Thursday, October 11, 2018

Craft Beer Holiday 2018

Each year, as the Japanese beer festival season draws to a close, one of the best events in the Kansai region pops up on the radar. Craft Beer Holiday, which is held over four days in the spacious Osaka Jo Koen, provides a good selection of beers from well-established breweries -- unlike, say, the Craft Beer Live event, which focuses entirely on Kansai-area beer makers, including very new or small outfits, many of which are simply side projects of hotels or rural resorts.

The venue is wide enough for the crowds. two long lines of beer/food stalls, with a 15-meter space in between, and plenty of park space for those wanting to spread out a ground cover and enjoy their beers in the shade.

This year's event was on from October 5 to 9, and featured 21 breweries, including some of the most highly regarded ones (Shiga Kogen, Fujizakura, Kyoto Brewing) and 15 food booths. We strolled around, taking our samples here and there. Here are some of the high(and)lowlights.

Fujizakura 20th Anniversary Autumn Ale
Spritzy, fruity, nose with citrus, wheat, light banana, and gentle spice. Hazy medium straw, good lacing. Delicate fruit, peach, loquat, and gets richer in mid palate, with overripe pears and apple. Rich and balanced. Works out nicely at all palate stages.
Note: Fujizakura produces some of the best wheat beers in Japan.

Kyoto Brewing Kirisute Gomen (License to Kill) Imperial Stout
Nice chocolate, roast malt nose, fresh and sweet. Pitch black, with a tan head. Deep semi-sweet chocolate, some berries, dark bitterness. Medium body (just a touch light for the style), somewhat warming, and back-end thickness on the tongue. Rich and tasty, this one should only get better with age.

Outsider Pit Bull Barley Wine
Big fruity nose, with toffee, chocolate, prunes, dark fruit, sugar, and lots of alcohol fumes. It is listed at a whopping 15%. Medium dark reddish-brown color, small tan head. Very sweet, ripe dark fruit, a mixture of thick stone fruits, cherries, berries, and baked apple. Smooth, heavy, and slick on the tongue. Nice aroma, indeed. Though it's been aged for two years, this one certainly need more time to develop the flavors.
Note: The brewer at Outsider formerly worked at the now-defunct Hakusekikan, where some 20 years ago he produced two legendary beers, Hurricane and Super Vintage. The long-aged versions of these two are remarkable, if you can ever find them. When I asked the stall staff if Pit Bull was an attempt to recreate Super Vintage, he said, "No, we're trying to surpass it."

Y Market Funky Monkey Haze
 Sweet weird tropical fruit and stone fruit nose. Very pale and hazy (murky) pear juice color Tropical fruit, thick sweet candy slop, peaches pears, mango, with almost no bitterness. Thins out after mid palate. Typical for the style, or maybe a touch light on the flavor profile. Okay, sort of.
Note: I'm hoping that we have run the course with this "hazy" and "juicy" NEIPA style of kiddy beers (one person calls them "teen pop" drinks).
Note 2: The brewery staff had the effrontery to ask for four tickets, double the regular price, for a full glass of this mess; I gave them one and got a quarter glass -- and I didn't finish even that amount).

                         Two Japanese master brewers: 
                            Sato-san, of Shiga Kogen, (center) and Fujizakura's Miyashita-san (right).

So, though the festival season is now pretty much over for the year, there are many bar anniversary, tap takeover, and meet-the-brewer events. Get out and enjoy what you can.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Clear Beer is (Almost) Here!

In Japan, drinking alcohol has much less social stigma than in many countries. It is entirely appropriate, or for many businessmen even mandatory, to drink after work, often until quite late at night. However, getting a buzz at work is almost always a no-no.

So, for those who want to appear to be drinking water or soda while working, Suntory comes to the rescue with All-Free All-Time. This is a clear version of their non-alcohol All-Free beer. And it’s actually being marketed to office workers. 

Clear drinks, including clear latte, clear tea, and even clear Coca-Cola, have become popular in Japan. Perhaps a cultural ideal of purity or cleanliness is at play here.

I haven’t tried All-Free All-Time yet, but I do not expect to be a very full-featured “brew.” Most alcohol-free beers have a thinness and just the merest unsatisfying hint of beer flavors and aromas. This new clear variety might possibly offer even less.

