Beer Review: Kirin Ichiban

Asahi Super Dry was my favourite Japanese beer. Until I discovered that it wasn’t Japanese at all, but was brewed here in Britain. So I was thrilled to find another Japanese-looking beer at a shop in Dalston. Here it is: Kirin Ichiban, “Japan’s Prime Brew”. It must be Japanese. Surely.

Kirin Ichiban bottle

It reminds me of Erdinger Weisbier. What do you think?

It’s almost impossible to read, but the neck-label has writing either side of the “Kirin Ichiban” logo.

Kirin Ichiban neck label leftKirin Ichiban neck label centreKirin Ichiban neck label right

Careful squinting at the left-hand-side of the neck-label has them describe it as a “unique premium beer”. That’s welcome for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they didn’t say “lager”. Secondly, anything that makes a beer unique is very warmly welcome. The last thing the market needs is another generic lager pretending to be Oriental.

What makes it unique? The other side of the neck-label says something about a process and only using “the most flavourful portion of the finest ingredients”. I don’t know about you, but that explained nothing.

The front-label does away with the traditional roundel, yet still manages to be conservative and conventional.

Kirin Ichiban front label

All the important details are there. That this is a regular 330ml bottle. And that it has an equally regular 5% alcoholic volume. As out of the ordinary as rain. But right at the bottom of the label is another mention of “The Authentic Ichiban Shibori Process”. What is a “Shibori Process”? Why is it unique. I’m hoping for some answers on the back label.

Kirin Ichiban back label

First impressions are not good. Shiny golden text is not readable when there’s a light bulb switched on in the room. Or any illumination at all for that matter.

After much squinting, I’ve deciphered this. They describe the character as “pure, crisp and intensely satisfying”. And that the Ichiban Shibori process has something to do with pressing the ingredients once and then throwing them away instead of using them over and over. Sounds interesting. I’m looking forward to trying this one.

Then comes the bad news. This hasn’t been imported from Japan. Instead, it was brewed under license from Kirin Holdings by Wells & Young’s Brewing Co in Bedford. They even have a European web site at www.kirineurope.com. Surprisingly, it’s not bad. There’s lots of history and background if you prefer to read about beer instead of imbibing it.

The last little detail to mention is the UK units of alcohol. It’s nearly impossible to read, but that doesn’t matter. It’s only 1.7 UK units of alcohol.

What does Kirin Ichiban taste like? Is the Ichiban Shibori process just marketing guff? Should you buy it? I can hardly wait to find out…

Kirin Ichiban poured into a glass

Watch out for that head. It froths up a treat. A couple of minutes later, it has settled down, but it’s still bigger than most I’ve seen recently. On the surface at least, it looks like a lager. Fizzy and pale in colour. I was rather hoping that the famed “Ichiban Shibori” process would do something about that. Apparently not.

How does it smell? It smells a bit lagery. Again, I was hoping the “Ichiban Shibori” process would change that too. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t smell bad. It smells of a rich blend of malted barley. Not like many lagers out there at all. But still a little lagery.

Does it taste like a lager too? Sort of. But not in a bad way. A couple of gulps in, and I’m liking Kiribn Ichiban. Or at least this Wells & Young’s version. The flavour and taste won’t really impress you. Unless you love lager. It has much the same taste of malted barley that most lager style beers have. It’s the way it does it that impresses me. It is so rich and smooth, it’s like drinking Leslie Philips. The bitter “bite” that lager drinkers seem to love, and that I hate, isn’t there. In it’s place, is a pleasantly mild bitter taste that you barely notice.

What am I enjoying about Kirin Ichiban? I love how easy it is to drink. It is so gentle and so smooth, no one will object if you offer then a bottle. I’ve had a few other good lagers like this, that are this smooth and easy to drink. I’ll happily add Kirin Ichiban to the good lager list for these reasons. The drinkability also speaks about the quality of ingredients. It doesn’t taste like you’re drinking preservatives and flavourings, like with some. It also has that crisp, clean and refreshing quality that this type of beer should have.

What don’t I like about Kirin Ichiban? For a start, I don’t like the whole idea of licensed beers. I’d be much happier if this were a little bit more expensive, but imported from Japan. Beer from Bedford is never going to be as exciting, even when it pretends to be Japanese. Besides that, the head could be a handful. It’s so easy to drink that you could be mistaken for thinking that you’re drinking water. And, disappointingly, it’s not as unique as the label promised. The special process has made a very good lagery style beer, but there are others like it.

