Yo-Ho Brewing have updated their classic Yona Yona Ale for the 20th anniversary of its release. But how is it? Yona Yona is a 5.5% American Pale Ale made with Cascade hops.
Twenty years is a long time in Japan craft beer history- especially considering the relaxed laws that triggered the first boom were only introduced twenty-three years ago. Yo-Ho Brewing have been making their Yona Yona (“Night after Night”) Ale since 1997, using the concept of “an easy-to-drink ale you can drink at home” to produce a smooth, slightly fruity and sweet American-style Pale Ale.
Since then it hasn’t really dropped off the Japanese craft beer radar, and Yo-Ho Brewing uses the Yona Yona name for their bars (the Yona Yona Beer Works) and their online shop (Yona Yona no Sato).
Anyway, on to the beer itself. The first thing you’ll notice is that the can is subtly changed: the moon is a brighter yellow, the blurb on the back is now in a spiral so don’t try and read it while you’re drinking, and most interestingly, the description is “Craft Beer” rather than “Aromatic Ale Beer”. I think this is a clever ploy to get people to recognise that what they’re drinking is actually craft beer and not just some silly ji-beer.
Yona Yona Ale Aroma and Taste
This brand spanking new Yona Yona pours out virtually identically to the old one. What, you weren’t expecting it to be an Imperial Stout, were you?
I had two pints side-by-side and couldn’t find any differences in appearance between the old and new versions. The nose was quite different, though; while the old Yona Yona has a malty, dried fruit aroma, this new one is very hop-forward.
There was a slight sweetness too, with hints of the old recipe’s dried fruits and raisins, but this was backed up by a pine-needle and grassy hop whiff.
Tasting it, it’s much more dry than the 1997 version, and a lot more bitter. It’s less smooth, as well, and I’ll bet you a monkey that it’s been dry-hopped with its Cascade hops.
The hop-forward nature of 2017 Yona Yona means that a lot of the malt complexity is lost, which is a shame because I liked the different flavours the malt in Yona Yona produced. Besides, Yo-Ho have already got a hoppy pale ale in Aooni, so do they really need another hop-strong ale in their lineup?
Yo-Ho say that they want to keep the reputation of an easy-to-drink-at-home beer intact despite changing up the recipe. Well, it is quite easy to drink, but the relatively overpowering hopping in this beer has made it a bit less enjoyable for me. And to reiterate, they already have Aooni to fill this niche. Admittedly, Aooni is 7% and Yona Yona is 5.5%, so you could drink a couple of these and not be too obliterated, but I hope this isn’t indicative of an overall trend towards a carpet bombing of hops.
Before writing this I found out that the next installment of Boku Beer, Kimi Beer will be “Boku Beer, Kimi Beer Midnight Seijin”, a hoppy amber ale. Ah.
Yona Yona Ale (2017) The Bottom Line
A hoppy addition to this old standard isn’t unwelcome, but it now means that there’s two hoppy ales (soon to be three) and no malty pale ale in Yo-Ho Brewing’s lineup any more. Shame.