Brews in the News
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The review of each beer is followed by a review of where you can
This is a strong blonde Belgian ale that is right at home in a small
French bistro. It looks like ordinary lager beer, but has about 9%
alcohol, so slip slowly and carefully. It has a dry, fruity aroma
with some herbal hop highlights, with a strong malty flavor with a
sweetness that quickly fades into a long, dry finish. Not as complex
or unusual as other Belgian ales, so it is easy to match with food.
Ideal as an alternative to wine with a slow Sunday brunch.
Bistro La Verdure
Bright and cheerful little French cafe with Hoegaarden White on tap,
and a handful of well selected Belgian Ales such as Duvel, Maredsous
and Orval at average prices. They seem to close about 10 p.m., but
if you're out early in the area, it's certainly worth a visit. Just
up the hill from the bookstore under the tracks at one end of Yoyogi
Uehara station. 1-36-14 Uehara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.
Ruddles Wheat Ale
This is a "light beer" version of a good English ale, made
with some wheat malt for a lighter, spicier taste. It is ideal for
summer, and one of the few English beers that should be well chilled.
It is golden yellow, and a strong, brisk wheat malt aroma. It has
a light body with a fruity tang, with prickly spicy notes that refresh.
Low carbonation and a smooth texture, leading to a clean, crisp finish.
5.3% alcohol, the same as popular Japanesebeer. The summer beer for
real ale fans.
The Warrior Celt
This is a friendly U.K. style pub that draws a good mixture of Japanese
and westerners, with live music on most nights. Owner Andy Stark also
imports a wide range of English ales and ciders, and has perhaps the
best selection in Tokyo. For summer, the Ruddles Wheat Ale is recommended,
although real ale fans may opt for the Wychwood Corn Circle. Most
of the other ales, like Old Speckled Hen, are heavier. Broad range
of pub food, including curry, which really makes it English. Open
daily, usually until late, but call first. A block east from the JR
tracks between Ueno and Okachimachi stations. 6-9-22 Ueno, Taito-ku,
From Anchor Brewing of San Francisco, and not as famous as their legendary
Anchor Steam, this gorgeous amber bronze ale is similar to an India
Pale Ale, but a bit darker. Rich in flavor, but is not at all heavy.
Luscious creamy tan head with aromas of juicy malt and the sharp citrus
and pine aromas of Cascade hops. Rich malty taste with a rather dry
finish, and a long, lingering hop bitterness. Liberty Ale is unusual
because it tastes good in a wide range of temperatures, so chill as
Tobu Dept. Store
The liquor department here has one of the most complete and well-managed
beer selections in Japan. About 200 beers from 34 countries are all
kept in refrigerated cases and displayed well. Liberty Ale and all
other Anchor Brewing Co. beers are in stock, along with an impressive
selection of Belgian ales, German lagers and Japanese microbrews.
The beer section is in the basement of the store, which adjoins the
west exit of Ikebukuro station on the JR and subway lines. 1-1-25
Nishi Ikebukuro Toshima-ku, Tokyo.
Classic Belgian white ale made with malt and plain wheat, giving it
a cloudy appearance. Flavored with hops, coriander seeds, bitter orange
peel and other spices for a gorgeous floral bouquet that is nicely
backed by restrained malt sweetness. Very creamy texture and minimal
bitterness make it an ideal refresher for hot summer nights. Clean
finish for such a sweet and fragrant brew. This is the most sensuous
beer on tap in Tokyo, and is served in many places. For an expert
pour, try Frigo in Shinjuku.
A larger offshoot of the popular Belgo (03-3409-4442) in Shibuya,
Frigo allows you to select your beer from large refrigerated cases
and check it out before you take it to the counter and pay. Over 100
varieties of beer, mostly Belgian, but also a good selection of German
lagers, British ales and U.S. microbrews. Good selection of pub food
and snacks. Closed the 2nd Sunday of each month. A short walk from
the south exit of Shinjuku station. 2-11-20-B1 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku,
One of the best Japanese microbrew examples of the classic German weizen, a
wheat ale made with a special yeast that imparts distinct aromas often
likened to cloves and bananas. Brewed with malted wheat (for lightness) and
malted barley, and minimally hopped for low bitterness, this beer is light
yet extremely flavorful and invigorating. The intermingling of sweetness and
spice, and a rich lingering finish add up to a distinctive beer experience.
