Brews News Issue 22 - June 2001
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First of all, thanks to the many people who wrote in with messages of encouragement for Brews News. I plan to continue putting this out, and would appreciate it if you would tell your friends who like good beer to send me an e-mail and ask to be put on the mailing list. Thanks for reading,

Bryan Harrell

Another Craft Beer Event!

The 4th Japan National Craft Beer Party
80 beers from 42 breweries throughout Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa

Sponsored by the Japan Brewers Association, a national organization of small breweries.

Tuesday, June 5th
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Admission: 5,000 yen
Josui Kaikan, Star Hall
2-1-1 Hitotsubashi
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo (3261-1101)

I went to last year's event, and it was really a lot of fun, despite a number of things working against it. First of all, it is on a weeknight, and only lasts for two hours. Second, it is in a banquet room with an atmosphere more conducive to a company party or press announcement. Third, the food was strictly government-issue banquet food; not bad, but very, very ordinary, though there was enough for everyone.

Still, there were huge buckets of beer out for the taking - grab a bottle that looks good, then grab another. Most of the brewers of the beer were present, giving you the chance to talk shop with someone brewing in a microbrewery out in the countryside. What I liked best was the friendly camaraderie and the general lack of "rules" that seemed to dampen the Great Japan Beer Festival in May.

This year, some 42 breweries are participating, and over 80 types of beer will be out in the buckets at various times. Last year, a couple of breweries brought kegs of special beer, which turned out to be a treat, and were quickly drained.

I cannot say that everyone will find it worth the 5,000 yen admission, but if you are curious about the Japanese microbrew scene, are gung-ho about getting your share of brew in two hours, and willing to take the chance on this once-a-year event, I am sure you'll find it worthwhile.

If you go, be on the lookout for the Hakodate Beer Stout, the Atsugi Shiso Ale (for its novelty value, more than anything), the Hakkaisan beers (made by a leading craft sake brewer), the Fujisakura Rauchbier (an incredibly delicious lager made with smoked malt), the Hamanako Red Ale, the Komi Stout (finally, something great from Nagoya), and the Satsuma Weizen (one of the best in Japan). These are ones that I know are good, but many on the roster I have yet to try.

Details of the event (in Japanese) are on the JBA website.


Event Report - Great Japan Beer Festival 2001 May 12-13 in Ebisu

Though the microbrew industry in Japan continues to take a pounding from a regulation-obsessed government and a public that is still reeling from the first few years of largely poor-quality beer, the Japan Craft Beer Association plunges on in its efforts to popularize good brew. This year, they decided to hold their annual Tokyo beer festival in May instead of July, and found brighter, more attractive quarters at the Ebisu Garden Hall in Tokyo.

Held on the May 12 - 13 weekend, the event drew nearly 5,000 visitors, who each paid 3,500 yen (about $30) for a theoretically unlimited number of two-ounce tastings. Everyone seemed to spend more time in line rather than drinking beer as the serving stations were overwhelmed by an unexpectedly high turnout. The only food available were small plates of boiled sausages, with many waiting in line over an hour to get them.

Another drawback was poor signage, with signs at each station posted below table level, where the were obscured by the throngs of thirsty people holding out empty glasses. The upside of this was that it encouraged visitors to check out every single station to make sure they didn't miss anything interesting.

Despite the problems, there were a number of great brews being served. The Swan Lake Amber Ale from Niigata was surprisingly full flavored and fruity, yet had a light body and a crisp, hoppy finish. The Yona Yona Ale from Nagano is a well-balanced West Coast-style Pale Ale featuring a tangy finish marked by a good dose of Cascade hops. The Nest XH from Hitachino is a high-gravity dark ale with a rich, bewitching complexity. Perhaps the most interesting and well-crafted is the Fujisakura Kogen Rauchbier, a smoked lager from the foot of Mt. Fuji made from malt smoked with cherry wood.

One thing that was done right at the festival was the inclusion of the glass-washing station, equipped with three large industrial glass washers courtesy of Winterhalter of Germany. Dirty festival glasses were cheerfully exchanged for sparkling clean ones, right on the spot. Sometimes you just want a really clean finish.

German and Belgian Beers at Tanne in Yoyogi

This cheerful, well-managed place is a great find, and is only about a minute from Yoyogi Station on the JR and Oedo Subway lines. They have Lowenbrau, Holsten, Hoegaarden White and Bass Pale Ale on tap, and you can get a tasting set with a small tumbler of each for 1,000 yen. That's a nice way to start the evening.

But it gets better, with nearly 30 other beers, mostly good Belgian and German beers, all priced lower (by a few hundred yen, it seems) than other popular Belgian beer places. The Boon Oude Geuze I had was only 850 yen! Plus, there's plenty of mid-range wine at very good prices.

The food menu is predominantly German, with pasta, pizza and even fish and chips as well. The German Potatoes were exceptional, and only 500 yen. And, they are open for lunch on weekdays. Get there early to get a seat, and to not be disappointed by the 11 p.m. closing time.

I'll be back.

1-32-15 Yoyogi
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo


Rogue Mocha Porter Now on Tap at Roti in Roppongi

This is a deep reddish brown ale, with a thick creamy head. On the first sip, the smooth mouthfeel is most striking, since the beer has a much lighter body than its color and head seem to indicate. There is a good interplay of deep roasted malt flavors and hop bitterness. The finish is remarkably dry, with lingering bitterness. This beer is served along with St. Rogue Red (a hoppy amber ale) and the light and spicy Buckwheat Ale. Sampler sets are available for those who want to have a taste of all three.

