Orion Special X

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Japanese Name: オリオンスペシャルX(エックス)
Brewer: Orion 
Release: Jul. 13, 2010 (Original)
Type: Liqueur (発泡性)
Alcohol: 6%
Purchase Price: ¥118 @Aeon

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Tasting Notes:
Beers from Orion do not often make it to mainland Japan. Outside of their standard lager and the occasional limited release, I don’t usually see them on the store shelves. So when I came across Special X I thought it was a new release, only to find out it’s been in production for over 4 years now. It’s interesting to note that even though this is a third tier brew, the ingredient list is quite similar to Asahi Super Dry and I’m sure they’ve incorporated some of Asahi’s brewing innovations. In any case, Special X is new to me so I’m excited to pop the top.

Special X pours out a somewhat light straw, ever so slightly lighter than most other new genre brews. There is a nice malty aroma coming off the head along with a strong presence of alcohol, plus some spicy pepper. On my first gulp the first thing to come was rich malt that dissipates mid-palate and comes back on the back end in the form of toasty roasted malt. For a new genre Special X has a hearty mouth feel and is on the full-body side of the spectrum. Its higher alcohol content lingers on the back end, but it does finish clean and dry.

Orion’s Special X is indeed special. Even though it’s in the budget third tier brew category, Special X has some complexities not found even among the true beers. It’s a very interesting brew, and I must say it is probably the best tasting new genre brew on the market. Outside of Okinawa, if you can find Orion Special X, do pick it up and give it a try. I do hope it continues to be stocked at my local Aeon. Cheers!

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Grand Kirin Hop Fruity

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Japanese Name: グランドキリン ホップフルーティ
Brewer: Kirin
Release: Sept. 23, 2014
Type: Japanese Beer (ビール)
Alcohol: 5.5%
Purchase Price: ¥245 @FamilyMart

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Tasting Notes:
Japanese convenience store chain FamilyMart recently received Grand Kirin Hop Fruity, making this Grand Kirin release the third in a series of convenience store limited brews. This Japanese beer is an all malt beer using Nelson Sauvin hops, to deliver fruit and bitterness to the brew. Down the hatch!

This Grand Kirin has a very light color, denoting its stated medium body. Aromas of fresh cut grass and sweet herbs, with a hint of citrus come off the pour. Bitterness engulfs the lips and tongue during my first taste. It’s very light in flavor without much depth, “fresh” hops being the key. Let me tell you, those hops don’t know how to stop, they just keep going and going. The bitterness builds through the mid-palate and down the throat locking it in a vice. It’s an unnecessary amount for such a lightly flavored beer, very medicine-y.

So, I’m trying dig deep and find something good to say about Hop Fruity. It doesn’t have a lot going for it (even the naming is bad), as I’ve got half a glass left. When you pop the cap of these familiar Grand Kirin bottles, you expect something different. And I think Hop Fruity delivers here, it has a taste that you’ve probably never experienced before. Take in the aromas from the freshly opened bottle, they’re wonderful. The first taste is excellent… with a grassy freshness, a little bitterness, and hints of citrus… and then you swallow. The bitterness just kicks in hard like it’s trying to choke your tonsils. There is a medicine-like acidic aftertaste that vaguely tastes like vomit, and that is why I shall not buy another one of these. There’s a first time for everything, and this time Grand Kirin Hop Fruity gets a thumbs down.

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Grand Kirin Mild Rich

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Japanese Name: グランドキリン マイルドリッチ
Brewer: Kirin
Release: Aug. 5, 2014
Type: Japanese Beer (ビール)
Alcohol: 5.5%
Purchase Price: ¥245 @Lawson

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Tasting Notes:
The second in a recent series of Grand Kirin beers for the convenience stores is Grand Kirin Mild Rich, crafted especially for Lawson. Interestingly, Mild Rich was produced with the ladies in mind, who according to Kirin (and Lawson) want a smooth and mellow beer. Hence Mild Rich was created with wheat and Galaxy hops to impart citrusy-passion fruit flavors.

Possibly due to the wheat, Mild Rich pours out a lovely straw color, just slightly lighter than the standard Japanese lager. It has an incredible nose, much stronger than most Japanese beers on the market. Aromas of fresh wheat, yeast, and citrus create a very powerful image right off the bat. The first gulp is velvety yet has a “chewiness” that is unique, giving a full bodied – yet mellow flavor. Lots of fruity hop flavor comes on the front, but never overwhelms the tastebuds. Mild Rich finishes with a hint of bitterness, that sticks around to keep it interesting.

