Sapporo Nippon Lager Premium

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Japanese Name: サッポロ ニッポン ラガー プレミアム
Brewer: Sapporo
Release: Feb. 18, 2014
Type: Japanese Beer (ビール)
Alcohol: 5%
Purchase Price: ¥228 @CircleK

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Tasting Notes:
Convenience store limited releases always seem to escape my radar. I found Sapporo Nippon Lager Premium by chance when I walked into a CircleK near our hotel on a recent trip to Osaka. Sapporo created this premium lager for Uni Group Holdings who own the CircleK Sankus convenience store chains. This premium beer is brewed using 75% grown in Hokkaido “Ryofu” type barley and 100% Furano Golden Star hops. Let’s see what Sapporo has brewed up this time!

In the glass, Nippon Lager Premium pours a fiery gold, accompanied by a sweet malty aroma wafting off the head. This sweetness is carried across to the first gulp along with a decent amount of bitterness going down the throat. Nippon Lager has a smooth medium body flavor with strong notes of corn.

Nippon Lager Premium reminds me a lot of Sapporo Classic with its sweetness, however to be honest its flavor is very one dimensional. Personally, I would prefer to have this sweetness toned down a notch, and in the end Sapporo Nippon Lager Premium was a decent but not quite satisfying drink. Get yours at a Circle K Sankus conbini near you while supplies last.

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Suntory Harusaku Kaori

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Japanese Name: サントリー 春咲く薫り
Brewer: Suntory
Release: Mar. 4, 2014
Type: Happousei (発泡性)
Alcohol: 5%
Purchase Price: ¥100 (6-Pack) @Valor

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Tasting Notes:
Coming into cherry blossom season here in Japan, Suntory is one of the only major brewers to release a limited spring “new genre” brew. Suntory Harusaku Kaori, utilizes North American malt and citra hops in a late hopping process to infuse lots of fragrance into the brew. Cherry blossoms on a crimson background make the packaging easy to spot on store shelves. Let’s see if you should add this to your grocery list for spring.

Popping the top of the can you’ll immediately notice the fragrant fruity aroma from the hops. The aroma itself reminds me somewhat of the IPA microbrews from back home. Harusaku Kaori has a burnt orange color to it, deeper than the standard lagers but not going into the “amber” territory. Before you take your first gulp just sit back and enjoy the aroma, it’s a rarity from the macro brewers. Lots of citrus-like fruit up front along with some acidity, the aroma really transitions from the nose to the tongue well. On the mid-palate the bitterness comes across turning to a hint of sweetness, then back to bitter down the throat. The finish is quite clean and sharp leaving hints of bitterness and citrus in the mouth.

Suntory Harusaku Kaori brings a very refreshing fragrant new genre brew to an often too standard boring macro brew scene. Its crisp medium body combined with its depth of flavor is a welcome relief to this beer drinker. If you can still find Harusaku Kaori on the store shelves, you might want to stock up for cherry blossom season.

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Sapporo Mugi to Hop The gold

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Japanese Name: サッポロ 麦とホップ The gold
Brewer: Sapporo
Release: Feb. 4, 2014
Type: Happousei (発泡性)
Alcohol: 5%
Purchase Price: ¥100 @Aoki (6-Pack)

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Tasting Notes:
Question, how does a beer brewer get around brewing laws to create a beer-taste beverage that is states its rich taste as “produced by carefully-selected high quality barley and hops?” It must be some form of industrial sorcery! Yet here we have Sapporo’s Mugi to Hop The Gold, made with Rich Gold malt and Golden Aroma hops, and is the reason for “The gold” in its title. We’ll have to see if Mugi to Hop The gold can hold on to its space in my refrigerator.

The gold pours out very nicely into the glass, with lots of tiny bubbles forming the head. It does have a comforting at home golden color, a shade deeper than some Japanese brews. The nose is very refreshing with a hint of sweetness. In the first gulp there’s not much flavor up front, however the bitterness kicks in mid-palate and lingers down the throat. It has sharp acidic notes, like apple juice with the sweetness that comes through. This sweetness also imparts a fuller body to this brew.

Since release, I’ve probably gone through about 2 or 3 cases of Sapporo Mugi to Hop The gold. In comparison to the original, which was my daily drinker, The gold has much more bitterness. However, it’s almost medicine-like, such as the coating on aspirin pills. Truth be told, I wish Mugi to Hop would go back to the original recipe… think Coca-Cola Classic. Sapporo sure did put a lot of bitterness into The gold, but its industrial manufactured flavor is just too fake. Since I started drinking The gold I’ve gotten used to the flavor, so for now Sapporo Mugi to Hop The gold is still my daily. But watch out Sapporo, I’m ready to jump ship!

