Saturday, January 30, 2016

Summing Up: New Beers from the Japanese Major Brewing Companies in 2015 /日本の大手企業からの新しいビール 2015: 結語

Over the past four posts, we have reviewed the majority of new beers brought out by the four major Japanese breweries. If you like, have a look at the posts for Kirin HERE, Asahi HERE, Sapporo HERE, and Suntory HERE.

All four major Japanese brewers brought more beers (79) in a wider variety of styles (28) last year than they did in 2014.

Suntory released a whopping 25 new beers in 17 different styles, followed by Sapporo with 21 (in 13 styles), Asahi also with 21 (in 10 styles), and Kirin trailed the pack with 12 (in only four styles). 

The most common style (34%) was, of course, pale lager, with Asahi producing 10, Kirin eight, Sapporo seven, and Suntory two. The second-most popular style was Oktoberfest/Märzen (six), followed by Amber Lager/Vienna (four), and then three each for Golden Ale/Blonde Ale, Imperial Pils/Strong Pale Lager, and Wheat Ale.

Suntory gave us the widest variety of all the brewers, and was the only one to produce a Radler/Shandy, an Altbier, a Brown Ale, a Stout, a Premium Bitter/ESB, and a Schwarzbier.

Asahi tried hard with its Dry Premium series, as the only brewery producing a Heller Bock, a Saison, a Dunkler Bock, a Porter, and an English Pale Ale – but the results were mixed.

Judging from average rating scores (out of a possible top score of 5.0) from RateBeer, and admittedly a limited sample, for all 79 new beers, Suntory and Kirin produced somewhat more interesting and tastier beers than did Sapporo or Asahi.

Suntory: 25 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.79     My Avg. 2.70

Kirin: 12 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.76     My Avg. 2.65

Sapporo: 21 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.73     My Avg. 2.61

Asahi: 21 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.71     My Avg. 2.45

2016 should be an interesting beer year. The times of complacency among the four major brewers in Japan seem largely gone. With more than a decade of declining sales, the outlook for this year is slightly positive. In addition, a tax break on all-malt beer as well as a tax increase on both low-malt and no-malt brews may be in the offing (or maybe not -- reports are unclear), which could lead to the production of higher-quality brews.

The majors have also clearly taken note of craft beer’s increasing popularity; strangely, though, they seem more aware of it as a foreign phenomenon than a domestic one, and are mostly making US- and European-influenced styles for their own nascent craft lines. In addition, with the exception of Kirin’s purchase of a 30% stake in Yo-Ho Brewing Company in 2014, the major Japanese brewers have been content to buy into foreign breweries rather than local ones.  That may change in 2016.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

New Beers from the Japanese Major Brewing Companies in 2015: Suntory Liquors Limited / 日本の大手企業からの新しいビール 2015: サントリー

We’re into the new year now. It's time to look around and take stock of new beers brought out in 2015 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, the alcohol percentage, and my rating score, and the current RateBeer weighted average 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 Kirin, Asahi, and Sapporo. Now let’s see what Suntory Liquors Limited brought out.

Suntory debuted their Craft Select line with the following brews:

Image result for Suntory Craft Select Amber Ale   Suntory Craft Select Amber Ale
   (Amber Ale)   5.5%   Rating: 2.2   RB Avg. Rating: 2.72
Aromas of yeast, caramel, light spice note, and boiled cola drink. Flavors of very thin caramel, light berries, mild hopping, and it all floats away to nearly nothing in the finish. Thin body, watery. Has a modicum of flavor notes, but it’s really dull -- even for this ordinarily dull style.

Image result for サントリー「クラフトセレクト ブラウンエール   Suntory Craft Select Brown Ale
   (Brown Ale)   5%   Rating: 3   RB Avg. Rating: 2.94
A light roast nose, medium dark fruit, light sugar. Pretty reddish color, thin off-white head, sloppy lace. Malty initial, light and toasty, moderate hop balance, thin lightly sweet finish. Some metallic notes, unfortunately. Medium thin body. Fairly tasty but very tame.

