Thursday, November 22, 2012

Japanese Craft Beer Breweries on Twitter / ツイッターで日本のクラフトビール醸造所

In early November the 生ビールブログ (Draft Beer Blog) took a look how many people were Facebook fans of (or "Like") various Japanese breweries. Have a look HERE:

So, I decided to see how Twitter is being used by the craft beer industry in Japan. Or more specifically, I wanted to see how many “Followers” craft beer breweries currently have.

Although Facebook by far the larger of the two social networks, Twitter is growing faster. Twitter is also the quickest way to find out what’s happening, in politics, business, and probably in beer as well. It’s for real-time conversations, not what happened yesterday, last week, or when you were in high school.

Some breweries have Facebook pages as promotional tools but do not yet have Twitter accounts. Below are the ones I could find.

Japanese Craft Beer Breweries -- Twitter “Follower” numbers on 11/22/2012:
Yona Yona Ale 6,445
Sankt Gallen 5,060
Minoh 3,457
Aqula 3,194
Kiuchi 2,543
Baeren 2,115
Fujizakura Heights Beer 2,023
Swan Lake 1,879
Kamakura Beer 1,878
Gargery 1,726
Gotemba Kogen Beer 1,686
COED0 1,419
Bay Brewing Yokohama 1,384
Yokohama Brewery 1,378
Otaru Beer 1,170
Taisetsu Ji Beer 1,094
Tazawako Beer 1,094
Banya Beer 1,066
Ise Kadoya 1,061
Nagisa 984
Baird Brewing 814
Kisoji Beer 710
Zakkoku Beer 592
Echigo 420
Kagua 410
Nippon Beer 406
Brimmer 257
Ichioji Brewery 301
North Island Beer 216
Rokko Beer 200
Matsue / Beer Hearun 196
Ginga Kogen 44
Hakusekikan Beer 10
Nagahama Roman Beer 4

Notice that the top spot is occupied by Yona Yona, the beer -- not Yo-Ho, the company which makes it. It is one of the most widely available of craft beers in Japan, certainly much more so than the other brews they produce. Near the bottom is Hakusekikan, a very interesting and experimental brewer, but one which went out of business at the end of August this year.

Also, several popular craft beer makers are not listed. Perhaps they are busier brewing beer than promoting it. But I imagine it won't be long before they too are tweeting and gaining followers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sampling Session -- November 3, 2012

Last weekend, we had a beer sampling session and then attended Tadg’s Bar & AQ Bevolution Epic Brewing Co. & Gyoza Party in Kyoto. AQ Bevolution is one of the newer beer distributors bringing great U.S. craft beer to Japan.

First, some of the sampling highlights:

Weyerbacher Insanity  --  4 (out of 5)
This one was a 2010 vintage bottle. Big sweet oak nose. Clear dark brown with a thin touch of foam. Very smooth sweet initial flavors, with a lot of heavy oak in mid palate. Some bourbon emerged near the end. Great mouth feel. Lovely stuff.

Mikkeller/To Øl Walk On Water  --  3.8
Big sweetness and grapefruit in the nose. At first, the alcohol is like a hard slap. Golden blond color. Slightly sour, and then it becomes very sweet. Strong fruit notes: peaches, oranges, prunes. A heavy-hitting beer, full of flavors.

St. Bernardus Prior 8  --  3.7
2005 vintage. Smooth, rich fruit aroma -- prunes, raisins, dates -- and dark sugar. Watery brown color. Very mild fruity initial; the alcohol becomes noticeable in mid palate; flavors smoothly slip away in final. Perhaps it has lost a bit of its flavor over the seven years, but it has also mellowed very nicely.

Deschutes Conflux No. 1 – Collage  --  3.5
The is a collaboration beer, which is a blend of Deschutes’ The Dissident and The Stoic, and Hair of the Dog’s Fred and Adam. Sharp phenolic nose, some vinegar, a slight chemical note, too. Clear dark brown brandy-like color. The distinctive characteristics of each of the four brews are mellowed out into a kind of sweet beer soup. The oak comes out clearly in the finish. I do like this, but would really prefer to drink the four beers by themselves, as individual experiences.

