Kirin Ichiban

Review Date 8/12/2003  By John Staradumsky

Riddle me this: When is a Japanese beer not a Japanese beer? When it’s a Kirin
Ichiban. The next time you pick up a bottle or can of Ichiban, take a close look at the label. You will see the words, “Brewed under the supervision of our brewmaster by Anheuser-Busch, Los Angeles, California.. So, that Kirin beer you may be drinking isn’t really Japanese beer.

It is, however, Japanese style beer. The Kirin you buy here in America should taste the same as what you would get in Japan, if you were over there and drinking the real thing. I guess it makes sense to brew the beer here rather than send it all the way across the Pacific, but by God when I buy an “imported” Japanese beer it should be imported from Japan, not California. Maybe when Arnold is elected governor we can get him to do something about this.

Wherever it’s made, however, Kirin Ichiban is a tasty light (colored) lager with a respectable malt palate and a semi-dry hop finish. Here is what the company says about it:

Prominent wort. Finest barley malt, premium hops, smooth finish, no bitter aftertaste.

I disagree with the last statement. Kirin Ichiban does have some hop bitterness in the finish. That’s one of the reasons I like it. I suspect that the marketing folks at Kirin are responsible for the no bitter aftertaste business. Marketing folks always seem to think that bitterness has no place in a beer.

Kirin Ichiban has been touted as Kirin’s Prime Brew; they also call it their Special Premium Reserve. It’s a decent beer, but let’s not get overly enthusiastic folks. After all, they do use corn as well as malt to make this beer.

Kirin says Ichiban is made with The luxurious single wort (or first press) process which yields a unique, complex flavor. When the beer was first introduced in 1990, Kirin used to advertise the fact that Ichiban was made with the “Fi

rst pressing of the malt.” That always confused me. You press grapes to make wine, but you don’t press barley malt. At a beer show in the early nineties I asked the Kirin rep about this, but they didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.

There is something called first runnings associated with beer making; it’s basically the rich sweet wort that comes off of the grain after mashing. The grain bed is then sparged, in other words, water is sprayed on it to extract as much of the malt sugar as possible. Obviously, the more you spray, the thinner the runnings. Usually this is fine, because it’s all going into the brew kettle, where some of the water will boil off anyway.

Making a big deal of using the first “pressing” of the malt is just a marketing ploy, really. Especially when you’re going to lighten your beer with corn adjuncts anyway. That said, Kirin Ichiban is still a very good beer, and an excellent example of a Japanese premium lager (even if it is Made in USA).

Kirin Ichiban pours to a pale gold color with a thick creamy head formation and a lightly hoppy nose. The palate is crisp and clean with a light biscuity maltiness and a smooth, creamy body. In the finish, a very light hop aroma gradually emerges, then yields to a more pronounced bitterness that balances the beer very nicely and leaves a subtle lingering buzz on the tongue.

This is a very refreshing beer with a surprising amount of flavor. Although, as previously mentioned, corn is used as an adjunct, I don’t pick up a lot of adjunct flavor. Would I match it with Japanese food? Why not? The high drinkability factor would make Kirin Ichiban compatible with many dishes. Do I recommend it? Certainly. Just don’t feel I’m pressing you to try it. Ouch.

And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.