The Beer Guy

Rising sun beer
by Peter Bailey

My family is colluding against me in a reckless coalition. They want to replace family pizza night with sushi night. What next, sake during the hockey game?

Well, why not sake? It’s technically a beer as it is brewed from a grain (rice) rather than grapes. Pour a glass, maybe watch Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi and marvel at the awesomeness of our multicultural city. Perhaps soon we can drink that sake at an Edmonton izakaya bar, the Japanese-style pub that is a hot trend in Vancouver.

Sushi is an example of the laid- back “no big deal” multicultural attitude in Edmonton and Alberta. Our redneck reputation is shot when I’m in a sushi place in somewhere like Hinton, listening to a couple of rough-looking guys just off-shift from the pulp mill: “Dude, try the hamachi. So good.”

That’s why I wasn’t surprised to discover that an Edmontonian is behind the interesting Japanese beers showing up locally. John Soltice began bringing us Japanese microbrew Ji Biru (local beer) in 2009. Like other products, Japanese craft beer is based on the Western model, tweaked with Japanese ingredients like red rice or with local methods like cedar barrel aging. The Japanese dedication to quality carries into beer, with some breweries not allowing their beer to be shipped more than a few kilometres.

While Japanese brewing began in the 1800s, kurafuto bia (craft beer) is a recent innovation because, until 1994, microbreweries were impossible in Japan. Before then, breweries legally had to brew at least two million litres a year. When this requirement was reduced to 60,000 litres, the craft beer movement began. There are now over 200 microbreweries all over Japan.

As in Canada, craft beer is a small part of the beer market in Japan — the sixth largest in the world.

A few giant brewers dominate, competing mainly on price. But, to be kind, the mild-tasting lagers of the big brewers do match well with sushi, not overpowering the fish and cooling the wasabi heat.

Live by the sword of price; die by the sword. The big brewers are having difficulties. The economic malaise put an end to the epic after-work drinking by salarymen. Watching their yen, consumers flocked to happoshu (fizzy liquor) — cheap, low-malt beer made to exploit a tax loophole. Then came Third Beer, a beer-flavoured alcoholic drink with no malt at all, just soy and other ingredients. Young Japanese consume less alcohol than those in their 40s. Add in a very low birth rate, little immigration and the oldest population in the world and it is easy to see why Japanese beer sales are in decline.

Then the devastating earthquake and tsunami disasters hit. Most of the big brewers had breweries in the destruction zone, and with many still inoperable, there are worries of summer beer shortages. Ji Biru to the rescue! Damage was minimal at most Japanese craft breweries and many ramped up production to fill anticipated demand. In the longer term, beyond the disasters, perhaps if young Japanese are drinking less, they may drink better and choose interesting, flavourful kurafuto bia.

Back on this side of the Pacific the brotherhood of beer snapped into action after the quake. John Soltice lived in Japan while at university, married a Japanese woman and has family and friends there, so he wanted to help. He teamed up with local stores to raise money for the Japanese Red Cross by donating money from sales of his most recent shipment of Japanese beer. This had to be the best fundraiser ever: drinking delicious craft beer for a good cause.

As for my family pizza versus sushi dilemma? Perhaps a compromise is called for: sushi pizza.

Rising Sun Six Pack
Beer from the big Japanese brewers like Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo can be found everywhere. To find Japanese craft beer, you’ll need to visit specialty shops like deVine Wines, Sherbrooke Liquor or Keg n Cork Liquor.

Baird Beer Rising Sun Pale Ale
Baird Beer Rising Sun Pale Ale
Ise Kadoya Imperial Smoked Porter
Ise Kadoya Imperial Smoked Porter
Minoh Aji Stout
Minoh Aji Stout
Hitachino Nest Nipponia
Hitachino Nest Nipponia
Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale
Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale
Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale
Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale

Baird Beer Rising Sun Pale Ale, Numazu City, Shizuoka
Baird Beer was founded in 2001 by American expat Bryan Baird and his Japanese wife Sayuri Baird. Their excellent beers are based on American craft beer styles, but focus on “Japan’s prime aesthetic value — balance.” This American pale ale is indeed balanced, but
is hoppy enough to feel right at home across the ocean in the Pacific Northwest.

Ise Kadoya Imperial Smoked Porter, Ise City, Mie
Soy sauce maker Ise Kadoya produced beer for a time in the 19th century, supplying foreign ships. In 1997, they began making beer again, keeping the old-style labels on graceful tall bottles. Smoked malt gives this dark black porter woody, smoky notes, but the taste is nicely balanced and not overpowering.

Minoh Aji Stout, Minoh City, Osaka
“It’s exceedingly moreish!” claims the label. They just might be right. Minoh Brewery proprietors, sisters Kaori and Mayuko Oshita, have made a black English Stout that is delightfully roasty and smooth, almost creamy, with a taste of coffee, chocolate and a hint of caramel. Gold medal at the 2009 World Beer Awards.

Hitachino Nest Nipponia, Naka City, Ibaraki
Kiuchi Brewing is a sake brewer that branched into beer with Hitachino Nest in 1996. Fun fact: in 2000, they expanded with equipment purchased from Edmonton. They’re known for their unique Japanese take on classic styles. Here, they tweak Belgian pale ale using Kaneko Golden, an ancient Japanese barley, and Sorachi Ace, a hop developed in Japan.

Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale, Naka City, Ibaraki
Hitachino’s take on English IPA (India Pale Ale) is meant to recreate the taste of the first Japanese beer made in the Edo period (up to 1868). The unique Japanese tweak is aging the beer in cedar barrels. The cedar does give the beer a pronounced woody character, but the citrus hop nose and spicy taste place it in the classic IPA camp.

Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale, Naka City, Ibaraki
The Belgian strong pale ale style is thrown a Japanese curve by brewing with special red rice. This very unique beer pours a hazy orange-pink colour and is floral and fruity with a bit of malt on the nose. The rice and alcohol (7 per cent) give the beer a sake-like taste, crisp with a sweet edge. Might just be the perfect beverage to accompany sushi pizza!

Salaryman Peter Bailey recommends The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.