Thanks to Albert of AQ Bevolution, we had a chance to sample several brews from Utah's Epic Brewing Co., both bottled or on tap, including the following:

Epic Brainless Belgian-Style Golden Ale  --  4
Fruity nose (peach, berries), with light hopping. Clear medium dark straw color. Beautiful peach flavor in initial; this strengthens in mid palate; in the finish, it all levels out and glides down to a pleasant sweetness. Lip-smacking stuff.

Epic Hopulent IPA  --  3.8
Great stinky hop aroma. Cloudy orange color. Hops dominate the initial; a mild sweet fruitiness emerges in mid palate; final leaves strong tracks of hop bitterness. Very good.

Epic / DC Brau Fermentation Without Representation  --  3.6 
Epic’s first collaboration brew. Good coffee nose, with pumpkin and spice. Very spicy initial flavor; mid palate has some chocolate notes; the finish lets the chocolate develop a bit more. I hate pumpkin pie, but I like this.
Epic Brainless on Peaches  --  3.5
Mild yeastiness and very fresh fruity nose. Pretty hazy orangeish color. Mild initial; the peaches are not apparent until the finish. Very pleasant stuff.

AQ Bevolution

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Got 35,680 empty beer cans?

If so, you might want to try beating the Guinness World Record for "largest aluminium can sculpture." This record was set in early September by three groups from Takatori-cho, Nara Prefecture. They created a replica of Takatori Castle with 35,679 empty cans donated by 380 households as well as by local companies.

For a video news report, look HERE.

Of course, the record is for the "largest" sculpture, so perhaps you can do it with fewer cans.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Charlie Papazian in Japan

Charlie Papazian, the iconic beer writer, festival director, and magazine founder visited Japan recently. His book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, has probably encouraged and guided more aspiring brewers than any other volume. He has been posting occasional articles on the web site, in which he chronicles his beer adventures around the country. Each article has an accompanying slide show.

He first stopped in Tokyo to serve as a judge for the International Beer Competition. The article also gives a brief overview of the Japanese craft beer scene and how it has changed since his last visit 14 years ago.
Have a look here:
Discovering Craft Beer in Japan

His next stop in Yokohama, an up and coming beer city, where he visits several beer spots, including Yokohama Brewery, El Nubichinom, Brewpub Pangaea, and T.Y. Harbor Brewery.
Yokohama - city of beer surprises

The third article describes a beer and food pairing event, in which he comes across several types of indigenous brews made with local ingredients, such as shiso, melon, and natto. He also marvels at the intricate yet efficient Japanese system of distribution, specifically that for chilled beer. Oh, and at the end of the evening, he somehow manages a visit to Popeye, the best beer bar in Japan.
The Good Marriage in Tokyo is Beer & Food

The fourth article opens with a glowing description of Africa Pale Ale, made by Shiga Kogen, which Japan-based beer geeks will probably note as the most competent, consistent, and just plain best brewery in the country. He also visits the newish beer pub, The Watering Hole, and ends the evening at Craft Beer Market.
Africa Pale Ale, good hope & more Tokyo beer shenanigans

Fifth, Papazian heads out of Tokyo and southwest, to Wakayama, a resort town. Her spends time at Nagisa Beer and also notes that his father had visited the same town in 1945.
Wakayama, Japan - a beer place I was destined to visit

The next article promises to be about the Osaka beer scene and, we assume, the two Oshita sisters who brew at Minoh Beer. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sampling Session -- October 6, 2012

It was a cool cloudy day, and a bit windy at up Lefty's place high in the hills above Kyoto. Five of us gathered for an unusual sampling session -- saisons and stouts, two radically different styles, but two that all of us love.

We went through about ten of each, with the saisons first of course.

Here are some of the standouts:


Hill Farmstead E.         4.5 (out of 5)
Manure demons escaping into the ether, crushing citrus fruit and raining it down on the earth. Explosions of fruit in the initial; mid palate is full of overripe and even rotten fruit; final is sharp and tart and stays on the tongue a good long while. Exceptionally complex, in both aroma and flavor. One guy at the table kept a quarter-glass of this for a few hours, so we could occasionally have a scent of it. Transporting and transfixing beer.

Fantôme Santé-12!     4.3
2008 vintage. Chopped weeds, pencil lead, and lemon pie aromas. Cloudy yellowish-orange. Lemon dominates the initial; candi sugar sweetness emerges in mid palate; then smooth mild lemon; subtle bitter finish. Very smooth, with a complex aroma. This one has aged very well.

