Suntory’s Craft Select Series
As I mentioned in my Pumpkin Daze inspired post about Japanese seasonal pumpkin beer, the Japanese big beer company, Suntory, has recently kicked off a new “world beer” campaign. The campaign is called “Craft Select” and is the most ambitious undertaking in the Japanese big beer industry since the start of the industry itself.
Until now Japanese beer companies usually only offered their one flagship beer (usually a pilsner-esque/ American lager-y concoction). Companies would then release “seasonal” beers to generate a little excitement in the market. These seasonal beers tended to be the exact same as the flagship beer, but with the slightest tweak in flavor. Basically the only remarkable difference in a company’s flagship beer and the seasonal offering would be on the packaging rather on the contents–in the spring, cans are decorated with cherry blossoms; in the fall, autumn-colored leaves. The label would change to catch the eye of shoppers, but the flavor would not.
Suntory was guilty of this same re-packaging ploy until this year when they rolled out the Craft Select campaign. To date, they have put out SEVEN completely different styles of beer, along with their regular, mainstream offerings. I’ve got to admit that they are damn tasty. And, unfortunately, cheaper and more accessible than beer from Akita’s local craft breweries.
Suntory’s Craft Select website is geared towards educating Japanese consumers about beer. The site is all in Japanese, but under the tab “What’s Beer Style?” they proceed to introduce Japanese beer drinkers to the fact that there are other types of beers in the world other than the one, uninteresting, generic “style” Japanese beer drinkers have accustomed themselves to drinking. Even the smartly designed cans have a design that includes the recommended glassware for each style which introduces Japanese to the idea that different beers go with different glassware.
Also, all of these beers are reasonably priced at about 200-yen ($2.50 USD) and come in regular sized cans. They are not overpriced and in smaller quantities like Suntory’s Master’s Dream.
From what I gather from their website, their first wave of Craft Select beers included a Brown Ale and a Pale Ale (pictured above). When they made it my local supermarket they weren’t even in the main beer aisle, but rather placed in limbo between beer and the other liqueurs and other alcohols. There was zero marketing for Craft Select at my supermarket–I only happened to chance upon it. And I’m glad that I did. I brought one each of the Brown Ale and the Pale Ale home one night, just to see what they were about and thoroughly enjoyed them. According to the website, these are SOLD OUT so if you see any lingering at your local shop–pick them up!
The next wave was the Märzen and Special Bitter (pictured below). Again, I am a huge supporter of local breweries and craft beer/ micro brews, but these were really good. And if I haven’t driven it home by now: Japanese mainstream beer is so boring and unadventurous that the release of these beers, and drinking them was a really nice change. These too are SOLD OUT–so grab ’em if you see them!
Craft Select’s third wave hit in October with The Pumpkin. Nice try, but in no way did The Pumpkin come close to the Brown Ale, Pale Ale, Special Bitter, and Märzen in terms of flavor and enjoyment.
November’s Craft Select roll-out is an Imperial Stout and a Golden Ale. Suntory is getting really adventurous now–an Imperial Stout?! This is a style that Japanese craft breweries rarely attempt to brew, to my chagrin. I put two cans of the Imperial Stout away for my February Stout Fest.
They’ll be rolling out an Amber Ale and an IPA in December. I love a good Amber Ale–I think that’ll be really nice on a cold December night. The IPA makes me think more of summer, so I am not as excited to try that, but certainly look forward to it.
Kirin, Sapporo, and Asahi have been offering the same old stuff for decades, Sure, they put out a “new” beer once in a while, but it usually exactly like their main offerings. Suntory is the first to put out such a range of beers. So far these Craft Select beers are limited editions only–but hopefully a couple will stay with us year-round and the others will come back for a visit sometime.