Brews News by Bryan Harrell
Issue #13 -- Summer 1998

The Great Japan Beer Festival 1998 Ė July 31 & August 1

This event is sponsored by the Japan Craft Beer Association, based in Ashiya, near Kobe, and headed by Ryouji Oda. While there will be a number of events during the two days, such as the Japan Cup beer competition and beer seminars, the Beer Festival will be open to the general public, featuring an estimated 60 brews from 20 small breweries throughout Japan. This will happen from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday July 31, and from 11:30 to 8:30 on Saturday August 1. Admission is Y2,500 per day, which includes small tastes of each beer available. If you find one you really like, a glass will cost Y400. For more details, phone the JCBA at 0797-31-6911 or fax to 0797-23-6701.

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New Beer Rating System

Starting this issue, Brews News will introduce a new way of rating the beers we sample for the benefit of our readers and, hey, ourselves. Rather than bog you down with numbers, weíre going for a simple four-tier rating system like this:

! ! ! ! Highly recommended, without hesitation or fine print.
! ! ! Recommended as being good, interesting, worth a try.
! ! SOME people may like it; otherwise close but no cigar.
! We donít think youíll like it, but thereís some reason why we mention it. Youíre on your own with this one.
If we donít mention it, then we either donít know about it, or think itís not worth mentioning. If you suspect the former, please write and tell us about it. If possible, please enclose a sample for scientific purposes.

So hereís what we managed to get our hands on this spring.

The ! ! ! ! category...

  • 1. Sankt Gallen Golden Ale, Y290. Good mainstream US micro taste, made fresh in Atsugi, Japan. Other SG products worth a try.
  • 2. Helios Weizen, from Okinawa, Y550 at Washita shops which sell Okinawan products. This is a fresh and excellent example of the weizen style from start to finish, with the exception of an intriguing caramelly tang in the aftertaste. Since most German weizens you can find in Japan are not as fresh, this is a superb alternative. Just two years ago the beer from this brewery wasnít so great, but now theyíve got their ship together and are brewing up a storm. Worth a visit to Okinawa; well, almost. The Washita shop in Tokyo is at Ginza 1-3-9; phone 3535-6991.
  • 3. Tokugawa Yoshinobu Nest Beer India Pale Ale from Ibaragi, Y450. All the Nest beers are at least ! ! !, but this one is extra good. I think they have Anchorís Liberty Ale in the cross hairs and are blasting away. Way superb.
The ! ! ! category...
  • 1. Hideji Kitsune Pilsner Y550 at the Miyazaki Shop opposite the south exit of Shinjuku station. Clean and well made, but never worth Y550.
  • 2. Shironama (Imported by Nippon Beer, 5489-8888) in can, about Y230. Kawachiya in Shibuya had it last time I looked. This is essentially a bargain-basement Witbier from Belgium made for Nippon Beer, put in cans, and intended to give Hoegaarden White a run for its money. Not quite as good as HW, but for the price this would be a killer addition to any summer barbecue where youíre really knocking Ďem back. Good show.
  • 3. Kobe Beer from Kirin, Y230 or so, everywhere, almost. This is a rather high-gravity bock-type beer with a fairly concentrated malty flavor. A drop of hop oil in every glass really brings this out. One of a series of regional beers introduced by Kirin in late spring. Look for the blue can.
The ! ! category...
  • 1. Derauma from Kirin, in the same regional series as the Kobe bock, only this oneís from Nagoya. Itís a heavier beer with a bit more alcohol, weighing in at 6%. Some flavor.
  • 2. Hideji Smoking Mole Ale, said to be in dry altbier style, according to the label. Huh? This oneís also from Miyazaki, and is never worth Y550.
  • 3. Hideji Darken Boar Special, huh? Ditto. Some kinda dark ale, originally called Drunken Boar, no doubt, until some chickeny management dweeb decided to trash an interesting name concept in order to avoid offending one person in some thousand.
  • 4. Gassan Beer, Weizen, from Gassan in Yamagata, Y650/500 ml. Said to be brewed by a young German brewer who is quite photogenic. There was a weird burnt taste, very little aroma, and practically no weizen character.
...and the ! category.
  • 1. Kita no Kirin (from Chitose, Hokkaido), about Y230. Well, it DOES taste a little different from normal Japanese mass-produced beer.
  • 2. Hiroshima Jaken (by Kirin), about Y230. Interesting light acidity.
  • 3. Hokuriku Kirin, about Y230. DOES taste different, and light.
Finally, we do have a few disaster warnings as a public service.
    O Sapporo Kibun Sokai
    O Kirin Kyushu Beer Nodogoshi


Yamada-san is Back at Bois Celeste

Yamada-san was released from the hospital this spring after a long illness, and is back at the helm at Bois Celeste, one of the nicest places in Tokyo to drink a Belgian ale. He resumed his monthly Belgian beer tasting nights, featuring beers from the Hinault region for April and May. For details on the next tasting, call him at 3588-6292.