Boulevard Smokestack Series - Saison Brett     4.1
2012 vintage. Sweetish, light lemon, slight Brett notes in aroma. Clear pale yellow color. Smooth, light peach and kiwi flavors. Mild mid palate and final. As smooth as can be. Maybe it needs some aging. I’ve had an earlier vintage and it was quite a bit better than this one.


Struise Black Albert     4.2
Heavy dark fruit, stewed prunes and raisins. Strong fruit: berries with crushed fruit in mid palate; smooth balanced finish. Outstanding aromas and flavors, fresh and juicy

Struise Cuvée Delphine     4
2009 vintage. This is Black Albert aged in Four Roses barrels. Smooth refined dark fruit aromas. Dark, near black, translucent at edges. Very smooth, with chocolate flavors blending nicely. Balanced and matured.

Mikkeller Black Hole Barrel Aged Edition Cognac     4
Dark chocolate aroma, along with a chemical, phenolic note. Initial flavor features a big burst of chocolate and vanilla; mid palate is sweet chocolate cake. Then the alcohol blasts through and stays strong in the aftertaste. A young and promising imperial. I'd like to have it again in a year or two.

Founders KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)     4
Super strong coffee syrup, sweet chocolate aromas -- then the bourbon sneaks in and takes over. Coffee flavors begin smoothly, and then go a bit harsh. The bourbon complements (and does not overwhelm) the aromas and flavors. Maybe a touch past its prime. I had the same vintage two years ago, and it was much richer and fuller.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

World Craft Beer Tasting in Osaka -- Sept. 22 & 23, 2012

 The World Craft Beer Tasting was held in Nakazakicho, Osaka on September 22nd and 23rd. Sponsored and organized by Osaka’s Craft Beer Base and Ajen Birmingham together with the Japan Craft Beer Association, it was definitely one of the better-managed beer festivals I’ve been to.

In addition to the tidy outdoor area for beer and food stalls, there were two indoor spaces: one featuring a variety of live music throughout the day, and the other a play area for children. For me, at least, it was great to have the loud music in a space away from the main tasting area -- so as not distract from the beer tasting and the conversation.

The beer lineup was limited but sufficient and also very well selected. Several of the best-known Japanese breweries were on hand, including Shiga Kogen, Daisen G Beer, Ise Kadoya, Fujizakura, Minoh, Shimane, and North Island. They shared space with beer stalls operated by three prominent importing companies: Nagano Trading, Ezo Beer, and AQ Bevolution., who offered a first-rate group of beers from the USA, Belgium, and Norway.

The commemorative glass was larger than usual, and typical serving were around a US half pint size, rather than the 100 ml. or so offered at most beer events.

Here are a few of the standout brews of the day.

Epic Lager
Really heavy grassy aroma with some good hops, too. Very pale straw with a pretty and very creamy head. Striking bitter initial; and then the hops bite a bit more in mid palate; mild grassy finish. Crisp and very refreshing, with a punch. Good body, lots of hopping.

Minoh Bloom
Very complex floral and yeasty aroma. Bright but cloudy apple juice color. Sharp tartness in initial; mid had a punch of grapefruit; finish has a nice big hit of hoppiness. The brewer said it is a Golden Ale, and that it has some wheat and Belgian yeast. Very interesting stuff
Tripel Karmeliet
Concentrated sweetness hits the nose; a honey bomb. Brilliant, glowing straw color. Very sweet initial; in mid palate, the sweetness is extended and the balances a bit with the hopping; final is a continuation of that sweet malt, and it tapers off very slowly. Medium body. Sweet but not at all cloying.

Haandbryggeriet Dark Force
Sweet coffee and a load of chocolate in the nose. Black as can be, with a smooth tan head. Initial is silky, with good sharp chocolate notes and a sweet, roast malt character; mid palate bring even more rising sweetness; hops and chocolate coat the tongue in the finish. Very creamy, thick body. A great imperial stout.

I wish I could have attended both days. The organizers held back about half of the listed beers for the second day, and there were several that I wanted to try. In any event, hats off to them. They created a fun, manageable, and memorable event.

Friday, September 21, 2012

USA Summer 2012 -- West (Portland)

I spent several days in Portland, OR on the last stage of my US trip. First night in town, I went to Powell's Bookstore (heaven, indeed), and then to Deschutes Brewery & Public House. As usual, it was crowded.with a 20- to 30-minute wait for a table, but I was able to grab a space in the bar area fairly easily.

