Bryan Baird came to Tadg's Irish Bar & Restaurant in Kyoto on June 12, which also happened to be owner and chef Tadg McLoughlin's birthday, providing a double celebration for local craft beer fans.
Bryan gave a talk on his approach to and philosophy of beer. Inspired by the tradition of Japanese craftsmanship, which he said is animated by a sort of ganko oyaji (stubborn old man) approach to one’s work, Bryan is indeed an intense, articulate speaker, a man with a mission. Part of that mission is to educate consumers; the other is crafting great beer.
He briefly outlined the history of Baird Beer. Starting in 2000, as a small mom and pop brewpub, they have grown tremendously over the ensuing ten years. Though not as large as, say, YoHo or Ginga Kogen, Baird Beer now makes ten year-round beers and 50+ seasonals, probably more than any other microbrewery in Japan. Seasonal beers account for fully 40% of Baird’s sales, much more than the typical 15% or so of other breweries, and Bryan said he likes it that way. As he stressed, the raison d’etre of a small-scale brewery should be to create beers with character and to provide a diversity of styles.
Six kegs of Baird beers – four seasonals and two year-round styles - were on tap:
1) Kiwi Strong Pale Ale 5.5%
With three varieties of New Zealand hops (Hallertau Aroma, Motueka, and Cascade), this one was a favorite among several of us. A floral, citrus aroma preceded light fruity flavor and a deeply bitter finish.
2) Wabi-Sabi IPA 6%
This is a beer of elegance and simplicity, with a clear Japanese herbal character from the addition of Shizuoka green tea. As Bryan mentioned, it is hard to tell where the hops end and the tea begins. Perhaps the bittering characteristics of each one jump herb-over-herb on the tongue.
3) Rainy Season Black Ale 6%
Historically dark beers have had little hop character, but Baird’s is hopped (60 IBU) in the American style. This spicy brew is bittered with six different hop varieties (Warrior, Magnum, Horizon, Tradition, Glacier and Santiam)and then dry hopped with the final three.
4) Double Dry Belgian Imperial IPA 8.5%
This is the newest of Baird’s seasonal beers. Bryan claimed this beer as a perfect example of messing up in the brewing process and then making it right. They started by trying to make a strong IPA -- using korizato sugar as 30% of the fermentables -- and Belgian yeast, but the fermentation petered out. But the addition of another small batch with Scottish ale yeast kicked off a secondary fermentation. Actually, the fermentation was threefold, with an added bottle or keg conditioning stage. This beer drew the most appreciation at the event, due to its high alcohol volume and for the100 IBU bitterness
5) Shimaguni Stout – Irish dry stout 4.6%
A coal-black but light Irish-style dry stout, the name of this year-round beer references the fact that both Japan and Ireland are island nations
6) Angry Boy Brown Ale 6.2%
This ale offers a light malty sweet character and an “angry” bitterness, much hoppier than the typical UK versions. Bryan joked that some friends have suggested that this is an autobiographically-named beer.
Bryan finished his talk by answering questions on yeast and on the provenance of hop varieties. Finally, asked to name his top five favorite U.S. breweries, he came up with four: Russian River, Firestone Walker, Victory Brewing, and Lost Abbey.
It was great to see Bryan and Baird Beer finally appear in the Kansai region. Baird Beer has less of a presence in western Japan than in the Kanto area, usually limited to a single tap at a beer bar or a few of their regular beers in bottle shops. However, the brewery will have it first-ever booth at the upcoming Great Japan Beer Festival in Osaka next month, and there are hints that they may open a Kansai brewpub at some point. As Bryan mentioned in his talk, one of the main benefits of drinking good beer is that it makes people happier than than they would be otherwise -- and this news is cause for joy indeed.