Brews News by Bryan Harrell
Issue #9 -- February 1997

Deserted Island Six Pack Sweepstakes!

If you were stranded on a deserted island, which six beers would you want to have with you? Remember, it's not a "desert" island but rather one which is deserted, and has both cold winters and warm summers, so your selection may reflect that.

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO: Please send me the names of your six most favorite bottled (or canned!) beers. Draft beers don't count because theoretically you can't carry them with you. Also, please send any comments or criticisms of Brews News, and tell me if you think having a Cooking With Beer recipe feature each issue is a good idea.

WHAT YOU MIGHT WIN: The person with the selection which most closely resembles mine will win an actual six-pack of those beers (subject to availability).

I'll be waiting to hear from all of you.
-- Bryan Harrell

tokyo food page

eating & drinking

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Local Brews That Gave Me the Blues
by Bryan Harrell

First of all I must apologize to anyone who read my Beer Matsuri report and subsequently visited the Csarda Brewery in Yokohama. After a visit there myself in late December, I found out that the rather tasty Csarda Bitter Ale served at the event was from their Kobe brewery. The version brewed in Yokohama bears no resemblance. Yokohama Csarda does have an impressive looking brewhouse, and claims to always have seven different beers on tap, but after tasting three of them I just had to give up. All were served ice cold, and after letting them warm to a decent drinking temperature, none were what I could consider any better than entry-level homebrew, much less beers worth charging money for.

It brings to mind the old saying about homebrew: "Do my friends like it because it's tasty, or do they like it because it's free?"

Not only were the Yokohama Csarda offerings completely lacking in good flavor and character, they exhibited technical flaws in brewing. There was the rank, oxidized aftertaste. A slight sourness that indicated possible infection (although there's no harm to the drinker). And a murkiness that interfered with the focus of whatever flavor was left in the beer. A bit of yeast cloudiness is okay, but this was definitely more than yeast, it had to have been grain trub, hop particles, and other stuff which should normally be allowed to "drop" out of the beer in a settling tank, a process which normally takes only a few days. "Unfiltered" shouldn't mean completely unrestrained.

Thus, the only way to minimize the off-flavors in this kind of beer is to serve it cold, teeth-chattering cold.

To be honest, the Stout was drinkable albeit bland, but certainly not worth trying again. It's obvious to me that the owners of this brewery have invested millions of dollars in a lot of brewing equipment and a nice location, but have really scrimped on brewing talent. If they had the sense to hire a good brewer, they could be serving at least passable product within a month. It's a beautiful place, too bad they just don't know how to make good beer.

But don't think Csarda is the only one suitable for this sort of beer-critic abuse. The fact is, many of the beers on offer at last November's Ji-Beer Matsuri could be classified into this category. Just this week I experienced another particularly bad example: the Daiba Beers made by the Sunset Beach Brewing Company out at Odaiba on Tokyo Bay.

Sunset Beach Brewing Company has a restaurant serving buffet style meals with their beer, which are also available at the Uokyu Japanese restaurant on the first floor of the same building. I tried all three being offered that day. The "Kolsch" was a murky yellow beer served ice cold with a wedge of lemon which had apparently been squeezed into the beer before it was lodged on the edge of the glass. I'd never heard of Kolsch (a light ale from Cologne, Germany) served with a lemon before, but after a taste I could see the logic: the beer was definitely "off" and exhibited an array of sulfurous aromas, which were to some extent covered up by the sharp, deodorizing properties of the lemon. If one leaves the lemon on the rim of the glass (like I didn't) and drinks the beer while it is still ice cold, these flavors and smells are much less noticeable.

Next came the "Alt," which bore little resemblance to the famous Altbiers of Dusseldorf, although the color was broadly similar. This one was also ice cold, and once allowed to warm slightly, exhibited a decidedly sour aroma and taste.