Great for summer. On tap at Popeye Bakushu Club in Ryogoku.
Popeye Bakushu Club
This is the best place in the world for Japanese microbrew. Over 25
choices from all over Japan, with more being added all the time. US
and Belgian microbrew, too. Sampler beer tasting sets available. Spacious
and friendly, Popeye has a full menu of interesting food items as
well. Be sure to try the pickled hop shoots, and the house specialty
"snake potato" -- long continuous potato chip strings. Also
a great selection of microbrewed sake. 2-18-7 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku.
Technically a beer, but most will think it's sparkling wine. This
is a Belgian fruit lambic made with peaches, and it is easily the
most sensuous beer in the world, despite the low 2.5% alcohol content.
Intense aroma of fresh peaches, tempered with tart lambic (natural
fermentation) flavor. Women usually love this beer. Made with barley
and wheat for a light, spicy flavor. Peaches give it a long, tapering
finish. Low alcohol makes it ideal for a lazy summer afternoon. Other
great Lindeman fruit beers include Kreik (cherry), Cassis (black currant),
and Framboise (raspberry).
Belgo is a semi-basement bar with intimate seating nooks on several
levels. What's great here is that you choose your beer from large
refrigerated cases, allowing you to check the freshness date and inspect
the bottle before you pay for it. Mostly Belgian varieties here, and
nearly every beer is served with its own distinctive glass. Broad
range of pub food, from mussels steamed in beer to Vietnamese spring
rolls. Try the frites, Belgian style fried potatoes. On Meiji-dori,
across from the large Shibuya police station. 3-18-7-B1 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku,
All four of Japan's major brewers offer a premium beer, with Yebisu
by Sapporo the most famous. These premium beers are often quite good.
Interestingly, Kirin has three: Brau Meister (draft only), Beer Shokunin,
and Heartland. Unfortunately, Kirin does little promotion for Heartland.
Packaged in an attractive green 500 ml bottle with molded logo, Heartland
is Kirin's oldest 100% malt beer. Deep yellow with a balanced aroma
of pale malt and floral hops, it is rich yet quenching, with a satisfying
richness that recalls the Kirin Lager of 25 years ago. Slightly more
expensive than Kirin's other beer, it is worth picking up as a great
On a narrow alley a block from Yoyogi Koen subway station, Escalera
is a very charming and intimate little dining bar that looks more
expensive than it really is. A cozy wood interior divided into a two
areas - a broad bar, and table seating, it feels like a mountain farmhouse
somewhere in Europe. The food, however, is pan-Asian with Thai, Vietnamese,
and Japanese influences. The beer selection is noteworthy: Yebisu,
Kirin Brau Meister, and Kirin Heartland, all premium Japanese beers.
This makes sense not only because they go well with the spicy and
aromatic Asian-style food, but also because the beer is invariably
very fresh. 1-52-6 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku. Open 6 pm to midnight. Closed
Sat., Sun. and holidays.
Shonan Weiss Beer
This is one of the better examples of a Weizen (German wheat ale)
from a Japanese microbrewery. Cloudy pale amber color, with a coarse
ivory head, it has a strong fruity aroma with the typical clove and
banana aromas of this style. The flavor is richer and fruitier, and
the body heavier than most Weizen beers, while carbonation is also
somewhat stronger. There is a forward malty flavor, followed by a
lingering malty aftertaste, with very little bitterness. Not quite
as refreshing as the normal lighter Weizen beers, it is still richer
and more refreshing. 500 yen per bottle at Sagamiya Saka-ten.
