My journey to Copa Cervecera Del Pacifico, a major Mexican commercial beer competition, began on a whim. While attending the Advanced Cicerone Tasting Exam in San Diego, Jesus (whose performance surpassed mine) raved about the event. The three-day judging session followed by a renowned beer festival Ensenada Beer Fest sounded incredible.

Weeks later, both Rick (president of the Maltose Falcons) and Omar (owner of Hoppy Tap Ensenada) echoed Jesus’ enthusiasm. Though tempted, I remained hesitant. Finally, on a whim, I found myself joining Rick in his car on the competition week itself, heading south with a spirit of optimism.

Crossing the border, we were greeted by our homies Roxy and Luis in Tijuana. Their warm welcome and a delightful breakfast set the perfect tone for the trip. The drive down the Baja California coastline was breathtaking, reminiscent of Big Sur but adorned with picturesque resort towns – ideal retirement havens, I mused.

Left: Roxy, Luis, Rick and Me in TJ, Middle: Me along the coast, Right: Me and Rick at Cervecería Transpeninsular

Upon reaching the hotel, we discovered Rick’s room had two beds and no assigned roommate. Problem solved! The welcome party at Wendlandt Brew Pub followed by Hoppy Tap was a highlight. International judges from across the Americas gathered, and despite my limited Spanish, most everyone spoke fluent English, facilitating easy communication.

Left and middle: Wendlandt; Right: Hoppy Tap

The following day, I officially became a judge at the Copa Cervecera Del Pacifico! My table consisted entirely of Spanish speakers. While occasional Spanish discussions left me momentarily out of the loop, I wasn’t fazed. Having experienced the language barrier myself on numerous occasions, I understood their perspective. Additionally, a touch of (perhaps misplaced?) confidence led me to interject on occasion – and it worked out!

One unforeseen challenge arose: the judging transitioned from a paper-based system to the BAP app. While I had used it for National Homebrew Competitions, its Achilles’ heel became apparent – its reliance on internet connectivity. With nearly 100 judges straining the hotel Wi-Fi, the system became overwhelmed. Some judges offered their personal hotspots, others waited for a fix, and a few left the session altogether. It was a chaotic situation, leading to a loss of an hour or two on both Day 1 and 2. While frustrating, I recognized the inherent difficulties associated with such a significant change.

The actual judging spanned Tuesday afternoon, all of Wednesday and Thursday, with some overflow on Friday morning before the awards ceremony. It was an enriching experience! This was my first foray into commercial competition judging, and the sheer volume of entries compared to homebrew competitions necessitated a faster pace, especially considering the initial delays. Fortunately, my experienced tablemates shared valuable techniques to efficiently reach consensus on the top three beers. I learned two methods: moderate-fast and ultra-fast, each with its advantages and disadvantages – invaluable knowledge for the future.

Left to Right: Day 1 to Day 4

Evenings were spent at unofficial post-judging gatherings at local breweries – Cardera on Day 1, Hoppy Tap on Day 2, and Aguamala on Day 3. These gatherings provided an incredible opportunity to engage in conversation with industry legends like John Palmer (his 15th time judging!), Sandy Cockerham, Charles Porter, and many more – experiences unlikely to be replicated in the US. I also had the pleasure of meeting fantastic local brewers like Omar, Paco, and Cheche. The craft beer scene in Mexico is experiencing a boom, similar to the current state of affairs in Japan, and it reminded me of the early days of the US craft beer scene – exciting times, especially considering my own aspirations of opening a brewery.

Left: Day 2 at Hoppy Tap, Middle: Day 3 at Aguamala, Right: Day 3 at Hussong’s Cantina

My Personal Takes on the Beers and Festival

Hoppy Beers: Similar to my recent trip to Japan, West Coast and New England IPAs were a mixed bag. I believe this primarily stems from limited access to hop farms, unlike many established US breweries. Since most hops for IPAs are grown and priced in the US, the cost becomes a hurdle, especially considering currency exchange and inflation. While these brewers possess the scientific knowledge and brewing techniques, raw material accessibility dictates the price. In countries where people enjoy light beers with subtle malt and hop character, super expensive IPAs might not be the best sellers. However, I truly enjoyed the “session IPAs” – less hop-forward, avoiding excessive grassiness and astringency, showcasing classic grapefruit, citrus, and pine notes.

