Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo are well-known Japanese beers familiar to drinkers in the U.S. Lately, however, we’ve begun to see more artisanal beers such as Hitachino Nest, Echigo, and Coedo. In 1994, the Japanese government eased the regulation on the production minimum to legally produce and sell beer from 2,000 kl (about 17,000 US barrels or 528,000 US gallons) to 60 kl (about 500 US barrels or 16,000 US gallons). Since then, there have been a number of small brewers popping up which produce high quality artisanal beer. Many are small companies dedicated to producing good quality beer but some are sake brewers who have begun to also brew beer such as Kiuchi Shuzo (founded in 1823) which produces Hitachino Nest. The first such sake brewery to make beer following deregulation was Uehara Shuzo, the producer of Echigo beer (and Echigo Tsurukame sake).
On Hiroko’s recent visit to Japan, she discovered beer made by Umenishiki, the sake brewery in Ehime prefecture. Umenishiki brewery was established in 1872. Their Junmai, Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo are available in NYC through the importer, Japanese Prestige Sake Import. Since 1995, they have also been making artisanal beer which have won medals in Japan’s International Beer Competition. Among the five types that they make, their Bock, Weizen, and Blanse have won Gold, Silver, and Silver medals respectively.
Hiroko picked up one bottle each of the Pilsner and Aromatic Ale to bring home to Brooklyn. Shaken and tossed by luggage handlers, the preservation and condition of the beer might not have been the best, but nonetheless we decided to open and taste them.
We usually drink pilsners from Pennsylvania and ales from California where the style is very hoppy and aromatic. Umenishiki Pilsner was golden in color, very light and tasty with a light fruit flavor and peppery finish. Yet, there was something missing in the flavor. It’s better than Sapporo or Kirin that we drink at Japanese restaurants, but we tend to prefer a more hoppy flavor.
We opened the Aromatic Ale next. With an alcohol level of 8.5%, it was deep and rich, with a hint of caramel flavor on the back end.
Perhaps had we drunk them in Japan, they would have tasted better. On our next trip, we hope to try their other beers. Still we enjoyed tasting something that is not available in the U.S.and, hopefully, more artisanal beer will be available in the US.