This week we’ve decided to go with something a little more recognizable, especially for those of you in Japan. Best known for its ubiquitous but fairly ordinary Super Dry, Asahi Breweries also produces a noteworthy stout. Asahi Stout is a very dark, strongly flavored, high-gravity ale with 8% abv. It’s available only in 334-ml bottles and may be a little bit tricky to find.
Not to be confused with Asahi Dry Black, Asahi Stout is distinct from the former in that it is made with top-fermenting yeast and has a much fuller body. While both are made with dark roasted malt, the use of ale yeast in Asahi Stout results in a comparatively fruitier and more complex flavor. Asahi Stout is also made with a wild strain of yeast called Brettanomyces, which is commonly said to impart “barnyard-like” flavors and aromas (horse blanket, leather, etc.), though my impression has always been that of a doctor’s office. (The strain is often found in Belgian ales; try, for instance, a bottle of the Trappist ale Orval and decide for yourself.)
Asahi Breweries is presently based in Tokyo but the company began in Osaka in 1889, at which time it was known as the Osaka Beer Company. Nearly a century later, Asahi began producing its landmark Super Dry, a crisp pale lager, which proved to be a turning point for the company and the driving force behind the ensuing ‘Dry Wars’ in Japan. Today, the company is the largest brewer in the country, followed closely by Kirin Beer. Asahi Stout first went on sale in 1935 but was temporarily discontinued during World War II. Sales then resumed in 1951.
Broadly speaking, Asahi Stout is a foreign extra stout, a very dark, somewhat full-bodied ale with roasted malt which gives an impression of coffee or chocolate, possibly with notes of molasses, licorice, or dried fruit. If you’d like to taste the difference between a regular stout and an extra stout, try for instance Guinness Draught Stout and Guinness Foreign Extra Stout.
Asahi Stout is as black as can be and pours a thick, frothy, deep tan head. It has an aroma of graham cracker and molasses with undertones of smoke, earthiness, graininess, and just a hint of Band-Aid. The malty flavor is rich, smooth, and roasty with bread crust and woodiness. The bitter, earthy hops are prominent. Other flavors include browning fruit, molasses, and charcoal/tar. The finish is sweet and grainy. The mouthfeel is silky and just shy of full bodied. There’s a slight bite from the low carbonation, warming from the substantial alcohol, and a syrupy stickiness in the finish. There is only a little tea-like astringency from the roasted malt.
Overall, the predominant qualities of browning fruit, earthy bitterness, and woodiness make for an intense and sophisticated taste. It’s a bit sticky in the end, but I’ve noticed that in other dark, full-bodied beers. Honestly, I can’t think of much to dislike about this beer; it really is a remarkable number from Asahi. The alcohol is perhaps a bit conspicuous and adds considerable warming, but of course whether that is good or bad is up to personal taste. I suggest that anyone who likes big, dark ales give this one a try.
Today’s beer was purchased for a very reasonable ¥255 at Yamaya in Ota, Gunma.