Taste Test: Sankt Gallen Sakura cherry blossom beer

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RocketNews 24: (by Casey Baseel)

After three months of cold weather, I’m ready for spring. Coincidentally, after a long week of work, I’m ready for a beer.

Lucky me, these two desires have dovetailed perfectly in the form of Kanagawa Prefecture microbrewer Sankt Gallen’s newest offering, made with the petals of the harbinger of Japanese spring, cherry blossoms. So strap on your drinking caps, because it’s time for the sakura beer taste test!

While Sankt Gallen Sakura can be ordered here directly from the brewer, you can also find it in select grocers and liquor stores. The Tokyu Store at Hiyoshi Station on the Toyoko Line (which runs between Toyoko Line’s Shibuya and Yokohama) had the special beer in stock on February 24, the day of its release.

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At 464 yen (US $3.95) a bottle, the cherry blossom beer is a little more expensive than major brands like Asahi or Kirin, but perfectly in line with what you’ll usually pay for microbrew beers in Japan. Actually, in the eyes of the law, it’s not even a beer, buthapposhu. While that designation usually gets slapped on low-malt, low-quality alcoholic beverages in Japan, in the case of Sankt Gallen Sakura, the classification seems to be strictly a result of it being made with sakura petals and leaves. Since these aren’t standard beer ingredients, for legal purposes, the brew gets classified as happoshu instead of beer .

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While the brew’s happoshu status is listed in the fine print, you’ll find “Sweets Beer” writ large on the label. That’s because the true flavor inspiration for Sankt Gallen Sakura is the traditional Japanese confectionary called sakura mochi, a dollop of sweet red beans wrapped in a thin, sweet rice cake, which is in turn wrapped in an edible sakura leaf.

▼ Sakura mochi, in non-beer form

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▼ The cap is not a twist-off, by the way.

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Sankt Gallen Sakura pours up without much head, and if you prefer drinking beer to chewing foam you can pretty much eliminate it from your glass entirely. The color is unique, in that it’s golden without being particularly yellow. As a matter of fact, it almost looks like some varieties of green tea, which is appropriate considering the Japanese inspiration for its flavor.

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One common element between the three Sankt Gallen brews I’d tried before the cherry blossom beer is a heavy bitterness. On its website, the brewer claims the sakura beer is less harsh that its usual offerings, and that’s definitely true, although there’s still more bitterness here than in, say, a bottle of Asahi Super Dry. Sadly, there’s no cherry blossom aroma to the beverage, and truth be told, initially the special ingredients don’t seem to affect the flavor very much either.

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After the liquid washes over your taste receptors, though, there’s a subtle but lingering sweet saltiness that spreads out from the center of your tongue. While it doesn’t, by any means, scream “Japanese dessert,” the sensation should be familiar to those who’ve eaten sakura mochi.

At the finish, there’s a crisp but not unpleasant bitterness that hits the back of your throat. Overall, there’s a lot of character to Sankt Gallen Sakura. One of its most intriguing characteristics is that, in contrast to the sharp sensations of bitterness that bookend its flavor profile, it’s got a very light mouth feel, something you’d generally associate with a less flavorful beer.

It’s usually been my experience that combining desserts with beer worsens them both, as though the universe is punishing you for asking for too much pleasure in one sitting. That’s not necessarily true with Sankt Gallen Sakura and sakura mochi, though. Maybe it’s because of its light mouth feel, it stays drinkable even when alternating sips of beer and bites of sweets, although doing so dulls the beverage’s more unique flavor components a bit.

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When all is said and done, how does the drinking experience compare to that of last year’s Mint Chocolate Stout? Well, remember that post-tasting snapshot above? Here’s the one for Sankt Gallen Sakura.

Sort of like a cherry blossom viewing party, Sankt Gallen Sakura isn’t necessarily something you’d want to experience every day. But as a unique change of pace for a special occasion once or twice a year?

Definitely.

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