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Track it down: Iwate Kura Japanese Ale Sansho

The Japanese beer that blew us away.


Tasting through the wealth of Japanese imports, we were drawn to those that had a distinct sense of place. After all, if we’re going to seek out a beer from thousands of miles away, it shouldn’t taste like a beer we could get at our favorite brewpub around the block. While Japanese beer hasn’t always embraced seasonality, this bottle of Iwate Kura Japanese Ale Sansho does, begging for a place in your spring rotation.

Consider this: Germany has its bocks, Belgium its saisons. So shouldn’t the recent resurgence of Japanese craft beer make a case for thinking of spring seasonals even more globally? One of the best out there is Iwate Kura’s herb/spice ale: With its nose of sage, papaya and pine forest, it smells as fresh as spring rain even after its nearly 9,000-mile journey. The addition of sansho peppercorns, the berries of a spiny Asian shrub, lends floral and berry sweetness rather than heat or spice. It’s no surprise that Iwate Kura parent company Sekinoichi Shuzo also produces sake; candied grapes and tropical fruit notes evoke that Japanese rice wine.

Like sake, too, this soft spring seasonal changes over time in the glass—a nearly room-temperature sip proves how well prickly sansho dovetails with Saaz hops.


Kate Bernot is DRAFT’s beer editor. Reach her at kate.bernot[at]

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One Comment

  • Miles Bader says:

    Not sure what you mean by “Japanese beer hasn’t always embraced seasonality,” because in the several decades I’ve lived in Japan, Japanese breweries have consistently released a slew of seasonal beers every year, for pretty much every season (as well as releasing limited edition beers for every other imaginable reason). Granted the big brewers have traditionally been very conservative in what they release, so you’d be hard pressed to tell much difference from their normal beers, but it’s very clear they’re big on the concept.

    This is not surprising, because it reflects a general tendency of Japanese commerce: Novelty is huge, and Japanese manufacturers of every stripe pursue it enthusiastically. This is especially true of beverage makers (not a week goes by without a bunch of new drinks showing up in stores, often to then disappear just as quickly), beer very much included.

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