Wednesday, February 22, 2017

2016 Poll on Japan's Best Craft Breweries

In early 2015, a Japan-based RateBeer member asked people who frequent the Japan forum group of the Rate Beer site to take part in a survey to determine the best breweries in Japan. That fellow has since moved out of Japan, but this year another member created the same survey.

Each participant was asked to give his/her top ten breweries, ranked in order from one to ten. Points were awarded from 10 down to 1 for positions 1 to 10. Some participants chose to focus on how well they felt the breweries did 2016 alone; others voted based on their impressions over several years.

And… drumroll please! Here are the results for 2016:

1. Shiga Kogen Beer (Tamamura-Honten) (117 points)
2. Kyoto Brewing Company (103)
3. Yorocco Beer (101)
4. Y Market Brewing (84)
5. Fujizakura Brewery (69)
6. Shonan Beer (Kumazawa Brewing) (60)
7. Oni Densetsu (Noboribetsu) (56)
8. Oku Noto Beer (Nihonkai Club) (52)
9. Zakkoku Kobo Microbrewery (34)
10. Devil Craft (33)
11. AJB (Anglo-Japanese Brewery) (19)
12. Baird Brewing Co. (14)
13. Thrashzone Brew Labo (12)
14. Ushi-Tora Brewing (11)
15. Baeren  (10)
16. Ise Kadoya  (8)
17. Brewery Songbird (7)
17. Daisen G Beer (7)
17. Atsugi Beer Company (7)
20. Swan Lake (Hyouko Yashiki No Mori Brewery) (6)
21. Mojiko Retro Beer (4)
21. Hitachino Nest (Kiuchi Brewery) (4)
24. Locobeer (3)
24. Yo-Ho Brewing Company (3)
26. Outsider Brewing (1)
26. Oh! La! Ho (1)

The top ten list looks somewhat similar to last year's. However, Minoh, Swan Lake, and Thrashzone Brew Labo, dropped below, while both Oku Noto Beer (Nihonkai Club) and Devil Craft broke in.

Shiga Kogen retained its top position, despite some trouble with bottling and sanitation. Their 10th anniversary beer, Sono Ju, as well as Takashi Imperial Stout are very highly regarded.

There was lots of praise for Brewery Songbird, which was the only new brewery on the list for 2016.

One big surprise: Minoh Beer, rated at #9 last year, did not receive a single vote and dropped off the list completely.

More people participated in the poll last year, and so this year's list included fewer breweries (26 compared to 37 last year)

For comparison, below are the rankings for 2015.

2015 ranking

1. Shiga Kogen (Tamamura-Honten) (191)
2. Y. Market Brewing (150)
3. Kyoto Brewing Company (113)
4.. Fujizakura Brewery (78)
5. Yorocco Beer (59)
6. .Zakkoku Kobo Microbrewery (55)
7. Thrashzone Brew Labo (43)
7. Swan Lake (Hyouko Yashiki No Mori Brewery) (39)
9. Minoh Beer (35)
10. Oni Densetsu (Noboribetsu) (34)
10. Shonan Beer (Kumazawa Brewing) (34)
11. Oku Noto Beer (Nihonkai Club) (28)
12. Daisen G Beer (25)
13. AJB (Anglo Japanese Brewery) (24)
14. Baird Brewing Co. (23)
15. Ise Kadoya (19)
16. Devil Craft (17)
17. North Island Beer (15)
17. Ushi-Tora Brewing (15)
18. Iwate Kura Beer (13)
19. Baeren (12)
19. Locobeer (12)
20. Outsider Brewing (9)
21. Yo-Ho Brewing Company (8)
22. Hideji Beer Brewery (6)
22. Oh! La! Ho (6)
23. Chateau Kamiya (Ushiku Beer) (5)
23. Hitachino Nest (Kiuchi Brewery) (5)
23. Sankt Gallen Brewery (5)
24. Aqula (3)
24. Johana Beer (3)
24. Mojiko Retro Beer (3)
25. Atsugi Beer Company (2)
25. Bayern Meister Bier (2)
25. Coedo (Kyodo Shoji Koedo Brewery) (2)
25. Hida Takayama Beer (2)
26. Tazawako Beer Brewery Pub (1)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Summing Up: New Beers from the Japanese Major Brewing Companies in 2016 /日本の大手企業からの新しいビール 2016: 結語

Over the past four posts, we have reviewed the majority of new beers brought out by the four major Japanese breweries. If you like, have a look at the posts for Asahi (HERE), Kirin (HERE), Sapporo (HERE), and Suntory (HERE).

The four major Japanese brewers produced 73 different beers, which is slightly fewer than last year's 79. They made 17 different styles of beer, down from the 28 produced in 2015.

