Suntory’s Craft Select Series

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.

Pumpkin Daze Homage–October 31: Suntory Craft Select, The Pumpkin


Suntory Craft Select The Pumpkin

5%

Ingredients: malted barley, hops, “pumpkin”, artificial flavoring

Price: 148円 / $2

Welcome to my second and final post on Japanese pumpkin beer this year. It would have been awesome to have had a collection of 31 delicious bottles of suds to count down the month like my man did over at Pumpkin Daze. But, geography was not on my side. The craft beer / micro beer boom has definitely hit Japan big time in the past six years, but breweries here are just not risk takers–maybe the market is too fragile yet.

Anyway, a large company like Suntory has money to burn and more than enough space to pump out a few thousand gallons of random pumpkin beer on a whim. And so they did. Not only did they put out one but they doubled down with TWO! (slow applause) Last year there were 0 pumpkin beers in Japan (to my knowledge) and this year there were two. Next year I’m guessing there will be 5 or so… we’ll see.

Observations:

  • Whoa! That’s fragrant! As soon as I cracked back the tab I was hit with a sweet fragrance. It smells exactly like the Pumkin Special I had last night but much more potent.
  • Nice color–like a burnt orange, but looks like a really light body.
  • Head: the head on this one stuck around long enough to actually drink it.
  • Tasting: This must be the exact same thing as the Pumpkin Special!! Isn’t it?! Again, the taste is really sweet at the front of the mouth and tip of the tongue. The after taste lingers a little while and is also really sweet. The sweetness is something that I’d expect from a soda or something though.
  • I’m weary of drinking too many of these–really sweet alcohols tend to make me ill the next day.

The Package:

The Craft Select seal

The Pumpkin is the 5th beer that I’ve seen in Suntory’s “Craft Select” series; the others being a Brown Ale, Special Bitter, Märzen, and a Pale Ale. I’ve only seen them in cans. The can designs are all very simple and easily recognizable by the circular, black, “Craft Select” label. There are no distracting illustrations or superfluous non-sense that other Japan Big Beers tend to have on their cans.

On the back (front? whatever!) of the can they offer a tasting profile:

Actually, wait–haha… the tasting description on here is exactly the same as on the Pumkin Special! Way to cut & paste, Suntory!

Tasting profile scored in pumpkins–nice, creative touch

Ok, the tasting profile (in pumpkins!): Flavor (umami) 3/5;  Aroma/fragrance (kaori) 5/5; Bitternes (nigami) 2/5; Body (bodei) 3/5.

I definitely agree that it is very aromatic. It is not bitter at all though, which isn’t good or bad. As for body, check this out:

Liverpool 3-1 Chelsea

I can see right through it! The fact that I can pretty much see right through the beer strengthens my impression that this is a really sweet soda and not the full bodied pumpkin beer that it could be. But hey, this is Suntory’s first so let’s hope they up the ante next October! In closing, it’s pretty much the exact same thing  as Pumpkin Special. The differences being Pumpkin Special is 198円 / $2.50 and 5.5%; The Pumpkin is 148円 / $2 and 5%. The Pumpkin is virtually see-through; Pumpkin Special is slightly not see through. Other than that they are exactly the same…

Pumpkin Daze Homage–October 30: Suntory Pumpkin Special

Suntory’s Pumpkin Special

Suntory Pumpkin Special

5.5%

Ingredients: barley, hops, malt, sweeteners, pumpkin, artificial fragrance

Impervious Rex over at Modern Borefare and Pumpkin Daze kicked off his Pumpkin Beer countdown with Duclaw‘s 62 Imperial Pumpkin Ale. After reading his review, I have the impression that it was only a lackluster beer. But being in Japan, I would be thrilled to have even a lackluster selection of pumpkin beers.

Which leads me to Pumpkin Days, or as the kids call it, “Pumpin’ D’s.” I was super excited to see this beer in the local grocery store. I live in Akita, which is truly a craft beer town as it is home to Aqula, Tazawako, and Kohan no Mori (three of the BEST microbrew / craft beers north of the Sumida River) so the chances that this might actually be a good beer were initially rather high…

…then I saw “Suntory” on the side of the can. To be fair, Suntory has really jumped in katana-deep to the beer movement happening worldwide these past few years. Instead of just tweaking their main American style lager swill to give the appearance that it is “new” and “edgy” and “cool,” they actually have put out a line of beers called “Craft Select” which is a collection of about 4 beers. The beers are a Brown Ale, Special Bitter, Märzen, and a Pale Ale–I enjoy drinking them despite coming from the bowel of Big Beer. But here we have Pumpkin Special.

Observations

  • Is this beer flat? By the time I poured my beer in the kitchen and sat down on my living room sofa, the head had all but disappeared. Drinking from a can, one wouldn’t notice, but from a cool glass like mine (see picture) it’s not too aesthetically pleasing.
  • It has a nice color to it, but looks like a really thin, light beer.
  • There is almost ZERO aroma or bouquet.
  • Is this candy? Wow–really sweet taste right in the front of my mouth and the tip of my tongue. It’s not offensive or off-putting, but I would not associate the taste with any autumnal beer that I have known to grow and love. I wouldn’t say it was pumpkin-flavored.
  • Where did the pumpkin go? Once it moves to the back of your mouth there is little to no taste. When it’s swallowed there is no aftertaste.
  • As I finished the glass, I felt as though the taste was lingering longer and longer in my mouth, which isn’t bad, but it took a long time to get there. The sweetness didn’t make my stomach turn, but I wonder how many of these I could drink. Would I be nauseous? How would the next day be? It’s the type of sweetness I would expect from soda, but not one I have ever had in beer before.

