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It's a Japanese beer invasion
This week, read about a fishy IPA, a salty ale and a delightful porter
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YOHO Brewing Company's Umami IPA, right, and Tokyo Black porter. - photo by Nick Bowman

Japan endearingly embraces all things bizarre. 

How can you not be enamored with a culture that welcomes campy robot restaurants, maid cafes where the servers call you “master” and streetside vending machines filled with underwear?

When I noticed the Japanese craft beer section at the Korean supermarket, H Mart, I couldn’t help but stuff my cart. 

I’ll be honest, this was my first time trying Japanese craft beer. I’ve been dazzled by American craft beer for so long, that I never gave Japanese brews a second thought. 

So how does Japanese craft beer stand up to American craft beer?

It wasn’t until I started inspecting my cart in the check-out line, that I realized I had picked up an IPA brewed with bonito flakes. These dried and fermented flakes come from bonito fish, which are related to tuna. 

Umami IPA

Brewery: YOHO Brewing Company

Alcohol by volume: 6.5%

Style: IPA brewed with bonito flakes

Bottom line: Fishy, but in a good way.

The beer is called, Umami IPA, and is made by YOHO Brewing Company in Nagano, Japan. 

Leave it to a Japanese brewery to put fish flakes in a beer.

As most of you guys know, I live by the motto, “Don’t knock it until you try it.”

I was highly skeptical as I took a big whiff of the beer, which resembled the scent of the flaky food I used to give to my family’s pond of calico fish. 

Here’s the surprise — and hear me out — this Umami IPA is simply wonderful. 

If you just close your eyes and open your mind up to the limitless possibilities of craft beer, the fishy brew doesn’t seem so shocking. 

The flavor of the bonito flakes is subtle and I caught a lingering umami taste on the backend. 

It’s fishy without being overbearing and highly carbonated in a good way. It just works. 

For those unfamiliar with umami, I describe it as the savory flavor you get from broth, tomatoes, asparagus, cooked meats, mushrooms and other foods. There are other descriptions that would most likely paint a better picture of the complexity of umami, but this is mine. 

Yuzu Salt Ale

Brewery: YOHO Brewing Company

Alcohol by volume: 4%

Style: Ale brewed with salt, yuzu juice and yuzu peel

Bottom line: Saltier than the briniest gose 


The next beer I tried from YOHO Brewing was even more out there and, to be honest, off-putting. 

Yuzu Salt Ale is a beer brewed with salt, yuzu juice and yuzu peel. Yuzu is a fragrant citrus fruit that tastes similar to a grapefruit and is used in ponzu sauce. 

This brew proved the opposite of the Umami IPA. It smelled great, but tasted like I took a big gulp of sweet salt water.

If you’re the type of person who loves caviar, salty oysters and other super briney food, then this is the beer for you. However, it won’t be returning to my fridge anytime soon. 

Tokyo Black

Brewery: YOHO Brewing Company

Alcohol by volume: 5%

Style: Porter

Bottom line: A delightfully easy-drinking porter, similar to a dunkel

I ended my Japanese craft beer taste test with YOHO Brewing’s porter, Tokyo Black. 

This beautiful porter incorporates smokiness, meatiness, acidity, salt and a tiny hint of coffee. 

Tokyo Black may sound like a big and bold brew, but it’s delightfully easy-drinking, sort of like German dunkel beer. 

I don’t know if I’ve been porter deprived for a while, but this beer is phenomenal. Wow.

Each of these brews can be purchased at H Mart by the can. Despite coming from from another country, each can was only $1. How fantastic is that?

For more information about YOHO Brewing Company, one of Japan’s most renowned craft breweries, visit yohobrewing.com/e/.
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