Good Finds

Belgo is an interesting self-service bar specializing in good beer, specifically those interesting ales from Belgium. Serve yourself from the giant glass-doored reefers, and pay at the counter. No real dining, so eat before you arrive. Itís about a one-minute walk from the east exit of Shibuya station at 3-18-7 Shibuya; phone 3409-4442.

Cafť Hoegaarden in Shinjuku has a modest selection of well-chosen Belgian beers, and some fairly good food to go well with them. Best of all, the building is quite beautiful, and the service makes you feel comfortable. Itís about a ten-minute walk from the south side of Shinjuku station at Yoyogi 2-20-2, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; phone 5388-5523.

LíEspoir is a charming little hole in the wall near the Inokashira Line station at Shibuya, with loads of character and quite a lot of good beer, particularly Japanese microbrews. Apparently itís been open since the late 1940s. Theyíre open daily, except Sundays and holidays, from 5 to midnight. Dogenzaka 2-7-1; phone 3461-8264.


The Broken English

According to a Washington Post article on racially offensive advertising, the British bottler of Kirin was called on the carpet for an ad it ran in the British version of Esquire. The ad featured a samurai, flanked by two geisha girls, extolling the soothing effects of Kirin beer on his vocal tract:
"My karaoke singing used to sound rike fowsand howring banshee but now I sing rike spawo and hafe recod contract with Wonco."
"We wanted to appeal to British lager drinkers," Alasdair Fraser, who helped devise the ad, was quoted in the Post. "We thought a Japanese character who spoke the way a Japanese person might speak would be funny -- certainly more interesting than putting a beer bottle in front of Mount Fuji." But Kirin executives in Tokyo were not amused.
-- from American Brewer, issue #70, Spring 1997


Beer Trivia from Richard Vliet:

It was the accepted practice in Babylonia 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer, and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the "honey month" or what we know today as the "honeymoon".

Before thermometers were invented, brewers would dip a thumb or finger into the mix to find the right temperature for adding yeast. Too cold, and the yeast wouldn't grow. Too hot, and the yeast would die. This thumb in the beer is where we get the phrase "rule of thumb."

In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts. So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them to mind their own pints and quarts and settle down. It's where we get the phrase "mind your P's and Q's".

After consuming a bucket or two of vibrant brew they called aul, or ale, the Vikings would head fearlessly into battle often without armor or even shirts. In fact, the term "berserk" means "bare shirt" in Norse, and eventually took on the meaning of their wild battles.

In 1740 Admiral Vernon of the British fleet decided to water down the navy's rum. Needless to say, the sailors weren't too pleased and called Admiral Vernon, Old Grog, after the stiff wool program coats he wore. The term "grog" soon began to mean the watered down drink itself. When you were drunk on this grog, you were "groggy," a word still in use today.

Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim or handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service. "Wet your whistle" is the phrase inspired by this practice.


In Memory of John Denver...

Colorado Rocky DUI (sung to the tune of Rocky Mountain High)

I went to a restaurant and I had myself a beer
In the warm Aspen Colorado sun
I was driving back to my place when a red light caught my eye
"Pull over," said this dude who had a gun

I sang the alphabet backwards for this guy
I touched my nose and stared up at the sky
He asked me for my autograph, I tried to comply
I got a DUI
In Colorado
Got a DUI
In Colorado

by Tom Dalldorf (with a little help from Mr. Denver)


From Kim Scheufftan:

It seems that Kirin is now selling the beer that at one time was only available to visitors to their Namamugi plant in Yokohama. It seems to be called "Yokohama Something." I only had part of a can at a friend's house and have since looked for it here in Gumma in vain. If this is marketed commercially, it might shout the end of Japanese wishywash footwash beer. It is hoppy, complex, has personality. The social situation when I was given a glass did not allow a real sit-back and analyze, but the palate was definitely surprised and genuinely pleased. The same experience was had when I drunk the stuff at the restaurant at the Namamugi plant some years back.

It might be a limited edition thingy, or only available in Tokyo with special arrangement with the Namamugi plant, or only available within a certain distance of the plant. All have been suggested by the local liquor dealer. Anyhow, it is something to watch for and get a good report on.

Zy gesint,


Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.


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