Sunday, May 20, 2018

Craft Beer Fest Kyoto 2018 / 地ビール祭京都 2018

The 2018 beer festival season in the Kansai region kicked off on Sunday, May 13 in Kyoto. The Craft Beer Fest Kyoto 2018 was the ninth iteration of this annual festival.

It was a dim rainy day, but fortunately the venue is a long (800-meter) covered shopping arcade. The lousy wet weather may have kept some people home, but it also made things more crowded, as the side streets were not an outlet for patrons desiring a respite from the crush.

Thirty five Japanese breweries provided nearly 200 varieties of beer. Breweries new to the festival this year included Hinotani Beer, Kibi Doteshita Beer, Kyoto Beer Lab/Cha Beer, Kyoto Woodmill Brewery, Rise & Win Brewing Co., and Songbird.

I was interested in the new Kyoto breweries (above), and found that they were well on their way to making interesting and unusual beers. Kyoto Beer Lab features a number of tea brews (hence "Cha" Beer).

Also of interest was Songbird, a true nanobrewery located in Chiba. The friendly owners specialize in Belgian-style beers, and their Natsumikan to Shoga wheat beer did not disappoint.

As is true every year, the venue got crowded soon after opening time. It was fairly manageable for for the most part; however there were bottlenecks for several stretches, and other areas proved to be nigh impassable. I did not venture east of the park area, and hence missed the entire A Section, which held a few beer stands I'd hoped to visit, including Outsider.

                                                 the Fujizakura Heights brewer, a true master...

Stalwart breweries, Kyoto Brewing and Fujizakura Heights, provided the highlights of the festival (for me anyway). Kyoto Brewing unveiled their third anniversary beer, Sanshunen, a tasty IPA made from a kettle sour. Fujizakura Heights had two different 20th anniversary beer, but their Dragon Mosaic 2017 weizenbock was a superbly well-rounded and juicy exemplar of the style.

Well into the afternoon and after several samples, the rain and crowds no longer seemed to matter.

Next up: Craft Beer Live in Osaka (May 26-27)

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Japanese Breweries at the 2018 World Beer Cup

The 2018 World Beer Cup winners were announced on May 3, and this time only two 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 Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

This year’s event was the largest ever: 8,234 beers were entered by 2,515 breweries (807 from outside the U.S.) from 66 countries. A total of 15 countries’ breweries received medals.

Forty-seven Japanese breweries sent 151 entries and won two awards, for a 1.32% success rate.

Here they are:

Bronze – Shinshu Roman Original Ale (Golden or Blonde Ale)

Silver – COEDO Shiro (South German-Style Hefeweizen)
COEDO Brewery

                                                                              Photos © Brewers Association
This is quite a decline from the nine awards Japanese brewers received in 2016 ...

….. compared to three in the 2014 competition
and  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.

The competition is stiffer these day. This year 25% more breweries entered the WBC than in 2016, and it has surely become harder to stand out in the crowd.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Beer Sales in Japan are Down Once Again. So, What’s Up?

A report from The Japan Times last week (see HERE) shows that beer shipments in Japan keep on declining. Now thirteen years in a row, and last year down 2.6% from 2016. 

Japan’s four big beer companies just can’t turn things around. Their ads usually show middle-aged people with bright smiles, who hold up a glass and perhaps wish they were 10-30 years younger. Case in point: Suntory’s Premium Malt’s ads feature a dapper Ichiro Suzuki, once a great baseball player and still well known and loved in Japan – but now so definitely a fading star.

All four of the of the major beer companies, however, are seeing tremendous growth in another product: chuhai. Short for “shochu highball”, these drinks are made from inexpensive shochu spirits (or more recently, vodka), soda water, and fruit juice. They have been rising in popularity since the 2008 financial crisis led consumers to seek out cheap ways to get a buzz. In addition, their low-carb profile makes them attractive to health-conscious imbibers. A quick visit to any large liquor store will reveal a startling variety of these canned drinks.

Generally around 5% alcohol, canned shochu drinks have been creeping to 8-9% in recent years. These higher-powered varieties appeal to middle-aged men, and they offer a quick after-work jolt. Two examples are Suntory’s Strong Zero and Kirin’s Hyoketsu lines.

A couple of my beer friends swear by Kirin’s Hon Shibori series, since it contains no sugar (only fruit juice and vodka). 

However, I’m sticking with beer for the time being, and perhaps I will slowly decline along with it.