I had a sampler of six brews, and then ordered a big snifter of the Deschutes Black Butte XXIV for dessert. Wow! Big nose of anise, dark chocolate, berries, and alcohol fumes. Pitch black, with great lacing. Wonderful dark chocolate cake flavors,with cherries and hints of strong roasted coffee beans. Also, a bit of a phenolic burnt rubber taste. Smooth complex aftertaste. Heavy body, a bit of tickling carbonation. Creamy, brilliant complex flavors. The aftertaste went on and on.

Second night I made stops at Hair of the Dog Brewing Company and Cascade Brewing Barrel House.

HOTD had their regular samplers, all of which were good, including an astounding new one, Hair of the Dog Otto (peaches and cherries infused into a barrel-aged Fred). Fruity aroma of cherries, also cocoanut, and sour wine. Deep red wine-like color, completely flat. Amazing initial hits of dark fruit, berries, cherries; mid palate is wonderfully balanced. Medium-heavy body. Resembles a friendly, warm wine/fruit liqueur. Another winner from the wood wizardry of Alan Sprints.

Cascade Brewing Barrel House is just a ten-minute walk from HOTD.Their tap list always features more new barrel-aged sour beers than I can handle.

I had five samplers, including the following:

Cascade Kriek Ale
Sour candy and alcohol fumes rising through a deep ocean of dark fruit juice. Reddish-brown, some large bubbles in the small head. Huge sourpuss puckering initial; mid palate has cherry, orange, kiwi; finish is long, tart, and dry. Very subtle changes through palate stages.

Cascade Barrel-Aged Bruin
Beautiful aromas of mild coffee, oak-aged fruit, and vanilla. Clear ruby-tinted brown, flat. Deep mellow fruitiness in initial; some heat emerges in mid palate and mild dark fruit flavor begin rising; finish is fine, rich, and smooth, like a dessert wine. Medium body. The aging has mellowed the sourness and created a rich, pleasing fullness.

Cascade Barrel-Aged Quad
Extremely unusual aromas: brake fluid, insect spray, ancient bar toilet. Golden straw color. Moderate sour initial; deeper flavors in mid palate, pickled pears and peaches; finishes with tweaks of sourness. Very smooth, mellow palate, no big acid attack. So mild and matured; hides the high alcohol completely, and has blended flavors so well.

Last night in town, I walked to Burnside Brewing Co. a busy brewpub just across the Burnside Bridge from downtown Portland.

 Lots of seating: 15 at the bar, 40 or so at tables, 20-30 in booths, and maybe 30-40 at tables on the patio out front. High ceilings, concrete walls, and exposed wooden beams. Long lines of hop vines growing down from the beams. Open kitchen along the bar, with poor ventilation, and this tended to interfere with the beer aromas. Good menu, with some unusual meat and poultry items. The server knew all about the beers. Beer flights were very reasonable: ten types in 4-oz. glasses for $10. Unfortunately, the beers are hit or miss. But it is a place that I’ll go back to next time in Portland.Here are three standouts:

Burnside Sweet Heat
Fragrant, fruity, and slightly peppery aroma. Very pale yellow; apple juice color. Extremely mild initial flavors; then the peppers hit hard in mid palate. Very thin body. Just the right amount of peppers; maybe more hops would help. Interesting stuff. (Note: they were also selling bottles of Burnside International Incident, an amped-up version of Sweet Heat, for the obscene price of $40.)
*Update 10/16/2012: Sweet Heat was just awarded a gold medal in the Herb and Spice Beer category at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival

Burnside Alter Ego 2PA
Big citrusy, grapefruit nose, with some toffee lurking behind. Coppery-gold, with lots of light carbonation rising. Very well-balanced overall. Thick, sticky body. Doesn’t really taste like it has such a high (100) IBU level; the hops come out as more of a texture.

Burnside Big Chewy Red
Big malty aroma, with some good dirty hops and dark fruit. Pretty copper-red color, big head, and exceptional lacing. Mild malty initial flavors; strong smokey, toffee-ish malty mid palate. Medium body, very smooth palate. Well-balanced, tasty, full. The best of the ten brews I sampled there.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

USA Summer 2012 -- West (pFriem Family Brewers)

While out in Oregon, I followed up on a friend's tip and visited pFriem Family Brewers (yes, it is typed that way), a new brewery in Hood River. The tasting room opened August 4 this year. It sits right on the Columbia River in a large industrial-style building with high-ceilings and big windows The brewery and tasting room share the space, with large fermenting tanks dominating one end.