These beers are made by Rogue Ales of Newport, Oregon and are available on draft only at Roti, which specializes in perfectly prepared rotisserie chicken and other California-style specialties. While it is a great place for a meal, customers are always welcome to have a beer and a snack at the bar.

Roti - Modern American Brasserie
Piramide Bldg. 1F
6-6-9 Roppongi
Minato-ku, Tokyo


Brews in the News

These reviews have been sponsored by Nokia Japan for use on their i-mode portal. You can check the site out from your regular Internet browser at

The review of each beer is followed by a review of where you can get it.

Speakeasy Amber
Brewed on the premises, this is a nicely balanced amber ale designed to please palates accustomed to Japanese beer, yet it still has some wonderful flavors characteristic of the style. Straight ahead with no surprises, it is fruity with good mineral tones, and fairly dry with just a touch of tartness. Good hop bitterness, yet not overwhelming, followed by a nice, clean finish. Not exactly worth a long trip to try it, but it is still a great alternative to mass-produced beer if you are in the general Ikebukuro area. 650 yen per glass at Speakeasy Microbrewery Restaurant.

Speakeasy Microbrewery Restaurant
Ikebukuro, Tokyo
This is easily the smallest and least known microbrewery in central Tokyo. Located in the second basement of a video arcade, it is also one of the least noticeable. When they opened a few years ago, they had four types available, and featured them prominently on the menu. Now, unfortunately, they are featuring major imported beers, and serve only one variety of their own craft beer at any given time. Regrettably, it may not be long before they give up on craft beer entirely. Still, the space is beautiful, the food fairly decent, and the service rather conscientious. Between Ikebukuro station and the Sunshine City complex on Sunshine-dori. Sega Gigo Bldg. B2, 1-21-1 Higashi Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo.

Grand Cru
This is a mass-produced beer brewed in the Trappist Tripel style of Belgium. As such, it is blonde colored with a brilliant white head. The similarity to ordinary lager ends there, however, since it is about 9% alcohol, with a body about three times heavier than a typical international-style lager. Brewed with both wheat malt and barley malt, and spiced with coriander and the peel of the bitter "curacao" orange along with the hops, Grand Cru is a rich, complex ale with a beautiful sweet aroma and an almost cloying finish. However, most places serve it very cold, which makes its sweetness less apparent. A good body-warming beer for the cold months ahead. Usually less expensive than other brands in this style, but often not as good.

Roppongi, Tokyo
Just a few steps from the busy Roppongi crossing on the northeast corner, Cerveza (Spanish for "beer") is a clean, comfortable and well-run beer specialty bar with excellent food, along with an impressive beer selection displayed in large glass cases. Naturally, prices are a fair margin higher than other similar places, but when you want quality and a convenient location, you must pay the price. For example, ordinary international lagers are Y980 a pop, while the Belgian classic Westmalle Tripel is Y1,800. Still, there are a few good values to be found, such as the Hoegaarden Grand Cru at only Y980. Coco Roppongi Bldg. B1, 3-11-20 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Troy Lager
This is an international-style pale lager obviously designed for export, primarily to Turkish restaurants around the world. However, there is an interesting softness and a refreshingly clean finish to this beer that makes it highly drinkable, and a very easy match for the broad variety of flavors in Turkish food. Minimal bitterness and a light body are combined with a very clean, medium yellow color and a crisp white head. Quite a nice drink for such a light beer. Only Y500 at Pamukkale Turkish Restaurant in Kichijoji.

(Kichijoji, Tokyo)
Despite the virtual absence of Greek restaurants in Tokyo, there has been an explosion in Turkish restaurants in recent years. Fortunately, the two cuisines share quite a bit in terms of ingredients and techniques. Turkey is primarily a wine and spirits country, so it may seem unlikely one could find a good beer in a place like this. However, there are actually some good lager-style beers being brewed in Turkey. Pamukkale is a spacious and friendly place, with belly dancing and other live performances on some nights. The food is good, the service amiable, and the beer selection rather impressive. Also worth trying is the Efes Dark for only 600 yen. A few doors away from Isetan on the north side of Kichijoji station. Dai 85 Tokyo Bldg. 3F, 1-8-10 Kichijoji-honcho, Musashino-shi, Tokyo.

Budweiser Budvar
(Czech Republic)
One of the original lager beers, this beautiful brew is richly flavored yet refreshingly light, with beautiful herbal and woody notes from high quality Czech hops, providing a counterpoint to the complex malt flavors. This brew is a specialty from the Czech town of Budvar, or "Budweis" in German, where beers of this type have been brewed for nearly 800 years. When many German brewers emigrated to the U.S. in the mid 19th century, they brewed a version of this, and called it "Budweiser." The name was eventually trademarked by the company which evolved into the present-day Anheuser-Busch, and the rest was history for the world's largest beer producer. Too bad what they brew is so different. Y700 at Twins Beer Bar in Futago-tamagawa.

Twins Beer Bar
Suburban neighborhoods sometimes hold great surprises for beer fans. Twins is a good example. Here they have a large selection of quality imported beers at surprisingly low prices. Budweiser Budvar is Y700, as is its brother beer Pilsner Urquell, both among the finest lagers in the world. Belgium is represented by Forbidden Fruit (AKA Adam & Eve) at Y900, Chimay Red at Y1,000 and various Mort Subite fruit lambics for Y900. There is a large bar, lots of space between the tables, and a very comfortable atmosphere. Typical Japanese "western-style" menu of food and snacks at moderate prices. A few blocks from Futago-tamagawa station on the Denen-toshi line, an extension of the Hanzomon subway line out of Shibuya. Sanri Bldg. 1F, 3-12-5 Tamagawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo.


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