Image result for (サントリー「クラフトセレクト:ゴールデンエール   Suntory Craft Select Golden Ale
   (Golden Ale/Blond Ale)  5 %   Rating: 3.3   RB Avg. Rating: 2.97
Getting a bit better now. This one has a sweet fruity nose, butter cookies, grassy hops. Rather malty opening flavors, and then a mild mid-palate carbonation burst with grain and rich cereal. Decent bitter tracks in the finish. Medium body, with tingly pin pricks of carbonation in mid palate. The aroma hopping is pleasant. But the mid-palate thing is a bit jarring, in what should be a fairly gentle style. There is really nothing "reminiscent" of white wine, as the label would have us believe.

Image result for サントリー「クラフトセレクト   Suntory Craft Select Imperial Stout
   (Stout)   6%   Rating: 2.8   RB Avg. Rating: 2.85
A gentle dark roast malty nose. Roast malt, light chocolate, a bit of a cola note, some strange dark fruit, and slips of bitterness in mid and final. Medium body. A bit overcarbonated for a stout. Very tame and under-hopped stuff. Not bad, but certainly not an imperial stout.

Image result for サントリー「クラフトセレクト:インディアペールエール   Suntory Craft Select IPA
   (India Pale Ale)   6.5%   Rating: 2.5   RB Avg. Rating: 2.53
A little yeast and some light citrus in the nose. Malty initial, harsh piney hop notes, overripe peaches. The rough hopping diminishes a bit in late mid and final, but it’s not enough to save this beer. Thin body. Maybe more malt needed. The elevated alcohol level and the bad hopping make it a bit hard to drink. Not really a terrible beer -- just not a very good IPA.

Image result for サントリー「クラフトセレクト   Suntory Craft Select Märzen
   (Oktoberfest/Märzen)   5.5%   Rating: 2.8   RB Avg. Rating: 2.69
A light roast nose, sweet malt, and powdered sugar. Mild roast initial, sweet streams of caramel, sugar, and very tiny bittering in mid and final. Thin-medium body. Okay, but the sweetness is a touch overdone.

Image result for サントリー「クラフトセレクト   Suntory Craft Select Pale Ale
   (American Pale Ale)   5%   Rating: 3.1   RB Avg. Rating: 2.97
Ripe fruity aromas that blossom a bit after a swirl in the glass. Mild fruity initial flavor, light hopping in mid, and a slow fade out. Smooth stuff, medium body, and clean. Balanced, overall, with a slight sweet edge. Just a bit dull, though, through mid and final.

Image result for サントリー クラフトセレクト スペシャルビター   Suntory Craft Select Special Bitter
   (Premium Bitter/ESB)   5%   Rating: 3   RB Avg. Rating: 3.05
Some citrus and grass in the nose. Pleasant initial fruity sweetness, and then a quick hit of bittering which dominates through the finish. Medium body. Fairly clean. Okay, but they took the "bitter" part too literally.
Image result for Suntory The Premium Malts Kaoru Premium 2015 Hatsuzumi Hop Nouveau   Suntory Craft Select The Pumpkin
   (Spice/Herb/Vegetable)   5%   Rating: 2.4   RB Avg. Rating: 2.47
The first of two pumpkin beers Suntory produced, it has a thin roast malt nose, with small sugary fruit, vanilla, very mild chocolate candy. Very light roast malt initial, and then a kind of sticky and somewhat unpleasant fruitiness in mid palate. Some perfume or cologne-like character (if one were to drink them). Minimal hopping in finish. The pumpkin doesn’t really emerge as a distinct flavor. Maybe better to dab this one behind the ears or on the wrist. Feel like I got tricked rather than treated. Boo!

