Issue #11 -- October 1997
[Editor's note from Bryan Harrell:] It's been a long time since March, when I put out the last of a series of monthly Brews News, a newsletter about beer for fans of craft beer in Japan. From April, my work schedule got too hectic to spare time to produce each issue, and my regular July-August stay in San Francisco further distanced me from the beer scene here. It took all of September to catch up after my return, and now I'm ready to start up again.
Perhaps another stumbling block I should mention is that starting this
year I've begun developing an active interest in sake, thanks to the
opening of a great sake specialty bar about five minutes walk from my
house, and the advice of good friend John Gauntner, the sake writer
for The Japan Times and author of the newly released Sake Handbook
from Tuttle. Spending summers in California highlights the compromises
that craft beer lovers face in Japan, while no such compromises are
needed here when enjoying traditionally brewed sake. To be honest,
Japan is absolutely hands down the best country for sake (natch), and
food that goes well with it is just everywhere. It doesn't get any
better in other countries. The upshot is that I'm drinking much less
beer these days, and the less beer I have, the less I'm inclined to
write about it.
But I will continue Brews News, and a major concern I have is holding it to a small, manageable level at which I can keep it going on a year round basis. There is a problem with each issue growing larger than the last, and taking more time to write and edit. A subject like beer, which is very easy to get enthusiastic about, can take on a life of its own, and before you know it you've spent several working days putting together an issue.
So I'd like to make a request: please let me know what kind of content
is most important to you. To refresh you on some of our regular
Next month I'll be running the results of the Desert Island Six Pack contest I started at the beginning of the year. The response was tremendous, and I'm still working on compiling the results.
I look forward to your comments and criticisms, and hope to continue developing Brews News into a useful little item that lands in your e-mailbox each month.
Japan Craft Beer Fair '97|
November 12 - 14 at Tokyo Big Site in Ariake
(Held together with the Asian International Beverage Exhibition)
Here's your chance to taste what promises to be a large selection of Japanese microbrews from around the country. You get there by taking the new Yuri Kamome line from Shinbashi station, which goes directly to Big Site. It takes about 20 minutes, and the ride is fun.
I haven't yet been able to score any details about what beers will be offered and at what prices, but I plan to take the day off on 11/12 and show up anyway to check it out. Maybe see you there?
Look for a review of the beers I end up finding in the next issue of Brews News. Maybe see you there?
Curious About "Microbrewed" Sake?
I wasn't a real sake fan until I tasted the good stuff. Now I'm a regular. Not really liking sake after having had only Ozeki, Kizakura, and other mass-produced quaffs is a lot like disdaining beer after trying only Budweiser, Heineken and Sapporo. If you're curious about sake, here's a great big chance for you. -- Bryan
Sushi & Premium Grade Sake Party
November 1, 1997, 3 to 5 p.m. at T.Y. Harbor Brewery in Shinagawa (Higashi Shinagawa 2-1-3, Tel 03-5479-4555)
A chance to taste and compare over 50 varieties of "microbrewed" sake from 30 small independent sake producers from all over Japan, with explanations and information in English.
To celebrate their inauguration, the newly formed Sake Export Association is pleased to announce an event designed to introduce the astonishing array of aromas and flavors of Japan's finest hand- crafted sake, definitely worlds apart from its mass-produced counterpart. Some 50 premium grade varieties will be offered in generous quantities for tasting. John Gauntner, sake columnist in The Japan Times and author of the recently published Sake Handbook, will be on hand to highlight the finer points of each sake and answer questions. All this truly delicious sake will be joined by an impressive array of the finest fish -- in sushi, sashimi and grilled form -- fresh from Tokyo's famous Tsukiji Fish Market. It's all-you-can-eat, so bring your biggest appetite. As a special attraction, there will be a demonstration of the carving of a whole tuna by a skilled master of the art. It's definitely an experience you won't want to miss.
Admission to this special event is only 4,000 yen per person (all you can eat and drink), making it a tremendous value compared to enjoying such high-quality fare in Tokyo restaurants. Participation is limited to only 200 people, so reserve now for you and your friends. Send your name, phone number and address to:
Sake Export Association (SEA)
For information in English, contact:
Directions to T.Y. Harbor Brewery:
From Tennozu Isle station on the Monorail, go left out the wicket and down the escalator. Then take the stairs to the ground floor, and go out to the main street. Take a left and walk 50 meters to the river. Take a left and walk on the boardwalk 100 meters. It's there just beyond the small bridge.
T.Y. Harbor Brewery: Tokyo's Best Brewpub?
