Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Oregon, Part 2: The Widmer Brothers Pub / オレゴン州、パート2: ウィドマー・ブラザーズ

Widmer Brothers Brewery is the largest brewery in Oregon. In fact, as part of the Craft Brew Alliance (w/ Redhook, Kona, et al.), it is the major producer in the 9th largest brewing company in the United States. However, due to Anheuser-Busch InBev’s 32% ownership stake in the Alliance, Widmer is no longer considered a “craft” brewer by the Brewers Association. Nor are their production numbers listed by the Oregon Brewers Guild. A lot of political wrangling … and bad blood in the press, but the Widmer brand just keeps on growing.

I hadn’t visited Widmer for a long time. About five years ago, I went to the Pub on a busy weekend night. After waiting for around 30 minutes, I ended up sharing a table with someone I had met in line. But the service was harried and the waiter got our orders wrong and the beers were just … okay.

Last February, during the state-wide Zwickelmania event, several of us wanted to visit the brewery. But the line was far too long, and -- even though Widmer’s Hefeweizen is the favorite beer of one person in our group, and he really wanted to take the tour -- we gave up.

So, I when I was in Portland recently, I thought I’d give the Pub another try. The space consists of two large high-ceilinged rooms, with lamps dangling from very long cords. Lots of brick, red walls, wood floors, and only one (silenced, thankfully) TV near the bar. 

The atmosphere was very pleasant at lunch time. The place was moderately crowded and a bit noisy. The young server was enthusiastic and eager to talk beer, but he also gave me time to consider the selection before I ordered a tasting set and a hamburger.

The bar offers 24 taps (though not all were on): Four year-round brews; four seasonals; and thirteen small batch brews. Pints go for $5. $12 gets you a tasting set of six 5-oz glasses. $1 off on pints during Happy Hour, which are 2-5pm Mon-Fri.

The food menu is fairly good, a cut above the typical pub fare. Many types of sandwiches, burgers, sausages, along with a selection of gluten-free choices. 

Widmer has been upping its game over the past several years. They had been resting on their laurels and depending far too much on their flagship Hefeweizen – at one point it accounted for a full 80% of sales. These days the beer is all pretty good to very good. Go there and see -- but go during daylight hours.

 Here are a couple of standouts from the tasting set:

Double M.A.C., (Session IPA)
A nice, mixed fruity hop nose. Medium copper/straw color with good lace. Balanced from the start, with a touch of grain and some smooth plum and darker fruit notes. Slightly thin, with some hop texture. It is dry hopped twice with Mosaic, Amarillo, and Cascade (hence, M. A. C.). Delicious stuff.

Old Embalmer , (Barley Wine) 
This 10.2% heavy hitter has a large caramel nose, with some decided alcohol fumes. Clear copper/brown color, with a filmy head, and good lace. The big caramel initial slowly twists around to balance in mid and then flattens out a bit. The finish brings back the caramel, with a bit of hopping. Heavy body, and quite smooth. Almost a caramel bomb, but not quite. A very pleasant sipper.

The Widmer Brothers Pub
929 N. Russell
Portland, Oregon United States 97227
503 281 2437

Dining Room Hours: 
Sunday - Thursday 11:00am - 10:00pm
Friday - Saturday 11:00am - 11:00pm

Bar Hours:
Sunday - Thursday 11:00am - 10:30pm
Friday - Saturday 11:00am - 11:00pm

Brewery Tours:
Fridays at 2:00pm & 3:00pm
Saturdays at 12:00pm, 1:00pm, 2:00pm & 3:00pm
Sundays at 1:00pm & 2:00pm

Monday, September 1, 2014

Oregon, Part 1: Full Sail Tasting Room and Pub / オレゴン州、パート1:フルセイルテイスティングルームやパブ

I was out in Oregon again this past August. This state is usually the first stop on my twice-a-year vacation trips. It's where several of my relatives and friends reside and, not incidentally, home to some of the finest breweries on the planet.

My son and I spent a day in Hood River, about an hour east of Portland. Good Mexican food for lunch and, of course, beer for dessert, and then a hike to the top of Multnomah Falls. 
We stopped at the Full Sail Brewing Company, which I had somehow managed to miss on two previous trips. Hard to miss that place, though, as it's probably the largest business (and building) in town. However, I have to admit, I've never been a big fan of this brewery, with the exception of their seasonal and (especially) limited brews, such as the wonderful annual release, Black Gold Imperial Stout (Bourbon Barrel Aged).

The Full Sail Tasting Room and Pub is where you can sample most of the beers they produce. You go through the front door, down a hall, through another door, down another hall, and you’re there. The large restaurant/bar area has seating for perhaps 80 people at tables, for another10-12 at the bar, and maybe 30 people on the outdoor patio. It seemed to be more of a restaurant spot for families and young (and older) couples than a mecca for beer geeks.

The bar features12 Full Sail beers on tap. They offer sampler sets of six 5-oz pours (and a cute little souvenir glass to take away) for $10. Pints go for $4.50; half pints for $3.25. The service was pretty good and quick, even though it was quite crowded on a hot Sunday afternoon. 

