(Naha, Okinawa, Japan)
The day after Ukishima, our final day in Naha, and coincidentally, our final brewing in Asia, we stuffed our faces full of ramen at a nearby, hidden-gem, and hit up Helios Brewery and Distillery. With the exception of some age-old Japanese whiskey (scotch) distilleries and the region’s traditional drinks (sake, soju, makgeolli, etc) the existence of craft breweries, distilleries, and wineries is relatively new on the Asian continent. Not so in the case of Helios; they’ve been pumping out high-quality spirits and seriously-sippable brews since 1961.
Of course, we had a beer flight, but before that, we split our standard ‘vacation drink’; a mojito, made with Helios’ silky-smooth, white rum. The mojito wasn’t great; skimpy on the mint leaves and sugar, but the straight shot of rum afterward was full of that cane sugar sweetness you’d expect, very well balanced, and without the smoky aftertaste.
First up on the flight was Goya Dry. Goya or “bitter melon” is all over Okinawa: it’s in everything from breakfast to dinner, sodas, and even ice cream, and the native Okinawans attribute it to their high life expectancy rates. What it did to the beer was add an intriguing champagne quality. Think current brett-IPA trend without the hop characteristics. It was really well done and actually left me with a lack of proper adjectives. Imagine a cross between brut champagne, dry chardonnay, and crisp blonde ale.
Next on the list was a really bad porter. I don’t know, sorry if you’re reading this, you’ve had it and you like it, the description says “mellow and drinkable”. I got mellow and stinkable.
Finally, all was not lost, a special release called “Other Heaven” Red ale won the day. Maybe after that porter, this one just wasn’t bad, but I choose to not be cynical. Other Heaven was a great balance between sweet, caramelized malts, bitter hops, and a delightful cherry- toffee finish. I’ve been lacking some good ambers in my life and this one truly hit the spot.
The rum was great, but the mojito was lacking, the 1st and last beers were great, but the porter was downright awful. Maybe someone else might rate them slightly higher, but it’s tough to have one bad apple that is that bad of an apple, all in all, I give Helios Brewing and Distilling an 8.4 out of 10.
(Naha, Okinawa, Japan)
At the beginning of August, we spent a week in Japan for our summer vacation. Disclaimer and short rant: I didn’t love Tokyo (except for the markets) and travel bloggers are full of s*! Case in point- every travel site you read up on for some recommendations says that there are vending machines on every corner and “you can buy anything”. Granted, there are vending machines everywhere, but we only saw one the whole week that had some weird trinkets and one with beer, other than the normal snacks, soda, and water. That being said, Okinawa pleasantly BLEW US AWAY! The people of Okinawa are friendly, warm, and welcoming, they don’t consider themselves Japanese (I love learning things google doesn’t tell you), their food is incredible, and the weather?… Oh, the weather!
We did some research and had a brewery on our list for the next day, but as we were strolling through the old streets of Naha after grabbing a bite in the market we just randomly stumbled past one. Nothing better than surprise breweries! Enter Ukushima Brewing: They’ve only been open a little over a year and they’re cranking out some great brews.
Starting out with the Ukishima Golden 107 was an interesting surprise. 107 stands for how many IBUs they pack into this quaint little ale! When you think golden ale you think crisp, clean, and easy-drinking, but Ukishima expertly flipped the script on conventional knowledge. It wasn’t my favorite, but my hat’s off for the attempt and if you’re looking for a nice throat punch; Golden 107’s your man.
Next up was Ukishima IPA. I’m not sure which hops were used, but it was a well-balanced and delicate blend. I’ve missed certain styles from the US during our time in Asia, but one constant has been solid IPAs. Ukishima’s is no different: Quality ingredients and freshness are obvious factors in this very well done brew.
Long Summer is a rare occurrence in Asian countries in the form of a saison. Being someone who usually really enjoys the style I was a little underwhelmed as it was a bit lacking in the flavor department. That being said- it was super smooth! I could crush a couple dozen of these and be good to go.
Finally, we ordered a full poor of the Strawberry Stout. Many times I feel like a fruit stout has way more aroma than it has a right to as the flavor behind it is a complete bust. Ukishima did a nice job binging subtly sweet and floral strawberry notes right to the front of the tongue followed by barely-present, yet still silky smooth, cocoa.
We had some great bar snacks, a solid flight throughout, and a great interaction with the friendly staff and atmosphere. All in all, I give Ukishima Brewing an 8.9 out of 10.
(Jongno, Seoul, SK)
Apologies! This review is a long time in the making. Since visiting this brewery with an identity crisis- could be Craft Roo, Craft Root, or Kraft Lu- we’ve gone on vacation, moved to another country (coming soon), and migrated the site to a new host. Needless to say, it’s been a mess, but I digress.
My sister in law and her husband were the first (and only) friends or family to visit while we were in Korea, so we showed them as much of Seoul as we could, which obviously had to end with a brewery. We wound through the hidden alleys of Jongno’s Hanoks in the dark until we finally found it.
(Careful, you might miss it…)
We sat in the cozy, dimly lit pub, and we split some fried chicken to soak up the following brews. It was quite the day and everyone was tired, but the conversation was as warm as the room. We had our brews and departed.
First up was Gaetbae pilsner. Not much too it, but what can you expect from a pils. I haven’t had too many that gave me pause to think about having another. Still, this one seemed a little worse than those.
Second, on the list was Abai weizen; not the best of the bunch, but a solid, full-body, wheat beer nonetheless.
During my time in Korea, I noticed that the burgeoning craft beer scene had some common peaks and pits. As a 2018 IBC award winner, Sokcho IPA, was no different. As a whole, Koreans have missed the mark when it comes to darker and lighter beers on either side of the spectrum, but their IPAs come full-bodied and complex. Just like the sweet balance or warm and cold weather the beach town enjoys, Sokcho is a delicate dance between bitter and sweet, citrus and earthy. Well done.
Another IBC award winner, Dongmeong Port pale ale was a great example of a style that seems to be lost in the shuffle these days. This pale ale is robust without being overpowering and a true pale ale without becoming an IPA or falling into a pilsner pit.
Next up was Snow IPA, I don’t normally like sessions as they tend to not just be less bang for your buck, but less flavor as well. Snow was a nice, sweet, sipping ale that would make for a great afternoon of going through 15-20.
Remember those common trends I mentioned before? Daepo Port Stout was watery and other than maybe a little coffee- flavorless.
Other than a couple of missteps I really enjoyed this flight and all in all, I give Craft Roo an 8.2 out of 10.
Bear with us as we are still currently under construction. In the meantime- instagram is still wildin’… go follow!