Friday, March 9, 2012

Rogue - Morimoto Soba Ale

Not to sound uncultured, but the only Morimoto that I knew of prior to drinking this beer was the guy on Iron Chef.  Thank goodness my hunch was correct!  Unfortunately, the Rogue website (and Google in general) is rather vague on just how he was involved, and only reads that it was "launched in the Spring of 2003 with internationally acclaimed Chef Masaharu Morimoto—a James Beard awarded chef and one of the stars of the Food Network series, Iron Chef."

However, Rogue is much more forthcoming with what Soba actually is, stating "Soba (also known as buckwheat) is not a type of wheat but a member of the rhubarb family and has been a longtime staple of Japanese cuisine because of its nutritional value. Buckwheat is high in potassium, phosphorous, vitamin B (50 percent more than wheat) and protein, and its virtually fat-free. The fruits of the buckwheat plant are like small beechnuts, which are milled to separate the edible groats from the dark brown hulls. The groats are then roasted and used more or less like a grain (a good example is Kasha)."

In any case, I'm looking forward to the incorporation of "eastern" ingredients into beer.  They're usually things we westerners are not familiar with and can be a fun, eye-opening experience. Let's pour!

Aroma 7/12
Initially, I thought I was pouring this beer when it was still too cold.  I was difficult to get any smell and what was there wasn't very impressive so I waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  No dice.  What I smelled was what I got, with a slight increase in the sweetness.  This beer smells rather like a wheat beer.  Plain and simple.  There is a grainy note, a light citrus and that's about it.  The only addition after waiting was an welcome increase of an orange zest citrus sweetness.

Appearance 1/3
It pours a hazy golden color that more resembles some earth tones than a bright shining one.  There isn't much variation in the shades, giving this beer a simple, dull look.  The head is scrawny and barely rises up a half a finger's breadth.  It leaves just as meagerly as it appears, and barely remains as a ring of foam at the top.  C'mon Rogue, you can do better than this.

Flavor 14/20
Interesting things are afoot.  This starts out with a distinct, but muted citrus (think: lemon water).  It is very clean, straightforward, and refreshing.  It leads into a backbone where that continues, but a strong earthy grain note is added to the works, no doubt the calling card of the soba.  I wish there was more to write, but this brew is remarkably simple.  As it warms, the sweetness does allow an almost vanilla tone to show and it's a very nice surprise.  The finish allows a slight bitter to be added to the earthy grain and said bitter lingers a bit as in a good pilsner.  The aftertaste allows on the lightest bitters to remain as well as a noticeable grain taste.  Unfortunately, this beer was not able to surprise me with any new eastern ingredient.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The carbonation is tiny, but abundant enough to compliment the refreshing flavors and the appropriately medium-light body.  Even the foaming action on the tongue feels light and airy.

Overall Impression 7/10
A lighter offering that focuses on simple refreshment and little else, this could be an excellent pairing with a salmon filet or a spicy cheese.  This beer is likely a safe bet to try on friends who haven't yet broken into craft beer.  It's inoffensive, but the enticing label art might make them feel a bit more adventurous.  As for those of us who are already seasoned adventurers, this might not fit the bill.  It reminds a sturdy-bodied pilsner with a squeeze of lemon and an earthy twist.  If simplicity and refreshment are your sole aims, then look no further.  If you think you're going to be wowed by some strange, new ingredient from a foreign land, then keep looking.

Chef Morimoto himself.  Who, by the way, FULLY endorses Sud Savant.
Total 33/50
Meh.  This beer underwhelmed me.  I know, I know that there's something to be said for simplicity and flavors that don't slap around the tongue.  However, this misses the mark.  It's not a simple version of a style, it's just simple.  Light lemon and some earthy Japanese grain?  That's it?  There is also the off chance that I'm being a boorish American and not fully realizing the Japanese appreciation of simplicity.  Just as Tokyo is nearly vandalized by neon lights, but many inhabitants choose to live in simple, uncluttered, minimalist living spaces, this beer mimics that.  It's label definitely drew my eyes, but what was inside was simple and functional and did not clamor for my attention.  (Note: By and large, I shy away from making sweeping generalizations about entire nations/cultures/religions/races/etc, but the Japanese have recently, as in the last decade or two or three, employed at large a minimalist design that enjoys a great deal of popularity).

An interesting ale if you're looking for a lighter beer.  I feel bad calling this a lawnmower beer, but damn I could see myself absolutely downing this bad boy on a hot summer day.  Or the beach!  If it didn't come in glass, I would fully endorse this on the beach.  Long story short?  I expected more.  I wanted a strange, new ingredient loaded with flavor.  I wanted a beer that would render me near speechless with its deliciousness, the same way that Chef Morimoto's food has earned him his fame.  This didn't come close.  When I pay $6+ for a bomber, I expect a little of that.  If I want a simple, quenching beer I can err a little closer to the cheap stuff.  This is like pricey lager.  I know it's better, I just don't care enough.


  1. Check out the ingredient list when you get a chance. My favorite is the free range waters.

    1. Well, you wouldn't want your water spending its life in a cage would you? Injected with all sorts of steriods and God-knows-what?