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Suntory Bitter Roast

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Japanese Name: サントリー ビターロースト
Brewer: Suntory
Release: Feb. 4, 2014
Type: Japanese Beer (ビール)
Alcohol: 5%
Purchase Price: ¥217 @Lawson

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Tasting Notes:
This convenience store limited release from Suntory features the use of English roasted barley malt. Suntory Bitter Roast pours out a dark brown in the glass matching color on the package design. As the names states, you’ll find toasted malt notes up front with a nice amount of bitterness lingering in the back of the throat. There’s also a little sweetness that lingers on the palate.

However, if you think that Suntory Bitter Roast will knock your socks off with flavor, you’ll find yourself in disappointment. While Bitter Roast does have some nice flavors it comes off a little light overall. This beer had a lot of potential right out of the glass, but without a full bodied finish to back of the front end I just feel something is missing. Try for yourself, if you can still find it at your local conbini.

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Asahi Dry Premium

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Japanese Name: アサヒスーパードライ ドライプレミアム
Brewer: Asahi
Release: June 2013
Type: Japanese Beer (ビール)
Alcohol: 5.5%
Purchase Price: Free trial

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Tasting Notes:
Last summer saw Asahi releasing a premium beer that was exclusively sold for the summer gift giving season called ochugen. Asahi Dry Premium could be purchased in special boxed gift packs for a few thousand yen. Fortunately, Asahi also sent out sample packages each quarter to a few lucky drawing winners. After months of entries, I finally won my trial package last December. Dry Premium has its roots in Super Dry’s lineage, utilizing Super Dry’s special yeast in addition to Japanese Golden barley malt, and adding a little bit of Amarillo hops from my home of Washington State. Interestingly, as a premium beer, Dry Premium is not an all-malt beer, but rather incorporates rice as common to the standard Japanese lager.

Unlike your standard Super Dry, Asahi Dry Premium shows off a deep golden color and sports notes of tangy malt on the nose, while tens of thousands of tiny bubbles combine to form a tempting creamy head. As you take in your first gulp, you’ll find an unexpected lightness on the front end. Towards the mid-palate is where the malt and hops kick in, leaving a nice rich bitter finish going down the throat. In the end the faint acidic tart of malt vinegar tightens up your tongue and cheeks, as you reach for your second gulp.

As Asahi’s first foray into the premium beer market, Dry Premium hits a sweet spot. I think that the keyword here is balance. Whereas other premium beers tend to be on the bitter side, Dry Premium manages to keep bitterness toned down while maintaining a full bodied flavor and thick creamy mouthfeel. It has a very well rounded flavor not going overboard in any one direction, and I think that will appeal to the majority Japanese beer drinkers. On Feb. 18th, Asahi Dry Premium will be released in a 6% ABV version to compete on the top shelf with Suntory’s The Premium Malts, Sapporo’s Yebisu, and Grand Kirin.

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Asahi Crystal Gold

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Japanese Name: アサヒ クリスタルゴールド
Brewer: Asahi
Release: Jan. 15, 2014
Type: Happousei (発泡性)
Alcohol: 6%
Purchase Price: ¥116 @Aeon (6-Pack)

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Tasting Notes:
Once again, Asahi has produced another new genre brew to celebrate the Olympics. This time they’ve envisioned a brew crafted to represent figure skating. Let’s see if Asahi Crystal Gold deserves to be on the winner’s platform.

I’m quite certain no athletes were involved in the brewing process, but I couldn’t help notice the aroma of sweaty socks as I popped the top and poured my glass, no joke! Fortunately, that same aroma does not transfer to you first gulp, where you’ll find a little malt, a touch of bitterness, and a slight tart acidic finish.

In the end, Asahi Crystal Gold is not terribly impressive. It’s not bad, but is just your standard new genre brew. However, at 6% ABV it may just provide a kick to make the Sochi Winter Olympics a tad more enjoyable.

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Specialty Premium Grand Kirin: The Aroma

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Japanese Name: グランド キリン ジ・アロマ
Brewer: Kirin
Release: Nov. 12, 2013
Type: Japanese Beer
Alcohol: 5.5%
Purchase Price: ¥238 @7-eleven (330 mL bottle)

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Tasting Notes:
7-11, the first to bring Grand Kirin to market, has upped the bar with the next level in expensive brews, Specialty Premium Grand Kirin The Aroma. Crafted from American bravo hops with Kirin’s dip hop brewing method, its ingredient list is quite interesting, listing both malted barley as well as malted wheat, in addition to lactose. In any case, on to the show!

This ultra premium beer pours out into the glass with a deep golden hue. Immediately present is a very fruity aroma, a strong presence of lychee fruit along with a hefty serving of malt. In the mouth The Aroma has a very creamy thick feel on the tongue. Its bitterness puckers the cheeks and tingles the tip of the tongue, although the hoppy bitterness eases up its grasp as the beer goes down the throat. It leaves in its wake only full bodied beer flavor and just a hint of fruity sweetness.

Grand Kirin The Aroma leaves you wanting to reach for another bottle, only to find sadness as you realize you only bought one. With complexities not found in your everyday Japanese lager, The Aroma is a must try. Find yours at any 7-eleven convenience store across Japan. Cheers!

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