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Desperately seeking kuronama (Japanese black beer)

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On my first vacation to Japan in 1998, I fell in love with Asahi Kuronama. It's a dark lager (kuro = black, nama = raw/draft/fresh) that has a rich depth and a slightly nutty roasted flavor. I remember the wonderful sense of relaxation quaffing mugs of draft kuronama with my buddy at the roof-top bar/buffet of my hotel in Kagoshima, the warm humidity of this southern semi-tropical city embracing me, while watching Japanese baseball on a giant-screen television. Then I noticed a few dark flecks settling in my mug. The ever-smoldering nearby volcano, Mount Sakurajima, was providing a unique accompaniment to the evening's brew. What a great night...

Whenever I travel to Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Singapore, I always bring a case of kuronama home with me. Now, I'm down to my last two cans, and I don't have any plans to be back in Asia in the coming 6-12 months. I'm unable to find it anywhere in the metro New York City area (including my Japanese supermarket, Mitsuwa, in Edgewater, NJ). I have seen postings on this board (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/439245) that it can be found in southern California, and supposedly it's at a restaurant in San Francisco (found via Google).

Asahi Kuronama is my favorite beer, and I often tell others it is the best in the world (we're all allowed our peculiar opinions, right?). I have heard that Kirin also makes a kuronama. I would like to hear from those in the U.S. that have had it themselves or found it: is it only in California? where have you found it; which liquor stores? which restaurants? once you've had it, is it something that you seek?

Thanks.

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  1. A little bit of internet research leads me to believe that you are not going to find it on the east coast, unfortunately. It seems to be brewed in the Schwartzbier style, except with rice and corn adjunts (which provide fermentables, but little, if anything, in the way of flavor and body)- in other words, sort of like a 'demi-Schwartz'. If you were to look for something in that vein, the full-malt Schwartzbiers will be easiest for you to find, and, who knows, you may enjoy one of them as much as you enjoy the koronama. Samuel Adams Black Lager is a prtty respectable version of the style, easy to find, affordable, and should be to your liking- I'd give it a shot if I were you.

    1. Just saw this product at 99 Ranch market, a local SoCal chain catering to the Chinese community. $11.99 for a sixer - by far one of the more expensive beers there (I'm guessing because) it's one of the few Japanese beers still brewed in Japan and exported all the way over here...

      1. According to their US website, it's available in the US-
        http://www.asahibeerusa.com/kuronama.asp

        Note a very fact-filled site as far as distribution areas,, however, there is a "contact" page-
        http://www.asahibeerusa.com/contact.asp

        They should be able to let you know who the NY and NJ distributors are and whether they carry that particular label.

        For a dark, adjunct-brewed lager, you might also try the relatively easy to find Yuengling Porter. Tho', labeled "porter", it is brewed with a lager beer yeast and, like all the Yuengling products, also includes corn as an adjunct. (In the early days of "beer geekdom", it was often criticized as inauthentic and a"fake" porter and really just a dark lager. Since then, the "Pennsylvania Porter" style has been recognized as a valid style.)

        1. Thanks for your suggestions. I know and like Yuengling Porter (and its brother Black & Tan). But the Sam Adams Black is a new one for me; I'm going to have to look around for that one. And probably have to book a trip to California soon for a kuronama resupply (at least I don't have to go all the way to Asia)

          1. This happens to be my favorite beer as well... I remember trying it in 2001 at Ruby Foos in New York City... the caramel smooth taste like I have never experienced. Man, I hope you find it and let me know. I believe it is possibly brewed in Torrance, CA..

            4 Replies
            1. re: al_starr

              I hope it isn't brewed in Torrance - SoCal is not known for having great water. I always check to see where Japan-based beers are actually brewed nowadays, ever since Canada has become the number one brewing site of most "Japanese" beers sold in California, and feel the products are just not the same as their home-brewed counterparts. I don't know if it's a difference in water chemistry or what but the flavors are not the same as what I drank in Japan. As far as I recall, Asahi Kuronama is one of a few Japanese beers that is sold here in the US that is still brewed in Japan.

