I finally got to attend the 2013 Snow Monkey Beer Live, an annual craft beer and live music festival in Shiga Kogen, Nagano, which took place from March 16-17.
I like cherry beers (hey, Michigan!) and pumpkin beers, but since fruity/floral beers’ often tend toward notes of cough syrup, I approached this with some trepidation. Yet sakura (cherry blossom) season comes but once a year, so I decided to go for it.
I am relieved to report that my fears were entirely misplaced. The nose is pure sakura; the taste was also very clean: hoppy and fruity with a strong sakura flavor but not bitter, syrupy, or sour. The beer is even made with real sakura. The flavor is well rounded and never cloying; I never grew tired of it. This beer is the platonic ideal of sakura consumption. It wasn’t “first dance good” or whatever they say in those awful yogurt advertisements, it was 51st-century pheromones good.
In fact, I liked it so much that I just placed an order from Sankt Gallen for more. If you click the above link, you can also see where you can drink or buy this beer. (Ishikawa, why don’t you have a proper beer bar?)
Sankt Gallen (Japanese)
Style: Herb/spice beer with pale-ale and wheat malt
My rating: 5/5
I love Minoh Beer’s yuzu (citron) white, but since I already knew I liked it, I decided to try a yuzu beer I hadn’t had before: Harvestmoon’s Yuzu Ale, winner of a bronze medal at the 2013 International Brewing Awards.
This beer is amber in color and has a yuzu nose. The beer is sweet-tart and a little roasty with a deep, complex flavor one does not usually find in lighter beers. The ale was a nice contrast to lighter yuzu/citrus beers, too.
This opaque stout has a coffee nose. The flavor is deep and complex, equal parts coffee and stout with a creamy finish.* Neither too sweet nor overly bitter, this beer is bold and balances its components well. This was my other favorite beer of the night. (What can I say? I am a woman of discerning but rather varied tastes.)
My rating: 5/5
As those of you in the Japanese craft beer scene have likely heard, Minoh Beer’s president Ohshita Masaji passed away rather suddenly in late 2012. Eleven craft brewers around Japan have teamed up as “The Masaji Beer Project” to create a series of craft beers in his honor.
I wanted to try one of these on draft at the festival and decided on the W-IBA (not IPA) from Shiga Kogen, the host of the event. While I don’t tend to like IPAs as much as stouts and ambers, I do like non-standard IPAs, such as Imperial IPAs. This beer’s hoppiness was balanced by its complexity and a bit of a floral note. Excellent beer and an excellent tribute.
Shiga Kogen by Tamaura Honten
ABV: 9% (yes, really)
My rating: 4/5
After the 9% W-IBA, I decided to go with something with a lower ABV and to try something “weird.” Brewed with blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and cassis, the Nelson Ruby is like a wine spritzer in beer form. It actually tasted exactly like wine, and if I knew someone who preferred wine to beer, I would recommend this; it wasn’t not bad, but it’s not my style. Very fruity with a balance of sweetness and spicy; not syrupy; bubbly like champagne.
Style: fruity ale
My rating: for a beer, 2/5. For a sparkling wine, 3.5/5.
The clear winners for me this round were the Morning Coffee Stout by Baird and the Sakura by Sankt Gallen.
We also tried a number of Shiga Kogen beers that were stocked at the conbini in Yudanaka Onsen (湯田中温泉), where we were staying. It must be nice having craft beer available at the local Lawson. I’ll save that for another post.
Other notes: Tickets cost 3500 yen for one session (Sat. evening). We took a free bus from Yudanaka Onsen Station to the Shiga Kogen General Hall (30 minutes). There was a good selection of food inside and outside the hall: pizza, samosas, pork and beans, curry, hot dogs. The vegetarian samosas were particularly good.
*”Ron tells Harry that he’s a pot of coffee by day, bottle of wine by night type of guy. Harry says, ‘Triple that, and you got me.'” –Wizard People, Dear Reader