Tuesday, September 30, 2014

World Craft Beer Tasting 2014

Hats off to Tani Ai, her Craft Beer Base staff, and the numerous volunteers who made the two-day World Craft Beer Tasting, held on September 27 and 28, such a pleasant event.

For its third iteration, this small festival returned to the small park area in front of Osaka’s Nakazakicho Hall, where it was first held in 2012. Last year’s event was at Namba's Minato Riverplace venue, a space much too large for the limited number of attendees, making it feel empty and quiet. This year, the circumference of the Nakazakicho park and the number of brews available seemed just right.

A fine selection of US beers were on offer, as well as some from Scotland, Germany, and Belgium. However, there were only a limited number from Japanese breweries, and many of them were "entry beers," fine for first-time craft beer drinkers but perhps all too familar to most beer geeks. One, however, that looked quite appealing was Umenishiki Wood Finish and Assemblage -- but by the time we got around to asking for it, it had been taken off tap. The staffer simply said, “Come back tomorrow.” Also, the distributor for Stillwater Artisanal Ales had brought a “secret” beer, but it was not being tapped on that first day. In fact, many of the beers on the festival lineup were available on only one of the two days.

There were also several food stalls, handicrafts from a variety of vendors, and a play area for kids. Live music performances took place in the back of the main hall room, thus keeping the rather loud music from the outside beer area. In addition, five lectures were delivered by beer experts and distributors, including one by Osaka’s own Meli Meli, author of Craft Beer in Japan: The Essential Guide.

Here are some of the highlights:

Stone Stochasticity Project Quadrotriticale
Very fruity nose, with an added wheaty note. Peachy, with some even sweeter candyish notes. Fruit blends well thoughout, with a moderate hop jump in mid palate. Interesting mix of rye and wheat. Not quite at quad level of intensity and maybe just a bit too sweet.

Stone 18th Anniversary Golden Brown IPA
Fresh, pleasant West Coasty pungent hop nose, with a lot of caramel behind. Large caramel, which floats in a lighter state, and then comes back with a vengeance. Hops not as assertive as in the aroma.
Quite balanced for this style and for this brewery.

Coronado 18th Anniversary Imperial IPA
Solid caramel nose, a bit of alcohol fumes. Very balanced, with delicious caramel flavors, fruit, and citrusy hopping. Smooth. The alcohol is hidden quite well, in the flavor at least. Balanced at a moderate level of intensity. Very good.

Modern Times Blazing World
Moderate hoppy nose, with peaches, tropical fruit, and even a touch of cow barn. Big caramelly initial. Mixed pine and citrus hopping in mid. Just a bit cloying in mid and final, but not a caramel bomb. Very pleasant mouthfeel. Liked this one a lot.

Modern Times Phalanx
Pungent grassy nose, fresh weeds crushed up in a mortar. Nice light citrusy initial, which sort of goes to an orange soft drink in mid, and returns to form in late mid and final, with fairly scratchy hopping. Medium body, Doesn’t really seem to have such a high IBU level. Unusual, interesting flavors.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kirin Beer Buys Into Yo-Ho Brewing

According to an article in Nikkei Asian Review, Karuizawa-based Yo-Ho Brewing Company has agreed to sell a 30% stake to Kirin Beer, one of Japan’s four major brewing companies.

Yo-Ho will benefit from Kirin’s distribution network, while Kirin will gain from the ever-increasing sales by Yo-Ho, which is Japan’s largest craft beer maker.

Kirin’s business has been in dismal shape of late; the company has even been surpassed in sales by Suntory Holdings. On the other hand, Kirin’s main rival, Asahi Group Holdings, has made net profits 13 years in a row.

Yo-Ho will retain control of management and (we hope) of production processes as well.

Several craft beer makers in the US and Europe have sold part of their holdings to major brewing groups, and quality seems not to have suffered.

 Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale

Yo-Ho produces several beers, including its flagship Yona Yona Pale Ale, Aooni (IPA), Tokyo Black Porter, and Suiyobi no Neko (Belgian White), most of which are widely available in convenience stores throughout Japan.

Yo-Ho Aooni

Some craft beer fans, including me, do feel that the overall quality of Yo-Ho’s beers has declined over the past couple of years. This could be due to control problems from expanded production or, more likely, from less care of the finished product during distribution and storage. How often have you spotted cases of beer sitting on the backs of trucks in the sun or stacked up in liquor store display windows?

 Yo-Ho Tokyo Black Porter

We shall see if this new hook-up helps or hinders either or both companies.

Yo-Ho Suiyoubi No Neko