Fruit Sours: Judging fruited kettle sours, a personal favorite style of mine, was a delight. The gold medal-winning strawberry sour ale was phenomenal. Strawberries can be tricky; artificial flavors are common, while supermarket options are often more vegetal than fruity. However, high-quality, super-ripe strawberries burst with aroma and flavor. Passionfruit beers were a point of contention. Some entries were over-dosed, leading to funky, sulfurous notes and excessive sourness. Familiarity with the fruit character likely played a role here. I also encountered some fantastic guava, mango, and dragon fruit beers. While dragon fruit character is very subtle, it can work well in a beer, though perhaps not for the US market where they’re expensive.

Festival: Unlike typical US beer festivals, Ensenada Beer Fest offers a more affordable approach. For a $7 entry fee, attendees access booths with free tasters and pay for full pours. Three stages feature popular Central and South American bands, transforming the event into a serious music festival. This broader appeal attracts a wider audience beyond just beer geeks – a concept the US beer scene could learn from.

Food: The food was fantastic! Seafood lovers rejoice – the fish tacos, shrimp tacos, tostadas, and ceviches were incredible, bursting with the fresh flavors Ensenada is known for. But meat lovers won’t be disappointed either – the goat birria, a local specialty slow-cooked with a rich blend of spices, was insanely delicious.

Final Thoughts

A huge shoutout to the Copa Cervecera Del Pacifico organizers for an epic adventure! I learned tons, hung out with industry legends, and witnessed Mexico’s booming craft beer scene firsthand. This trip fueled my brewery dreams – one that’s both innovative and celebrates classic brewing techniques. With all the knowledge and connections I made, opening that brewery feels closer than ever. Cheers to that! Kanpai! ¡Salud!

Ensenadahh!! Read More »

GTG (Green Tea Gose)

Left: Matcha, Right: Sencha

Have you ever encountered a green tea-infused beer? While uncommon in local breweries, the vibrant green Kyoto Matcha IPA from Japan showcases the potential of this unique ingredient. Inspired by this discovery, I began a homebrewing journey to explore the possibilities of incorporating green tea into beer.

My initial attempt wasn’t quite what I envisioned: aiming for a “Matcha Milk Shake Hazy IPA,” I replaced hops with matcha powder, hoping to harness its anti-bacterial properties and capture its distinct flavor. While the resulting ale possessed subtle matcha flavor, it lacked the anticipated green color. More importantly, the slightly tart beer revealed that matcha wasn’t an effective hop substitute in terms of anti-bacterial activity. But surprisingly, I liked it! This unexpected creation even achieved an impressive score of 44/50 in a homebrew competition, the highest score I’ve received in my brewing career so far!

Fast forward to Ikasu Brewing. As I explore unique Japanese ingredients, matcha once again captured my attention. This time, instead of an “accidental” sour, I envisioned an intentional sour ale infused with matcha. Building on my success with quick/kettle-sour ales like POM! (Catharina Sour with Pomegranate) and Guavahh! (Gose with Guava), I considered the possibilities of using matcha instead of fruit.

Sencha, another beloved Japanese green tea, also piqued my curiosity. While familiar with its grassy and vegetal notes from daily consumption, I recognized the significant differences between matcha and sencha:

Processing: Matcha undergoes steaming to retain its vibrant green color and intense flavor, while sencha is pan-fired, resulting in a more vegetal taste.
Form: Matcha is a fine powder, while sencha consists of loose leaves, impacting how they interact with the beer during infusion.

Given these distinctions, I opted for a Gose as the base style. Its characteristic use of salt and coriander seeds promised intriguing interactions with the green tea flavors.

