Baird beer and breakfast

Beer: so much motre thsn a breakfast drinkBeer’s not my usual breakfast tipple, though I’d agree with Tim Martin, founder of the Wetherspoon pub chain in the UK, that Abbot Ale is an excellent accompaniment to the traditional Full English. But I couldn’t keep away from an invitation to “brunch” with Bryan Baird, the American founder of the eponymous brewery in Numazu, 80 or so miles west of Tokyo.

The event was organised by the Globe bar in SoHo, Hong Kong and featured six different Baird beers, all paired with different dishes and introduced by Bryan Baird himself. Like all brewers, Bryan is hugely enthusiastic about his trade, and he was well served by the Globe, which delivered some excellent matches to his beers, to go with a six-course breakfast.

Single Take session beerWe kicked off with cured ocean trout, cream cheese and cucumber, served with Baird’s Single-Take Session Ale: a fine pairing, a little more classy than the traditional breakfast kipper, the only problem here being that I really, really wanted a whole pint of Single-Take, rather than a small glass. It’s a Belgian-style beer, according to Bryan, made with Belgian yeast, but “inverted” – low-alcohol, high-hop, rather than the other way round, 4.7 per cent abv and plenty of hop flavour from dry-hopping. The hops are whole-hop Tettnanger and New Zealand varieties, and the name and label are inspired by Neil “single take” Young: the label is meant to show young Mr Young performing “Rocking’ in the Free World” on Saturday Night Live in 1989. And if you look at that video, you can see the woman who designs Baird’s woodcut-style labels has indeed captured a clip from the show.

“Single-Take”, Bryan says, reflects Baird’s philosophy towards brewing: simplicity and minimal processing: “The more you process, the more you strip out.” Baird’s beers are all unfiltered and all are bottle-fermented. The malt is mostly floor-malted Maris Otter, from Crisp Malting Group in the UK (“we like tradition” – Bryan), and if it seems economically insane to bring malt from the UK to Japan, Bryan told me that he manages to get a reasonable deal by piggy-backing his own orders alongside those from some of Japan’s giant brewers, who import a very considerable amount of British malt themselves. (Incidentally, just to show that you should never assume too much about your audience, one of the people on the table behind me at the brunch stuck his hand up as Bryan was talking about floor malting and asked: “What is malting?” If you don’t know, do ask.)

Next was French toast and bacon, or rather, eggy bread with crisp pancetta, pomegranate and eucalyptus honey, served with Baird’s Rising Sun pale ale. This is Bryan’s take on an American IPA, but considerably more subtle than American IPAs normally are, Cascade and Ahtanum hops used with care, so that the sweetness of the malt is still apparent: another winning combination, the beer and the sharp honey shaking hands and slapping each other on the back.

Number three was a very Chinese breakfast dish, steamed bun with sugar-braised pork and hoisin sauce, paired with Red Rose amber ale. Red Rose is Baird’s take on the “Californian steam” style, which would be low on my list of favourite beer types: I like malty beers with pork, but this wasn’t a combination that made much impact on me. Again, it’s a reversal: while Steam Beer is usually a lager yeast fermenting at ale yeast temperatures, Baird uses a Scottish ale yeast at lager temperatures to make Red Rose. The name here comes from Bryan’s grandfather’s animal feed company, the inheritance from which enabled him to start the brewery: his grandfather’s company’s trade name was Red Rose.

Bryan Baird
Bryan Baird: brewing enthusiast

I was happier with the Angry Boy brown ale, rightly one of Baird’s most popular beers, which came with a Cumberland sausage and cheddar roll. It is, Bryan says, his autobiographical beer: “My mom used to call me Angry Boy,” not least, apparently, because he used to smash up the family home after his favourite (American) football team, the Cincinnati Bengals, had managed to lose again. The label today, he says, is a “blue-eyed samurai”, and the “anger” now is meant to reflect passion and drive. It’s an “American” brown ale, Bryan says, taking it on from the British original, plenty of malt sweetness, but with brown sugar to add more alcohol (6.5 per cent abv) and hopped “almost like an IPA”, with dry hops as well, to give a beer that’s “placid on the surface, but with a lot going on at a lower level”.

Baird’s Imperial IPA is called Suruga Bay, after the large bay that the brewery’s home town, Numazu, stands at the head of. It was served at the Globe brunch with a “mini-burger”: hoppy IPAs are a good match with burgers, cutting through and clearing the grease (this is the reason Tim Martin is so right about Abbot and the traditional English heart-jolter). Bryan confesses to being inspired by Russian River’s pioneering Pliny the Elder: Suruga Bay is double-dry hopped with American and New Zealand hops: Columbus, Nelson Sauvin, Simcoe and Cascade. Ten years ago, he says, he was told the Japanese would never drink really hoppy beers: today Suruga Bay is, with Rising Sun, one of his best-sellers: “We just can’t make enough of it.”

Deep-fried Mars bars
Chocolate and Caramel Beignets – or to you, deep-fried Mars bars in beer batter

The final dish was called “Chocolate and Caramel Beignets”, a fabulous frenchification of that Scottish classic – deep-fried Mars bars. Yes, these little, sweet puffy balls were sliced Mars bars, dipped in a beery batter, deep-fried and served with vanilla ice-cream. It was a great joke, though, um, not actually that terrific as an experience: cheap chocolate is cheap chocolate, even when pimped up by the excellent chef the Globe employs. The beer was good, though: Baird’s Kurofune Porter, 6 per cent abv, which Bryan calls a “robust porter” – don’t let’s start having an argument about whether that is in any way a valid category, this is a fine beer and an excellent choice with ice-cream. Kurofune means “black ships”, and refers to the ships that Commander Perry arrived in back in 1854 to open up Japan fully to Western trade.