Hey, nice package!

I’ll attempt to decipher the can for you. As you can see in my photo above, Suntory has really taken the Halloween thing to the max here. On the left of the can you’ve got the haunted mansion with a witch flying on a broom (after a long day of delivering packages, no doubt). Under that Halloweeny image, are two big, fat orange pumpkins, the likes of which I’ve only seen in Japan once. Japan has a massive agricultural sector, so no doubt someone, somewhere grows Halloween-pumpkins, they’re just not the norm like they are back home in the States.

In the image of the poured-beer in a glass, the head is frothing over the rim–nope, that’s not happening in my glass.

Under that it says, panpukin fūmi no honnori amayakana kaori to koku (slightly sweetened aroma, pumpkin flavored body). hmmm… It is certainly sweet tasting.

Ah–then there it is: the happōshu label. To cut & paste from Wikipedia, happōshu “is a tax category of Japanese liquor that most often refers to a beer-like beverage with less than 67% malt content. The alcoholic beverage is popular among consumers for having a lower tax than beverages that the nation’s law classifies as ‘beer.'” It’s usually frowned upon by beer purists, but, it’s cheap. It’s basically like a classy Colt 45.

In closing: I’ve been in Japan for almost six years now and I rarely ever see pumpkins over here like the one’s that have inspired things like pumpkin baked-goods, pumpkin spice lattes, and pumpkin beers. There are Japanese pumpkins that are super hard, have thin green skins and nice soft orange insides–but they are hardly like the big ol’ orange pumpkins that we have back in North America. So, where did Suntory get their pumpkins to make this?! The Halloween packaging screams #culturalappropriation #wherestheoutrage !!

I would not drink these on a regular basis.

Rating: 1 Pumpkin out of 5 

The ubiquitous Japanese kabocha–taste great! But not the same as “pumpkins”

Pumpkin Beer in Japan?! #suntory #pumpkinspecial #パンプキンスペシャル #pumpkindaze

A post shared by Ben G (@grafstromben) on

Shout-out to Pumpkin Daze

When I was back home over summer vacation, I was down in Virginia visiting my newly birthed nephew. As fate would have it, my good friend ImperviousRex from Modern Borefare had recently moved from Queens to only a few blocks away from my Virginia-dwelling sister and brother in law. I went to visit Impervious in his pristine, peaceful, family friendly apartment. The apartment was very well lit with plenty of windows to let in the light. There were baby toys all over the place. His lovely wife and adorable daughter were there to greet me when I arrived.

After a while, when we had finished catching up on the good ol’ days and filling each other in on current goings-on, Impervious’ demeanor suddenly changed. A mischievous grin stretched across his face. He stood up. “Come with me,” he said. “I have something to show you…” I thought I had seen the whole apartment: living room filled, dining area, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom. What other rooms possibly could there be? “It’s down here,” he said. His normally deep voice was about to crack  with excitement. When I arrived at his apartment I had taken off my shoes, but now I quickly put them back on–by his wry grin I could not be sure of where he might be leading me.

We walked down a long narrow stairway to the first floor landing. To my surprise, behind an unmarked door, the stairway continued down into a dark, dusty underbelly of the house–well below the peaceful, inviting-suburban streets. As I inhaled my first breathes of mildewy, damp air I thought to myself, “Where is he taking me? Am I to become some poor Fortunato?” Leading me to the farthest end of the chalky basement awash with spiderwebs and musty cardboard boxes, I soon discovered the source of his glee:

A kick-ass beer collection! Impervious had been collecting dozens and dozens of bottles of brew! He had two collections going on: stouts for his Stout Fest (which he may be doing in November??) and pumpkin beers for his Halloween pumpkin beer countdown. With the same excitement I that I once had telling friends about the Red Ryder BB gun that I had wanted for Christmas, he was showing me these beers he had collected from about 10 different states, countless beer shops and breweries, and over the course of months. With a virtuoso spirit he introduced me to a number of bottles that he was particularly proud to have added to his collection. I could see that he had become not just a regular convive whom you would see hunched over cold swill served at a local tavern, but a true connoisseur.  The many labels illustrating far off, wonderful worlds and multidimensional states of mind mesmerized me.  He had some real gems in his stout collection, but his collection of 31 pumpkin beers to countdown Halloween was the best idea I had heard in a while.

I immediately felt the impulse to stop by every bottle shop between the Potomac and the Schuylkill and buy each and every bottle o’ pumpkin beer that I could find. Sadly, budget and luggage restraints squelched that idea.

Fast forward two months and here I am in Akita, reading with lustful jealousy Impervious’ Pumpkin Daze blog, with no hope of finding pumpkin beers of my own to drink. Then just the other day, while out shopping for groceries, what  is it that I should see at my local supermarket: not one but TWO! TWO pumpkin beers! Thank you Great Pumpkin! Just in time for me to count down the last two daze of Pumpkin Days 2015 in solidarity with ImperviousRex.

See next post for review of Suntory’s “Pumpkin Special”…