There is bench seating at communal tables for about 24 people, with smaller tables for 16 and 10 bar seats. The walls and ceiling feature lots of wood and beams reclaimed from old farms.

pFriem currently has six Belgian-style brews on tap, and a seventh in the works. Samplers of all six are available for $12 (which is just a bit pricey). They also have growler sales. The menu looked good but somewhat limited: seven appetizers; eight entrees; also house-grilled flatbreads. Each entree item lists a suggested beer pairing. The beers are all good, with two standouts: the IPA and the Belgian IPA.

The IPA had a strong dirty hop aroma. It was a dark straw color, with a  thin smooth head and great lacing. The flavors included a citrus hop hit in the initial, good sweetness underlying the mid palate, and a lengthy bitter aftertaste. Medium body. Very well made, smooth, and eminently drinkable.

The Belgian IPA featured sweet and then tart fruit aromas of citrus fruit, especially lemon. With mild fruit initial flavors, the hops emerged in the mid palate, and then a very well-balanced finish. It was very smooth and mildly flavorful. Overall, a very good interpretation of this newish style.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

USA Summer 2012 -- Midwest (Minneapolis)

I also stopped in the Twin Cities to visit my daughter for a few days in late August. Knowing little about the beer scene there, except for Surly Brewing, I checked out places on RateBeer. Here are a few of them:

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery

This is a brewpub in the West Bank Cedar/Riverside area. They had five regular beers, five seasonals, and two on cask. The menu listed four ciders and a selection of bottled beer, spirits, and wine. The food menu was mostly pretty typical pub grub, except for the walleye sandwich. They also smoke beer brats in a small empty lot next door. The service was just so-so, and the food average (really umappetizing nachos, though). Samplers were available for both regulars and seasonals.

I had a sampler of five types, only one of which is worth writing about. Town Hall Masala Mama IPA, which I tasted in both cask and tap versions. Very good stinky, sweaty hop aroma. Pretty copper-orange color with a very creamy 1-2 cm. head. Good, fairly mild, hop initial; mid palate had some good malt and a bit of grapefruit; final contains a bit of pepper. Medium body. Well balanced.The cask version was quite tasty.


This bar/restaurant is right across the street from Town Hall. Lots of polished wood, high ceilings. 50 taps, with a very good selection of local and Midwest regional brews. I went there twice in two days, and the service was pretty good, even when they were busy. They also seemed to know their beer. This place has the best beer selection and atmosphere in the neighborhood. I had several outstanding brews here, including Odell Myrcenary Double India Pale Ale, Steel Toe Rainmaker Double Red Ale, and (a fairly rare style) Boulevard Collaboration No. 3 Stingo.

Acadia Cafe
This place comes in second to Republic in both range and quality of beer available. 28 taps, 37 bottled beers, two ciders. 4-oz. flights were available: local brews on draft were six for $8; national beers are six for $10; imports are six for $15. When we went, they were offering a special deal: six generous samplers of Great Lakes beers for $6. Typical pub grub on the menu. Good, friendly atmosphere. Kind of a loud college-alternative sort of place. Highly recommended.

Blue Nile
This is a bit of an anomaly: an Ethiopian food restaurant with an exceptionally diverse beer list. I had a large glass of Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel, which had an amazing aroma of coconuts, cherry, and plums. Ruby color, very pretty, with light lacing. Fruity, especially with deep dark cherries and plums with moderate hopping, Smooth as silk, with a medium-heavy body.

Finally, on a night when a music festival was being held along Cedar Avenue, we dropped in at Palmer's Bar to hear a loud, 60s-influenced band. The music and the atmosphere led me to order a Hamm's, which I did not even know was still being produced.It appeared like pee water, with a very mild cereal nose. Initial had just a touch of maltiness; mid has a smidgen of hops; and final had... almost nothing. Very thin, watery. Well, it definitely had some flavor, which was a surprise. 

I had hoped to visit Surly Brewing Company, but the Friday tour was already full. I also did not realize that they do not have a tasting room. Apparently, they are now in the process of building one. Next time....