Full Sail's regular line of beers are all good, crisp, and clean -- but none are really exceptional. The sampler lineup included their IPA, Amber Ale, Session Black Lager, Limited Edition Lager (a Czech Pilsner), English Pale Ale, and Session Premium Lager.

The best among these was the Amber, which is probably their flagship beer. It had a smooth floral and fruity aroma of ripe plums and figs. The flavor featured thin herbal notes that jumped out right away, and then moved to good fruit, minerals, light roast malt, with a slightly sharp fruit finish. Very tasty stuff. It doesn’t try to go too far (who does, really, with the amber style?) This is one of their best beers, outside of the Reserve series.

You can also try some of their Brewmaster Reserve beers and limited pub series brews, and they offer very good prices on take-out six-pack of their session brews.

506 Columbia Street
Hood River, Oregon, USA 97031
 (888) 244-BEER
12:00 to 8:00 PM Daily (9:00PM May - Sept)

Hitachino Nest Expanding in Korea / 韓国で拡大常陸野ネストビール

Hitachino Nest (Kuichi Brewery) is certainly one of the most visible Japanese craft beer brands in the United States. When I visit there, friends occasionally ask me if I like “Owl Beer.” -- the brand logo features a cutesy Japanese anime version of that distinctive bird.

 Image result for hitachino nest

Yet Hitachino Nest beers are, strangely, more easily found abroad than in Japan. In the US, nearly every good bottle shop will feature one or two Japanese beers, and nearly always some from Hitachino.
The company exports to 15 countries.

Now we see that the beer and sake producer is expanding into South Korea. According to an article in The Korea Times ("Japan's 'Owl' craft beer to land in Korea"), Hitachino Nest finalized a deal to establish a brewery there.

But, according to the company website, the business is already up and running, with tours and a tap room/restaurant offering seven beers on tap and seven in bottles.The website features photos of the brewery construction, a fairly good-sized facility that was completed in around two months.

The new venture, with the somewhat unimaginative name, “Korea Craft Brewery,” is located about 90 minutes south of Seoul, and is open daily (except Thursdays) with rather limited hours. Korea Craft Brewery also offers customized brewing for bars and restaurants, as well as brewhouse design and installation services.

A big bet for Hitachino Nest. The Korea Times article claims that 30% of the company’s beer sales are in South Korea, and it appears that they will be working on improving that number.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Kampai! The World of Japanese Beer / 乾杯!日本のビールの世界

Beer geeks in the New York City area who want to learn more about craft beer in Japan should consider attending Dr. Mark Meli's talk at the Japan Society on September 12. Meli is the author of Craft Beer in Japan: The Essential Guide. He is very well versed in the history of beer in Japan and the ways in which the craft beer scene there is currently developing.

Oh, and there will be a tasting reception, where you can sample several Japanese craft beers that are hard to find in the United States.

Tempted? Visit the Japan Society event page HERE to reserve your tickets.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kirin Brewery Company: two days, two news reports / キリンビール:2日間、2報道

First, on Tuesday, sales figures were announced, showing Kirin Brewery Company’s market share continuing to decline versus its rivals, Asahi, Sapporo, and Suntory.

Kirin sales for the first six months of 2014 decreased 6.6 percent compared to the previous year. Kirin was once the biggest brewer in Japan, but has been losing ground, especially to Asahi, since 2001.

Kirin has, with the exception of their Grand Kirin line, pretty much ignored the premium beer market, which is growing quickly. 

However, the other major breweries have been introducing premium brews at a fairly steady pace.

Last year, Sapporo’s Yebisu brought out its Joël Robuchon lager, which was packed with Nelson Sauvin hops. This year, the same brewery developed Yebisu Royal Selection, which has rapidly become the highest-rated Sapporo beer ever on RateBeer.com.

Suntory has also recently produced new premium brews, including Suntory Bitter Roast, Suntory Craftsman’s Beer Kifu No Kaori wheat lager, and an ale version of their Premium Malt’s, called Kaoru Premium.

Asahi Breweries has sort of entered the game, with Asahi Double Yeast. Mostly, though, Asahi has been content with the sales of its flagship, Asahi Super Dry. It also put out a premium version of Super Dry last summer and has released a number of half-beer oddities, such as Asahi Cola & Malt and Asahi Lime Black, both as strange tasting as they sound.

And so…. on Wednesday Kirin announced that it will open two microbreweries in Tokyo and Yokohama that will focus on producing craft beer. Spring Valley Brewery will run the breweries, with plans to develop 20 types of beer which will be available at brewery pubs.

For more information, see this article and this one as well.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Craft Beer Live 2014

Certain annual beer events are greatly anticipated. We look forward to seeing familiar breweries, tasting their newest brews, as well as discovering interesting newcomers to the beer scene.

However, the annual Craft Beer Live event is not one of them.

