25 January 2019
In some sense, this evening marked the goal of the trip, the Japan Brewers Cup in Yokohama. We wandered to the venue - which is a large hall at the end of the Osanbashi Ferry pier in Yokohama Bay, after an afternoon strolling around the nearby Red Brick Warehouses. The venue is stunning, lying at the end of a long wood-planked and organically curved concourse passing over the passenger ferry terminal like a hill.
Back in my room now, starting to write, my overwhelming reflection is what a high quality, civilized and well organized event this was. With, I would guess, a couple of thousand people drinking and eating, the atmosphere was never anything but light, friendly and fun with no hitches all evening. None of the beer vendors was particularly crowded. The live entertainment was cool, even to a non-Japanese speaker. And the bathroom queues moved with typical Japanese efficiency.
From the point of view of a visitor from Thailand (where the craft brewing scene is active, but limited by antiquated, protectionist legislation), it was interesting to see so many Japanese breweries with foreign brewers and representatives. That’s not to say that foreign influence is required to make good beer, of course: simply that having an open brewing industry looks to be a healthy model in terms of beer quality and the economy.
One manifestation of this is the Japan Beer Times (many thanks for the free back issues). Published in both English and Japanese this is a fine examplar of an artifact which both describes and participates in the creation and growth of an industry and culture.
And the beer? Well, it was plentiful and excellent. Out of principle, I stuck exclusively to Japanese brewers, with three exceptions (one accidental, one deliberate, and one on the way out), though several overseas breweries were represented and would have been very tempting under almost any other circumstance. My strategy wasn’t too focussed or strong. But here are some brief notes, for what they are worth. I’m sure my palate and phone typing skills weren’t really up to the magnitude of this task, but I gave it my best.
Awesome start. Hoppy, fruity nose, soft mouthfeel, very fresh.
Big bubbly head. Melon, lemons, peach, bubble gum over a light body with firm bitterness. Fresh, fun drinking.
Big foamy head. Not much aroma. Malty body with a solid bitterness. Woody hops. A very dark and toasty taste for ipa. Different, and an interesting, slow sipper.
Murky orange with almost no head. Sweet, sweet citusy aromas. Sweet zest on the first taste, quickly bittering and drying with a funky note on the nose. Little carbonation. Lost of farmhouse.
Solid maltiness and hops in good balance. The bitterness lasts well. A full bodied pilsner that makes me want more.
Malty with caramel and a hint of roast. Mild hopping. Quite English in style, close to a strong mild or even brown ale.
Cloudy yellow. with no head. Grapefruit and passion fruit aroma. In the mouth, the whole tropics with a pine fringe. Minty pineapple juice. I don’t want to use the word lush, but there it is.
Small brown head. Stong medicinal peaty nose. Very smoky and medicinal in the mouth too - could almost be drinking a whisky. There’s a solid dry body to back up the smoke. But that smoke really does linger. Interesting. Though the mildness of the porter surprises. Almost wants to be a creamy stout.
(On beer engine). No head and quite flat. Mid-malty body with herbal, delicately minty hopping. On point for a traditional UK hand-pulled pint. Could use a little more conditioning.
Full of passion fruit aroma and taste, with touches of lime. Very little body, a dry finish and very refreshing.
Light spices on the nose - it does smell like a fragrant curry. And it tastes that way too. Aromatic at first with some chilli In the end. Medium body and not much hopping. An interesting novelty.
It’s difficult evaluating a new beer right after the curry IPA. But I think this has hints of the French kitchen and roast chicken. While that may sound hideous, it blends well with the moderately dry brown ale base. Leads to a slightly bitter finish leaving herbs in the nose. Good job.
It had just won a prize as I walked past their stall. So I picked one up, though it’s not really in my uusual style gamut. Not much head. But that peanut butter and caramel really comes through on the palate. Sweet, basically, but there is a subtle toasty coffee, bitter backbone. It’s very good. Just not my thing. And now I have a pint of it (as there were no small pours available for this one :( ). This was my accidental non-Japanese brew.
I didn’t want to do this (I mean go non Japanese). But as a keen saison brewer, with rare access to Saison Dupont, I cound't resist. So here goes. Firm, rocky head. Small funky leather and fruit on the nose. In the mouth, dry and hoppy with some dirtiness in the bitter end. I’m glad I tried this.
Cloudy, no head. Hoppy to the hilt, with citrus and some pine. Medium malt body, bitter finish. There's no sweetness here.
Along the way I also tasted a couple of the event’s stronger ales: Death Hole, a 17.5% Imperial Stout (collaboration between Repubrew and Hagane Brewing) and Pit Bull Barley Wine at 15% (Outsider Brewing). I have only slight recollections of them (sadly didn’t take notes), but recall enjoying the depth and boozy sweetness of the Imperial Stout.
I started this write-up the night of the event. It’s exactly a week later now as I’m making it at least somewhat web-worthy. The details of a tasting session like this fade quickly. But the overall experience remains. It was exciting to discover just how developed craft brewing in Japan is. The variety is wide, there is creativity and playfulness, but there’s also wide mastery of the fundamentals on display - beautifully crafted ales and lagers.