Desperately seeking kuronama (Japanese black beer)
- njfreqflyer Jun 13, 2008 01:01 PM
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?
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.
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...
According to their US website, it's available in the US-
Note a very fact-filled site as far as distribution areas,, however, there is a "contact" page-
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.)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.