I’ve been scouring the Deep Beer Web for an hour now and I can’t find anything substantial about these J-Craft beers. The site they’re attached to, tanoshiiosake.jp, brands itself as a gourmet web magazine and is apparently run by Mitsubishi Foods, which explains why they’ve managed to get a bunch of celebrities to gurn over their website, and also how they managed to get six breweries to stick their labels on their bottles – I’m pretty sure that these beers haven’t been made especially for the site.
In any case, J-Craft labels have nice pictures of their associated locales, and are ostensibly a tourism gimmick, I assume? I honestly have no idea. [EDIT: According to an informative commenter below, I can tell you that far from just a gimmick, J-Craft is an honest effort by Mitsubishi to introduce more people and restaurants to craft beer, and who can fault them for that? Except that in the future you won’t be able to just say “Nama kudasai” (Beer please) in a restaurant, you’ll have to choose. The inconvenience!] They seem to be a nice way to introduce folks to regional beers. If you like wheat beers, that is. Four of the six are made with wheat. Were they all thinking “Hmm, don’t want to scare them off with an IPA but a lager is too boring… I know!”?
The lineup is:
- Hyuganatsu no Kaze from Hideji Beer (5%)
A wheat beer made with Hyuganatsu, a speciality orange from Miyazaki prefecture with a thick, soft, edible pith. Also known as New Summer Oranges, they are insanely delicious.
The beer pours out a hazy blond with a thick white head and a delicious honey and lemon nose. It tastes of just that as well, with a very slight wheat breadiness. An absolutely fantastic beer.
We’ve reviewed Hideji’s Hyuganatsu beer here.
- Soukai no Weizen from Ginga Kogen (5%)
Ginga Kogen’s weizen is widely available in supermarkets nationwide. This version comes in its distinctive blue bottle as well.
Soukai no Weizen has a lightly hoppy nose with a hint of citrus. It has a strong carbonation bite, and a meaty wheat mouthfeel, which mellows to a citrus, lemony aftertaste.
I did a taste test between the J-Craft bottle and the Ginga Kogen can (couldn’t find a regular bottle for the life of me) and, despite a bit of discolouration, there was no real difference. The nose dissipated quicker from the bottle, and was more estery than its can counterpart.
- Yuusou no Weizen from Miyashita Brewery (5%)
Yuusou no Weizen pours out with a big bananas head and a similarly banana-smelling estery nose, which recedes to a chunky wheat pong. It’s your bog-standard weizen, but is pleasantly robust and crisp in its flavours. It doesn’t have that muddy, sluggish taste that some weizens get after a while.
Miyashita’s weizen review can be found here.
- Kousou no Fruity White from DHC Beer (5.5%)
Kousou no Fruity White is made with yuzu citrus and Japanese pepper, which is the usual “Japanese version” of the orange peel and coriander recipe for white ales. It pours out a somewhat unappealing murky lemon, and smells faintly of the yuzu. It tastes estery, sweet and juicy (that’ll be the yuzu), with a slightly spicy aftertaste. I enjoyed it!
- Houkou no Ruby Ale from Kizakura Brewery (7%)
Houkou no Ruby Ale is an unfiltered ruby ale. Pouring it produces an odd swirly appearance that is described in my notes as a “beer galaxy”. Hm. The nose was nutty, and the mouthfeel was strongly of the various malts – nutty, sour, rich, roasty. It went down a treat and didn’t feel like a 7% at all, until it warmed up. As it’s unfiltered, your drinking experience may vary.
- Pale Ale Izu Shuzenji from Baird Beer (5%)
As per Baird’s unfiltered M.O., this beer pours out with a big hunk o’ gunk. The nose is piney, floral and intriguing. The taste is bitterish and malty. It’s kind of like a dry-hopped British pale ale. There’s a definite Baird stamp on this. Very enjoyable.
I’m pretty sure this is Baird’s Rising Sun Pale Ale. Check our review at that link. [ANOTHER EDIT: Whoops, this isn’t Rising Sun at all! Won’t stop you reading the review though, will it?]
I can say with 100% accuracy that the J-Craft Pale Ale we (Baird) make is completely different from Rising Sun.
Also, J-Craft is Mitsubishi Shokuhin’s effort to break into the craft beer market and introduce restaurants and general people who might not have ever heard of craft beer to its joys. It’s not a gimmick — they are 100% committed to becoming a strong player in the craft beer market in Japan. And who knows, there might even be an IPA on the horizon.
Hi Chris! thanks for your comment and the info! I’ll amend the review. I was wary at the sight of another big corporation trying to get in on the action but from what you say (and how they’ve sourced their beers from various breweries) it seems like they have something interesting going on! an IPA, you say? 😉
I first experienced these beers at a burger joint in Osaka (Rich Garden in Americamura) while on a business trip there. I similarly scoured the internet for details, finding little. I am not sure about a big company doing this, but the strategy of employing small brewers is interesting. The four that I have had were all enjoyable. The one called Kibi-Okayama even reminds me of my favorite dunkel (Frankhauser). And I also have enjoyed the Baird beer lineup at a serving venue they have in Hamamatsu.
Mitsubishi has very ambitious expectations for the J-Craft lineup. If they achieve their goals, they’ll be one of the largest craft beer brands in Japan in a couple years. At the brewery level, they are very hands off and cooperative.
Personally I look forward to the day the wait staff asks me which type of “nama” I want!
Chris, thanks for the comment.
I couldn’t agree more about the “nama” comment. I’m in the UK and I would love to be able to have two things happen in Japan:
1) A regular beer that isn’t only because it’s the only beer on tap.
2) When I go and ask for a pint, I want to be asked “of what?”