Sapporo released 25 new beers in 10 different styles, followed by Kirin with 20 (in nine styles), Suntory with 14 (in 10 styles), and Asahi trailed the pack with 14 beers (in only four styles).

The most common style (34 / 47%) was, of course, pale lager, with Kirin producing 12, Sapporo ten, Asahi eight, and Suntory four. The second-most popular style (6 / 8%) was premium lager, with Sapporo offering four new ones in their Yebisu line, while Kirin and Suntory made one each.

Asahi produced only four styles: Pale Lager (8), Imperial Pils/Strong Pale Lager (2), Fruit Beer (3), and one Dunkel/Tmavý.

Kirin produced more beers (20) in more styles (9) than last year, including Pale Lager
(12), and one each of Premium Lager, Saison, Imperial Pils/Strong Lager, Weizen Bock, India Pale Ale, Wheat Ale, Amber Ale/, and Oktoberfest/Märzen

Sapporo offered up 10 different styles, including Pale Lager (10), Premium Lager (4), Pilsener (3), Golden Ale/Blonde Ale (2), and one each of Dortmunder/Helles, Oktoberfest/Märzen, Amber Lager/Vienna, German Kristallweizen, India Pale Ale, and Saison.

Suntory gave us ten styles, including Pale Lager (4), Golden Ale/Blonde Ale (2), and one each of the following: Amber Lager/Vienna, Amber Ale, English Pale Ale, Pilsener, Premium Lager, Wheat Ale, German Kristallweizen, and Saison. This is quite a cut back from last's year's 25 beers in 17 different styles.

All except Asahi produced one Saison, and both Kirin and Sapporo attempted IPAs.
So, after the past two years of experimenting with style ranges, 2016 seems to have
been a year of retrenchment.

Judging from average rating scores and my own ratings (out of a possible top score of 5.0) from RateBeer, and admittedly a limited sample, for all 73 new beers, Suntory, Sapporo, and Kirin produced somewhat more interesting and tastier beers than Asahi. I feel that Kirin's Grand Kirin series is the best of the "crafty" brews being produced in Japan.

Suntory: 14 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.86     My Avg. 2.88

Sapporo: 25 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.82     My Avg. 2.82

Kirin: 20 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.70    My Avg. 2.89

Asahi: 14 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.70     My Avg. 2.31

What 2017 will bring is anybody's guess. Beer consumption in Japan has been declining for the past 11 years, and the majors' attempts to woo younger drinkers do not appear to have much spirit. Their "crafty" sideline beers, designed and promoted to draw craft beer drinkers, have been mostly lackluster imitations of true craft beer styles. Some brewers, most notably Asahi, are expanding their purchases of beer (and other drinks) businesses abroad, in a move to increase their percentage of sales coming from outside of Japan. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

New Beers from the Japanese Major Brewing Companies in 2016: Suntory Liquors Limited / 日本の大手企業からの新しいビール 2016: サントリー

We’re well into 2017 now. It's time to take stock of new beers brought out in 2016 by the four major breweries in Japan: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory. I'll discuss them each in a separate post. I'll also give my rating score and the current RateBeer weighted average score (both scores out of a possible total of 5), keeping in mind that most of these newer brews have fewer than ten ratings.

In the three previous posts, we looked at new beers from Asahi Breweries (see HERE), Kirin Brewing Company (see HERE), and Sapporo Breweries (see HERE). Now let's see what Suntory Liquors Limited came up with.

Suntory Liquors Limited – 14 beers

Suntory Aki no Shun Aji
Amber Lager/Vienna  6.0%    Rating: 0   RB Avg. Rating: 2.72
No chance to sample this one

Suntory Fuyu no Shun Aji
Pale Lager       6.0%    Rating: 2.4   RB Avg. Rating: 2.72
Spirits in the nose right off, along with a little citrus, and wet cement. Thin pale straw color, sloppy head. Flavors of grain, thin peach, sugar, added spirits, and very mild bitterness. Thin body. The alcohol is hidden; the wheat grain spirit component is not. Not as rude as most of these things usually are, but anyway …..

 Suntory Haru no Shun Aji
Pale Lager       5.0%    Rating: 2.4   RB Avg. Rating: 2.66
Grain, fresh concrete, touch of grass. Pale straw color. Some malty sweetness, light mid palate bitterness, some spirits in mid and final (but not too much). Thin body. Fairly inoffensive and cheap stuff marketed for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties.

Suntory The Premium Malt’s Kaoru Ale
Golden Ale/Blond Ale     6.0%      Rating: 2.8   RB Avg. Rating: 2.96
Light floral nose, grain, corn, some fumes. Clear gold straw color. Thin sweetish maltiness, apples, some light citrus, moderate hopping. Thin body. Really nothing very special or "premium" about it. Not as good as the Kaoru Premium from 2014.

