Craft beer is making serious inroads as a proper alternative to the mass produced, bland lager parade we’re usually presented with at most pubs and restaurants, and Japan is increasingly stepping up as one of the leaders of quality beer. One of the things I love about Japan’s craft breweries is the way they embrace traditional Japanese ingredients to create new and exciting brews. A while ago we looked at Hitachino Nest’s Red Rice Ale, a uniquely Japanese beer and in that vein of uniquely Japanese beer we come to Baird Brewing.
Although located in Numazu, Shizuoka Japan, Baird’s obvious point of difference is that it’s owned and run by an American, Bryan Baird. Founded in 2000 Baird has gone from strength to strength as one of Japan’s leading craft beweries. The American influence comes through loud and clear in some of the regulars in the Baird line-up such as the Rising Sun US style pale ale, the aromatic hop-driven Teikoku IPA and the Sugura Bay Imperial IPA but influences from Belgium and Germany also seep through.
But it’s the Japanese influenced beers that really grab my attention. Last year a collaboration with American craft brewing giant Stone saw a Green Tea IPA brewed with proceeds going to disaster relief after the tsunami. Other seasonals include beers brewed with pumpkin, figs, yuzu (Japanese citrus) and apples. Love me a good fruit beer!
Sadly, we don’t have access to all of Baird’s beers here in Australia but a with a bit of hunting around you can get your hands on some of their main beers. A favourite of mine is the Carpenter’s Mikan Ale. Mikan being a mandarin basically. Not named after the brother-sister folk duo of the seventies (fortunately) the Carpenter part of the name refers to the tradition of craftsmanship highly regarded in Japan. Despite being the middle of winter, the summery flavours of a fresh mikan ale still go down well. The mikan flavour is not at all overpowering nor is this a particularly sweet beer which fruit beers often can be. Refreshing, and bright with a solid medium body it’s the kind of beer that appeals to anyone, beer lover or not.
If you’re looking for a bit of a winter-warmer style the Ganko Oyaji (stubborn old man) Barley Wine does the job nicely. Like most barley wines it has a big, sweet alcohol kick balanced with rich caramel malt, lingering bitterness and some fruity hop aromatics. This is a big beer and can be a bit of a shock if you haven’t tried this style of beer before. I usually like to sip at only a slightly chilled temperature from a brandy snifter. Decadent? Yes.
I’m yet to have a bad beer from these guys so if spot them around by all means give them a try. And if you find yourself in Japan, a visit to one of their taprooms (brewpubs) in Harajuku and Naka-Meguro (Tokyo) or nearby Yokohama and Numazu is a must.