Monday, September 22, 2014

Japanese Autumn Beers

It’s time for pumpkin beer in the US, and aki beers in Japan.

In Japan, several breweries release special seasonal beers in autumn. These generally include the word aki (autumn) in their names, and often feature glowing red and orange leaves on their labels.

In most countries, autumn beers tend to be Oktoberfest/Märzen styles, generally dark or amber red lagers. The maltiness is usually pronounced and alcohol volume is around 5.5 to 6.6%. However, Japanese versions tend to be less flavorful or, to put it politely, more subtle.

Here are a few newly-released fall beers I’ve sampled recently:

Nagahama Roman Aki Alt 
A yeasty aroma, with light roast malt, raisins, and buttered toast. Light copper color. Mild roast flavors with a stinging yeast bite, sourish, and some sinus attacking phenolic jumps. Thin body, a bit metallic, too. Nagahama needs to get a new strain of yeast, or else tame the in-house one. 

Asahi Fukairi no Aki

 Asahi Fukairi no Aki

Fukairi no Aki has aromas of caramel, fish flakes, cardboard, and light alcohol fumes. Deep glowing copper color. It feautures light flavors of caramel, roast, spirits ... and then it fades out quickly. Thin body. Not much here, and it doesn’t really rise to fall (or rather it autumns out very quickly). 

Suntory Aki no Zeitaku

Suntory Aki no Zeitaku

A caramel nose, with a big bucket of rusty nail water. Bright glowing copper, brandy-like color, frog’s eggs bubbles, and a head that dissipates instantly. Lightly malty, with extract sweetness, and spirits. Thin body and a flat mouthfeel from mid palate onwards. Not too bad, and the typical happoshu spirits don’t intrude much.

A few better beers:

Baird has its Big Red Machine Fall Classic, whose name references the great Cincinnati Reds baseball teams of the early-to-mid 1970s as well as the World Series (which the Reds won twice during this period). This one has a fragrant aroma of crushed peaches and even some mint. It's juicy and exceptionally malty with a good balance.

Baird also makes a pumpkin brew, Country Girl Kabocha Ale. Kabocha is actually a sort of winter squash and not a typical US-style pumpkin.


A few other pumpkin beers you may see include Harvestmoon Pumpkin Ale, Ichijoji Kabocha Beer, Zakkoko Kobo Kabocha Ale, and Iwate Kura Belgian Pumpkin Ale.

Among the brews from the four major Japanese breweries, the classic autumn beer is
Kirin’s Aki Aji

 Kirin Aki Aji (Autumn Brew)

Aki Aji's recipe and alcohol content vary slightly from year to year. It has a grassy and malty aroma with just a touch of hops. Clear straw color, with a 1-cm, white head and tiny bubbles streaming skyward. The relatively sweet initial flavor gives way to light cookie dough in mid palate. A balanced finish, which allows a bit of hoppiness to peek out. Thin body, but a little fuller than the regular Kirin lager.

Note: Some breweries may include the iconic autumn leaves on their packaging, even if the beer is not a special autumn brew (for example, the very thin, light Suntory Wazen).

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