Friday, November 29, 2013

New Beers from the Japanese Majors in 2013: Asahi / 日本の大手企業からの新しいビール 2013: Asahi

One more month left to go until 2014. It's time to look around and take stock of new beers brought out in 2013 by the four major breweries in Japan: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory. I'll discuss them each in a separate post. I'll also give the style, alcohol by volume, and the current RateBeer weighted average score followed by my rating score (out of a possible 5), keeping in mind that most of them have fewer than ten ratings.

We'll start with eight beers from Asahi.

 Asahi Royal Pils
Asahi Royal Pils     (Pilsener 5%)     2.87 / 3.1
The tastiest new brew they made this year. It has a fresh and spirited nose -- grass, bitter lemon, and just a little cardboard. Medium sweet malt, some good bittering in the mid palate, and then it goes out single file in a decent balance. Well-mannered and smooth. The major beer-makers in Japan can make such clean and consistent brews.... just wish they’d give ’em more character.
 Asahi Bitter Premium
Asahi Bitter Premium     (Premium Lager 6%)     2.82 / 3
It has some decent hopping in the nose, and also a little cardboard (which really doesn’t belong here). Light, sweetish grainy maltiness / fair bittering in mid palate / creamy, balanced finish, with a touch of lingering hops. Thin-medium body. Not bad. Not as good as Asahi The Extra (which debuted late last year). A touch too grainy.

 Asahi Dry Premium
Asahi Dry Premium     (Pale Lager 5.5%)     2.73 / 2.6
This was originally sold only in multi-can gift boxes, but recently some singles have appeared on shelves. The aroma is of ripe, moldy hay/grass, sewery spirits notes (but it doesn’t contain and spirits...). Light malty initial with moderate bitterness / a touch of rasty burn in mid palate / finishes "dry" and leaves some bitterness. Thin-medium body. Has quite a bit more body and character than the regular Super Dry but isn’t all that much better.

 Asahi Panache
Asahi Panache     (Fruit Beer 4.5%)     2.73 / 2.1
This is a mix of beer and lemon flavoring. The nose is artificial, perfumey light lemon juice. Fairly strong initial lemon hits / very mild lemon and some sweetness in mid palate / the finish is just gently carbonated soda water. Thin body, very tingly on the tongue. I thought that it might be something like a shandy, but there is almost no detectable maltiness. Has 10 (count ’em!) ingredients. Geez!
 Asahi Creamy Premium
Asahi Creamy Premium     (Premium Lager)     2.72 / 2.8
A sweetish aroma of cookies and light fruit. Yeah, the head is creamy, but it dissipates quickly. Mild maltiness (maybe too mild for a "premium" lager) with some decent hopping in the initial / doesn’t goes much further in any direction. Thin-medium body. Nothing really stands out, which is the way of the Japanese major companies, more often than not. Okay, if unexciting, stuff.

 Asahi Clear Prime Rich
Asahi Clear Prime Rich     (Pale Lager / Happoshu 6%)     2.53 / 2.3
Light JR toilet scent (just outside the entrance on a busy weekend night), some cardboard, and small fumes. Overripe pineapple and cabbage juice / mid palate holds the course and adds some harshness / finish is ... somewhat solid... but uninteresting. Medium body. More "there" than in the regular version of Clear Asahi -- but even though both are not quite bad, neither impresses in any way.

 Asahi Winning Brew
Asahi Winning Brew     (Pale Lager / Happoshu 5%)     2.5 / 2.3
This one was brewed for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, held in March. Mostly cardboard aroma, with perhaps some hops peeking through. They tout the use of American Nugget hops in this one. Light sweetish malt initial / cardboard spirits notes in mid, with some slight sour tang /  final levels out and leaves some hop traces. Thin body. Not too bad, for happoshu. Nugget hops or New Zealand hops (as in the "Sparkling Hop" brew), what does it matter? I mean, why do they bother to put these into happoshu, especially in such small amounts that they barely register? Japan won the first two WBC tournaments, but no one wins with this beer.