Suntory The Premium Malt’s Aki Kaoru Ale
Amber Ale       6.0%    Rating: 3.5   RB Avg. Rating: 3.17
Fresh, malty nose, light toasted malt, and ripe stone fruit. Deep copper color, with a beige head. Mild dark fruit flavors which begin gently and then increase in richness from initial to mid and through final. Some caramel. Approaches the edge of being overly sweet but pulls back politely. Full flavors, light body, and very drinkable.

Suntory The Premium Malt’s Master’s Dream Muroka
Pilsener           5.0%    Rating: 3.4   RB Avg. Rating: 3.24
        Nose of Saaz hops (or something similar), peaches, and pears. Dark gold straw color. Grain, pale malt, Saaz-like hopping, and a small touch of cardboard in mid palate. Some slightly overripe fruitiness and a nicely bitter finish. Thin-medium body. Quite serious with the bitterness from mid palate onwards. Very nice stuff.

Suntory The Premium Malt’s Natsu Kaoru Ale
Golden Ale/Blond Ale    6.0%    Rating: 3.1   RB Avg. Rating: 2.91
Creamy malty nose, with noble hops and apple fruitiness. Light pale straw color. Mild tangy initial flavor, moves on to some peachy notes, bread, crackers, and a light fruity finish. Thin-medium body. Okay. The Hallertauer hops come through in the aroma. Surprised that they made it 6% (for summer).

Suntory The Premium Malt’s Sparkling Gold
Premium Lager           5.5%    Rating: 3.4   RB Avg. Rating: 2.97
Sweet malty nose, with floral hops, and a mild musty fruitiness. Unusually sharp, clear pale yellow/gold color. Mild crackery malt, gets fruitier and deeper in mid palate, with a burst of bitterness and carbonation just before finish. Lengthy mild bitter tracks. Thin-medium body. Certainly a very unusual variant of Premium Malt’s. Interesting and delicate nose. Flavors develop some complexity throughout palate.

Suntory Craft Select Bitter Ale
English Pale Ale          5.5%    Rating: 3.1   RB Avg. Rating: 2.88
Moderately sweet nose, caramel, thin light citrus, and light hops. Bright orange/amber (very pretty), thick head, fine-beaded lace. Thin caramel initial, some decent hopping in mid palate, a small citrus note, and then faint bitterness in finish. Thin-medium body. Okay. It does have some back-end bitterness, but not really a special brew. Trades on its looks, really.

Suntory Craft Select Saison
Saison      5.5%     Rating: 2.9    RB Avg. Rating: 2.72
Sweet nose, with apples, peach, fruit gummy candy, and light fruity yeast. Thin pale straw color, and small head. Sweet fruity initial, small citrus, mild mid-palate bittering. The sweet fruit returns in late mid palate. Some light tartness. Aroma is interesting, but it falls down in flavors. Seems to be a light Belgian ale yearning to become a saison.


Suntory Craft Select Weizen
German Kristallweizen           5.5%    Rating: 2.9   RB Avg. Rating: 2.86
Medium-strength banana nose, with yeast and some clove. Clear (and not cloudy as a weizen typically should be) bright straw color, thin head, and sticky lace. Sweet and wheaty flavors and quite fruity. Moves straight along a single flavor note. Medium body. Sweet banana and no more. Little complexity. Okay -- but it is a really ordinary, tidied-up sort of weizen.

Suntory Craft Select Wheat Ale
Wheat Ale       5.5%    Rating: 2.6   RB Avg. Rating: 2.65
Light sweet wheaty nose, some citrus, grain, and some mild hop punch. Clear medium straw color. Flavors of wheat, thin malt, and light hops in mid and final. Light body, quite carbonated. The hopping, both aroma and flavor, resembles the nose and flavor of barley spirits, and this makes the beer seem like a cheap daisan. Not terrible, though.

Suntory Hop Time 6:00 PM
Pale Lager       5.9%    Rating: 2.1   RB Avg. Rating: 2.75
Mild spirits in the nose, along with some grass and something like disinfectant. Clear dark gold straw color. Rude maltiness, sugary flavor, and then a harsh spirits-infused mid palate, and some bitterness in late mid palate. It all fades out in the finish. Thin-medium body. The Hallertauer hops can’t compete with the spirits in either aroma or flavor. I drank this at 5:30pm; maybe something magical happens if you have it at 6pm....

Suntory Hop Time 9:00 PM
Pale Lager       5.0%    Rating: 2.8   RB Avg. Rating: 2.88
Small bit of spirits in aroma, and some fruitiness, a hint of Citra hops, cat pissy, and a light tropical fruit notes. Clear gold straw color. Flavors of pale malt, grass, thin fruit, and just a touch of spirits in mid palate. Thin-medium body. Certainly better than the Hop Time 6:00PM version.