This small liquor store on Kamakura's famous "komachi-dori"
shopping street carries the full line of Shonan Beer. Brewed at Kumazawa
Shuzo in nearby Chigasaki, it is one of the best microbrew brands
in Japan. Unfortunately, like other better Japanese microbrews, Shonan
Beer is not cheap. But at 500 yen per bottle, it is not like risking
many times more money on a bottle of wine. In addition to the Weizen
reviewed, other types now available include a decent Pilsener and
an interesting dark ale called Riibe. This shop is also noted for
its good selection of Japanese microbrewed sake. About a 3-minute
walk from Kamakura station at 2-2-19 Komachi, Kamakura City.
While the autumn beers from Japanese brewers offer a heavier body and more
flavor, the best heavy lagers are German Bocks. But this Bock from Italy is
in the same class, but costs only 150 yen while supplies last. Italy is not
known for its beer, but there has long been a beer tradition in the north.
The Poretti Brewery dates back to 1877, and produces mostly German styles.
This Chiara (pale) Bock is a bright medium yellow, with a dense white head.
The rich fruity aroma is spiked with alcohol, no surprise for a 6.5% brew.
Rich fruity tones carry over into the heavy malty body, backed by a nice
herbal bitterness from the hops.
There is always an interesting collection of good quality beer at this
discount liquor store in the heart of Shibuya, which offers some of the
lowest prices in town. Frequent close-outs on perfectly good beer make it
worthwhile to visit often. Now on the shelves is the Poretti Bock at only
Y150, less than half of what it should cost. The beer is freshness dated to
00/12/30, and a recent tasting gave it a thumbs up. Kawachiya is near the
robot-head police box on the street that runs between Seibu and Tokyu Hands
in Shibuya. 30 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. Hurry, the Poretti Bock will
likely sell out soon.
Pilsen Callao (Peru)
The Callao brewery dates back to 1863, so this Pilsner is no trendy
newcomer. This American-style pale lager is crisp and light, with the
pervasive but faint tartness which indicates of a high percentage of corn,
which interestingly is native to Peru. The tartness lingers, backed by a
blunt, undefined bitterness of a higher degree than normally experienced in
Budweiser or other beers in this style. The bottle I had was surprisingly
fresh, which is unusual when ordering an exotic beer in a bar which carries
over 100 of them. 800 yen at Billy Barew's in Shinjuku.
Billy Barew's Beer Bar
The newest in a growing chain of independently managed beer specialty bars.
This one is perhaps the most conveniently located, just out the south exit
of Shinjuku station at the corner of Meiji-dori and Koshu-kaido. There are
more beers here than anyone can count, and something for everyone. Good
values to be found in Belgian ales. But with such a huge stock it is best to
check the freshness date before the bottle is opened. The Chili Beans and
Nan is a good combination, though the portion is truly miniature. There is
also a mysterious 300 yen table charge for a bar seat, without the usual
small dish of snack food. Moto Bldg. B1, 3-32-2 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo.
This beer has a German name, yet comes in a silver can with black, gold and
red printing which suggests a Japanese "dry" beer. But it's actually a
"happoshu" (low-malt beer) brewed in South Korea. Why would anyone want it?
Simple, it costs only Y98. How does it taste? Not any worse than beer that's
twice as expensive. Much like popular American lager, it is pale yellow with
a grainy, grassy aroma and a sharp, immediately quenching taste with a bit
of tartness. The flavor quickly disappears for a sharp, cutting finish. Not
much to this beer, but there were no off-flavors or weird tastes. Sold a
most Daiei stores.
Everywhere in Japan
Discount retailer Daiei originally introduced the Bergen brau brand of beer
in the early 1990s as part of its discount sales strategy. In Japanese, the
name almost sounds like "bargain brau" and that's exactly what it is. It was
originally brewed in Belgium as an authentic beer, and sold for about 130
yen. This new lower priced version is brewed in South Korea, and is somewhat
downmarket in terms of flavor, but still represents an excellent value for
people who would normally buy Super Hops or even Budweiser.
Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.