and sneak through one by one.


Folklore
Mild fresh-squeezed darks fruit aroma, prune juice, some yeast. Medium dark brown, flat. Light melange of raisins, prunes, and dates. Light chocolate roast emerges in mid palate. Decided alcohol warmth. Medium body and just a little spritzy. Fun on the tongue. A nice take on the Belgian stout style.  

While in Japan, Brian had a chance to make a collaboration brew with Kiuchi Brewery (Hitachino Nest), a blended sake and saison. This should hit the shelves and taps sometime in the next few months. Look for it soon.

 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Japanese Breweries at the World Beer Cup 2014 / ワールドビールカップ2014に日本醸造所



The 2014 World Beer Cup winners were announced on April 11, and three Japanese breweries won awards.

The WBC is the largest (and probably the "most prestigious" -- at least, it calls itself so) international beer competition, and has been held every two years since 1996.

Fujizakura Kogen Beer (better known as "Fujizakura Heights" in Japan) took the silver medal in the South German-Style Hefeweizen/Hefeweissbier category (78 entries) for its Weizen. This beer was also a silver medal winner in 2008.

I’ve enjoyed this weizen on several occasions, and it gives off superb banana and bubble gum aromas. The flavors are quite fresh and fruity, with lemon and then sweet pears.  It’s a fairly big, intense and over-the-top weizen. Fujizakura Kogen is regarded as one of the top craft breweries in Japan, especially for their wheat and smoked beers.

Coedo Brewery’s Kyara won silver in the American-Style Amber group (34 entries). In 2010, Coedo also won a silver medal for its Beniaka.

Kyara is widely available throughout Japan. It has a rich aroma with good hopping. The initial sips provide a solid hit of hopping; the mid palate goes deeper with the hops and then becomes balanced; the finish is mild, malty, and the hops linger on the tongue a good while. Very tasty, and much improved on the version they originally came out with a few years ago.

The big surprise for Japan craft beer fans is the gold medal won by Asahi Breweries for its flagship brew, Asahi Super Dry, besting 88 other entries in the International-Style Lager category. This is the most popular beer in Japan, and is pretty much reviled by beer geeks.

I recently tried Super Dry for the first time in several years. My tasting notes are as follows: A little cardboard and a little grassiness in the aroma. Initial flavors have a touch of hay / the mid palate goes to a harsher grass and some hops make an appearance / the finish is mildly sweet (so it’s not really completely "dry"). Thin body. Not as bad as I remember it (or, perhaps, as I think I remember it…).

Super Dry is brewed overseas at a number of different locations -- the European version at Staropramen, in the UK at Shepherd Neame, and in North America at the Molson Vancouver brewery. I assume the medal-winning brew is the N. Am. version. It is not an all-malt premium lager, as it incorporates a certain amount of corn and rice in order to lighten the body and flavor profile.

Overall, these three medals represent something of a drop off for the nation’s brewers in this global competition.

Japanese brewers were awarded four medals in 2012
and five in 2010
nine in 2008
ten in 2006
five in 2004
two in 2002,
fourteen in 2000
nine in 1998
and one in the inaugural year of 1996

Clearly the field is getting more crowded and more sophisticated. The number of breweries entering the World Beer Cup was 1,403, compared to only 828 in 2012; and the total number of beers they entered stood at 4,754, which is a jump up from the 4,014 in 2012. 

For more information and a lot of statistics, see the World Beer Cup Fact Sheet.

In any case, you should be your own judge. Seek out these three beers (yes, even Super Dry) and give them a go.