It will be available throughout Japan from June 19 this year.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Craft Beer Live 2018, Part Two

Here, in Part Two, is a look at the west side of Craft Beer Live 2018, which was held on May 26 & 27 at the Osaka Minatomachi River Place plaza. For Part One, see HERE.

一乗寺ブリュワリー / Ichijyouji Brewery

明石ビール / Akashi Beer

This is one of the better Japanese makers of German styles (pils, weizen) in Japan.

堺収穫麦酒 (ハーベストの丘) / Sakai Harvest Beer (Harvest Hill)

A farm resort in southern Osaka prefecture. One rarely sees their beers outside of this annual festival.

Harvest no Oka Munchner (Honma mon ya sakai)


Malty nose, with some caramel and some grain. Dark copper color, thin creamy tan head. Moderately malty initial flavor, some light roast malt, bit of caramel. Very thin body, and quite foamy in the mouth. A little too sweet, really.

Harvest no Oka Harvest no Kaori White Ale


Wheaty nose, with some zestiness, and small bit of spice. Hazy medium straw color, foamy white head. Thin wheat, some mildly tangy fruitiness in mid palate. Quite sweet. Very thin final bitterness. Thin body. Not bad, but doesn't really do much for me.

なら麦酒ならまち醸造所 / Nara Beer Naramachi Brewery

A new brewery in Nara.

丹波篠山 ジグザグブルワリー / Zigzag Brewery, Tanbasasayama

長浜浪漫ビール / Nagahama Roman Beer

Nagahama Roman Spring Breeze White IPA

(India Pale Ale)

Spritzy citrus nose. Hazy pale brownish yellow color. Fruity initial, and the bitterness enters fast and hard. Thin-medium body. Very nice nose; flavors nothing special.

Nagahama Nachtmusik #3


Malty nose, light fruitiness, caramel, and earthy hops. Flavors similar, with moderate maltiness, light bitterness, and some tangy fruit from mid palate onward. Thin body, and it gets even thinner from mid palate. Nice enough, but it kind of falls apart after a few sips. Anyway, it's great that Nagahama has finally solved its main problem, which was an overabundance of yeastiness in aroma and flavor.

ウッドミルブルワリー・京都 / Woodmill Brewery・Kyoto

Another new one in Kyoto

ディレイラブリューワークス / Derailleur Brew Works

Never heard of this brewery before the festival. Located in the Nishinari section of Osaka city.

Derailleur In the Woods (Kemono Michi)

(American Strong Ale)

Fat caramel nose, with dark sugar, and hints of dark fruit. Very dark amber color and a creamy tan head. Flavors of caramel and rather harsh bitterness. Not much else. Rough, overall, with somewhat rasty mouthfeel.

Derailleur Nishinari Riot Ale

(American Pale Ale)

Nose is mostly caramel. Thick hazy copper color, fluffy tan head. Caramel flavor, with a mild but persistent bitterness, and thin bitter tracks. Kind of fades after mid palate. Not so good, overall. Love the name and the spirit behind it.

Golden Rabbit

A brewery from Nara, with an intriguing name.

ブリューパブ テタールヴァレ&センターポイント

Brewpub Têtard Vallée & Center Point

Osaka-based brewpub

京都町家麦酒 / Kyoto Machiya Beer

國乃長ビール / Kuninocho Beer

One of the oldest craft breweries, along with Minoh, in Osaka.

ボイジャーブルーイング / Voyager Brewing

Newish (two years?) brewery in Wakayama

箕面ビール / Minoh Beer

The only Minoh beer I wanted to try (Blooming IPA) was not being served the day I went.

Finally, near the end of the day, we heard an unusual sound coming from the entertainment stage at one end of the venue. Country music! We went to check it out, and saw a young woman singing to recorded background music (something like professional karaoke). She had a twang in her voice and all the right moves, too. Chatting with her after her show, we found that she has already put out 10 CDs, most of which she recorded in Branson, Missouri. 

Uchida Aya is a very talented singer and devoted to the hybrid genre which she calls J-Country. She performs occasionally throughout Japan. Here is her Official Website, which has a few YouTube clips.

Overall, it was a satisfying day. I was able to sample new beers by some of the better Kansai-area breweries and also check out the new kids on the block. I wish I had been able to get to more of them, but one day was enough.