Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wish List for 2012

This year is on its way out, and I'd like to offer a few mild wishes concerning the Kansai (and nationwide, really) craft beer scene in the next. Not that they will be granted, or perhaps even heard, but all the same.
  • The continuing success of the wonderful craft beer bars we have and perhaps the opening of a few more
  • Better craft beer festivals
  • The opening of a Baird Tap Room in Osaka or Kyoto
  • A few more good bottle shops, similar to and more conveniently located than Asahiya (Moriguchi), Otsuki (Osaka), and Yamaoka (Kyoto)
  • Lowering of the tax rate on beer, which would greatly help craft brewers throughout the nation
  • The publication of Lefty's nearly completed guide to Japanese beer
  • The further publication of Japan Beer Times, now eight issues strong (slogan: Bad Beer is the Enemy / 美味しくないビールは世の中の敵です)
  • And finally, better business for the better breweries

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Brew-a-Day" at Baird Beer

A couple of months ago, Chris Poel, of Baird Beer, took us through a detailed look at the myriad jobs (big and small and minute) that a team of hard-working craft beer brewers do during a typical week.

This month he gives us a day-by-day accounting of each and every batch that Baird Beer created during November. It's full of fascinating information about each brew they made, including ingredients, process, and the eventual destination of the beer.

Have a look:

Brew-a-Day November, part 1

Brew-a-Day November, part 2

Brew-a-Day November, part 3


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Japanese Beer Trends & Marketing

Here's an entertaining look at beer trends in Japan. A slide show about the production and consumption of beer (by brand, age, and more) up to 2010. On view are the market shares as well as the marketing strategies of the four major producers: Kirin, Asahi, Suntory, and Sapporo.

Some highlights:

- Tokyoites consumed the most beer -- 87.4 bottles (55.4 liters) -- per person
   in the nation.
- In 2008, Japan ranked 39th in the world for beer consumption
   (at  47.9 liters per person), way behind the world leader,
   the Czech Republic (149.9 liters)
- Everyday drinking increases with consistently with age, from 14.3% of
   people in their 20s to 53.4% of people in their 60s
- Market shares by producer:
1) Beer: Asahi 49.6%
              Kirin 27.3%
              Sapporo 15.4%
              Suntory 7.6%

2) Low-malt beer (happoshu):
              Kirin 61.2%
              Asahi 25.2%
              Suntory 9.4%
              Sapporo 4.3%

3) No-malt beer (daisan biiru):
              Kirin 42.8%
              Suntory 22.6%
              Asahi 20.1%
              Sapporo 14.6%

Kirin sponsors the Japanese national soccer team and organizes the Kirin Cup (international soccer tournament).
Asahi attempts to connect with music fans though sponsoring concerts. Also sponsors the World Baseball Classic.
Suntory has its own classical music hall and uses top rock stars in its advertising. Also sponsors golf tournaments and has its own rugby team.
Sapporo uses a variety of famous athletes and celebrities in both television and Internet ad campaigns. Also sponsors the Hakone Ekiden (relay race).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sampling Session – November 12, 2011

Yet another great sampling session, this time with probably the strongest selection of beers we’ve ever had and the highest overall ratings as well. The majority of the beers were in the abt/quadruple category. These are very strong, tending to around 10% alc, and very malty, fragrant, and fruity. We had a few Belgian strong ales in the mix.

The tasting session was a blind one. Only one participant, who poured the beers in flights of three beers at a time, knew exactly what we were drinking, and he didn’t let on until all of us had rated and described them.

The three highest rated beers were, not surprisingly, from three breweries that pioneered the style: Rochefort, St. Bernardus, and La Trappe.

One disappointment was the Westvleteren 12, a hard-to-find beer, that is regarded as one of the best in the world. Our bottle was around eight years-old and had oxidized too much.

The Achel Extra Bruin, however, held up amazingly well for a six year-old brew.

Chimay Blue would probably have gotten higher ratings, except that it was served alongside the La Trappe Quad and the Achel.

Near the end of the evening, we took it easy with two pale lagers, one from Tibet and the other from India, to accompany a restorative beef stew.