From all indications, the best brewpub in Tokyo is now T.Y. Harbor, but I need to visit just one more time to "firm up my notes." Look for a report in the next Brews News. At present, Japan's consistently best microbrew is Echigo from Niigata, but that's another story which follows. -- Bryan
Japanese Microbrew and a Lot More at Nishikura
Nishikura is a very handsomely appointed place. Going downstairs past antiqued wood paneling with heavy iron studs, you feel like you're descending into an Edo period warehouse. The interior is very tastefully done, with a long bar in blonde woods on your left and four tables with seating for 4-8 on your right. Behind the bar is an understated display of various sakes, ceramics, pottery and glassware. The owner, Mr. Kei Kizawa, and his manager, Mr. Nobuyuki Takeda, are polite and attentive.
Featured here are the microbrews of Land Brauerei Uehara-Brau from Echigo Biiru KK in Niigata. Nishikura evidently has no say in what brews it receives. I'm told the brewery has only a single brewing vat, so not all of the brewery's 8 products are always available to them. Nishikura itself has only two taps, and the day I went was serving only Weizen. Mr. Kizawa tells me they also get Amber Ale and Stout with some regularity. The Weizen was cloudy but didn't have any particulate matter floating around in it. It had a creamy head, a pleasant bouquet, and a flavor that reminded me of cellar- aged apples with a bitter tang and a sweet aftertaste. It tasted pretty good with the pasta lunch.
The beer at Nishikura is served in a tall pilsener glass for 900 yen. The sakes as I recall start at 500 yen and go up from there.
Nishikura serves lunch weekdays only from 11:45 am to 1:30 pm. They have a choice of three pastas served with salad and garlic toast for 850 yen (the omori or heaping serving option at 950 yen was too much food). The food is good if not spectacular, while the tasteful surroundings and good service are a real plus. The place was not at all crowded, so it's quiet too.
Nishikura's real strong suit, however, is sake. They serve a full line of sakes, from the most humble to the most rarefied, from only three sake breweries: Miyozakura in Gifu, Mado no Ume in Sado (Niigata prefecture), and Gozenshu (Okayama). Their most expensive sakes have been aged from 7-10 years. I've never had an aged sake and for the price probably wouldn't try these, but I'm not really a sake drinker. If these were aged wines I'd gladly pay the premium. Chacun a son gout.
Nishikura is open from 5:00 pm to midnight except Sundays and holidays. At night they serve various o-tsumami (snacks) to go with the drinks, and soba noodles if you're hungry. Nishikura is a bit hard to find the first time, but I think it's worth the effort. Call or fax for a map (English okay). Nishikura is not quite halfway from Shibuya to Daikanyama stations.
Billy Barew's Something Or Other
One day last spring I went to a place just off Kagurazaka called, I think, Billy Barew's beer bar. It's an odd piece of topography/architecture: you walk in to what seems a ground-floor bar but are ushered downstairs. When the two of us got there, seven- thirtyish on a Thursday night, there was no other customer upstairs or down.
The bartender appears to have modeled his appearance (though not demeanor) on the Harvey Keitel character in *Taxi Driver*. He has that rarity, a combination of good taste in rock music and an accurate sense of the volume level where it will not interrupt but encourage speech. There's also a telly in the corner showing music videos, which are intermittently amusing and--another plus--unrelated to the audible music.
The menu has a moderate number of mostly brews. Hoegaarden is over three times the price I pay at my local grog-shop, so I initially decided to spring for a St Sebastiaan (only double). But we both settled for a Chimay, for a mere thousand yen a pop. The bottles came from a fridge cold enough to make Pepsi palatable, and were plonked next to glasses for "Miller" (yes, the Philip Morris near-beer) that were straight from the freezer.
Just right if one were in Darwin or Alice, I suppose, but most inappropriate for Trappist elixirs. The bill was mysteriously supplemented by, I think, 400 yen per person. I didn't resent this minor rip-off: misanthrope that I am, I'm happy to pay 40% extra for freedom from the jostling, cigarette smoke, and other misfeatures of popular, "lively" alternatives. I had my dishy companion all to myself (and she politely didn't complain about only having me), and the beer wasn't at all bad once it had warmed up.
Not really a place for a discriminating beer lover, but convenient for the roue with a date and thirty minutes to kill.
Beer The Magazine: were you a subscriber?
The splashy Beer (the magazine) published in Hayward, California went out of business about a year ago. Several Brews News readers have mentioned they had taken out subscriptions to the magazine, but had never received their money's worth. I wrote to the publisher, Bill Owens, to clarify his policy on subscription refunds, and he sent me back the following message:
"With BEER, The Magazine out of business, I have responded to all requests
for refunds and paid them out of my own pocket. Anyone wishing a refund or
to have their subscription transferred over to American Brewer (a trade
magazine primarily for, but not limited to, the microbrew industry) can
If you didn't receive all the issues you are entitled to for Beer The Magazine, please write for your refund. Those receiving refunds (or transfer subs to American Brewer) are asked to let me (Bryan Harrell; email@example.com) know that you've received satisfactory compensation.
Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.
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