The third variety was the "Special," which was anything but. Nobody could tell me even roughly what style of beer this was supposed to be, but it didn't matter anyway because it really didn't taste like anything anyway. It had fewer "off" flavors, but maybe it was because it wasn't as old, and hadn't had time to develop them in the serving tanks.

To sum up, I would have to say that Japan's Big Four brewers couldn't be more delighted with the way these beers taste, and may just be hoping that all this "ji-biiru" nonsense will blow over in a year or two. After all, it's easier and more profitable to crank out huge quantities of a bland product, rather than have to go to the trouble of brewing something which requires more expensive ingredients and a more time- consuming process.

Interestingly enough, when the Big Four do decide to produce a non-standard "craft-type" product, it may not always be particularly interesting, but it certainly will not have the kind of technical flaws common to Csarda, Sunset Beach, and god knows who's next.

In closing, I really regret having to say bad things about these breweries. I would really rather give you a glowing report on where you can drink super-fresh and truly tasty beer. Unfortunately, these weren't, so I thought I'd warn you.

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Good Japanese Craft Beer at Ginga Kogen
by Bryan Harrell

If the previous article made you give up hope, don't. Just go have decent craft beer from Iwate at the Ginga Kogen Beer Restaurant in Akasaka, above Akasaka Moti in the same building, phone 3224-9686. The fact that Ginga employs not one but two brewmasters from Germany may have something to do with their success.

Also take heart in the fact that Ginga Kogen has two other locations which I haven't visited, but which serve the same three Iwate-brewed beers offered in Akasaka:
* Roppongi 3-8-15, phone 3405-8819
* Ginza 8-9-11, phone 3575-0850

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No Cigar, But Stay Tuned...
by Bryan Harrell

Japon-tei in Kojimachi may be the only pub in Japan to offer its own brand of craft beer. Recommended by a reader, this pub actually specializes in jizake, and features a wide array of really great brands. The izakaya-style Japanese food is another big plus, everything my friend and I had there on a recent visit was quite delicious. Japon-tei's "Kojimachi 3- chome Beer" is said to be an English style bitter ale, and is made by an outside brewery which the master Katoh-san wishes to keep a secret.

So was it a good craft beer? Close, but no cigar. For one thing, it was served in a very un-English style in a tall ceramic cup. I couldn't see it. For another, it was served at virtually freezing temperature, even colder than the beer at Sunset Beach, so I couldn't even smell it, and the only taste was a cold foamy sensation.

But after requesting a clear glass, and pouring the beer into it and waiting a good twenty minutes, the beer finally came into focus. It was a beautiful pale amber color, quite clean looking with a nice head, and had a mild yet unremarkable flavor. I think the brewer was aiming at something like Bass Pale Ale, but was a fair measure short of the mark. The lingering tangy sweetness at the end gave me the impression that it was brewed not from malt grain, but from malt extract, but I can't be sure.

While the beer was certainly a preferable alternative to mass- produced Japanese beer, Kojimachi 3-chome Beer could use to be a bit more flavorful and distinctive. Perhaps serving it at about 10-12 degrees C in an attractive glass would be a good start.

Katoh-san told me that he's now in the process of developing a cherry beer, which he hopes to have on sale sometime in March. What with all the great sake and food Japon-tei's got, one can't help but be impressed by Katoh-san's taste. I think that the beer here could very well improve as time goes on.

I'll be returning when the cherry beer is ready.

Japon-tei is just at the #3 entrance of Kojimachi station on the Yurakucho line. Open Mon-Fri only. Address: Chiyoda-ku, Kojimachi 3-4; phone 3263-3642.

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SPECIAL REPORT: The Cellar Japan
by Rob Waring

The Cellar Japan in Kobe is run by Junko Saito and her husband Hiroshi in a small building just off one of Kobe's main intersections about a 10 minute walk from JR Kobe. They have been operating only a short time and as a result of the Kobe 'quake needed to find new site which has been newly built for them. I believe they are associated with The Cellar in Seattle USA.

