Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ah, Portland!

..... and this is is not a bottle shop or a beer specialty store, but simply a supermarket....

Friday, January 4, 2013

Year-End Pub Crawl

Went out for a year-end tour of the town on December 29th with Lefty. We got to three places, including two new ones for me.

Lezzet Craft Beer & Food Experience Bar
This is a nicely designed new place in Tennoji. It's clean, well-lighted, and fairly quiet, with 80s music low on the sound system. The staff were pleasant and seemed to know their beer well. They had 14 taps, all Japanese micros. Very interesting and tastefully created tsumami dishes. The menu includes items that are more upscale than at many pubs: pumpkin terrine, fish carpaccio, and spicy beer curry. Drink prices were a bit higher than normal. And there we had...

Fujizakura Heights Fest Weizen
Big fruity nose: banana and some spice. Very pretty hazy copper color, with a thick creamy head. Heavy banana initial with some tart pruney notes; in mid the sweetness rises and takes over; very smooth finish. Medium-thick body. Very good. But served too cold -- had to let it warm up a bit to get the aromas.

Sankt Gallen Un Angel Wheat Wine
Unusual fresh ume (plum) juice aroma, tsukemono (pickles), and a persistent heavy phenolic aroma. Nice copper color, no head. Rotten oranges, some zest in initial; bittering kicks in; final has a long bitter trail. Thin-medium body. Maybe too fresh. Would like to try this one in a year or so; the pub manager has another keg which she said she’ll hold for aging. The phenolic character is a bit distracting; can’t detect the wheat at all. Interesting stuff, but it needs to age a bit. More of a young, dirty devil at this point than an angel. 

Then we headed off to meet up with Jack at

World Beer & Cafe Qbrick
Seven or eight years in business, and this is still the best craft beer place in Osaka. The tap list isn’t overwhelming, but generally has many of the best that Japan offers. They also have Guinness, Sapporo Edelpils, and Hoegaarden on tap for those who want something regular. Very large (200+) and varied bottle selection, too. Prices are normal; most brews are offered in three glass sizes. Friendly crowds and good service. A 10-minute walk from Yodoyabashi Station, this is the place to visit when you are in Osaka. Here we imbibed...

Ise Kadoya Citra Ale
Minimal hop and metallic aroma. Hazy light honey color. Mild hop initial; more metallic notes in mid, along with some good balance of sweet and bitter; final is smooth, with a tiny increase in hopping. Thin body. Wish they’d used a bit more Citra in this. It's okay.

 Ise Kadoya Urumura Kaki (Oyster) Stout
Light coffee aroma. Pitch black with creamy tan head. Coffee initial; some metallic notes in mid palate; chocolate and coffee blend smoothly in the final. Medium body. Very mild stuff with some good chocolate character. But, overall, not much.

Finally, we moved on to

Yellow Ape Craft
A fairly small bar. 30 taps, all Japanese micros, and 16 we open on the night we went. Good menu of solid pub grub: salads, pizza, fritters, etc. Friendly atmosphere, good pours, and very fast service, too.  Unfortunately, the bar is right over the cooking area, so it can get quite warm and the cooking smells tend to interfere with the beer experience. I wanted to ask why they choose that name, but forgot after we got into...  

Minoh Yuzu White Ale
Great estery apple and banana aroma. Cloudy pear juice color. Light fruity initial (pears and peaches); mid gains some tang and sweetness, along with mild wheat notes; goes out very smoothly. Thin-medium body. Yuzu is present but not very strong. Very gentle, lovely stuff. They’ve gotten better at making this one.

Sankt Gallen Sweet Vanilla Stout
Pitch black, thin solid tan head. Boiled coffee in initial (but not boiled to the point of unpleasant harshness); mid palate sweetens nicely; smooth chocolate and coffee finish. Medium body. Labelled as a "fruit" beer on the pub menu. Vanilla is pleasant and minimal.

Shonan Biscuit Weizen
Good clean banana aroma with some frutier yeast. Dirty, hazy dark yellow. Deep banana and spice flavors in iniital; a bit muddy and dirty in mid; final has strong fruit and then settles out smoothly. Medium body. Good frutiness and solid mouthfeel. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Brews from the Japanese Majors / 日本の大手企業からの新しいビール

Over the years, all of the Japanese majors brewing companies (Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory) have occasionally created very limited-edition beers, but these always seemed to disappear within weeks. Late last year, they began marketing new brews which, although not really of the same quality as those of the nation's craft brewers, are more-or-less tasty.

Asahi put out a very decent Asahi The Extra (6.5%, strong pale lager/imperial pils), which has a heavy fruity malty nose with some apparent alcohol. Very malty for the style, with a sweet and caramelly mid palate and a mild tongue-coating hop alongside some alcohol warmth in the finish.
Suntory followed with their similar Fukami no Zeitaku (6.5%, strong pale lager/imperial pils. This one has a gentle but distinctive Hallertauer hop aroma. The initial flavor is grassy, but quite sweet, with a soft and mildly hoppy mid palate, and a slightly sour/bitter finish. It quite smooth and balanced, and the elevated alcohol level is not really noticeable.
The best of the bunch was Kirin's Grand Kirin (6%, premium lager), with its pronounced hop aroma (perhaps dry hopping?) backed by big grassy malt. The beer has very good bittering with a considerable malt base. It's well balanced, with a bit of a sweet finish. At first it seemed as if this beer would disappear within a few weeks, however word is that it will remain on the shelves.

These beers are found most often (or only, in the case of Gran Kirin) at Japanese 7-11 convenience stores.

7-11, which is Japan's largest retailer, is also getting into the act, two efforts in which the company's name and logo appears on the label along with those of the brewing companies.  

Sapporo 100% Malt  has a grassy aroma with a bit of cardboard. Hay and sweetness malt in initial, with a mildly-hopped mid and a tinge of sourness, and a fairly sweet finish. Thin-medium body. Not really dry, as the labelling claims. Crisp. Sweet notes are dominant. A pretty regular all-malt.

 On the other hand, Suntory the Brew (5%, pale lager) is a pretty regular daisan (low-malt beer), with a mild aroma of rancid butter and wet cardboard. It has a very innocuous and light malty initial flavor, while the mid palate gains in harshness (from the fortifying spirits and maybe the hopping), and the finish disappears quickly. Pretty bad.

So far, the major Japanese beer companies don't seem to be interested in acquiring any of the rising craft beer breweries in Japan. I wonder how long it will be before these behemoths notice what their big cousins are doing around the world. Last year, Lion Nathan, the Kirin-owned beverage & food company, bought out Little World Beverages in Australia and Emerson's in New Zealand. In the U.S., MillerCoors bought part of Terrapin Beer Company and Anheuser-Busch acquired Goose Island Brewing. It certainly wouldn't be hard to understand if small, struggling craft brewing companies accepted offers that might allow them to stay in business. As long as the bean counters stay out of the brew room....