Overall it was an excellent lunchtime, my one difficulty being that, these days, drinking quantities of strong beer before 2pm means I then have to take an extended nap, wiping out my afternoon. Still, many thanks to Bryan, the Globe, and the guys from Hop Leaf, the beer importers, who organised it all.

15 thoughts on “Baird beer and breakfast

  1. I dunno if Baird really claims Red Rose Ale is based on California Steam beer, but it bears pretty much zero resembalance to it. It’s vastly more flavorful, and well, really interesting. There’s a weird “coarse brown sugar” vibe going on that I really like. [Best fresh, of course…]

    1. p.s. and that’s one thing I like about Barid — they experiment a lot, and many of their beers are kind of weird. Sometimes that’s bad weird, of course, but they’re good enough at this by now that often it’s good weird…

      Probabably my favorite Baird Beer is Rising Sun Pale Ale, which initially tastes kind of watered down … but after a while you realize it’s watered down in a good way, and much more nuanced that it seems at first, with a lovely floating breezy citrus vibe. Every once in a while they do a version of Rising Sun Pale Ale with Belgian yeast, and that’s amazing and interesting (and like nothing else I’ve ever had).

      [RSPA also seems to be a crowd favorite — my little neighborhood bar often has Baird beers on tap, but RSPA shows up far more often than most.]

    2. I was there at the brunch with Martyn and, yes, Bryan did mention that Red Rose is based on an “inverted” steam beer–that is, ale fermented at lager temperatures, as Martyn mentions.

  2. Great as always, but now I find myself eating some breakfast and enjoying a pint ..thanks, the way, I not convinced that anything pairs well with Greek yogurt and granola !

  3. Anchor Steam Beer on draft in the Bay Area, CA is more than an acceptable, proto-craft beer: it has a pleasant and characteristic taste and bitterness which reflects its mixed aleish and lager origins and also the essential quality of the brewing. The bottled drink, and the draft when shipped afar, are inferior IMO perhaps mostly because Anchor pasteurizes them, a pre-craft era practice it holds onto. Yet, I have had countless unpasteurized craft beers on the east coast shipped from the far west in exemplary condition: modern brewing and distribution are such that Anchor IMO might consider abandoning pasteurization, but that is another matter.

    In addition, this superb early piece of brewing history by Roger Bergen shows that steam beer was made by many companies at one time. He argues persuasively that most were probably all-malt with fairly respectable IBU scores, so it seems unlikely a high degree of quality was not attained by some.

    The essence of the steam beer process was the use of lager yeasts at ale fermentation temperatures. I have tasted numerous recreations using this approach and the results can be excellent. It tastes like English ale mostly, amber or darkish, with good bitterness and forward malt character.


    1. modern brewing and distribution are such that Anchor IMO might consider abandoning pasteurization, but that is another matter

      All the more true because Anchor is apparently very picky about distribution: I’ve heard that they have requirements for refrigerated shipping and storage written into their contracts with foreign distributors.

      [Still, I’ll almost always go for something locally brewed; there’s a very clear freshness difference, and imported stuff is often downright stale.]

  4. Latest beery update m’dear. Falls somewhat short of the usual and written by a Neanderthal apparently as you will see… Are they trying to be clever do you think? I know our hominid cousins have enjoyed something of a rehabilitation of late, rather like ‘real ale’, but they did go extinct after all which one rather hopes is not the fate of proper beer… Of course the above doesn’t apply to yetis, yowies, squatches or bigfoot & al., which as you well know are thriving in their thousand across the globe.

    Speaking of which they tell me they look in through the windows at night so best get a good set of curtains m’dear… Do you think that’s why penthouses are more expensive? I’ve often wondered…

    Right in the absence, pretty much, of curtains, beef or otherwise, I must go and hammer crooked bits of wood over the windows m’dear… again… and before it’s too late!

    Good luck with the interview Wiglet and/or trust it went well depending when you get this as I’m never quite sure what time, or come to think of it, what day it is in Australia… Speak soon m’dear which could be today or tomorrow or even yesterday perhaps x

    Sent from my iPad

  5. I really miss living in Japan and being able to drink all their wonderful regular beers and seasonal creations.

    Their wheat wine was my first wheat wine and I do believe I have dreams about it….

  6. One more thought, which is that while most of the beers and dishes sound excellent or wonderful and seem to complement well, I wonder if it mightn’t have been as good if the beers were matched with different of those same dishes.

    I once read in one of those surveys of European food, a propos North Italy, a province there, that in the past people ate whatever wine they made with whatever food they grew. Steak and white wine was fine, lake trout and deep red wine, that kind of thing. It has always stuck with me and therefore I’ve always wondered whether things will match or well enough when each component is of a high quality. Thus, if the cured trout had been matched to the porter, say, or common-style, would it have been a good pairing too? Or was that situation in Italy simply something people accepted, and then regarded as traditional, because of what was available?


  7. Martyn, through reading the blog I’ve noticed you’ve been spending quite a bit of time in Southeast Asia. Are you working on something new that ties into that area?

    1. No, I’m currently employed on the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, because there aren’t enough well-paying jobs in the UK for experienced journalists of my vintage. However, while I’m here, I’m enjoying the beery opportunities that provides …

  8. I have tried Baird’d Red Rose, as it happens, and quite enjoyed despite it being thinner than I expected. Actually, that thin-ness (if that’s a word), seems to be a feature of both Baird and Hitachino beers – which are the only ones I’ve had from the far east. Is this something you’ve noticed, and is this a general feature of brewing over there? Or is it just me?

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