Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Japanese Breweries at the World Beer Cup 2014

The 2014 World Beer Cup winners were announced on April 11, and three Japanese breweries won awards.

The WBC is the largest (and probably the "most prestigious" -- at least, it calls itself so) international beer competition, and is has been held every two years since 1996.

Fujizakura Kogen Beer (better known as "Fujizakura Heights" in Japan) took the silver medal in the South German-Style Hefeweizen/Hefeweissbier category (78 entries) for its Weizen. This beer was also a silver medal winner in 2008.

I’ve enjoyed it this weizen on several occasions, and it gives off superb banana and bubble gum aromas. The flavors are quite fresh and fruity, with lemon and then sweet pears.  It’s a fairly big, intense and over-the-top weizen. Fujizakura Kogen is regarded as one of the top craft breweries in Japan, especially for their wheat and smoked beers.

Coedo Brewery’s Kyara won silver in the American-Style Amber group (34 entries). In 2010, Coedo also won a silver medal for its Beniaka.

Kyara is widely available throughout Japan. It has a rich aroma with good hopping. The initial sips provide a solid hit of hopping; the mid palate goes deeper with the hops and then becomes balanced; the finish is mild, malty, and the hops linger on the tongue a good while. Very tasty, and much improved on the version they originally came out with a few years ago.

The big surprise for Japan craft beer fans is the gold medal won by Asahi Breweries for its flagship brew, Asahi Super Dry, besting 88 other entries in the International-Style Lager category. This is the most popular beer in Japan, and is pretty much reviled by beer geeks.

I recently tried Super Dry for the first time in several years. My tasting notes are as follows: A little cardboard and a little grassiness in the aroma. Initial flavors have a touch of hay / the mid palate goes to a harsher grass and some hops make an appearance / the finish is mildly sweet (so it’s not really completely "dry"). Thin body. Not as bad as I remember it (or, perhaps, as I think I remember it…).

Super Dry is brewed overseas at a number of different locations -- the European version at Staropramen, in the UK at Shepherd Neame, and in North America at the Molson Vancouver brewery. I assume the medal-winning brew is the N. Am. version. It is not an all-malt premium lager, as it incorporates a certain amount of corn and rice in order to lighten the body and flavor profile.

Overall, these three medals represent something of a drop off for the nation’s brewers in this global competition.

Japanese brewers were awarded four medals 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

Clearly the field is getting more crowded and more sophisticated. The number of breweries entering the World Beer Cup was 1,403, compared to only 828 in 2012; and the total number of beers they entered stood at 4,754, which is a jump up from the 4,014 in 2012. 

For more information and a lot of statistics, see the World Beer Cup Fact Sheet.

In any case, you should be your own judge. Seek out these three beers (yes, even Super Dry) and give them a go.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Three (fairly new) Minneapolis Breweries

I visited Minneapolis last week. Lots of recent additions to the burgeoning craft beer scene there.
Here are three in the NE section of the city, all within a few minutes of each other.

612 Brew

612 Brew's brewery and tasting room is in a renovated industrial park building. Apparently, the space above the brewery used to be a sort of alternative theater, with puppet dramas and the like -- but gentrification/beerification have taken over. The tasting room offers seven beer on tap. Flights of four generous (7oz.) pours cost $11, and pints cost $5. Growlers also available. The tasting room and brewery share the same space. It was crowded on a Saturday afternoon, and the crowd was decidely older (40s - 60s) than at other places I’ve been to in Miineapolis -- they had The Golf Channel on one TV (if that’s any indication) and women’s college basketball on the other. The beer is okay here. Not the best that the Twin Cities have to offer but not bad at all. Here are the ones we tried:

Gateway Park (Pale Lager – 5.6%)
This little lager had a smooth grassy aroma and a deep gold color. It more or less resembled a pils, but was just a bit too sweet.

Brew Six (American Pale Ale – 5.1%)
Smooth mild fruity nose and a dark amber color. The flavors were peach and light caramel with minimal bittering. The finish seemed like the sweet milk leftover in a cereal bowl after the Cheerios are gone.

Zero Hour (Black IPA – 5.4%)
The aromas were of candyish tootsie rolls with some air freshener floating around. The light sweet malt had some berries notes in it. Fairly decent hopping in a medium body.