Recipe (7 gal):

Pale Ale Malt 2-Row68%
Wheat Red Malt32%
Water ChemistryCaMgNaClSO4HCO3
Concentration (ppm)32146815075105
Saccharification Rest150F5.460 min
Cascade2 ozHop Stand (175F) 30 min
Himalayan Sea Salt0.75 ozHop Stand
Coriander Seeds0.75 ozHop Stand
Matcha (or Sencha)4 ozDay 5 on Primary
YeastAmountPitched Temperature
Swanson l Plantarum600 mL starter95F
Wy3711 French Saison1000 mL starter65F
Fermentation ProfileTemperatureDuration
Kettle Sour95FOvernight
Primary65F9 days
Diacetyl Rest72F5 days
Cold Crash38F1 day

Kettle souring in general requires two-day (or more) brewing sessions. Day 1 is for mashing, heat pasteurizing, chilling, and pitching Lactobacillus (Lacto, the image above) to make the wort sour, which usually takes 16-48 hours. Then, day 2 involves heat pasteurizing the Lacto, adding hops, chilling, and pitching yeast. Most recipes call for an intense boil, which I believe is not always necessary (I’m someone who loves to save energy).

The next morning, I checked the pH, and it was already 3.0! The ideal range for kettle souring is typically 3.3-3.4. Why? Maybe I overpitched the super fresh Lacto?

Faced with this dilemma, I considered raising the pH with sodium bicarbonate, but I decided to hold off for a future experiment (“Can you fix too sour situations by simply adding baking soda?”). So, I proceeded with fermentation as planned. Surprisingly, despite sounding almost like pure vinegar, the beer didn’t taste that way.

Note: I later discovered that my pH meter misread the sample due to outdated calibration solutions. After all, the final beer ended up with a pH of 3.2, which is still a bit low but acceptable. This experience taught me the importance of not blindly trusting instrument readings and to rely on my senses as well. Mistakes like this can happen, so it’s crucial to be observant and adaptable during the brewing process.

My new fermentation chamber, a kind courtesy from my president Andy Carter.

The 14-gallon batch was divided into four 3.5-gallon kegs:

1. Control Gose (baseline)
2. Matcha Gose
3. Sencha Gose
4. Guava Gose (not discussed in this post)

Left: Matcha, Right: Sencha

On Day 5, I added matcha and sencha to their respective fermenters. While the amount seemed significant, fermentation progressed normally.


Although I originally planned to transfer the beers from fermenting kegs to serving kegs by Day 14, unforeseen circumstances, including a serving freezer (keezer) overhaul, caused a delay. Fortunately, on Day 21, I was able to transfer the fermenting kegs directly from the fermentation freezer to the keezer. This was possible because the kegs are equipped with floating dip tubes, allowing them to function similarly to unitanks.

C: Control, M: Matcha, S: Sencha

At first glance, they appeared completely identical. None of the beers had any green coloration. Tasting revealed surprisingly subtle tea aromas and flavors in both the matcha and sencha variations. To confirm sensory differences, I conducted 5 semi-blind triangle tests. The results were:

Control vs Matcha: 4/5 correct (statistically significant)
Control vs Sencha: 5/5 correct (statistically significant)
Matcha vs Sencha: 2/5 correct (no statistically significant difference)

While I could distinguish control from both tea variations, differentiating between matcha and sencha proved challenging in the context of the Gose. This led to a slight disappointment, prompting me to order more tea for a second attempt with a potentially stronger infusion.

Further experimentation with adjusting pH and final gravity is necessary, as these factors can intensify astringency from green tea. Additionally, achieving the vibrant green color characteristic of matcha remains a future pursuit. However, I personally enjoy the beer with green tea flavor without a murky green appearance, similar to my preference for pale ales with coffee flavors.

Sencha, with its affordability and more pronounced aroma, is currently my preferred choice for future exploration. Additionally, sencha alleviates the challenge of achieving the desired green color. This unique ingredient shows promise for adding a distinctive character to our beers and contributing to the overall identity of Ikasu Brewing. This is just the beginning of the journey, and I am eager to share future discoveries with you!