To sum up, Kirin Ichiban is a very good lagery style beer. I’m not sure if it really is a pilsner style lager, but it shares a lot in common. As such, there’s no flavour and very little taste. But it is very easy to drink. And I think it would be brilliantly well with a spicy meal. I really would like to try the genuine Japanese version though.

Rating: 3

Have you tried Kirin Ichiban? What did you think of it? Do please leave your opinions, corrections, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments.

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13 Responses to “Beer Review: Kirin Ichiban”

  1. Scott-TheBrewClub Says:

    Good review, sounds like a decent beer. I’m with you on the whole “licensed” concept, I think it sucks. Part of what makes a beer special is the local ingredients and practices that go beyond a simple recipe. Unfortunately, its getting to be more of the norm.

  2. Peter - Australia Says:

    Ichiban was my favourite Japanese beer when I lived in Japan – great with Asian food, or as a quencher on hot days. The same stuff in Australia tastes a little different – a tad maltier…cheers.

  3. mossy mom Says:

    I found a full can of this stuff when I was backpacking. http://mosswalks.blogspot.com/ It tasted pretty good and made the hike a lot more fun.

  4. Susannah Says:

    I tried this beer (bottle) at a Japanese restaurant, and, it was a lovely accompaniment to Chicken Terayaki, Mahi mahi, and green tea.

    I highly enjoyed the smooth, light taste. Sort of hard to believe that the beer is 5%! I’m wondering if they added honey… there was a latent taste in there.. made me think I was drinking a mixture of hops and Barenjaeger.

    VERY nice beer — and Anheiser-Busch (if I mispelled that, I apologize) bottled it, well, hey! It’s darn good anyway!

  5. John Gunning Says:

    I live in Japan and would say that the Kirin Lager is a much better beer. However, I like the gentle and smooth taste of the Ichiban Shibori in the summer. Kirin makes fantastic beer. Most Japanese lagers still have the bitter, smooth taste. That taste is completely missing in most standard (large scale producers, i.e. Bud, Coors etc..). There is also a fantastic beer called Ebisu. And Premium malt…both a bit more expensive but worth it.

  6. Sushi 101 | phoenix.rssible.com Says:

    [...] Beverages offerings comprise a selection of wine and beer, including perennial sushi bar favorite Kirin Ichiban on draft, and mixed drinks with ingredient lists and names that rival those of the sushi rolls. As [...]

  7. Frank Says:

    Hey Guys,

    If you want to drink the real product in bottles and cans of various sizes, give me a call. I import the product and always have stock.
    Frank

  8. M Nag Says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for the nice review. I just had a 22 oz bottle here in Southern California. Guess what? It was made by Budweiser Company (now Stella Artois)! However, unlike Bud light and other craps that they make, this tasted good. It was similar to some microbrewery lager in Kansas City. I was searching the net to find if someone else liked it and found your blog.

    Here is a thing that I realize and maybe you do to: Everyone craves for “imported” stuff. Here I love French wine better than Napa Valley apparently for no reason. My mom used to like (probably still she does) the taste of the same biscuits bought from a city than the ones we bought from a local small town grocer, apparently for no reason. :)

    Cheers!

  9. kd59 Says:

    Seriously, it reminds you of Erdinger, not even close. Wow, I’m shocked.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    The whole thing about Kirin Ichiban being a ‘first press’ beer is rubbish. A) You don’t press any ingredients when brewing beer. B) All commercial beer in the developed world uses the ingredients only once.

    • craigheap Says:

      @Anonymous: “first press” means they run the liquor through the grain bed once and extract the wort without sparging continuously as is standard in the brewing industry. They sacrifice efficiency on yield in favour of creating a beer with fewer extracted tannins, which they claim results in a smoother taste.

      “First press” is effectively a term borrowed from the wine industry which doesn’t really help anyone understand the process applied. In brewing terms it’s like the parti-gyle process; this is how Anchor make Foghorn and Small Beer – they run hot water through the grains once and use the extracted wort to make Foghorn, and then they run fresh water through the same grain and use that wort to make Small Beer. So I guess some commercial breweries do use ingredients twice.

  11. ukr Says:

    I’ve a bottle chilling in the fridge. I’m not sure I would have bought it knowing that it didn’t originate in Japan! The blurb on the bottle sounded intriguing and I’m hoping its not as dry as other Japanese beers I’ve tried.

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