Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Japanese Breweries at the 2016 World Beer Cup: Further Thoughts

The Japanese medal winners at this year's World Beer Cup comprise an interesting assortment of both brand new brews and what could be considered classic Japanese craft beers.

Nasu Kohgen Beer Co. won a gold medal for its Nine-Tailed Fox in the Aged Beer category. This is a hard-to-find barleywine which appears very rarely at beer festivals (and even less often in bars) in Japan. It has a very wide range of ratings on RateBeer, depending upon the vintage year. Want to try it? Well, 500ml. bottles of the 1998 vintage are available for a whopping ¥12,000 (roughly US$110) on the Nasu Kohgen website. I wonder if aged beer is really a fair category, since it's not really a beer style.

Konishi Brewing Co. won a gold for Arima Japan Ale in the Experimental Beer category. It is a  wheat and rice ale, made with high-quality Yamada Nishike sake rice. Haven't seen it around anywhere in Japan as yet.
Chateau Kamiya Ushiku Brewery took a gold for its Sakura Mankai Lager in the Herb and Spice Beer group. Quite a crowded category, too, with 129 entries.This is a fruit beer, which is reminiscent of sakura mochi.

DevilCraft is a relatively new brewery (opened in September 2015), and that makes their gold medal for Arch Devil in the British-Style Stout category all the more impressive.

In a real suprise, Minoh Beer won a gold for their stout in the Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout. This stout has been widely available in Japan for years, and is sometimes great and sometimes not. It has also won awards several times at the much less competitive UK-based World Beer Awards competition. I really kind of doubt that it is an "Irish" stout.

Asahi Breweries  won a silver medal for Asahi The Dream in the Light Lager category. What to say about this? At least it's not a nightmare.

Yo-Ho Brewing Co.  took silver in the very competitive (118 entries) American-Style Strong Pale Ale category. Yo-Ho is the largest craft brewery in Japan, and makes the convenience store mainstay Yona Yona Ale

Iwate Kura Beer  got a bronze medal for its Oyster Stout in the Experimental Beer category. Brewed with oyster shells (not oysters), this is a pleasant and mild sort of stout which has a 3.45/5 rating on RateBeer.
Update May 20: I just heard fom the writer of the オ州酒ブログ (Oshuushu) blog that this stout will likely be available at this year's Oregon Brewer's Festival in Portland (July 27-31). Give it try if you see it there.

The final medal was a bronze for Ise Kadoya Brewery's Golden Dragon in the Session Beer grouping.

So, new and old. Classic and experimental. Aged and fresh session. Quite a variety of style categories represented here, and likely not what most people must think when (or if) they hear of Japanese craft beer. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Japanese Breweries at the 2016 World Beer Cup

The 2016 World Beer Cup winners were announced on May 6, and nine Japanese breweries won awards.

The WBC, which calls itself "the most prestigious beer competition in the world," and may very well be, has been held every two years since 1996. The awards were given out on the last day of the Brewers Association Craft Brewers Conference at the
Philadelphia Convention Center.

This year’s event was the largest ever: 6,596 beers were entered by 1,907 breweries in 55 countries. A total of 16 countries’ breweries received medals. 44 Japanese breweries sent 135 entries and won nine awards, for a 6.67% success rate.

Here they are:

Gold - Nine-Tailed Fox 
           Nasu Kohgen Beer Co.  Aged Beer (40 entries)
Gold - Arima Japan Ale
           Konishi Brewing Co.  Experimental Beer (86 entries)
Gold - Sakura Mankai Lager 
           Chateau Kamiya Ushiku Brewery  Herb and Spice Beer  (129 entries)
Gold - Arch Devil Imperial Stout
           DevilCraft  British-Style Imperial Stout   (53entries)
Gold - Minoh Beer Stout 
           A·J·I Beer  Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout   (42 entries)

Silver - Asahi The Dream 
            Asahi Breweries  Light Lager   (45 entries)
Silver - IPA 2016 
            Yo-Ho Brewing Co.  American-Style Strong Pale Ale   (118 entries)

Bronze - Iwate Kura Beer Oyster Stout 
              Iwate Kura Beer  Experimental Beer   (86 entries)
Bronze  - Golden Dragon 
                Ise Kadoya Brewery  Session Beer   (34 entries)

This tally is a big uptick from the 2014 competition, from which Japan reaped only three medals.
Compared to four 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.

