Shiga Kogen: SOBA (Japan: Specialty Grain: 4.0% ABV)

Visual: Rich red beer with a dust coloured shimmer of a head.

Nose: Tart. Rhubarb. Cooking apples. Fruitcake underneath. Slightly sour. Wheat and dry malt. Cherries.

Body: Still slightly tart, Rhubarb and tart apples. Slightly dusty bitterness below. Noodles. Quite dry feel. Slight chalk. Light sugar dusting. Strawberry.

Finish: Slight bitterness. Slightly dusty. Wheat. Light elderberry and tart apple. Sugar dust.

Conclusion: Some beers just work that bit better on tap. Some beers taste better on holiday, which I’m sure is also true for this beer, but mainly the tap thing.  Which is my way of saying I first tried this on tap and it was bloody lovely.

This, then drunk in bottle, is still a pretty good session ale. Moderate abv, the buckwheat seems to make it slightly tart with subtle fruit flavours. It is fresh and easy to drunk, unusual with its rhubarb and elderberry flavours and backed by light bitterness for a slight edge.

Here, unlike the tap version, it does have a slightly dusty feel to the hop character that causes it to cling slightly, which brings me back to the comments in the opening paragraph.

That being, on tap this is bloody lovely. The bitterness is still light but fresher and crisper which when laid over the light sourness is great contrast. The texture is that touch thicker and helps deliver the unusual flavours. As of such I found the tap version a nigh perfect session beer and still interesting enough to have one solo. On tap it is then highly recommended.

Here, in bottle, it is still good, quirky and different enough to impress a jaded beer veteran.  The flavours with a tart mixing of styles and calls to Belgium saison influence, and even a feeling of wild yeast in inspiration if not in use.(Update: According to rate beer this is made with saison yeast.) It feels very much like a buckwheat saison.

So good, but not the gem it is on tap. That lightly clinging hop character lets it down just slightly.

So on tap, drink it through the night. It is brilliant. On bottle, still worth arty but moderate expectations accordingly. Still a refreshing and moderate abv beer that impresses.

Background: SOBA here stands for Shiga Kogen Original Buckwheat Ale according to the bottle, but Soba is also the name for buckwheat itself, and the noodles traditionally made from it. I drank it first on tap at Matsumoto, and  had a bottle picked up from Tokyo which I brought back with me to England for later consumption.