Suntory also extended their Craftman’s series with five more styles:

Image result for サントリー クラフトマンズ ビア 円熟の旨み メルツェンタイプ    
Suntory Craftman’s Beer Vol. 2 Enjuku no Umami Marzen
   (Oktoberfest/Märzen)   5.5%   Rating: 3.3   RB Avg. Rating: 2.99
A decent caramel nose, with some yeast. It begins with light toasty malt, sweetens up in mid, and then the caramel reasserts itself along with light bitterness in final. Thin-medium body, soft carbonation. Very pleasant. Delicate flavor changes across the palate.
Image result for サントリーのクラフトマンズビア褐色の余韻 
   Suntory Craftman’s Beer Vol. 3 Kasshoku no Yoin Brown Ale
   (Brown Ale)   5%   Rating: 2.8   RB Avg. Rating: 2.93y
This one comes with an extract-like nose, quite sugary, with light caramel and roast malt. Thin roast initial. Mid palate goes back to the extract thing. Gentle hopping in finish. Light body, a bit fizzy. Thin and rather weak, even for a brown ale.

Image result for 緋色の芳醇 アルトタイプ    
Suntory Craftsman’s Beer Vol. 4 Hiiro no Hojun Alt
   (Altbier)   5.5%   Rating: 2.6   RB Avg. Rating: 2.94
A yeasty nose, with some light toasty maltiness. Light roast malt flavor, and then metallic notes intrude, with a little gentle hopping, and a tiny malty finish. Thin and watery. Very mild and uninspired stuff. Not much to grab onto here.

Image result for サントリー クラフトマンズビア 清麗の琥珀    
Suntory Craftsman’s Beer Vol. 5 Seirei no Kohaku Dunkel
   (Dunkel/Tmavý)   5.5%   Rating: 3   RB Avg. Rating: 2.95
The nose has some caramel, with mild roast, sugary, a small yeasty note. Moderate roast malt, caramel, light sweet notes of dark fruit,  yet nearly candyish in mid palate and final. Thin-medium body. Nice enough. Maybe a tad too sweet.

Image result for サントリークラフトマンズビア6「鮮烈の香り」アンバーラガー
Suntory Craftman’s Beer Vol. 6 Senretsu no Kaori Amber Lager
   (Amber Lager/Vienna)   5%   Rating: 3.2   RB Avg. Rating. 3:04
Bready nose, with light caramel. Sweetish malty initial, a bit of hop tang in mid palate, and settles into a light bready sweet finish. Medium body. Good maltiness, but a bit heavy for a lager.

Suntory also added three new versions of their flagship Premium Malt’s (sic) line:

Image result for Suntory The Premium Malts Kaoru Premium 2015 Hatsuzumi Hop Nouveau
Suntory The Premium Malts Kaoru Premium 2015 Hatsuzumi Hop Nouveau
   (Golden Ale/Blond Ale)   6%   Rating: 3.2   RB Avg. Rating: 3
Mild hop nose (doesn’t seem much like Saaz hops), some gentle fruitiness, and apparent alcohol.  Initial mild sweetness, with light tangy citrus. Sweetness thickens a bit in mid palate and then slips away. Thin-medium body. Not too bad, as a blond ale, but not very special as a harvest hop beer. Fairly tasty. Such a lonnng name.

Image result for Suntory The Premium Malts 2015 Hatsuzumi Hop Nouveau
Suntory The Premium Malts 2015 Hatsuzumi Hop Nouveau
   (Premium Lager)   5.5%   Rating: 3.4   RB Avg. Rating: 3.03
Opens with a medium-strength Saaz-like nose, slightly stinky and moderately bready. Smooth malty initial. Thickens a bit with a nice move to bitterness and then balances. Medium body. Feels deeper in flavor than the golden/blond ale version, for sure -- the hops emerge and complement the malt base a lot better.

Image result for Suntory The Premium Malt’s Diamond Malt Hatsu Shikomi
Suntory The Premium Malt’s Diamond Malt Hatsu Shikomi
   (Pilsener)   5.5%   Rating: NR   RB Avg. Rating: 3.07
I didn’t have a chance to try this one …..

