Sapporo Mugi to Hop Commemorative Can

The City of Kanazawa, in Ishikawa Prefecture has been in the news quite often as the opening of the new Hokuriku Shinkansen line approaches. To commemorate this event, Sapporo has released this new can design featuring an illustration of the W7 under the Mugi to Hop label. I just happened to find it at the Heart-in convenience store in Kanazawa station so I had to pick it up.

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Sapporo Lager Beer (Conbini Ltd.)

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Japanese Name: サッポロ ラガービール
Brewer: Sapporo
Release: Dec. 23, 2014
Type: Japanese Beer (ビール)
Alcohol: 5%
Purchase Price: ¥292 @Circle K (500mL can)

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Tasting Notes:
Released to the convenience stores here in Japan in December was Sapporo Lager Beer, which was has been brewed since 1877. Its pasteurization process is said to produce this beer’s flavor.

As Japanese lagers go, this one from Sapporo is what would probably be the reference point. It’s got some nice malt going on, with lots of acidity and bitterness on the end. The finish isn’t as clean as you’d find in the more recent brews, but that’s the appeal. The nice thing about this lager is how the flavors build. Gulp after gulp, the bitterness and fullness get more intense as you empty your glass. And that, to me, is the genius of the original Japanese lagers.

Sapporo Lager Beer is probably heading off the conbini shelves soon. I grabbed the second to last 500mL can near my home, so check this one out while you can.

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Kirin Fuyu Nodogoshi | Hanayagu Koku

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Japanese Name: キリン 冬のどごし<華やぐコク>
Brewer: Kirin
Release: Nov. 11, 2014
Type: Happousei (発泡性)
Alcohol: 6%
Purchase Price: ¥105 @Aeon

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Tasting Notes:
Fuyu Nodogoshi from Kirin was a surprise newcomer to the Japanese winter brew scene this year. It promises to satisfy with its use of caramel malt and late hopping to increase the aroma. Here’s how Fuyu Nodogoshi stacks up.

With a deep golden color in the glass, Fuyu Nodogoshi appears to be a completely new brew unlike any other in the Nodogoshi line. Indeed it has a heavier nose, very hoppy with hints of malt along with a strong scent of alcohol. Taking my first gulp, Fuyu Nodogoshi has a very rich, thick mouthfeel. On the palate are fresh hops, slight hints of pine and a slight corn-like sweetness.

To date, Fuyu Nodogoshi is the best tasting effort ever from the Nodogoshi brand. It has a wonderful richness that pairs well with winter foods here in Japan, along with a unique flavor profile that you just don’t see everyday, especially at the new genre price point. While not my favorite this winter, it’s definitely in the top ranks. Fuyu Nodogoshi is a must try.

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Suntory Fuyu no Houjun

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Japanese Name: サントリー 冬の芳醇
Brewer: Suntory
Release: Sep. 30, 2014
Type: Happousei (発泡性)
Alcohol: 5%
Purchase Price: ¥105 @Aeon

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Tasting Notes:
While the other major brewers have chosen to release beers from previous years, Suntory has chosen to brew something new, continuing on its rampage to world domination. In contrast to last year’s wheat beer, well brew, Suntory created a more robust lager style new genre touting a double dose of aroma hops. Fuyu no Houjun, meaning mellow winter, incorporates late hopping and decoction mashing to increase its flavor and aroma.

Poured into the glass Fuyu no Houjun has a wonderful golden color and the double dose of aroma hops is immediately present on the nose. The first gulp shows the depth and full body right from the start with lots of malt flavor imparted from the decoction mashing. The bitterness also kicks in right off the bat and hangs around like an old pal keeping you company.

Suntory’s Fuyu no Houjun is the clear winner of the 2014 winter new genre brews. Once again Suntory has shown you don’t need to shell out your hard earned cash to get a decent beverage here in Japan. Although Fuyu no Houjun doesn’t have the true malty depth of flavor you’d expect in a “real” Japanese beer, it does have enough flavor and bitterness to satisfy your beer craving.

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Suntory Mugi no Fukauma

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Japanese Name: サントリー 麦の深旨
Brewer: Suntory
Release: Aug. 26, 2014
Type: Japanese Beer (ビール)
Alcohol: 5%
Purchase Price: ¥214 @Heiwado

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Tasting Notes:
Suntory has been on a roll this past year, releasing batch after batch of limited production beers. Their latest effort is for the Nichiriu Group of grocers, of which the coop in my prefecture is Heiwado. Dubbed Mugi no Fukauma, this all malt Japanese beer uses some roasted malt to bring in some color and flavor. Let’s see how this beer stacks up.

Fukauma pours out a rich golden in the glass. The aroma has malt and hop with hints of spice. Up front, it has a thicker mouth feel but starts off quite plain. Fukauma’s malt kicks in mid-palate, and ends with a touch of bitterness on the back.

Although Mugi no Fukauma is labeled as having a deep and rich flavor, its comes off as surprisingly light and somewhat bland, especially on the front end. Some maltiness kicks in on the mid to back, but overall it’s not anything to get excited about. In the end, Suntory’s Mugi to Fukauma is just an average beer. For those interested in sampling the Japan’s limited beers like me, do try, but for the others there are bolder beers on the market.

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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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