Friday, January 23, 2015

Summing Up: New Beers from the Japanese Major Brewing Companies in 2014

The major Japanese brewers, except Sapporo, brought more beers in a wider variety of styles last year than they did in 2013.

Suntory released ten different styles of beer, followed by Kirin with seven styles, while Asahi and Sapporo five each. The most common style was (and no surprise here) pale lager, with both Asahi and Suntory each producing five new ones.

Suntory introduced new four premium lagers and also gave us the only pilsner, blond ale, and dunkel. Suntory also produced one the most highly-rated beers ever made by a major brewery in Japan, The Premium Malt’s Hatsudzumi Hoppu.

Asahi had three new Spice/Herb/Vegetable beers, which were actually very lightly fruit-infused dark beer cocktails. These three, along with the four Fruit Beer/Radler beers created by Kirin and Asahi are part of a trend toward lighter, sweeter beers.

Judging from average rating scores (out of a possible top score of 5.0) from RateBeer, admittedly a limited sample, for all 47 new beers, Sapporo and Suntory are making more interesting and tastier beers than their rivals – and Asahi…much less so.

Kirin: 10 new beers
RB Avg. 2.67     My Avg. 2.68

Asahi: 12 new beers
RB Avg. 2.47     My Avg.1.96

Sapporo: 7 new beers
RB Avg. 2.77     My Avg. 2.78

Suntory: 18 new beers
RB Avg. 2.80     My Avg. 2.72

All the majors are forecasting increased sales in 2015. Two areas which have been promising are high-end premium lagers and low- or no-purine beers (popular among older drinkers susceptible to gout). 

The majors are also dabbling in the craft beer segment and appealing to the preferences of younger female drinkers, all in an on-going effort to discover which types of beer will catch on with a fickle Japanese public, which is drinking less year-by-year and is notoriously fond of novelty. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New Beers from the Japanese Major Brewing Companies in 2014: Suntory / 日本の大手企業からの新しいビール 2014: Suntory

We’re into the new year now. It's time to look around and take stock of new beers brought out in 2014 by the four major breweries in Japan: Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo, and Suntory. I'll discuss them each in a separate post. I'll also give the style and the current RateBeer weighted average score followed by my own rating score (both scores out of a possible total score of 5), keeping in mind that most of them have fewer than ten ratings.

In the previous three posts, we looked at new beers from Kirin, Asahi, and Sapporo. Here is the final installment, with a look at the fairly generous variety of new offerings from Suntory.
Suntory Aki no Zeitaku Suntory Aki no Zeitaku

(Amber Lager/Vienna)           2.69     2.7

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

Suntory Bitter Roast Suntory Bitter Roast
(Dunkel/Tmavý)         2.87     3.1

A roasty, nutty nose, with some chocolate. Rich dark reddish/amber. Strong roast malt, some caramel. Hops pick up in mid palate and some mild chocolate appears. Bittering intensifies briefly in finish. Thin body, with a little hop texture. Surprisingly tasty, in spite of its thinness.

Suntory Craftman’s Beer Vol. 2 Enjuku no Umami Marzen  Suntory Craftman’s Beer Vol. 2 Enjuku no Umami Marzen

(Oktoberfest/Märzen)            2.98     3.3

Nice caramel nose, with some yeast. Glowing golden amber color, and a small creamy head. Light toasty malt, sweetens up in mid, and the caramel reasserts itself along with light bitterness in final. Thin-medium body, soft carbonation. Very pleasant. Delicate flavor changes across the palate.

Suntory Craftsman’s Beer 2014 Kifu No Kaori Wheat Lager  Suntory Craftsman’s Beer 2014 Kifu No Kaori Wheat Lager

(Premium Lager)        2.8       2.6

Light bright fruity nose: kiwis, ripe apples and very light pipeline effluent. Crystal-clear gold straw, little head. Moderately grainy initial. Decent bittering in mid, Finishes with small jumps of maltiness. Medium body. Not bad. However, I don’t get the wheat, except perhaps as body.

Suntory French RougeSuntory French Rouge

(Fruit Beer/Radler)     2.67     2.5

Nose of berries, light spirits, and touch of cassis. Bright thin red color, with a filmy head, and dripping lace. Dryish berries, cassis (which gets a little harsh along with the spirits), a slight wine-like note, and the spirits become a bit prickly in the finish. Thin, with just the tiniest astringency. Nose is okay; flavors are not really. A sparkling fruit beer.

Suntory Fuyu no Hojyun (Mellow Winter)  Suntory Fuyu no Hojyun

(Mellow Winter)  (Pale Lager)          2.86     2.5

Light sewery nose, with some cardboard. Bright amber color. Very light fruit, some peach, and a bit of grass. The fruitiness intensifies somewhat in mid palate, and there is a gentle but firm bitterness in the finish. One of the better happoshu I’ve had. No offensive spirits notes. Drinkable.