Image result for Suntory The Premium Malts Kaoru Premium 2015 Hatsuzumi Hop Nouveau   Suntory The Malt’s Umami
   (Premium Lager)   5%   Rating: 2.9   RB Avg. Rating: 3.07
Thinly malty nose, a bit perfumey, with a touch of sewer. Light roast, small tangy fruit jump in mid palate, and a bit bready. Finishes weak and lightly sweet. Thin-medium body. 100% malt, but there are some happoshu-like characteristics. Disappointing one, from this line of beers.

Image result for Suntory The Premium Malts Kaoru Premium 2015 Hatsuzumi Hop Nouveau   Suntory Pumpkin Special
   (Spice/Herb/Vegetable)   5.5%   Rating: 2.3   RB Avg. Rating: 2.71
Fat candyish nose, fruit gum, vanilla, sugared cereal, and spice. A moderate fruity initial, something very like added spirits creeps in, with small spiciness, and mild bitter tracks. Thin-medium body. Tastes quite artificial. Not like real pumpkin, but rather something that was developed in a flavor lab. Trick or treat!

Image result for Suntory Radler   Suntory Radler
   (Radler/Shandy)   4%   Rating: 2.6   RB Avg. Rating: 2.57
A lemon spritzer aroma. Thin sugary citrus, very much like 7-Up in mid palate, with a thin sweet fruity finish. Thin body, slick, with a sugar coating in final. Not half bad, really, for the style.

Image result for サントリー「ラドラー パーティーラベル ~ブラッドオレンジ&レモン   Suntory Radler Party Label-Blood Orange & Lemon
   (Radler/Shandy)   4%   Rating: 2.4   RB Avg. Rating: 2.78
Big fat candyish nose, with soda pop fizziness, lemony. Flavor is mostly thick citrus, like light orange juice, and further sugary sweetness. Thin-medium body. Kind of sticky and way sweet with artificial flavoring.

Image result for Suntory The Premium Malts Kaoru Premium 2015 Hatsuzumi Hop Nouveau   Suntory Enjuku no Aki
   (Oktoberfest/Märzen)   6%   Rating: 1.8   RB Avg. Rating: 2.27
A very light roast nose, thin, and bit rusty or metallic. Tiny roast malt, spirits are moderate, a bit buttery in mid palate, and finishes with a light powder-like sweetness. Thin and watery. Not disgusting, exactly (which, I suppose, is an achievement for this kind of thing), but very thin flavors and a bit too alcoholic.

Image result for サントリー「冬の薫り   Suntory Fuyu no Kaori
   (Pale Lager)   5%   Rating: 2.2   RB Avg. Rating: 2.5
A stinky, hoppy nose, somewhat sweetish as well, with apple juice. Thin malt initial, some overripe citrus, and spirits. Flattens out quickly, as most happoshu does. Medium body. Certainly has some "kaori" (aroma hops are doubled), but it’s not really so pleasant.

Image result for Suntory The Premium Malts Kaoru Premium 2015 Hatsuzumi Hop Nouveau   Suntory Kin-Mugi Kuro no Hitotoki
   (Schwarzbier)   5%   Rating: 2.7   RB Avg. Rating: 2.79
Dark roast nose, with some chocolate and berries. Mild roast, chocolate, and a hint of spirits. Thin-medium body. Starts out fine, but the spirits deaden the flavors. The dark roast flavors are masking a lot of the junk here.

Image result for Suntory The Brew 糖質70%オフ   Suntory The Brew Toushitsu 70% Off
   (Pale Lager)   4%   Rating: 1.4   RB Avg. Rating: 2.11
Aroma of mild cardboard, and the expected sewer notes as well. Grain, potato peels, and a harsh mid palate of various other vegetable scraps. Tongue-punishing spirits and carbonation. Leaves you wanting to scrape your mouth, brush your teeth, and regret your stupid choices. This is truly world-crass stuff.