Niigata Beer Co. offers up a variety of interesting brews.

Niigata Beer Co. was founded in 1997, when it rose from the ashes of the craft beer crash following the deregulation of the beer industry in Japan. Its tagline is charmingly simple: “I just wanted to drink good beer!”

Though the brewery is small, and specializes in craft beers, the company is defined by its diverse lineup of experimental brews. Some of its most remarkable beers have flavours like espresso, white truffle, blueberry, Japanese pepper and, for the very brave, wasabi. The company has also made something of a name for itself as an importer of foreigner beers, and it produces specialty brews for other brands as well.

Niigata Black is one of the latest offerings from the craft beer brewery. It’s officially classed as a Schwarzbier, which is a type of lager that originated in Germany. Schwarzbier is characterized by a dark-brown or black colour and heavy, coffee or chocolatey tones.

True to its name, Niigata Black pours out an opaque black-brown—an accurate representation of its rich taste. It has a deep, resonant flavour, reminiscent of caramel or toasted brown sugar, with notes of coffee and even soy sauce. It pours easily and doesn’t produce much of a head, and the texture is thinner than the colour would suggest. Niigata Black’s alcoholic content is 4.5%, which is standard for a Schwarzbier. It’s a Western-style beer with malt imported from New Zealand.

The bottle is bold and simple, featuring a minimalist white label that can be read as a metaphor for the brew inside. Niigata Black is 100% bottle conditioned: this means instead of forcing air into the beer to artificially carbonate it, the carbonation is achieved through the chemical reaction between yeast and sugar. It’s common for there to be some yeast and sediment at the bottom of the bottle when beer is bottle conditioned, so pour carefully. A mouthful of excess yeast will change the intended flavour of the beer.

Looking for something lighter? Niigata Beer Co.’s flagship brew, simply called Niigata Beer, is a Belgian ale that comes either bottled or in an adorable can featuring the Niigata Beer Co. mascot—a happy cartoon beer mug with a beer-foam hat. It’s much lighter than Niigata Black, pouring out a honey brown, and also has an alcoholic content of 4.5%. It has the distinction of being the first craft beer from Japan to use secondary fermentation, which is the process of fermenting the beer a second time after it has been canned in order to clarify it.

The taste is refreshing and light, with fruity flavours such as pear and banana, and a buttery finish. The texture is on the watery side, which is actually often the preference in Japan.

With a quirky lineup of exotic brews, Niigata Beer Co. is one of the most interesting players in the Japanese craft beer scene.

If you’re looking to try Niigata brews in Toronto, see page 27 for a list of locations where you can find them.