The spring Keyaki beer bonanza has finished, but the memories of great friends and excellent beer will last. I came into the festival with a long list of beers and breweries to acquaint myself with. My friends and I made a serious dent in that list, doing a lot of hands on research into the world of beer in Japan.
I started things off at the Devil Craft booth. Devil Craft has long been one of my favorite bar/restaurants in Tokyo, and I was really curious to see what their collaboration brews would taste like. They brought their Mosaic-X Pale Ale, Red Godzilla IPA and Wheat IPA along, as well as Evo IPA from Two Beers Brewery in Washington. I had had the Mosaic-X before, and enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it this time too. It is spicily hopped with the mosaic variety of hops and is a nice solid entry in the category. My favorite here though was the Red Godzilla IPA. There is a big push these days for so called “session” IPAs, beers with a lower alcohol content that you can drink several of. Red Godzilla is a really good session IPA. It was not as bitter as the average IPA can be, but still maintained a very nice hop flavor with a crisp clean aftertaste. It was certainly a beer that I could drink several of. The Wheat IPA smelled great, with a ton of hops on the nose. But while the IPA part came through loud and clear, the wheat part did not. I certainly enjoyed it, but I prefer other beers in that style like Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’.
A friend of mine picked up a Brewmaster Oatmeal Black to start, and it was the day’s first real disappointment. It tasted almost cola like, with huge malt sweetness balanced by nothing whatsoever. It seemed far more alcho-pop than beer, and was pretty roundly dismissed by our group. The only person to even admit to it being drinkable was one of our non beer-drinkers. I do hope that this is an aberration and that the rest of the Brewmaster lineup is more solid.
One of the most popular beers at our tarp was the Johana Earl Grey Beer from Toyama. It tasted exactly like it sounds, a mixture of Earl Grey tea and beer. I found the flavor quite nice, though a bit strange. It was a good palate cleanser to all the more intense styles available.
Hokkaido Brewing had a selection of fruit beers that I tried that ranged from not bad to pretty good. The best of the bunch was the Apple Beer, which tasted almost more like cider than beer. There was no hops to it at all, but it was crisp and drinkable. The Yuzu Weizen was quite fruity and had a lot of the sweet/sour flavor of Japanese Yuzu fruits. The Melon was not as good. It smelled and tasted very much of melon, but it did not seem very much like beer. While some fruit flavors can really complement a beer, I do not think that melon is one of them. The Raspberry White was the most beer like of this batch. It too had a nice fruity bouquet. While it was nice, the white beer style did not really shine through. These beers were all fine, but I would most recommend them for folks who really like fruit beers, or who really dislike regular beer.
North Island was high on my list of breweries to try, as their Coriander Black was noted as the best original recipe in Japan in Mark Meli’s Craft Beer in Japan. (Side note, I actually had the chance to meet Meli as we stood in line for Y-Market. We had a great chat and it was clear to see he is a man who knows his beer and is passionate about it. ) The Coriander Black was just as good as he said in the book. The coriander added a nice spicy note to the malty blackness, and the flavors melded well. That said, their American Wheat Beer was actually my favorite beer of the festival. It was crisp, clean, and refreshing, with outstanding hops that enhanced without overpowering. It was a perfect example of the American take on the wheat style, with the much cleaner flavor profile when compared to the Belgian or German styles. Sadly, the North Island Stout did not measure up to its compatriots. It had a nice toasty flavor but was on the watery side.
T.Y. Harbor is recorded in my notes as having a Dark Wheat that was quite smoky. Checking the website I do not see it listed as one of their beers. So I may have recorded the brewery incorrectly. That said, the beer was worth reporting. It was dark, exotic, and had hefty smoke nose and flavor. It tasted like a good BBQ restaurant smells. It was quite popular with us, but I wonder if that was more because it was different than because it was good. When you are sampling that much beer, anything that stands out of the crowd is worth taking note of.
Another brewery that was very high on my “to try” list was Y Market. Y Market just opened a brew pub in Nagoya, filling an empty niche in one of Japan’s largest cities. With them being so new to the scene, I was excited to see what they had to offer. Their sample set consisted of Mango Orange Ale, Meyon Lager, Hysteric IPA, and Hop Seduction Session IPA. The Mango Orange was good for a fruit beer, with a nice fruity nose but no hop flavor at all. I found it a bit watery for my tastes, but it was not bad. The Meyon Lager was very good, crisp and light with fruity spicy hops. It was an excellent lager, light and drinkable. Perfect for a hot summers day. Hysteric IPA was very hoppy, with a big blast of citrus at the start. I liked it, but after a day of IPA it was a bit much. I think it may hold up better in a non- festival situation. Hop Seduction IPA played like the younger brother to Hysteric. It had a very similar flavor profile, just less of it. I liked it a lot, but it will be interesting to see how this session IPA boom plays out. Is there a market for IPAs that are lesser by design?
The Spring Keyaki Hiroba Craft Beer fest was undoubtedly a success. I had a lot of excellent beer, though some of it is a bit of a blur. That is a downside to “festival drinking.” I think a lot of the beer I had would benefit from not sharing the stage with hundreds of other beers in dozens of other styles. It really is unfortunate that craft distribution is so bad here. These huge collections of breweries and their wares are often the only way to sample the width and breadth of Japanese craft brewing. The fact that I cannot go to my local liquor store and buy a six pack of North Island or Y Market Beer is a tragedy. I really hope that the distribution situation sees some changes soon.
Did you go to the Spring 2014 Keyaki Craft Beer Festival? What was your favorite beer? What breweries did you try?