 Asahi Funwari
Asahi Funwari     (Low Alcohol / Happoshu 2.5%)     2.46 / 2.3
Mild cardboardy, extract aroma, with some sourish stink, and lemon flowers.Very mild initial / mid brings a sharp edge of bitterness / finish is as mild as air. Thin and fizzy. Not offensive, for a happoshu, and more or less nondescript.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

BrewDog at Tadg's in Kyoto / ブリュードッグ テイスティングイベント at タイグズ - 11/16/2013

The alpha dogs came to Kyoto last weekend.

Tadg's Irish Bar & Restaurant held an event featuring Scotland's famed BrewDog. BrewDog is probably the best known Scottish craft brewery, largely due to their entertaining anti-corporate attitude and frequent clashes with long-established groups, including CAMRA, in the UK. They are also expert at creating promotional stunts, often involving extremely high-alcohol brews - can you say 50%? --and even bottles wrapped in dead animals. These guys don't shy from the limelight. In fact, they produce it.

From 2-4pm, the event was limited to those involved in the beer business and a few specially invited guests. We were lucky to be included in the latter group.

During the first hour, we enjoyed samples of the following limited-edition brews: Abstrakt 13 Black Ale (11.3%), Cocoa Psycho Imperial Stout (10%), Dog B Imperial Stout (15.1%), along with some of their regulars, including Punk IPA. Jackhammer, and Dead Pony.

Neil Taylor, International BrewDog Bars representative, gave a short talk in English, which included a brief history of the brewery, and Mark Meli (author of Craft Beer in Japan: The Essential Guide) provided simultaneous interpretation for the several Japanese bar owners and store operators in attendance.

Neil explained the founding spirit of the brewery: 1) to make the kind of beer that they wanted to drink, and 2) to make people more passionate about beer. Given BrewDog's popularity and standing among beer geeks, it's pretty clear that they have succeeded in both respects. Although some might complain that many of BrewDog's offerings are expensive, Neil stated that their customers definitely get value for their money.

He then described several of the beers we had sampled, including ingredients, brew techniques, and even special occasions that had inspired them. For example, their favorite hop is Simcoe, and this high-alpha variety is a major component of many BrewDog beers.

He went on to a discussion of recent business developments.

Equity for Punks. They have begun selling shares in the company to some of their regular customers. He also that their AGM is really more like a party than a traditional shareholders meeting.

A New Brewery. They have moved to a more modern and much bigger facility. However, the old brewery is still in operation, which has allowed them to begin experiments with more types of yeast, separately from the main production facility. New employees are regularly trained on the older brewery equipment. Also, most of their one-offs and limited-edition brews are produced there.

The new brewery has a 70,000 hectoliter capacity, more than twice that of the older one, which will greatly expand their production volume. It also is also much closer to Aberdeen, making transportation less time consuming.

Tadg's opened to the general public at 6pm, by which point we had already sampled pretty much everything on offer. But we stayed around for seconds, and even thirds, of these inspired brews. The dogs were off the leash.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sampling Session in Kyoto -- 11/02/2013

It had been a while, for me anyway. Our fairly regular beer tasting sessions had been on hold during the summer months when most of us were traveling. But on a mild, cool Saturday afternoon, we once again took up our seats in Lefty’s spacious dining/living room and proceed to uncap many bottles.

Here is a rundown of the ones I found the most enthralling:

Oakshire Perfect Storm Imperial IPA
This Oregon brew has a big fat grapefruit nose with good caramel backing. Moderately harsh hopping and bright peach notes dominate the initial. The mid palate gets a bit rough, with a little tobacco. It finishes with more scratchy hops. A very solid DIPA.