Average Ratings: High-to-Low  (50 points possible – five raters)
46.4     Rochefort Trappistes 10 2008 (Abt/Quad) 11.3%
44        St. Bernardus Abt 12  2008 (Abt/Quad) 10%
41.4     La Trappe Quadrupel  2008-09 (Abt/Quad) 10%
40.6     Achel Extra Bruin  2005 (Abt/Quad) 9.5%
39.4     Westvleteren 12  2003 (Abt/Quad) 10.3%
39        BrewDog Abstrakt AB:01  (Abt/Quad) 10.2%
38.6     Brugse Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel  (Abt/Quad) 11%
38.2     Struise St. Amatus - Oostvleteren 12  2010 (Abt/Quad) 10.5%
37.2     Abbaye des Rocs Grand Cru  (Belgian Strong Ale)  9.5%
37.2     Gouden Carolus Classic  (Belgian Strong Ale) 8.5%
36.4     The Lost Abbey Judgment Day  2009 (Abt/Quad) 10.5%
36        Grimbergen Optimo Bruno  2006 (Abt/Quad) 10%
35.8     La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged Batch #1  (Abt/Quad) 10%
34.6     Allagash Four  2009 (Abt/Quad) 10%
34.6     Ommegang Three Philosophers  2007 (Abt/Quad) 9.8%
34.4     Urthel Samaranth  2010 (Abt/Quad) 11.5%
32.8     Weyerbacher Quad  (Abt/Quad) 11.8%
32.4     Chimay Blue  (Belgian Strong Ale)  9%
31.8     Boulevard Sixth Glass Quadrupel  (Abt/Quad) 10.5%
21        Golden Eagle Lager  (Pale Lager) 5%
NR      Tibet Green Barley 10°P  (Pale Lager) 5%

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sampling Session -- October 8, 2011

Another superb sampling session at Lefty’s place in the hills above Kyoto. Twenty-one beers, great early autumn weather, and a party-crashing hornet made it a memorable day.

Two of the more unusual beers were from New Glarus: 1) Raspberry Tart and 2) Wisconsin Belgian Red. I had picked these up on a summer day trip with my daughter from the Twin Cities to a pizza farm in Wisconsin (no, they don’t farm pizzas – but rather make them with fresh ingredients they raise). I found these bottles in a gift shop located in the tiny town of Stockholm, WI (pop. 100) and brought them back to Japan. The Raspberry Tart offered a strong pie-like and jam aroma. It blended sweetness and tartness unlike any beer I’ve ever had. In fact, Lefty commented that it was really not at all like beer. The Wisconsin Belgian Red was redolent of cherry cough drops with touches of menthol, pomegranate, and cinnamon. Lefty found it reminiscent of a Kriek. Again, not quite like a beer, but truly delicious.

Jolly Pumpkin’s beautiful gold Bam Bière saison - 4.5%) was refreshing and and complex. Funky with a Brett yeast character and a dusty lemony aroma. It held subtle citrus and herbal grassy flavors. This was apparently enough to attract attention from an Asian giant hornet, which dove in, swam around, and slowly expired. These are dangerous insects, and we kept our distance.

The real treat of the day was a blind sampling of four vintages of Orval. The highest average rating was for the 2007 version, with 2008 and 2010 coming in second – with exactly the same average scores –, and two bottles of 2011 (served at different times, as a sort of control) third. All were great, and it’s clear that this beer ages well.

Deschutes The Dissident (2008) featured a somewhat lactic attack of red berry and yeast (some Brett nuance) and dirty, dusty cherry flavors

BrewDog Abstrakt AB:03 had aromas of dry strawberry and raspberry with intense dry berry and bitter wood flavors Lefty felt it was strange and even somewhat abusive, with an interesting strong fume finish

Brooklyn Sorachi Ace’s aroma was of varnish tempered by cocoanut butter. It was very sweet, with honey and lemon. The mouth feel was soft and smooth.

Average Ratings: High to Low (50 points possible - three raters)
42.33   Orval 2007 (Belgian Ale) 6.2%
42        Orval 2008 (Belgian Ale) 6.2%
42        Orval 2010 (Belgian Ale) 6.2%
41.66   New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red (Fruit Beer) 4%
41.33   Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere (Saison) 4.5%
40.66   Deschutes The Dissident (Sour Ale/Wild Ale) 10.5%
40.66   Surly Furious (IPA) 6.2%
39.33   Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (Saison) 7.6%
39        Founders Devil Dancer Triple IPA (Imperial/Double IPA) 12%
38.66   BrewDog Abstrakt AB:03 (Fruit Beer) 11%
38.66   New Glarus Raspberry Tart (Fruit Beer) 4%
38.66   Orval 2011(Belgian Ale) 6.2%
38.66   Orval 2011(Belgian Ale) 6.2%
38        21st Amendment Hop Crisis! (Imperial/Double IPA) 9.7%
36        Tallgrass Oasis (ESB) 7.2%
34        Green Flash Grand Cru (Belgian Strong Ale) 9.1%
33        Revelation Cat Woodwork Series Reference (Imperial/Double IPA) 11%
32.33   Caldera Kettle Series Vas Deferens Ale (Belgian Strong Ale) 8.1%
32.33   Cigar City White Oak Jai Alai (IPA) 7.5%
32        21st Amendment Brew Free or Die IPA (IPA) 7%
26        Duibusson Bush Amber

