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Beer Reviews

Kirin Spring Valley Duo: Spring Valley 496 & Spring Valley Silk Ale | キリンSPRING VALLEY(スプリングバレー) 豊潤496 & キリンSPRING VALLEY(スプリングバレー) シルクエール<白>


While Sake and Shochu are Japan's more local alcoholic beverages, beer might as well be thrown into the ring as well, given how popular it is in Japan. 

And yet, the reality is beers are not native to Japan, and while over the course of Japan's history, beer had been imported into the country in piecemeal from time to time, the first semblance of a brewery didn't appear until 1869, when a Japan Brewery had been started in Yokohama, and was run by an American immigrant - now, that brewery is no more. However, a close second still exists - Spring Valley.

Or perhaps you might know the brand Kirin better - before there was Kirin, there was Spring Valley.


The original Spring Valley Brewery.


By most accounts, Spring Valley Brewery was a close second, having started off in 1870, just a year after the Japan Brewery, also in Yokohama, as that was the location of a popular designated foreign residents neighbourhood. The brewery was established by William Copeland (he was actually born Johan Martinius Thoresen but thought it best to have an American-sounding name), a Norwegian-American brewer who had learnt from a German brewmaster in Norway, before he had moved to the US, and then Yokohama, Japan.

Copeland had decided to start a brewery at the site of a natural spring near the Yamate foreign residential area, and there he dug a deep cave into the side of a hill for his beers to mature in the colder subterranean temperature. He was aso quick to use the newly invented process of pasteurisation to improve the shelf life of his beers, and would produce several styles of beers, from lagers to Bavarian beers and also bock. 


Early Kirin labels.


The local Yokohama taverns would be his early customers, as well as other foreign residents in Yokohama, and later on his beers would travel as far as major cities like Tokyo and Nagasaki.

Despite his growing success as a brewer, his poor financial management meant that by 1884, less than 15 years after Spring Valley Brewery was established, it was already headed off to the public auction blocks.

Nonetheless, Spring Valley Brewery was able to survive when a key immigrant industrialist by the name of Thomas Glover, a Scottish merchant, had brokered the sale of the brewery to several Japanese investors, which included two other immigrants William Talbot and Edgar Abbott, as well as the then-President of Mitsubishi.

The brewery was renamed to the Japan Brewery Company, under which the first Kirin beer was launched in 1888, still using the same ingredients of malted grains and hops from Germany, and also through the hiring of German brewers to oversee production. An exclusive partnership with Meidi-ya would help establish the brand's longevity. By 1907, the company was finally named Kirin, after its successful beer brand. 


A revival of the Spring Valley brand. 


While more than a century would pass with the Spring Valley name no longer in operation, living on as the massive entity that is Kirin, come 2014, Kirin would decide that it had wanted into the now increasingly popular craft beer category, and so would revive the Spring Valley Brewery name.

The new Spring Valley Brewery would focus on a more micro-brewery style approach to beer-making, and go back to using traditional ingredients and brewing methods. Today the brand as you might imagine has become as large as a brand belonging to a giant like Kirin would eventually be, complete with brewery, brewpub and restaurant locations all across Tokyo, Kyoto and of course, Yokohama. 

Kirin Spring Valley 496 6% ABV | キリンSPRING VALLEY(スプリングバレー) 豊潤496 - Review /  レビュー

The Spring Valley Hojyun 496 India Pale Lager is made with 1.5x more malt (including roasted malt) than the standard Kirin lager, with a combo of five varietals of hops used (one of which is a Japanese varietal called Ibuki), and is the brand's flagship expression. A proprietary method called dip hopping was also used to produce this beer, where the hops are steeped in warm water first in the fermenter to create a "hop tea", before adding chilled wort into the same fermenter and the hop tea, after which the yeast is finally pitched.

As to the meaning of the number "496" used, Kirin says that "496" is mathematically known as a Perfect Number and was considered sacred in Ancient Greece, where the number is a positive integer that is equal tot he sum of its proper divisors. In layman, speak the summation of numbers 1 to 31 gives you 496, which Kirin uses to symbolise the beer's ability to be drank everyday of a month without ever being tired of.


Tasting Notes

Color: Light Copper

Aroma: Bright honey, with an almost red apple scent, and a touch of hay. Also a light herbal touch of eucalyptus.

Taste: Smooth and medium-bodied that kicks off with a leafy, hoppy bitterness - not overwhelming, before turning alittle sweeter with a light honey and a gentle touch of red apples. There’s also light notes of zesty blood oranges.

Finish: It gets maltier and richer here with a more buttery touch before leaving on a clean, crisp, lightly bitter drying note. Light tannins reminiscent of black tea.


My Thoughts

This is a decently tasty beer - surely more flavourful and heftier than standard commercial beers. Here you get a light but aromatic bouquet of fruits, fortified with a hoppy backbone that gives it a more drying touch, before letting up into a satisfying malty buttery texture and flavour.

There’s a good amount of complexity and heftiness that’s a notch about standard beers, but also not nearly as malty and flavourful as you know it could be - this is a good intermediate step.

Kirin Spring Valley Silk Ale 5.5% ABV | キリンSPRING VALLEY(スプリングバレー) シルクエール<白>  - Review /  レビュー

Spring Valley's Silk Ale is a Wheat Ale made using wheat malt and is canned unfiltered, with a specific focus on using Nelson Sauvin hops.


Tasting Notes

Color: Light Gold

Aroma: Bright, gentle fresh florals and honey, with a light foamy bitterness, and a light rustic note of uncooked rice.

Taste: Almost full-bodied with a good buttery maltiness. More on gentle notes of honey and white florals before turning more zesty leaning towards grapefruits and then more starchy bitterness of grapefruit pith.

Finish: Soft, and lightly fruity and honeyed - fading notes of grapefruit, with a lightly bitter and zesty aftertaste.


My Thoughts

This was also pretty decent - more complexity than you’d get from a standard commercial beer, and more hefty as well, with the flavours turned up just a notch.

But on the whole not as flavourful as I’d hoped and nothing much to write home about.