Junko and Hiroshi Saito run the Beer Club of Japan (officially recognized by the American Homebrewer's Association) from this side street site. Membership costs 600 yen to join, 2400 yen per year, and benefits include a discount on homebrew supplies, a membership pin and issues of their newsletter (Japanese only) among other things. They hold regular meetings.

My first reaction upon seeing it was that it was a small warehouse, and I was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the owners who thrust a beer upon me almost as I walked in the door. They were extremely helpful and full of advice for beginners. They stock about 10-12 different extracts (that I could see), kickers and various types of hops and beer kits and other necessities. In addition to malt extract, they also carry four kinds of malted grain in 1 lb. vacuum packs for 550-600 yen each. By the time you read this, they should also be selling malt in about 20kg bags for a more reasonable price, between 350 to 500 yen per kg. They don't have the variety that you would expect in a normal homebrew store back home, but then who in Japan does?

While I was there, there was a steady flow of customers all of whom the owners knew by name and this gave me the impression that their business was small but very personal. They do have a few non-Japanese customers I was told. The owners are both fluent in English so those who are worried about their Japanese language ability don't need to be.

They have a pricelist (in English too!!) available upon request. The prices are about average for Japan I would imagine. A starter beer tool kit would set you back 18,500 yen. Malt extracts range from 2500-3500 yen for 1.5 - 1.8kg cans, and the more unusual ones a bit more. Hop pellets will set you back 500 yen per 30 gram pack. Most essentials are available on request. They will even order in from overseas if you have specific request. They don't have any books about homebrewing in English, but offer two in Japanese.

Their business has grown by mouth to mouth rather from advertising. They sell mostly mail order or door to door. I placed a 40,000 yen mail (takyubin) order which they sent on trust that I would pay by postal furikae (transfer) upon receipt.

They also supply Tokyu Hands, which don't allow them to put brewing instructions or booklets explaining what to do near the kits, so beginners buying a kit at Tokyu Hands won't have a clue what to do.

Therefore you are better off visiting or dealing with the Cellar Japan and get the service that comes with it. All in all I was very pleased with their operation and if anyone in the Kansai area is interested in homebrew please drop in. I hope you can pay them a visit. I'm glad I did.

Contact them to request their new catalog, which is about to be printed.

The Cellar Japan. (and The Beer Club of Japan Inc.)
2-1-19 Shichinomiya, Kobe 652.
Phone: 078 651 1439 (English OK)
Fax: 078 651 1440
Email: bcjkobe@osk.threewebnet.or.jp (English OK)
Homepage: http://www.threeweb.ad.jp/~bcjkobe/

HOW TO GET THERE: You can find them by taking a train to JR Kobe (not Sannomiya). Walk out of the South East exit of the station and you will see a huge overhead expressway. (If you don't see it - you're at the other exit.) Go to your right and under the expressway to the other side. Continue to walk along the other side of the expressway away from the station to the South (right). You will then be following a major road which is to the left of the overhead expressway (2 parallel roads). As you walk, the expressway will be on your right. After 8-10 minutes you will come to a very large intersection where the expressway curves to the right. The road you want goes straight. Cross over the second overhead crossing / walkway (you will see a small temple at the other side as you are walking over the walkway) and continue to walk away from the expressway. Then take the first (or was it second - anyway the one BEFORE the Midori bank) side road on the right (only 100 metres or so from the walkway) and you will find the Cellar Japan just 10 metres down this road on the left. You will see their small sign in Katakana. It looks like a small warehouse. Call if you get lost. They are open most days, but call to check before you go.

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Roppongi Sankt Gallen Brewery on the Block?
by Bryan Harrell

The tiny Sankt Gallen Brewery and Chinese restaurant in Roppongi, founded and owned by Eiko Shoji, is rumored to be for sale, with an asking price of 12 million yen.

Eiko Shoji closed their Cafe Pacifica brewpub in San Francisco at the end of December, and apparently has sold the seven- barrel brewing system to a group in Japan. No word yet on what the new owners will do with it.

