A big part of why we started the Brunch Money blog was to talk about what we do in the beer industry, but we also wanted to create a place to talk about beer itself. Considering we taste more than a few brews in our line of work—many before they hit the shelves—it only makes sense to put together beer reviews from an insider’s perspective. So for the first beer review in the series (which we’ve named Beer Money because, obviously), we’re going with the new Sapporo Premium Black. I’ve got to say that when I heard that a Sapporo black lager was in the works, I was pretty surprised. And with good reason.
The only Japanese dark beer I’ve ever had prior to Sapporo Premium Black was Yo-Ho Brewing Co.’s Zenryaku Konominante Kiitenaize Sorry Kurogo Imperial Porter, which I absolutely loved. So I can’t say I’m an aficionado, mostly because, well, I don’t think of Japan when I think of bold, interesting beers. I think of adjunct-heavy lagers, rather than beers with a ton of depth and character. When the Sapporo folks sent over a can of their new black lager to try (which, rest assured, has absolutely no bearing on this review), I didn’t really know what to expect.
But what I got in this beer was more than I expected. It pours with a moderate head that dissipates quickly, and is so dark that it is pretty much opaque. That was my first clue that I was in for a different experience than I was used to—Sapporo is a beer that I’m more used to swigging at my sushi joint. It’s predictable, it goes well with most foods, and, well, it doesn’t leave me with a huge impression one way or the other. But Sapporo Premium Black was a bit different—it had an almost vanilla-like nose with hints of chocolate and a slightly bitter bite on the back-end. Nothing unsurprising in a dark beer, but certainly something that I didn’t expect.
What struck me about Sapporo Premium Black was its character. Make no mistake, this isn’t a reboot of Sapporo Yebisu: it’s got far more body, bite, and flavor. In fact, it has a much more unique taste than I usually associate with the Sapporo, and more than I’ve even tasted in a few other black lagers to boot. But more importantly, this beer reaffirmed something that I’ve been mulling over: that lagers are way overdue for a reappraisal. A brewer friend of mine and I chatted about the next beer trend on a long subway ride back from Coney Island Brewing Co. earlier this summer. He argued that lagers are going to be the “next big thing,” but I wasn’t so sure. Would beer drinkers really go from drinking big, juicy double IPAs to appreciating just how difficult it is to make a good lager? I was more conservative—hell, I thought the public might go for gruits before they began to reappraise delicate, bottom-fermenting beers.
The fact that Sapporo Premium Black hits shelves next month has proven me wrong. Craft beer sees lagers as the next big wave that could strike a mortal wound in “big beer.” But big brewers might be in on it, too. And more than anything, at least one macrobrewer got their recipe right. I’m not sure if this is an ambitious effort to rejuvenate opinions on the Japanese export beer market, or a bold new shift for an ages-old macrobrewer, but it sure does seem like this beer suggests a few new trends on the horizon.
Brian O’Connor is one half of Brunch Money, as well as a homebrewer and freelance writer. He has written about beer for Extra Crispy and Paste Magazine, and once told the former prime minister of Norway about his tour of Oslo’s craft beer pubs (which went over surprisingly well). He tweets at @briantoconnor_.
We thank the folks at Sapporo for providing us with a sample to review. We receive no compensation for reviews, nor do we let them influence our opinions. And we’ll never review any of our clients’ products—ever. There’s enough BS on the internet as it is.