Monday, October 24, 2011

Brewing Your Own at Kiuchi Brewery

HERE's an entertaining description by Stars and Stripes' reporter Trevor Andersen (along with a YouTube video) of how the brew-on-premises operation works at Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki. Will more craft breweries in Japan start offering customers the chance to make their own beer?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Overview: Osaka Minami 2011 International Beer Festa

Went to the Osaka Minami 2011 International Beer Festa last Sunday. This was a second round attempt by beer-related companies and restaurants to resurrect the former Osaka International Beer Summit, an annual three-day event which used to draw 20-30,000 people. In recent years, the festival venue had gone from the large plaza at the Osaka Sky Building all the way down to a few small bars along the Tanimachi subway line. The resuscitation began in earnest last year at a park in Itami city. This year's event was held at Minato River Place in Osaka's Namba ward.

The day was sunny and rather windy, sponsors' flags whipping amid swirling smoke from the grilled meat stalls. It was family-friendly event, with dogs and children wandering freely, and never got too crowded. A stage at one end offered periodic entertainment: a rousing Janis Joplin-like folk singer, gamelan music and dancers, and, most popular of all, a lively belly dancing troupe.

Overall, the venue was bigger -- but with a somewhat smaller variety of beers at higher prices than last year. Eight breweries, all from western Japan, manned their own taps, including Ise Kadoya (Mie), Minoh (Osaka), Nagisa (Wakayama), Beer Hearn (Shimane), Johana (Toyama), Brewmaster (Fukuoka), Kyoto Machiya, and Daisen G Beer (Tottori). There was also a range beers available from Rogue, Anchor, Brooklyn, many lagers from the Philippines, Korea, Singapore, and numerous styles from both Germany and Belgium.

Among the Japanese microbrews, Minoh's WIPA (8.5%) was unfortunately still not up to par; the most current version is an unattenuated, muddy mess. Even worse, the owner refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong with it. Ise Kadoya's Imperial Red was dark, deep, and bitter, but somewhat lighter than earlier versions; their Autumn Amber Ale, however, was tasty and well-hopped. Beer Hearn offered their Orochi Rice Barleywine (8.5%), lightened with additions of rice and given a fruity character by koji yeast; it was much milder than most barleywines, more like a weizenbock or a even a wheat wine. Johana's IPA and stout were both insipid extract malt lightweights.

The organizers chose an unusually random selection of Belgian beers. Lefty sampled some, and I joined him for a few. Tongerlo Prior Tripel (9%) had a fruity aroma but an overly honeyish mid palate and final. Oud Beersel Bersalis Kadet was bland and mild. Charles Quint Blonde Dorée/Keizer Karel Goudblond was pleasant enough, but without much flavor to mask its 8.5% alc. Even the regular De Koninck (bottle) seemed dull. However, we finished the afternoon with a strong, heavy Malheur 12, which was, thankfully, the best beer at the event.

Near the end of the day, Lefty and I lamented that many Japanese brewers are now retrenching, scaling back on their more adventuresome and experimental beers, and settling for milder lineups. The once wonderful Minoh WIPA has not been really tasty for at least a year; Ise Kadoya's Imperial Red seems to be much tamer than what they offered at the Kyoto Beer Fest. Perhaps these brewers are reacting to popular taste and focusing on their best-selling and least flavorful brews. And, my word, just look at how popular Johana's absurd light pink and blue happoshu beers have been at festivals.

The beer festival season is now winding down. Those in the Kanto region should attend the upcoming Nippon Craft Beer Festival and prove me wrong.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Japan's Beer Revolution" recap (by 2 beer queers)

HERE is an overview, by the bloggers at 2 beer queers, of the "Japan's Beer Revolution" event held at Japan Society in New York on October 5th. The writers discuss the talk given by Bryan Baird and Stephen Hindy (founders of Baird Brewery and Brooklyn Brewery, respectively), and then evaluate some of the Japanese craft beers served at the tasting session which followed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Osaka Minami 2011 International Beer Festa / 大阪ミナミ 2011 インターナショナル・ビアフェスタ

For those in the Kansai area this weekend:

The Osaka Minami 2011 International Beer Festa will be held over three days.
at Minato River Place.
10/14 (Fri) 15:00-20:00
10/15 (Sat) 12:00-20:00
10/16 (Sun) 12:00-20:00

The selection of beers will likely be primarily European, especially Belgian and German, but a variety from other countries, including Japanese microbrews, will be available.

Access map is HERE.
(Namba Station JR/Kintetsu/Nankai - Exit 26-B)