The event venue was a new one this year, moving from the top of the Kyocera Dome to another "dome" -- My Dome, near Kitahama. No, not mine or even yours, but some corporate group's building, and it seemed like any generic conference site: gray-walled, gray-carpeted, and brightly fluorescent-lit.
The schedule was different this year, as well. In the past, an entrance ticket allowed for four hours or so of unlimited pours. This year, there were two sessions each day, and attendees had to choose between an early afternoon slot (11:30am-3pm) or a later one (4-7:30pm). The main effect of this change was to lessen the crowds at each session.
The number of breweries represented seemed somewhat fewer than in past years, but there were certainly enough of the more familiar Japanese standouts as well as several newer ones (Hyappa) and quite few smaller distant rural outfits (Tirol no Mori, Yoshii Kogen) we had never seen before.
In past years , this festival had been the highlight of the season for me, but now it seems to be just another event: manageable and good enough, yet not terribly exciting, not even with funny hats.
Here are a few standout brews we had:
Engelszell Benno Trappistenbier
Bottle pour. Superb rich malty nose, fruit, berries, small yeast bite. Big fruity initial, sweet candi sugar (but it’s honey), dark fruit, with some sour tang, and a quick change to severe bitterness in finish. Fresh and flavorful.
Kobushi Hana Grand Cru
Tap. Fresh, sharp fruity nose, quite a bit of yeast. Solid mix of light and dark fruits, some nutty notes in mid palate. Quite full-bodied stuff. Nice to see a brewery give a go at a style not made very often (ever?) in Japan.
Tiny Rebel USA Wheat
Bottle pour. Unusual, funky and wheaty nose, seems like German hops instead of Amarillo. Mild, thin, lemonade-like color. Soursh, funky initial, mild wheaty tanginess in mid, and some citrus notes in mid and final. Thin-medium body, and dry finish. Funk-funk-funk (though I know it’s not really funk). Very good, refreshing stuff.
Tap. Wow! Full, fresh, thick banana shake nose. Dirty light brown color, with a creamy, fluffy head. Thick, near candyish, sweet initial, with a punch of citrus entering soon after, wheaty sweet throughout. Heavy body for a hefe. Smooth and delicious.