As with all the Grand Kirin beers, the one word sticks out in my mind is quality. Not only has Kirin created a great beer but they have created a Premium Japanese Beer with a completely unique flavor for Lawson. I find Mild Rich attractive for its smooth rich taste combined with a unique fruitiness that I’ve never come across in Japanese beers. Grand Kirin Mild Rich is a must try, and you’d better get to Lawson quickly as Mild Rich is getting to be quite difficult to find.

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Sapporo Sozai Ippin

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Japanese Name: サッポロ 素材逸品
Brewer: Sapporo
Release: May 20, 2014
Type: Happousei (発泡性)
Alcohol: 5%
Purchase Price: ¥100 @Aeon

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Tasting Notes:
Marking the 40th anniversary of grocery store conglomerate Aeon, Sapporo created this exclusive new genre brew called Sozai Ippin, loosely translated as “Choice Ingredients.” Sozai Ippin is brewed in part with Japanese grown barley and Fine Aroma Hops from the Czech Republic.

Sozai Ippin’s appearance is comparable to your standard Japanese brew. Malt and hop flavors are very light up front, but opens up mid-palate with a little sweetness. At the finish the bitterness kicks in ever so slightly.

At the purchase price of 100 yen per 350 mL can, tax included, Sozai Ippin offers a very nice value. While it doesn’t knock your stocks off with its flavor, it is a solid brew in the new genre category. Sozai Ippin was produced in limited quantities, but can still be found on the shelves of some Aeon stores.

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Suntory Aki no Zeitaku

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Japanese Name: サントリー 秋の贅沢
Brewer: Suntory
Release: Aug. 19, 2014
Type: Happousei (発泡性)
Alcohol: 6%
Purchase Price: ¥112?? @Aeon

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Tasting Notes:
Suntory, instead of brewing their usual Akiraku threw a curveball this year and unleashed Aki no Zeitaku on the masses. Aki no Zeitaku also uses roasted malt, but given Asahi’s disappointment, I have to keep my hopes toned down. Suntory Aki no Zeitaku does win my vote for best package design this fall. Now all I have to do is figure out how to cross my fingers while popping the top. Wish me luck!

Imparted with roasted malt, Aki no Zeitaku pours out a deep amber. The head is has a very yeasty aroma along with a tinge of char. The first gulp is very smooth, the effervescence is not very strong giving a more full-bodied mouth feel. For a darker brew, Aki no Zeitaku is not heavy at all, it has a lot of fruitiness and a reasonable amount of bitterness on the finish.

Suntory has always done a wonderful job of brewing a great tasting new genre beverage for fall, and Aki no Zeitaku is no slouch. While it doesn’t have the total package you’d get with Kirin’s Aki-Aji, Aki no Zeitaku is about 40% cheaper per 350 mL can. If you’re on a budget like me, you can drink an enjoyable beverage without breaking the bank. Suntory Aki no Zeitaku is my pick for this fall season.

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Asahi Fukairi no Aki

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Japanese Name: アサヒ 深煎りの秋
Brewer: Asahi
Release: Aug. 19, 2014
Type: Happousei (発泡性)
Alcohol: 6%
Purchase Price: ¥112?? @Aeon

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Tasting Notes:
For the fall of 2014, Asahi has produced a brand new third tier brew entitled Fuka-iri no Aki. The name stems from the use of fuka-iri malt, meaning deep roasted malt. Even before popping the top, I’m expecting a darker brew with lots of flavor.

Pouring Fukairi no Aki into the glass, its malty aroma permeates the surrounding air. There’s also a strong tang with hints of alcohol present. As expected, it does have a deep amber color. The first gulp fills the mouth with tongue tickling effervescence, it has a very sharp front with acidity immediately puckering the cheeks and numbing the mouth. As for flavor, Fukairi is surprisingly light. The roasted malt, caramel, or other flavors you might expect just are not here. The finish has lots of tang and a slight bitterness.

For a low cost new genre beverage, Fukairi no Aki is not bad, but I can’t say it’s good either. Aside from the color of the roasted malt, little flavor is imparted. And I guess I was expecting a tad bit much from this autumn limited brew, and in the end Fukairi is just too bland to make me want to drink over my daily brew this fall.

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Kirin Akiaji (2014)

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Japanese Name: キリン 秋味
Brewer: Kirin
Release: Aug. 19, 2014
Type: Japanese Beer (ビール)
Alcohol: 6%
Purchase Price: ¥189 @Aeon

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Tasting Notes:
Although it’s still summer, the “Big 4″ Japanese brewers feel the need to bring autumn early each and every year. Keeping with tradition, Kirin released Aki-Aji a few weeks ago for 2014. Aside from a different package design, the flavor of this autumn classic has not changed. Expect a higher alcohol content, a touch more malt, and hefty amount of bitterness.

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