Stone Enjoy By IPA
The is the 11.12.13 vintage. A medium pine/citrus blend aroma. Medium straw color. A balanced initial. Hops dominate the mid palate, with a light sweet caramel backing. The finish extends the sweetness. Medium body. Good enough, but the taste is rather reminiscent of many another Stone brew in their signature IPA style.

Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA
A nice mix of pine and citrus with some stinky fruitiness. Light grapefruit and some sweet peach. The mid palate balances very well, and the finish is tasty and full of gentle bitterness. Medium body. It's a bit of a hop bomb at first, but goes mild quickly and has a lovely range of fruit flavors.

Maine Beer Lunch
The hard-to-find beer has a massive piney and fruity nose, which just touches light manure. Medium straw color. A hop attack initial, with rounded caramel and peaches and grass. The finish has gentle, extended hoppiness. Medium body. Great aroma and good balance. Love it!

The Bruery White Chocolate
This is a wheat wine with a complex nose of light chocolate, vanilla, strained peaches, powdered sugar, and fumes. Medium straw color, with no head. A sweet milky initial, with some tangy oranges and pineapple. Mild sweetness in mid palate (from the wheat?), and then chocolate and vanilla drop out. It finishes with a bit of allcohol. burn and some fruity sweetness. Not really recognizable as a wheat wine. But full of marvelous flavors. Great.

8 Wired Batch 18 - Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
A big chocolately nose, with dark sugar, some barrel notes, licorice, and fumes. A deep brown color with ruby edges. The initial has lots of chocolate and highly roasted coffee. The chocolate and bittering intensify in mid palate and then settle out. Thge finish is rich and smooth. Very good! Thanks to Al, who brought it from New Zealand.

BFM Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien 2011
This rare Belgian has a supremely sour nose, with some prunes and light sauerkraut. Fair to moderate sourness in the initial, with some apples and sweet dark fruits. The finish is wonderfully smooth. Well-modulated sour flavors, and the aroma is great.

Grassroots Arctic Saison
A collaboration saison from Hill Farmstead and Anchorage Brewing. It has medium dium funk in a bready nose, with some refined sewage and grapefruit zest. Cloudy light straw color with a creamy head. Moderately tangy initial of soured pears and peaches with a sweet backing. Light tasty dry finish. Well-made and somewhat well-mannered stuff. The barnyard is there but we're not really inside the barn.

BFM 225 Saison
This was my top beer of the day. Tart and huge barny nose, sauerkraut. Cloudy amber color, with a creamy head and great lacing. Biting tart sournessand some peaches, cucumbers, and tobacco. A liight acid attack in mid palate. The finish is smooth and the fruit sweet in the final. Medium body, with a great mouthfeel. Runs a full range of flavors -- yogurt to pine needles to fruit to .... Great stuff. And big thanks to Takahara, who brought it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Scott Brimmer in The Japan Times on Sunday

Last weekend's edition of The Japan Times on Sunday had a very short interview feature on Scott Brimmer, founder and brewmaster of Brimmer Brewing. It is really a party game sort of piece (actually, the section is titled "20 Questions"), with a his answers to some wacky questions, only a few of which deal with beer.

One of the newer microbreweries in Japan, Brimmer Brewing makes a number of solidly-crafted basic styles, including a pale ale, a golden ale, and a porter. These are available at beer festivals and at certain craft beer bars throughout Japan.For more on Brimmer Brewing, click HERE.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Summer 2013 Part Five (Five More in OR)