Rated R (IPA – 6.6%)
This IPA had a flowery nose and a slight peppery tang. The solid malty initial (caramel or toffee) gave way to peppery mid palate. It featured deep resinous hops that lingered long into the finish. This was the best one we had at 612 Brew.,c_limit,q_80,d_brew_def.jpg/brew_16039.jpg

945 Broadway St NE
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA 55413
Tel: 612-217-0437
Hours: W - Th: 4 - 10 pm / F: 2:30pm – midnight / Sat: noon - midnight

Indeed Brewing Company

Indeed has a pleasant taproom in an old renovated brick building, and it's a popular place Lines of people outside waited to get in and there was a bit of a crush at the bar. Artwork by the same person who designs Indeed's labels hang on the walls. No TVs here (thank you)! The service was a bit slow and unsmiling, with only two people working the bar and lots of people buying growlers. Beer here is good to very good. Nine tap pouring, including two casks. No sampler flights were available. Prices are normal: 10oz pours for $3.75; 16oz for $5; and 20oz for $5.50. An enjoyable place with a real sense of identity.

Day Tripper Pale Ale (Simcoe – 5.4%)
This one was on cask, and it’s among a series of limited Day Tripper releases featuring a single hop or a fruit. It had a smooth deep Simcoe nose. Flavors of light peaches with steady hop bittering.

Let It Ride IPA (Mosaic – 6.8%)
A limited cask version of Let Ride IPA. It had a deep fruity hoppy nose, with rich cake. Peaches and toffee, with berries, as the Mosaic hops meld nicely into the malt. The Mosaic works so well in this one.

Indeed / Northbound Hot Box Imperial Smoked Pepper Porter (9.5%)
A collaboration brew, with smoked peppers and cold-smoked malt. A very full aroma of pepper, smoky BBQ sauce, and soy sauce. The initial flavor had sharp peppers, and moved into smooth smoky roast malt, coffee, and then even more smoke. The peppers dominated the lingering aftertaste. They weren’t overwhelming, but rather pleasant and complemented the smoky malt well.,c_limit,q_80,d_brew_def.jpg/brew_14786.jpg
711 15th Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA 55413
Tel: 612-643-1226
Hours: Th - Fri: 3 - 11 pm / Sat noon - 11 pm

Dangerous Man Brewing Company

Dangerous Man has been open just over a year now, taking over the space of a former bank building Although it was very crowded, the atmosphere was pleasant and really welcoming. I asked the doorman about the origin of the name: he told me that the heavily-bearded owner's appearance once scared a friend's young child -- and the tyke was reassured that he wasn't a "dangerous man". Fun music on the sound system -- and the bar servers were bouncing to the beat. Very mixed group of customers, but mostly young to middle-aged and hipsterish. Also, the service was fast, with five or six bar servers busy as can be. Six taps, all quite varied. No sampler flights are available. Beers cost $3 for a 10oz glass and $5 for 16oz. The beers were all good to great. If I lived in the area, I’d come back to this place often, just to check out what new brews they have made.

Dangerous Man brewery has been getting a lot a press these day, including this recent article on the CNN web site. It was also voted RateBeer's Best New Minnesota Brewery in 2013. Go there and see why.

Chocolate Milk Stout (6.3%)
A light smooth cocoa nose. Wonderful sweetish dark roast maltiness with coffee, chocolate, and Ovaltine. Like a slightly boozy breakfast drink.

Vienna IPA (6.6%)
Solid roast malt, with a decidedly IPA nose. Good hopping and sweet caramel. The bittering went on and on. Much more body than a typical Vienna and less than an IPA. An interesting hybrid.

Batch 100 IIIPA (12.4%)
A real monster, with aromas of roses, tropical fruit, massive citrus hopping, and severe alcohol fumes. Thick rich caramel flavor, with peaches and some toffee – the alcohol warmth was also considerable – and it had an endless tongue-scraping hoppy finish. This one goes way beyond any normal imperial IPA. Thick and bit sticky, but very good.,c_limit,q_80,d_brew_def.jpg/brew_15908.jpg

1300 2nd St NE
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA 55413
Tel: 612-209-2626
Hours: T-Th: 4 - 10 pm / F: 3pm - midnight / Sat: noon - midnight

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Portland Taproom/Bottle Shops

Portland, OR is full of breweries, some 40-plus at last count, and their tasting rooms are certainly the best way to sample the full range of their offerings. However, if you want to try beers from a variety of breweries, visit some of the many taproom/bottle shops in town. These are places that serve craft beer on tap and have bottle sales. Here are four of the best.