              1. re: bulavinaka

                One reason Japan-brand beers are made in Canada is that production costs there are far lower than in Japan. Another very important reason is that the Japanese brewers can plaster the word IMPORTED on the neck label or can.
                After several tastings with several friends, we were surprised at just how different the Canadian-brewed beers are from their Japan-brewed counterparts, leading me to believe that they are brewed to suit the tastes of the market. Asahi Kuronama likely sells so few cases in the U.S. that it is easier to bring it in from Japan rather than ramp up production in Canada.

                For your information, Japan-brewed Budweiser (from Kirin) tastes markedly better than the U.S.-brewed version, likely because Japanese have more demanding tastes for mass-produced beer than people in the U.S. do. For such beers, customers are likely buying into the image more than the actual product.

                Also, top-quality U.S. microbrews are fast becoming available in Japan, and are getting a very enthusiastic reception from craft beer enthusiasts.

                1. re: Tripeler

                  Tripeler, thanks for the info and your personal observations on the brew differences - I was owing the difference to nostalgic yearnings.

                  I would have never thought of trying Budweiser in Japan - kinda like going to Singapore and having McDonald's. My times in Asia now are far shorter and far less frequent, so I tend to eat and drink local stuff but will give Japan's Bud a try next time.

                  I'm guessing you've been spending a fair amount of time in Japan as of late - do you know what the current status of the craft brew industry in Japan is? I'm hoping for more craft brews from Japan to start showing up in US markets, as Hitachino is the only one I've infrequently seen around that falls in this category. I'm not sure where Koshi Hikari Echigo falls in the span of Japan's breweries, but this is another beer I don't see too often but truly enjoy as it always tastes so fresh and clean - a perfect all-around beer for me.

                  1. re: Tripeler

                    Here here! I live in Japan and have been traveling there for years. The stuff brewed in Canada tastes like tanuki squeeze!

                    Whenever associates travel to the states, they always bring me a few Kirin Lagers or Yebisu. I would gladly pay more to get Japanese beer again in the my area.

              2. Long shot...have you tried Xingu? Brazilian Black Beer? I haven't had what you are looking for or the other suggestions offered. I certainly can't explain the science behind it, just that it's black beer and it's delicious. :)

                1 Reply
                1. re: BaltoPhilFood

                  While in Portland, Oregon last week I had dinner at a great Cuban restaurant: Pambiche (http://www.pambiche.com/ and see also the Pacific Northwest Chow board). They had two Brazilian black beers by the bottle: Xingu and Eisenbahn Escura. I thought the Xingu too mild and not interesting. The Escura, however, had a good rounded roasted flavor, and I'd definitely order that again.

                  By the way, in follow-up to one of the posts above ... I was a little disappointed with the Sam Adams Black. Just didn't stand out very much to me.

                2. I've seen the Asahi Black sold at Japanese stores here in San Francisco. The first time I had it was at Kiss Seafood in SF. The chef/owner told us that its the only beer he drinks and that it is actually brewed in Japan, as opposed ot Canada. Loved how it complemented the sashimi.

                  1. I live in Alabama, so we are limited as to what we can get here. Sad, I know. But I once had a case from Atlanta, Ga of a beer called Asahi Black, brewed in Japan. And it was by far one of the best I ever had. I since then have not been able to find it even in Atlanta. Sad that is also. But, what the hell? There are so many good beers out there you don't miss it after a while.

                    1. I made that trip to California last month, visiting San Francisco for a weekend. Identified two sushi restaurants that served Asahi Kuronama: Murasaki and Koo. Visited Koo, and had a great time. See postings here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/533464, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/36989

                      I also checked out the Japanese grocery store, Nijiya, in Japantown, but they didn't have any Kuronama.

                      1. Heading back to California next week, this time to San Diego. Looking forward to getting a fix of kuronama while I'm there. Does anyone have recommendations for San Diego area restaurants and shops where it's available?

                        I found a reference on this board from last year reporting Asahi Kuronama at Yumeya (aka Yu Me Ya) in Encinitas. That looks to be a 30 minute drive or so from San Diego.

