BeerCast #7 – Turning Japanese

Japan has a long and proud history of brewing, and after our European-based early editions, the BeerCast has flown 6000 miles to explore some of their creations. Episode 7 was intended to be our German spectacular – but the lure of Ji-biru proved too strong, and the running order has been somewhat altered. For this episode our panel sample four genuine Japanese beers, three of which were purchased by Richard on a recent trip to Tokyo. Thankfully some information can be gleaned about a few of them, but the Minoh Seasonal beer was almost a complete unknown quantity – but not an unpleasant one, as it turned out. On the panel this week are Richard, Shovels, Andy and Grooben – recently departed from Vancouver and back in Edinburgh (therefore we have a vacancy for a BC BeerCaster. Unless CraigAS wants to take responsibility for the entire country…) Anyway, on with the biru. Irashaimase!!!

1. Yebisu Premium (5%abv)
Sapporo Brewery, Hokkaido.
334ml glass bottle

OK, hands up – this one was bought in Edinburgh. But it was brewed in Japan, as Yebisu (pronounced “Ebisu” is part of the behemoth Sapporo Corporation. First produced in Meguro, Tokyo, in 1890 by the Japan Beer Brewing Company, it was eventually acquired by the Hokkaido outfit, and was resurrected in 1971. As one of the country’s oldest brands, Yebisu is marketed as Sapporo’s luxury product (which explains why we could find it in our local beer retailer rather than any of Sapporo’s other brews). It is named after the eponymous God from Japanese mythology, one of the seven Gods of Fortune. Yebisu is depicted on the label in his usual guise, a portly fisherman with a giant carp under his arm (as he is also the protector of those who catch fish). Will our panel put it in the keepnet, or throw it back?

What They Say“Well known as a beer with a touch of class. Lavished with select aroma hops from Bayern, Yebisu is mellowed over a long period to be a 100% malt premium beer, with select aroma hops producing a pleasant bitterness without any aftertaste. Yebisu has been, and will be, a brand that contributes to the creation of Japanese beer culture.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Richard – Not a bad malty lager, it doesn’t linger at all 7
Grooben – More to it than some, but it’s not exceptional 6
Shovels – This is just a standard lager really 5
Andy – Has a feeling rather than an aftertaste 5

2. Angry Boy Brown Ale (6.2%abv)
Baird Brewery, Numazu.
360ml glass bottle

The rest of the beers were purchased from the wonderful Tanakaya shop in Mejiro, Tokyo. Baird beers featured quite heavily in their selection, so I plumped for ‘Angry Boy’ Brown Ale to see what the Japanese do with a classic English style. “We will not brew vapid beer” promises the Baird website, which can only be a good thing. Founded in 2000 by husband and wife team Bryan and Sayuri Baird, they produce a wide range of varying beers from their Shizuoka base. With an admirable philiosophy of ‘celebrating beer’, we had high hopes for this one.

What They Say“Angry Boy is a brown ale that doesn’t quite fit in; it is bigger, bolder, hoppier and more complex than most. It has, if you will, an angry edge. It is somewhat sweet and very full-bodied in the mouth but piquantly bitter and warming in the finish. If you are feeling angst, this is your brew.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Shovels – Plenty going on there, I really like it 7
Richard – This would reward you the more of it you had 7
Grooben – Has a North American brown ale feel to it
Andy – It jumps in your mouth and throws a tantrum, but not an unpleasant one 6

3. Hitachino Nest Sweet Stout (4%abv)
Kiuchi Brewery, Naka.
330ml glass bottle

The Japanese are highly aware of presentation, and the next beer sampled comes with a label designed around an appealing owl logo. Hitachino Nest Beers are the range from the Ibaraki-based Kiuchi Brewery, and amongst their wares at Tanakaya I came across a Sweet Stout. The BeerCast has yet to come to grips with one of those, so into the basket it went. Founded in 1823 this sake producer only took up the challenge of making beer in 1996. After their successes, the enterprising company turned their hands to wine, planting vineyards near their premises. Their stout is augmented with added Lactose, the sugar derived from milk. This can’t be consumed by yeast during the fermentation process, so these types of beers have a certain characteristic sweetness about them.

What They Say“A perfect mixture of coffee, chocolate, and roasted flavours in the nose and on the palate. No bitterness, but sweet notes throughout to the very finish.” [Official Website]

What We Say
Grooben – Pleasingly subtle and growing on me 7
Andy – Dark flavours but with the volume turned down 7
Richard – Tastes like an old style stout, not too sweet 7
Shovels – Got the burnt toast of a Porter, it’s very nice 6

4. Minoh Seasonal Beer (5.5%abv)
AJI Brewery, Minoh.
320ml glass bottle

Minoh is 15km north of Japan’s second city, Osaka, and home of the Aji Brewery. They release a wide variety of beers on the local market, including some unusual brews infused with hemp seeds (called Ganja High), and grapes (Cabernet Ale). Minoh Seasonal Beer gives little away on the bottle as to the contents (at least, it does for the non-Japanese reading buyer), but according to the brewery website is their Belgian-style blonde ale. Given the BeerCast’s recent double-entry forage into the world of Belgian beer, it was always going to be an interesting exercise in comparison.

What They Say“副原料は使用せず、ベルジャン酵母特有の柔らかなフルーツ香と複雑なス パイシーさが特徴です” [Official Website]

What We Say
Grooben – Just as good as other global Belgian style beers 8
Andy – Light, fruity and refreshing
Shovels – Very similar to Belgian beer, very nice 7
Richard – They’ve got this spot on – it’s very drinkable 7

BeerCast panel verdict

Minoh Seasonal Beer – 29½/40
Hitachino Sweet Stout – 27/40
Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale – 26½/40
Yebisu Premium – 23/40

Panellists – (from top left) Grooben, Richard, Andy, Shovels



We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with Episode 8. Stay tuned for details…and please leave us comments on the blog or iTunes, or emails. Cheers!

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