Held in Osaka every spring for the past five years, Craft Beer Live showcases small breweries, primarily from the Kansai region, including many that rarely take part in other festivals and whose beers do not appear often in beer bars or bottle shops. Many are rural brewpubs, agricultural cooperatives, or farmland-themed resort parks -- most of whom offer ill-conceived and
poorly-made beers strictly for for the tourist trade in their more remote regions of Japan.

So, why go at all? Mainly to see what breweries might have improved their techniques. And to discover diamonds in the rough (or rather any gold among the cups). And because a few beer geek friends were attending (some avoid this event). And simply because I hadn't been out to a beer event for some time.

So, on a hot, sunny late May morning, I set off for the Minatomachi Riverplace just behind the Namba Hatch concert hall, with rather low expectations. And they were, with a few exceptions, met.

Here are those few exceptions:

Tango Rye Lager
Big punchy grass hits the nose right away. Light creamy sweet malt, big grassiness, hay, but not much rye evident. Very nice back-end bittering. Good pils character that jumps out at you

Konishi Aki Marron
Super sugary and treacly nose, treacly. Refreshing tangy fruit, some spiciness (from more than chestnuts alone), light bittering, and a syrupy extract-like finish. Thin body. Slightly cloying, but not bad at all. Seems like it should have a little more body. 

Tamba-Sasayama Zigzag Z'IPA
Good mild citrusy nose, grass, flowers. Moderate citrus initial of light oranges, lemons. The malt emerges and takes it down a step in mid palate, with a bit of rough fruitiness behind. Decent bittering throughout mid and final. A pleasant surprise from this brewery. 

Akashi no Kimi Weizen
Akashi has long made one of the best pils in Japan. Their weizen has a wheaty banana nose. Tangy and citrusy initial, with good wheat character coming in mid palate. This is light, fresh, and creamy. Nothing really over the top, but a very solid weizen. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Craft Beer Festa Kyoto 2014 / 地ビール祭京都 2014

The Craft Beer Festa Kyoto 2014 was held on May 10. Thirty-two breweries (three more than last year) from all parts of Japan set up stalls in the six-block-long Sanjo Association Shopping Arcade.

                                               ... before the crowd arrived

                                                ... lining up at opening time

                                                         Y Market Brewing (newly opened and very good!)

                                              Kaigun-san no Bakushu (Kure Beer)


                                                Outsider Brewing (before the crowds got there)

                                      Mark Meli (author of Craft Beer in Japan: The Essential Guide)

It got crowded fairly soon. Eventually, navigating the narrow shopping arcade became a slow and increasingly arduous process, especially when bicycle riders attempted to move through the crowd.

Many of the shops along the arcade go into the act this year, offering a wide range of foods, from edamame to hot dogs to Kyoto tsukemomo.

Unfortunately, the toilet situation was unchanged from last year, and long lines soon appeared at the one public toilet (located in a public park). A steady stream of imbibers invaded the nearby Seiyu supermarket to use their restrooms. The Seiyu staff seemed to handle this well, more or less ignoring the beer-toting toilet pilgrims. Well, at least some attendees bought snacks there, along with many bottles of British ales which were on sale.

Most breweries ran out of one or another of their beers. In fact, Baird Beer sold out completely before I had a chance to work my way down to their booth.

Here are a few of the day’s standout beers:

Miyajima Weizenbock 
Big banana aroma bomb, lots of tropical fruit in the nose, and some cane sugar. Cloudy medium straw color. Sugary sweet fruitiness right away, loads of fruitiness (mango, pineapple, guava), good tang in mid and final. Medium body, a little rough -- but pleasant and slightly astringent. Very fruity and tasty.

Y Market Hop Seduction Session IPA
Large pine/citrus mix in aroma, and hefty amount of caramel behind it. Cloudy medium straw color, lots of carbonation rising. Thick tobacco-like bittering right away, light caramel, peppery in mid and final. Aroma-hopped stuff, and the bittering moves all the way throughout the palate. Aromas and flavors are those of a double IPA, and this at only 4.5%. A nice introduction to one of the newest breweries in Japan.

Daisen G Imperial Lager
Deep heavy caramel in front of a clear bitter nose. Dark reddish amber color with a latte-like creamy head. Medium roastiness, approaching coffee, very thick bittering, and rich dark fruits. Serious bittering in this one, constantly present. Finished smooth and balanced. Great stuff.

Brimmer Pale Ale
Rich malty nose, lots of sweet caramel. Dark reddish/amber color. Big caramel, yeast, balanced in mid, with light raisin notes and some ripe apple. Medium body, nice on the palate. The bittering works very well in this one. Tasty and very malt-forward.

Brimmer Sauvin Wheat
Tangy, wheaty nose, with some sourish grapes. Cloudy honey color. Mild wheat initial, a bit catty in mid (hello, Nelson Sauvin!), light bittering in mid and final, and a smooth and tangy finish. Very delicate Sauvin notes throughout.

Akashi Pils
Light, pleasant grassy nose. Slightly hazy medium straw color, with a very creamy white head and good lacing. Solid grassy initial, some graininess, gets sweet in the mid and final. Very subtle hopping. Great flavor changes throughout the palate. Very well made.