Does it taste like sweet potatoes? Only slightly.
A brewer at Sixpoint Craft Ales recently told me — as I was working on my beer for tomorrow’s Beer for Beasts with Cathy Erway — “You know, you can brew beer out of nearly anything.”
The idea didn’t sink in right away, but I had occasion to remember it recently at 15 East, a Union Square sushi bar of some distinction. My choice of suds included three from Coedo, a Japanese brewery that is in the vanguard of the new brews movement there, which, in the last two decades or so has turned out beers more in line with the national (and international) taste than the usual German-style lagers that had been produced in the island nation since around 1875, using European technology and ingredients.
This was made possible by passage of a law in 1994 that permitted the formation of microbreweries around the country. The most famous of these establishments is Hitachino Nest, whose slightly strange products (red rice beer, expresso stout) have been popping up around town, even on non-Japanese menus. Another microbrewery of distinction is Coedo, made in the town of Kawagoe, just outside of Tokyo. Beniaka is their most prominent product, brewed from sweet potato that’s been baked to caramelization.
This baking gives the beer a burnished red color and a flavor that’s almost sweet, though backed up with a hoppy bitterness. It should also be noted that the sweet potato involved is not by any means an orange yam, but the more diminutive white sweet potato favored by Japanese, which has a subtler, smoother flavor. The alcohol content is 7 percent, and the beer is also available at EN Japanese Brasserie.