Meanwhile, Eiko Shoji has just bought a 20-barrel brewery from DME in Canada to be set up as a microbrewery in Atsugi, near the company's headquarters. Initial production is estimated to be about 15,000 barrels (about 1.75 million liters) a year.

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More Rumors: "Hoegaarden Cafe?"

The owners of the Brussels chain of Belgian beer pubs are said to be teaming up with Belgian beer importer Konishi Shuzo to open up a 'Hoegaarden Cafe' somewhere between "two of Tokyo's popular nightlife districts." It's too early to tell, but my guess is that it will be a temporary installation to test market Hoegaarden ales (White, Grand Cru, Forbidden Fruit) to Tokyo's young and trendy.

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Michael Jackson's Japan Tour

The world's most famous beer writer, Michael Jackson, will again visit Japan in early March to give a series of lectures. His schedule is:
March 3: Lecture on craft beer at the headquarters of Konishi Shuzo in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture
March 4: Lecture on Belgian beers at the Grand'Place micro- brewery in Nagoya
March 5: Lecture on craft beer at the Arai micro-brewery in Nagano
March 6: Lecture on Belgian beers at the Belgian Embassy in Tokyo

No details yet on costs and availability of reservations, but I've heard the entrance fee is about 10,000 yen. Michael Jackson will give his presentations in English, with a Japanese interpreter present. I might attend the Tokyo lecture, and will get more details later; please contact me if you're interested. -- Bryan Harrell

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BREWS IN THE NEWS

Grab some Belgian Ale at the 7-11? How Convenience! That's right! Who would have guessed that Hoegaarden White and Forbidden Fruit would be on the reefer shelves at your local 7-11, right alongside crocks of St. Sebastiaan Dark and Grand Cru? Sure the prices aren't discount, but it makes such a great alternative to picking up a bunch of ordinary beer when you're on your way to a someone's party in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Scoring Some REDS in the 'Hood

Asahi has just released REDS, Asahi's Original Red Beer. Although Cheech and Chong have yet to be retained for a series of commercials, my sources at the U.S. Embassy tell me that the CIA is already performing the routine background check on the beer.

But seriously, folks, REDS is what appears to be an ordinary lager spiced up with small amounts of amber malt and crystal malt to give it an attractive reddish bronze color. It's not really very distinctive (surprise!) but it does taste a little better than A-B's Red Wolf now hitting the shelves in your local saka-ya. Better yet, the fact that the two specialty malts are used is clearly printed on the can, representing a rare attempt at actually educating the beer-drinking public, rather than the usual practice of confusing them with vague statements. Anyway, let's see how long this one lasts, or if Suntory will come out with a copy product called RED'S.

Reeden Valentine's Beer from Fukuyama

Nadja Becker, head brewer of Reeden Beers in Fukuyama, Hiroshima prefecture, wrote to tell that she's brewed a special Valentine's Beer which will be sold at the Sogo Department Store (Yurakucho and Funabashi) through February 14th. She says it's a top-fermented beer with a "sweet and palateful flavor and a chocolate color." Other Reeden Beers including Pilsner, Weizen, and Alt are also planned to be available. Nadja also says she's working on a cherry flavored beer for hanami season, and that initial taste tests are very favorable. Reeden Beer is made by the Fukuyama Brewery, phone 0849-20-3232.

Japanese Craft Beer On Sale in Harajuku

A special selection of Japanese craft beers are being sold until the end of March at the Furusato Plaza in Harajuku. This multi-level event space, marked by the classic green-and-cream "bonnet bus" parked outside, features products from prefectures throughout Japan, along with travel information. The beer is being sold in the basement arcade, which is lined with shops selling everything from tsukemono to hand-made sausage from the countryside.