A number of beer writers took note of Japan’s increased presence on the award stand, one of whom called it “Perhaps the event’s most compelling story...” Perhaps…. there weren’t so many other compelling stories? Another writer claimed Japan is “an up-and-coming beer market…” Those familiar with Japan’s demographics and the long-term decline in alcohol consumption might beg to differ.

In any event, craft beer drinkers in Japan should seek out those medal-winning brews and try a little judging for themselves -- with the exception of Asahi The Dream (nothing special there) and Nasu Kohgen’s Nine-Tailed Fox (you’ll never find it – except maybe at Popeye in Tokyo).

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Poll on Japan's Best Craft Breweries

Recently, one of the top RateBeer members in Japan held a poll to determine which Japanese breweries are held in the highest regard by beer geeks in that country. He asked people to rank their top ten breweries in order.

It started out as a poll for RateBeer members only, but was expanded to include a few people who use the Untappd app and also a few people from a prominent Tokyo beer bar. In the end, he received 20 ranked lists. A small sample, admittedly, but many of the participants were the hardest-core of Japanese craft beer drinkers.

Some people ranked the breweries based on all their ratings over many years, while others preferred to focus on the breweries that had most impressed them in the past two or three years.

He created an average ranking by awarding ten points to a brewery that was ranked number one, nine points for a number two ranking, and so on. Thirty-seven different breweries were mentioned. But only two, Shiga Kogen and Y. Market, were mentioned on all 20 lists.

And here are the results, with total points in parentheses:

Shiga Kogen (Tamamura-Honten) (191)
Y. Market Brewing (150)
Kyoto Brewing Company (113)
Fujizakura Heights (78)
Yorocco Beer (59)
Zakkoku Kobo Microbrewery (55)
Thrash Zone Brew Labo (43)
Swan Lake (Hyouko Yashiki No Mori Brewery) (39)
Minoh Beer (35)
Oni Densetsu (Noboribetsu Brewpub) (34)
Shonan Beer (Kumazawa Brewing) (34)
Oku Noto Beer -- Nihonkai Club (28)
Daisen G Beer (25)
AJB - Anglo Japanese Brewery (24)
Baird Beer (23)
Ise Kadoya (19)
Devil Craft (17)
North Island Beer (15)
Ushi-Tora Brewing (15)
Iwate Kura Beer (13)
Baeren (12)
Locobeer (12)
Outsider Brewing (9)
Yo-Ho Brewing Company (8)
Hideji Beer Brewery(6)
Oh! La! Ho (6)
Chateau Kamiya (Ushiku Beer) (5)
Hitachino Nest (Kiuchi Brewery) (5)
Sankt Gallen Brewery (5)
Aqula (3)
Johana Beer (3)
Mojiko Retro Beer (3)
Atsugi Beer Company (2)
Bayern Meister Bier (2)
Coedo (Kyodo Shoji Koedo Brewery) (2)
Hida Takayama Beer (2)
Tazawako Beer Brewery (1)

After the rankings came out, some commented that two of the top three breweries had begun operations only in the past two years. In addition, three of the top five started in the past three years.

Also, the tastes of beer drinkers seem to be more open to the wider variety of styles that these newer breweries make. For example, Kyoto Brewing has produced several interesting varieties of saison and even gose, styles not much seen in Japan until recently. Other breweries are experimenting with wild ales and barrel-aged beers.

Distribution also plays a role here. Some of these breweries’ products are easily obtainable only in a very small region, close to the brewery or brew pub. Several others tend to be available primarily in the Tokyo/Yokohama area, and less so elsewhere in Japan. For example, the output of Thrash Zone and Zakkoku Kobo Microbrewery is not generally seen outside of the Kanto region.

This list would have looked much different five, three, or even two years ago. We can also imagine that it will be altered considerably in the next few years, as newer, more adventurous, and more skillful brewers come on the scene and raise the quality (and variety) of craft beer in Japan.