Hawthorne Hophouse
This bar is in a small, fairly nondescript corner shopping area. From the outside looks like it could be a flower shop or, really, any other kind of business. There is seating for maybe 40 people at tables and 12-15 at the bar. Alt-pop on the sound system and two TVs showing sports programs. The 24 rotating taps, showcase mostly NW stuff; the server said that they usually stock beers from west of the Rockies. One permanent tap is Boneyard RPM IPA). US pints for between $4.25 and $6.00. Samplers are available in in rather tiny (2.5-oz.) glasses: six for $8; 12 for $13; and, if you are feeling adventurous – and are not driving -- all 24 taps for $24. The menu features a small selection of pub food: salads, entrees, burgers, and sandwiches. The service was good. A very pleasant place, especially good for sampling lots of new brews from OR, WA, and CA. 

Hawthorne Hophouse
4111 SE Hawthorne
Portland, Oregon United States 97214
Hours: M-W: 12pm-11pm / Th: 12pm-12am / F: 12pm-1am / Sat: 10am-1am / Sun: 10am-11pm  

Imperial Bottle Shop and Taproom
This is a newish (open for about six months now) shop in a rather quickly developing or gentrifying section of Division St. Seating for 35-40 people, but the manager said it can hold many more than that. Quiet atmosphere, low conversations. Hipsters and beer geeks, with a whole lotta laptops open. There was only one sports TV, thankfully turned way down. There are 16 taps, all of them Northwest brews, but an excellent selection. Variable pricing for 12-oz. or 24-oz. pours. They also pour to-go in 16oz. and 64oz containers. Sampler sets are available: $8 for five generous 4-oz glasses (Mason jars, actually). You can also buy bottles to go of anything on tap, with a $1 bottle charge. A good range of bombers are arranged by style; most from the NW but also other US brews and many ciders, too. Friendly owner and good service. 


3090 SE Division St
Portland, Oregon United States 97202
Hours: M-Th & Sun 12-10pm / F-Sat 12pm-12am

The Beer Mongers
This is also a small place. Seats for maybe 30 at tables and ten at the bar. It is fairly quiet, dark, and maybe just a bit dive-like. Lots of beer ads, and some sports-themed art on the walls. Low music, one sports TV on. Great selection of bottles, arranged by style. Some rarities, too. There are eight taps, all of them wonderful. I wanted to try all of them. You can also buy bottles and drink them there without a cap charge. This seemed like a no-nonsense sort of place, about one thing and one thing only: good beer.

1125 SE Division
Portland, Oregon United States 97214
Hours: Sun-Thurs 11am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11am-12am

Saraveza is a great bar in a progressive Portlandia neighborhood. The name is a portmanteau word, combining the owner’s name (Sarah) and the Spanish word for beer (cerveza). The atmosphere is a bit rough around the edges (hell, they keep Hamm’s permanently on one tap): brick and wood and scuffed up bar stools. Sports art and ads on the walls, especially featuring the Green Bay Packers, -- the owner is a Wisconsin native. Lots of loud laughter and conversation between the staff and patrons. Ten taps, all Northwest brews (most of them new beers and also fairly different from the more geeky stuff that appears at, say, Belmont Station or Bailey’s Taproom) -- except for the Hamm’s. Sampler sets are available: five generous pours for $8.50. The beer coolers hold 250+ bottles, some vintages, some six-pack stuff. Friendly, quick, no-nonsense service. A limited food menu: their specialties are pasties and smoked meats. In fact, you’ll probably leave the place with the scent of sausages or bacon on your clothes. I had the half pasty and bowl of soup, both very good. Recommend this bar highly

1004 N Killingsworth St
Portland, Oregon United States 97217
Hours: M-Sun: 11am – 12am