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/439245

                        The search continues .... thanks in advance.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: njfreqflyer

                          There's a Mitsuwa market in San Diego. That's where I got mine (albeit a Mitsuwa in L.A.) in June.

                          -----
                          Mitsuwa Marketplace
                          4240 Kearny Mesa Rd # 119, San Diego, CA

                        2. I'm back from San Diego and pleased to report that I did stumble onto some Asahi Black while I was there:

                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/564178

                          Next up is Los Angeles in the coming couple of weeks. I'll definitely try to get to Mitsuwa while I'm there. Any recommendations for restaurants serving kuronama? Preferably in the downtown to Hollywood to Santa Monica area. Thanks.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: njfreqflyer

                            I replied on the LA post you made, and just want to add that the mention about Izakaya Bincho is worth the trip regardless of whether they had your beer or choice or not. Be sure to read through exilekiss's two very thorough and recent reviews of this exceptional hidden gem.

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/563484
                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/568632

                          2. A successful trip to Los Angeles: Asahi Black (Kuronama) at Izakaya Bincho, six packs (bottles) for retail sales at Mitsuwa downtown, and several other possibilities for future trips to LA. Thank you all for your help!

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/569027
                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/568632

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: njfreqflyer

                              Sounds like you found your source. But, if you ever find yourself in Phoenix, it's also available here in the metro area. It's my favorite beer - probably the only beer I could drink a whole bottle of by myself, since I'm not a big beer lover. I get it at the little Japanese market here in Tempe. Sometimes the big Asian supermarkets will have it, but not guaranteed. I've had it at sushi places here, too.

                              1. re: Jen76

                                Thanks, Jen76! I had no idea it was also available in Arizona. I think Phoenix just got a whole lot more interesting....

                                1. re: njfreqflyer

                                  If one knows where to look, there are some little hidden nuggets of joy here. You just need to look carefully amongst the suburban sprawl of mega-stores, chains and resorts. The weather is nice, too. ;)

                            2. So did the beer in Cali match up to what you had in Japan?

                              I suggest you also try some alternative Schwarzbier. Ratebeer.com is good for finding things, and the Asahi gets a decent rating but is hardly one of the best of the style. Try Kostritzer Schwarzbier, which may or may not be available at Shop Rite Liquors in Lincoln Park, NJ, or Bittings Black Magic Schwarzbier - on tap (probably not 100% of the time) only at brewpub in Woodbridge NJ. Would love to hear how these compare (I have only tried the former).

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: maple99

                                Maple99, I don't think there's any way the bottled kuronama could match the draft version, especially with all the fond memories of when I had it in Japan. However, even the Asahi Black in bottles (or cans, for that matter) blows away anything else I typically find. Being able to get it so easily in Los Angeles is a wonderful thing.

                                As mentioned above, I have tried a few other schwarzbiers -- although with varying results -- and do appreciate the suggestions you made ... especially with the associated NJ locations. Thanks.

                              2. Have you tried the Oak Tree Buy Rite in South Plainfield? If it's not in the store or Dan can't order it for you it's either illegal to ship to/distribute to/sell in NJ or just plain doesn't exist.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: BeerWeezil

                                  Thanks for the suggestion, BeerWeezil. I called Dan today, but unfortunately he doesn't carry it nor is it orderable in NJ....

                                2. Asahi Kuronama bottle has been launched in NY and NJ.
                                  You might find it in some Japanese or Asian grocery stores.
                                  You will find Asahi Kuronama at the following stores.

                                  Mitsuwa Marketplace
                                  595 River Road,
                                  Edgewater, NJ 07020

                                  Nippan Daido
                                  522 Mamaroneck Ave
                                  White Plains, NY 10605

                                  Please enjoy.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: yoshi

                                    Yoshi -- this is potentially great news! Thank you. I will make a trip to Mitsuwa tomorrow.

                                    1. re: njfreqflyer

                                      Not a problem.
                                      Please enjoy Super Bowl with Kuronama!!
                                      Yoshi

                                    2. re: yoshi

                                      Confirmed.

                                      Asahi Kuronama 6-PK bottles, available at Mitsuwa/NJ for $14.99