I realize that summer is long gone... But I haven't gotten around to these five places which I visited near the end of my latest sojourn in Portland, OR. So, here we go.
Breakside Restaurant & Pub Brewery
We visited Breakside on a warm mid-summer afternoon, after a long day flying from Minneapolis to Portland. It's a very pleasant brewpub, in an area of town that is not overrun with beer places. A few tables and bar occupy the first floor, with space for maybe 25 people. There are five long tables with benches outside. The second floor is an open split-level space with views of both the first floor and the outside area. The food menu offers a limited but good range of pub grub. Four regular beers and seven seasonals were on tap. Sampler sets are also available: six 5-oz. glasses for $8 -- this includes their four regulars and a choice of two seasonals. We sat on the edge of the second level, and while I sampled my girlfriend enjoyed watching the very "Portlandia"-like scenes which unfolded below. The beers were good to very good and the food tasty.
- Breakside Pilsner: Light grassiness, and very light fruit -- pears. Very pale straw color. Sweet grassy initial / balances so nicely in mid / final goes sweet again. Thin-medium body. Well done.
- Breakside Woodlawn Pale Ale: Good mild citrus aroma, with some other hopping in the mix. Medium copper color. Citrus certainly leads / continues and adds other hop notes / balances smoothly in final, leaving decent hop tracks. Nice one. A bit overhopped for a pale ale, but that’s fine.

Alameda Brewing Co.
This is a brewpub/restaurant located quite a ways down Fremont St. It was fairly quiet on an early Thursday evening. The crowd was mixed, a bit older than many beer places in PDX. Light rock on the sound system, and news on TV. It has a sort of tepid industrial look: cinder block, shiny metal siding, and warm blonde wood. A very extensive menu of pub stuff. The sampler set comprised six 3-oz. glasses for $7, with a choice of eight regulars, three seasonals, and one on nitro. The beer is here okay, with a couple of pleasant surprises.
- Alameda Klickitat Pale Ale: Funky and fresh aroma. Light copper with a tan head. Tangy, bright caramel and pine balance right away . Pleasant bittering in mid and final. Thin-medium body. Pretty good. Has more flavor than (and somewhat different flavors from) most pale ales.

The Commons Brewery
Commons has a bare-bones tasting room set in the fermentation/conditioning area of the brewery. The tables are upended barrels and seating consists of a few (literally, three) stools. We were the only ones there at opening time, so we took all three. But people soon began arriving and they had nowhere to sit. Within 30 minutes, there were maybe 25-30 customers. Only one staffer, and she sure got busy in a hurry. Nine beers on tap and four bottles for sale. The sampler set provides four 5-oz. glasses (of any of the beers) for $9. Bombers cost $7-9. No food was available. It was a bit warm in the building, with the afternoon sun streaming through the large windows and the fermenters working away. The focus is on Belgian farmhouse styles and sour beer, which they do more or less well. They’ve been open less than two years, and I’m sure that I'll go there in a year or so to see if they have gotten better.
- The Commons Pale Evening Ale: A bit of harsh fruity Saaz nose, with considerable yeastiness. Hazy light orange/amber color - very pretty. Sweet fruity initial / moves to some sourness and light bittering, and a well-balanced finish. Medium body. Nicely made.
- The Commons Flemish Kiss: Nice sourish "red ale" nose. Copper/orange color. Starts out great: good tart berries and something a bit funky and even vegetal / finishes with good balance and lingering scraps of fruit peels. Thin-medium body. Good sourness. The Brett does come through -- but only a little. Nice, delicate. Not overpowering in any way. Smooth, with a good range of flavors.

Concordia Ale House
Concordia is a fairly noisy bar. When I went, there was loud music, sports news, and an amplified trivia game announcer broadcasting endless questions. Twenty-two brews were on the well-selected tap list, with a decided emphasis on NW stuff. Also, a very impressive selection of bottles in the coolers behind the bar. The service was not bad. This is a very good place to find all kinds of new beers.

Grain and Gristle
Finally, a restaurant, one of whose co-founders is Alex Ganum, the owner of Upright Brewing. I've been here twice, on my two most recent visits to Portland. It has a pleasant atmosphere and great service. Excellent food. The "2-fer" is a wonderful deal; in fact, that’s what we had both times: a meal for two with two beers for $25. Somewhat limited tap list, but all the beers are good: eight taps, with two or three of them Upright brews. My girlfriend said that she wanted to eat there EVERY night. Be sure to check out the beautifully carved maple bar. Love this place!