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....

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