Suntory Haru Saku Kaori   Suntory Haru Saku Kaori

(Pale Lager)    2.67     2.2

Light sweetish malty nose, with some sewer. Bright pretty golden straw. Moderately harsh roast malt... and spirits. Thin body, a bit rough on the tongue. Not the worst thing on the shelf... but it’s still most decidedly happoshu. A waste of Citra hops.

 Suntory Kin-Mugi 70% Off  Suntory Kin-Mugi 70% Off

(Pale Lager)    2.76     2.4

Very light sewer and spirits nose, with a touch of cardboard. Clear medium straw color. Spritzy, grassy, and citrusy, with just a bit of harshness in final. Thin-medium body, high carbonation. Drinkable, but just barely.

Suntory Kin-Mugi Clear Label   Suntory Kin-Mugi Clear Label

(Pale Lager)    2.35     1.9

A powdered sugar sweet nose, with bath salts and light sewer. Clear medium-dark straw color, little head, and good lace. Very tiny malty initial, and a slight bite of bitterness in mid. The finish seems sharp and slightly dangerous to ingest. Then everything fades quickly in final. No cardboard notes (how’d they do that?). Thin body with considerable carbonation. The “Super Dry” of happoshu. Very little aroma... and less flavor.

Suntory Malt’s Summer Draft   Suntory Malt’s Summer Draft

(Premium Lager)        2.88     2.8

Light lemony nose, with just a small hint of sewer. Dark ripe straw color. Mild sweetish maltiness, very tiny hop presence, with a little citrus, and a tingling tongue raspiness in finish. Thin body. Nice enough. Doesn’t stand out in any way. Drinkable.

   Suntory Mayonaka no Shifuku

(Premium Lager)        2.87     3.2

Fairly rich malty nose, a bit sweetish. Deep bright amber/orange color, low fluffy white head, some lacing. Malty initial, with moderately sweet fruitiness, light bittering, and then it twists back into gentle sweetness. Medium body, thick for a lager. Okay. Somewhat similar to Asahi The Extra.

Suntory Mugi no Fukauma   Suntory Mugi no Fukauma

(Amber Lager/Vienna)           2.77     2.9

Sweetish light malty nose, sugar, stewed vegetables. Orangeish straw color. Thin flour, pie crust, touch of fruitiness, minimal hopping, and a thin coat of dry bitterness in finish. Thin body. So light, so airy. Wish a bit more flavor was present.

Suntory Oishi Zero   Suntory Oishi Zero

(Pale Lager)    2.57     2.2

Aromas of grass, cardboard, and light molasses. Thin dull straw color. Wet paper, bit of lemon, and thin sweetness from sugar. Light body. Ten ingredients! Includes caramel coloring and alcohol to fortify it. Not the worst happoshu on the shelves, but it’s really a beer-flavored drink.

Suntory The Premium Malt’s Hatsudzumi Hoppu  Suntory The Premium Malt’s Hatsudzumi Hoppu

(Pilsener)        3.03     3.4

Grassy hop nose. Typical gold straw color. Light grassy initial, sweetish and slightly bready malt. Bittering is smooth but pronounced. Thin body. Saaz is present in an understated way. A truly tasty and pleasant pils.

Suntory The Premium Malt’s Kaoru Premium   Suntory The Premium Malt’s Kaoru Premium

(Golden Ale/Blond Ale)         3.08     3.2

Mild fruity hops, get a bit sharp in the nose. Clear bright medium straw color, thin head, and good lace. Sweet and fruity initial: lemons and light stone fruit. Decent bittering in mid. A gentle final palate and then some light sour notes creep in the finish. Pleasant mouthfeel. Interesting variation. Large fruitiness. Refreshing.

Suntory Wazen   Suntory Wazen

(Premium Lager)        2.71     2.5

Very light grass, just a touch of caramel, and maybe a dusting of fish flakes in the aroma. Medium straw color, and a thin soapy head, Very light malt in initial. Some balance in mid palate. Fades out quickly in final, with a small hop note. Thin body. Calling this a "pale" lager is an understatement; I sort of doubt that it really is a premium lager. Not so bad and not really badly made. Advertised as an accompaniment for food -- rather than as a stand-alone drink. Perhaps water would serve as well.

Suntory x Seven&I Kin no Beer   Suntory x Seven&I Kin no Beer

(Strong Pale Lager/Imperial Pils)      2.94     3

Somewhat rich sweet malty nose, with seaweed and light alcohol fumes. Very pretty, bright gold straw color. Mild but overly sweet malt initial. Mid has some undefined fruitiness. A nice whack of hops, and then it finishes with sugar coating on the tongue. Medium body. A bit thick-bodied for the style. But I’d certainly drink it again.

Suntory Craftman’s Beer Vol. 3 Kasshoku no Yoin Brown Ale   Suntory Craftman’s Beer Vol. 3 Kasshoku no Yoin Brown Ale

(Brown Ale)    2.84

This is one Suntory beer which I had no chance to try, but consensus is that is too thin and weak… even for a style that is not exactly bursting with aroma and flavor.