GTG (Green Tea Gose) Read More »

Hop Kotan, Hokkaido’s Brewing Gem

Deep in the picturesque hills of Kami-Furano, Hokkaido, lies a passionate craft brewery – Hop Kotan Brewing. Opened in 2018, this local gem quickly caught my attention, especially due to its proximity to my childhood home. While initially disappointed by the lack of a local taproom (there’s a remote taproom Beer Kotan in Sapporo), the opportunity for a personal tour from the owner brewer Tsutsumino-san was an unexpected delight.

What truly sets Hop Kotan apart is its unwavering commitment to local ingredients. Each brew is infused with the spirit of Hokkaido, thanks to their exclusive use of hops grown nearby in Furano farms. Currently, their focus lies on the Cascade hop, but that’s just the beginning. Exciting collaborations with local farmers are underway to develop new hop strains, promising future beers bursting with the essence of Furano.

The Owner Brewer Takayuki Tsutsumino (Left) and Me (Right)

The soul of Hop Kotan lies in a beautiful, albeit slightly weathered, brewhouse system. Acquired from another brewery, this veteran workhorse embodies Tsutsumino-san’s dedication to craft. He keeps it humming along despite its occasional quirks, demonstrating the ingenuity and resourcefulness at the heart of Hop Kotan.

While currently a production facility, Tsutsumino-san’s vision for the future is expansive. He dreams of a new facility that can accommodate a larger brewhouse, more tanks, and most importantly, a welcoming taproom. This wouldn’t just be about expanding production; it’s about creating a space where the community can gather, share stories, and celebrate the art of craft beer.

Of course, challenges in the form of accessibility and strict DUI laws cannot be ignored. Yet, Tsutsumino-san remains undeterred by these obstacles. He believes that the shared joy of a good beer can bridge any gap, and that’s a vision I find truly inspiring.

While the clinking of glasses in a future taproom may not yet be heard, the passion, dedication, and love for local craft brewing are already brewing something special at Hop Kotan. So, I raise a glass to their commitment, their innovative spirit, and the exciting journey that lies ahead. Kanpai!

Hop Kotan, Hokkaido’s Brewing Gem Read More »

Real Japan Lager Project: Sticky Rice vs. Flaked Rice

What pops into your mind when you hear “Japanese Lager”? Asahi? Kirin? Sapporo? You got it! Now, how would you describe them? Light, crisp, dry, refreshing… perhaps a touch bland or similar to Budweiser?

One key difference between Japanese lagers and other styles lies in their use of rice as an adjunct sugar source alongside barley. (Happoshu: a lighter beer using more rice for a lower tax in Japan, FYI.) I once used flaked rice for a homebrew lager that actually snagged a gold medal for the International Pale Lager category at a local homebrew competition!

But then, a question lingered: What truly sets Japanese lagers apart? American lagers like Budweiser use rice too. Could the rice type hold the answer? Perhaps the sticky rice I grew up with in Japan played a role?

Sticky rice was omnipresent in my childhood, the foundation of every meal. Here in the States, rice isn’t quite as ubiquitous, and sticky rice usually requires a trip to an Asian grocery store.

Curiosity bubbling, I decided to brew a Japanese lager with Japanese sticky rice. I knew I’d need to cook it first (a process called gelatinization or cereal mashing) to make the complex starches accessible to the enzymes that convert them into fermentable sugars later in the main mash process.

To assess the impact of this swap, I brewed two side-by-side batches: Batch A with sticky rice and Batch B with my trusty flaked rice.

This format takes inspiration from the brilliant minds at Brulosphy.com and ScottJanish.com, two websites I deeply respect.

