It’s been a challenging calendar year for breweries, and businesses in general, as brewers look to pivot and continue to find ways to get their beer to drinkers and although COVID-19 has slowed down the amount of new breweries popping up, it hasn’t stopped everyone – like Shimai-Toshi Brewing.
Launched late last summer, the Portland-based brewery not only opened during a pandemic but started brewing beer that’s catching the eye of the local craft beer community. Influenced heavily by Asian culture, specifically the yuzu fruit, an ingredient long used and cherished by Japanese cooks, Shimai-Toshi wants to highlight the fruit in all of its recipes and unlock a refreshingly new drinkability to beer.
And that starts with the brewery’s signature beer, Yuzu Lager. Developed by a group of Oregon cycling design professionals, one of whom just so happens to be a citrus farmer, Yuzu Lager has what the brewery describes as a “light citrus snap that’s slightly tart, with a delicate honey finish.” The focal point of the beer is the yuzu, a citrus fruit cultivated mainly in East Asia, believed to originate as a hybrid of the mandarin orange and ichang papeda. It’s not the first beer to incorporate the fruit, as Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery has long brewed a popular version of the style. But you certainly won’t find a beer like that being distributed anywhere in this country.
Yuzu Lager is currently available in 16-ounce cans on a very small scale, though it has become quite popular at several Portland ramen restaurants, including Afuri Ramen which actually has a deal to get the beer in it’s own packaging variant.
“Yuzu will be an ingredient in some capacity in all releases for the foreseeable future,” said Shimai-Toshi co-founder Sean McMahon recently told The New School. “We’ll definitely experiment with variants and blends for limited releases. e.g. Sudachi, daidai, calamansi, etc.”
McMahon and fellow Shimai-Toshi founders Nichole Lemaire, Greg Johnson and Ian Marshall all have a background in design and branding, working for companies like Nike and Patagonia, though it was McMahon whose knowledge of the craft beer industry helped get the ball rolling for this unusally-styled beer. As the owner and operator of Brewery Outfitters, a boutique design and merchandising company, McMahon spent significant time at Firestone Walker Brewing Company and Ninkasi Brewing Company, creating all sorts of custom designs and various gear for each brewery.
Shimai-Toshi translates to “Sister City” and since Portland is the sister city of Sapporo in Japan, it seemed only fitting to focus on such a heavy Asian influence. While it might be a Japanese fruit, yuzu can survive Oregon’s winters, growing best in the state, which actually makes it a desirable import across the sea. Time will tell if yuzu-inspired beers become trendy in the U.S. but with how popular both ramen and sushi have become, it would only make sense that a perfect beer pairing would as well. A new citrusy and refreshing lager that shies away from the same old taste? Count us in on that.