Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Japanese Breweries at the World Beer Cup 2014 / ワールドビールカップ2014に日本醸造所

The 2014 World Beer Cup winners were announced on April 11, and three Japanese breweries won awards.

The WBC is the largest (and probably the "most prestigious" -- at least, it calls itself so) international beer competition, and has been held every two years since 1996.

Fujizakura Kogen Beer (better known as "Fujizakura Heights" in Japan) took the silver medal in the South German-Style Hefeweizen/Hefeweissbier category (78 entries) for its Weizen. This beer was also a silver medal winner in 2008.

I’ve enjoyed this weizen on several occasions, and it gives off superb banana and bubble gum aromas. The flavors are quite fresh and fruity, with lemon and then sweet pears.  It’s a fairly big, intense and over-the-top weizen. Fujizakura Kogen is regarded as one of the top craft breweries in Japan, especially for their wheat and smoked beers.

Coedo Brewery’s Kyara won silver in the American-Style Amber group (34 entries). In 2010, Coedo also won a silver medal for its Beniaka.

Kyara is widely available throughout Japan. It has a rich aroma with good hopping. The initial sips provide a solid hit of hopping; the mid palate goes deeper with the hops and then becomes balanced; the finish is mild, malty, and the hops linger on the tongue a good while. Very tasty, and much improved on the version they originally came out with a few years ago.

The big surprise for Japan craft beer fans is the gold medal won by Asahi Breweries for its flagship brew, Asahi Super Dry, besting 88 other entries in the International-Style Lager category. This is the most popular beer in Japan, and is pretty much reviled by beer geeks.

I recently tried Super Dry for the first time in several years. My tasting notes are as follows: A little cardboard and a little grassiness in the aroma. Initial flavors have a touch of hay / the mid palate goes to a harsher grass and some hops make an appearance / the finish is mildly sweet (so it’s not really completely "dry"). Thin body. Not as bad as I remember it (or, perhaps, as I think I remember it…).

Super Dry is brewed overseas at a number of different locations -- the European version at Staropramen, in the UK at Shepherd Neame, and in North America at the Molson Vancouver brewery. I assume the medal-winning brew is the N. Am. version. It is not an all-malt premium lager, as it incorporates a certain amount of corn and rice in order to lighten the body and flavor profile.

Overall, these three medals represent something of a drop off for the nation’s brewers in this global competition.

Japanese brewers were awarded four medals in 2012
and five in 2010
nine in 2008
ten in 2006
five in 2004
two in 2002,
fourteen in 2000
nine in 1998
and one in the inaugural year of 1996

Clearly the field is getting more crowded and more sophisticated. The number of breweries entering the World Beer Cup was 1,403, compared to only 828 in 2012; and the total number of beers they entered stood at 4,754, which is a jump up from the 4,014 in 2012. 

For more information and a lot of statistics, see the World Beer Cup Fact Sheet.

In any case, you should be your own judge. Seek out these three beers (yes, even Super Dry) and give them a go.

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