Recipe (5.5 gal):

Pilsner Malt60%
Japanese Sticky Rice (or Flaked Rice)25%
Pale Ale Malt10%
Caramel Malt 20L5%
Water ChemistryCaMgNaClSO4HCO3
Concentration (ppm)32146815075105
Saccharification Rest148F (64C)5.660 min
Hallertauer Mittelfrueh1 oz30 min
Tettnang1 oz30 min
Hallertauer Mittelfrueh1 oz5 min
Tettnang1 oz5 min
YeastAmountPitched Temperature
W-34/702000 mL starter55F (13C)
Fermentation ProfileTemperatureDuration
Primary55F (13C)5 days
Diacetyl Rest65F (18C)5 days
Cold Crash34F (1C)1 day

Brew day involved cooking 2.5 lbs of rice and cooling it down to the room temperature. I didn’t want it to raise the mash temperature above my target (dropping it is harder!), but adding the cooked rice actually caused a substantial drop, requiring an elaborate adjustment.

Despite my concern, the rice dispersed nicely without clumping. However, during mashing, the rice pieces remained intact, sparking a touch of paranoia – were the sugars being extracted properly?

During the lautering (separating the wort from the grains), I squeezed both batches, extracting substantially more liquid from the already-wet sticky rice, boosting the Sticky Rice Lager’s wort volume. However, this didn’t significantly dilute the final product, and both batches had similar OG (original gravity) readings.

Left: Japanese Sticky Rice Lager, Right: Flaked Rice Lager

Sticky Rice LagerFlaked Rice lager
*pH was adjusted from 5.7 to 5.4 before fermentation with food-grade phosphoric acid.

The Verdict:

Both lagers finished with similar numbers, though Sticky Rice Lager showed slightly lower attenuation. Their appearances looked pretty identical while Sticky Rice Lager was slightly paler.

Left: Japanese Sticky Rice Lager, Right: Flaked Rice Lager

But the sensory experience was strikingly different. Sticky Rice Lager emitted a noticeable sulfur note reminiscent of authentic German Pilsners, a stark contrast to the neutral, almost Japanese milk bread-like aroma of Flaked Rice Lager. Mouthfeel was another key difference: Sticky Rice Lager delivered a crisp bite despite its slightly higher FG (final gravity), while Flaked Rice Lager leaned towards creamy.

Five “semi-blind triangle tests” confirmed my suspicions: I identified the randomly-mixed unique sample every single time! This statistically proves that using sticky rice imparts a significant sensory impact compared to flaked rice.

Sharing these beers at the SoCal Cerveceros meeting brought about divided opinions. Members seemed to slightly favor Flaked Rice Lager, though honestly, I was a tad too tipsy at the time to remember everything clearly, lol…

I haven’t plunged down the rabbit hole of Japanese rice and sulfur note connections yet, but I’ve always recognized the unique smell when Japanese rice is cooked, which might translate as a sulfur note in beer. I haven’t cooked rice since then, but instead I’m now in front of my usual taco stand (yes, I’m a dedicated arroz y frijoles guy!), and guess what? These cooked tortillas are giving me sulfur notes too!

The journey to craft the perfect Japanese lager for LA beer lovers continues. Cheers! Kanpai!!

Real Japan Lager Project: Sticky Rice vs. Flaked Rice Read More »


The stickers are finally here! That means it’s officially time to open our website to the public!

Don’t hesitate to come say hi if you see me in person – I’d love to chat and hand out free stickers! Cheers!

Stickers!! Read More »

Ikasu Brewing!!

Big news, everyone! My dream is brewing! I’m opening Ikasu Brewing!

Where? Somewhere awesome in the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) in Los Angeles County, CA – keep your eyes peeled!

When? Targeting 2024, but hey, life happens.

What’s set? Just the killer name and logo, but trust me, this is no flight of fancy.

What’s next? This blog is your backstage pass to Ikasu Brewing. Think progress updates, homebrew lab insights, and my honest takes on the latest brewing science.

Join the journey! I’d love to hear your thoughts, so don’t be shy – use the “Leave A Comment” below or “Contact” page to say hi. 👋

Cheers! -Masa

Ikasu Brewing!! Read More »

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