Speaking to anyone who makes beer for a living, you’ll undoubtedly hear that it’s not a financial tiptoe through the tulips. Long hours, no holidays, endless debt and putting your monetary stability on the line seem to go hand in hand with getting people drunk in new and interesting ways.
Joe’s Soapbox Corner on Abashiri Jaga Draft
One of the ways, it appears, of keeping afloat as a small brewery is to hunt for a gimmick and make a beer based on that. These gimmicks are usually ones that are related to produce in the local area, and are sure to keep the tourist pennies rolling in. It probably explains why Japanese craft beer is more commonly known as “地ビール”(Ji-biiru, local beer), although the industry is pushing towards using “クラフトビール” (Kurafuto biiru, craft beer), ostensibly to be in line with the rest of the world.
There is a second reason why Japanese craft brewers are eager to correct you when you say 地ビール, however. A rather embarrassing past that they’d rather you forget, as they were young, and in college, and needed the money. In this case, it involves potatoes, pink food dye, and catnip. Read on.
Abashiri Jyaga Draft, then, is Abashiri Beer’s potato-based beer. It’s meant to evoke autumn in Hokkaido, and has a nice rustic handmade design to the label, albeit with a bizarre choice of the typewriter font for the English writing on it that make it looks like a conspiracy theory website. The ingredients look like they don’t belong in a beer at all- the first ingredient is saccharine starch; the third barley syrup. Then there’s the jagaimo (potato) and nagaimo (yam), and the bizarre inclusion of matatabi (catnip). Hops are only greater in amount to the two red dyes. And before I forget, it has an abv of 5%.
Abashiri Jaga Draft Aroma and Taste
Abashiri Jaga Draft pours out a slightly pink, slightly brown mix that gradually diffuses to a watery brown over time. Nothing like the fluorescent cocktail colour on the label. The nose is very faintly of imo-jochu (potato-based shochu spirit). I like imo-jochu. I’m not entirely disgusted by this.
Ok, I just tasted it. Now I am entirely disgusted by this. Remember when I said that the top ingredients are saccharine starch and syrup? Yeah, turns out, that wasn’t a lie. Abashiri Jaga Draft is the sweetest beer I have ever tasted. And not in a nice way like a honey ale or a milk stout. This is like someone has dumped a load of syrup packets in my beer when I wasn’t looking. It’s absolutely foul. The only saving grace is that with the inclusion of the potato, it tastes a bit like those purple sweet potato tarts you can get as souvenirs. I love those. This, however, is not a delicious sweet potato tart. This is a drink. And not a very good one.
I realise that a brewery in the arse end of Japan’s freezer section must do anything to survive when they have to dig their way to work in winter, and that a gimmick beer is perfect. After all, they’re not going to get many beer nerds coming up to stroke their beards over the newest appellation of their golden ale or whatever. Having a sense of community spirit by using local produce is also great.
However, as I mentioned in the beginning of my review, Abashiri Jaga Draft is not a Craft Beer. It is a Local Beer. There is, and I’m not exaggerating, also go ahead and call me a Beer Ponce, a huge difference. You could say that Local Beers are a product of the first craft beer boom- where the weird and wacky flavours were the same as super-sour plums or ultra-spicy sembei you’d bring back as souvenirs. These days, though, we just want something nice to drink.
Abashiri Jaga Draft One line review
Abashiri Jaga Draft is not something nice to drink.