A quick glance at the prices of the Japanese craft beer, however, is certain to send you scampering in search of the phone number for MicroBeers International (0766-76-2881), which offers much better beer for much lower prices. Examples at Furusato Plaza include 1-liter bottles of Kai Beer (Yamanashi) or Kitashinchi Beer (Osaka) for 2,000 yen, and 500 ml bottles of Satsuma-imo Lager from Koedo Brewery (Saitama) for 750 yen. Even though the WAOH Hakugin (weizen), Kohaku (amber ale), and Yamabuki (pale ale) beers are really quite good, they're really not worth 630 yen for a small 330 ml bottle. Perhaps the best values are the decent and reliable Pilsner and Dunkel German-style beers from Doppo Beer in Okayama, priced at 360 yen for a 330 ml bottle.

Anyway, they're there for the seeing at Furusato Plaza, in Harajuku on Meiji Dori between La Foret and the entrance to Takeshita-dori. Free samples of sake and kiwi wine are offered in the basement arcade up to 7 p.m., so it's certainly worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood. Phone 5413-2310.
(Thanks to Peter Morgan for the tip.)

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JCBA Offers Beer Evaluation Program Feb 14 - 16

The Japan Craft Beer Association, in conjunction with the Siebel Institute of Chicago, will be holding a "Master Evaluator" program from Friday, February 14 through Sunday the 16th. The seminar will be held in Otemachi, Tokyo at the Nogyo Kaikan, and the basic cost is 80,000 yen. (The same course at Seibel in Chicago costs $790.) Attendance is limited to "Beer Taster" member of the JCBA; joining fee is 20,000 yen, with yearly dues of 6,000 yen. For more details, contact the JCBA at 0797-31-6911, fax 0797-23-6701.

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FROM THE MAIL BAG...

Tom Herdman writes:
I broke into the last case of Tall Ship IPA, in storage since last year's shipment. We enjoyed it with some friends over Christmas dinner. Everyone seemed to agree that it still tasted great. As a special Christmas present, my brother sent me some of his Three Masts to the Wind, Barley Wine (14.5%). Now that'll put hair on yer chest, matey! I took a sample of the yeast from the IPA, and since I do not make beer at home I decided to make some bread. The yeast was still genki, so I have made Tall Ship pizza dough, among others.
One other bit of news. Hara Store in Azabu Juban has about a dozen or so American micro products priced at 350 yen each and imported by Koami. Address: 2-4-1 Azabu Juban, phone 3451- 5211.

Peter Evans writes:
I recommend the bottled "Guinness Foreign Extra Stout", which is to draught Guinness available in Britain (I can't speak for Ireland) what Duvel is to Anheuser-"Budweiser". The "Foreign Extra Stout" is brewed in Ireland and bottled in England; it's imported by YK Katsumi Shoukai (tel 045-252-2221); it's 7.5% alcohol by volume, and packs of four 330ml bottles go for 900 yen--about the price of a single *glass* of something Belgian and moderately exotic the last time I ventured into a "Belgian beer bar."

Philip Cop writes:
I have been to Bois Celeste (the Belgian beer bar) only once but it is by far my No. 1 (favorite) bar in Japan. The friendliness of Mr.Yamada alone helps me forget the fact that I am paying about 5 times what I would pay for a delightful Belgian beer in my home country (of Belgium).

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BEER FIELD TRIP: Saturday, February 22 -- 2 to 6 pm

Join me for a visit to the Koedo Brewery in Kawagoe, Saitama. Koedo brews from malt extract instead of actual malt grain, so according to Japanese law the product is not beer but "happo- shu." It will be interesting to find out how these brews taste, especially their lager made with satsuma-imo (a kind of sweet potato). "This spud's for you!"

We'll meet in Ikebukuro at 2 pm, and plan to return there by about 6 pm. If you'd like to come along, please call Bryan at (03) 3468-0964 on weekdays.

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Got some Good Beer tips to pass along? Send them to the Brews News before the end of the month. Thanks!

** CHEERS! 97/2/7 **

Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.

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