Straight Outta Belgium: Feb. 13, 7 pm at Bois Cereste in Akasaka
Mr. Yamada, owner of Belgian specialty beer bar Bois Cereste in Akasaka, played jazz piano in Brussels for four years before returning to Tokyo to open what I consider to be the nicest place to have a beer in Tokyo. He returns there regularly to visit the country's small breweries, where he has made friends with many of the brewmasters. On a visit last month, he managed to get a number of interesting and obscure brews, which he will be serving on a special tasting night, which he holds every second Wednesday of the month. The upcoming "Nisuikai" (as he calls it) will be a cut above the monthly events since beers which are straight outta Belgium will be served. Six kinds of beer will be served, none of them normally available in Japan, along with enough food to make a light meal. The cost is 7,000 yen, and reservations are necessary. Call Mr. Yamada at 3588-6292.
Boomer's has good beer, a pool table, and a stone-floor pizza oven.
What more could you ask for? More than anything else, it's like a neighborhood pizza joint you'd find anywhere in the U.S. or Canada. Except this neighborhood is Aoba-cho in Higashi Murayama on the western edge of Tokyo near Tachikawa.
Boomer's is a great bar, with over 40 kinds of beer at low prices, a pool table (200 yen a game; winner continues, loser walks) and a laid-back atmosphere. Plus, there's a separate restaurant area (seats 88) for families, with a huge pizza oven to help feed them.
The beer list weighs in at over 40 brands of beer. Anchor Steam and Anchor Liberty Ale from the US. Chang beer from Thailand. Isle of Skye from Scotland. Mort Subite from Belgium. Kronenbourg from France. Prices start at 600 yen, and are generally several hundred yen less than places like Belgo in Shibuya. On tap, there are ten kinds of beer, including Bass Pale Ale, priced at 500 yen for a full 500ml mug. You can also get food from the restaurant to eat in the bar.
The pizza dough is handmade on site, then fashioned into a thin crust pie and baked in the stone floor oven. Also on the menu are genuine Mexican chorizo, cheese fritters, batter fried swordfish, prosciutto salad, pastas, and more.
Not surprisingly, Boomer's is run by an American. Tom Standbridge has been in Japan for over 20 years. He says the reason he opened Boomer's is that he couldn't afford to start a microbrewery.
Boomer's is a short taxi ride from Shin Akitsu station on the Musashino Line, two stops from Nishi Kokubunji on the Chuo Line. Quite a ways for those of us living in central Tokyo, but certainly worth the expedition for homesick North Americans.
What more could anyone ask for? In a perfect world there'd be a Boomer's in every neighborhood in Japan.
2-38-5 Aoba-cho, Higashi Murayama-shi, Tokyo
Open 11:30 to midnight daily. Last order for food is 23:00, 23:30 for draft beer.
Brews in the News
What's happoshu? Low-malt beer special
Exceptional, among the best of its type in the world.
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 don't think you'll like it, but there's some reason why we mention
it. You're on your own with this one.
We recommend that you avoid this product.
German Dry 5.2% abv, low-malt beer (25% barley malt, 75% wheat malt, 100% Hallertau hops, 100% natural spring water). Very clear medium yellow, short-lived sudsy white head, rich malty aroma with floral hops and faint alcohol spikes. Full mouthfeel with the slightly tart briskness of wheat malt. Long lingering full malt flavor backed by hop bitterness in good balance. Brewed in Germany for the Japanese low-malt beer market. Cheesy silver can with black and red design, with Berliner Burgerbrau crest. Y100 at Tobu Ikebukuro. This curiousity is probably no longer available.
Hikitate Baisen from Sapporo 5.5% abv, low-malt beer (25% malt, hops rice, cornstarch, sugars). Deep gold, slight roasty malt aroma, medium malty flavor with good balance of roasty malt and hop bitterness. Thin watery body, and a bit harsh, but overall much better than other low-malt beers. Crisp finish with slight hop bite. Y145.
Hatsunama from Suntory 6% abv, low-malt beer (25% malt, hops, saccharified starch). Pale yellow, thick white head, faint sugary malty aroma. Smooth with subdued carbonation, better hop flavor than most low-malt beers, but still those sweet, watery flavors. Said to be made with fresh-picked hops. Y145
Seven from Sapporo 7% abv, low-malt beer (25% malt, hops, rice cornstarch, sugars). Bright yellow weak off-white head, strong carbonation, Thick grainy aroma with sweetness, rather heavy body with strong flavor of malt, grain and sugars. Complex in a scattered, unfocused way, with lingering cloying tang of medium intensity. The Spinal Tap of low-malt beers: "This one goes up to 7!" Hey, Sapporo, how about a 10%er? Y145
Shirokirin from Kirin 5.5% abv, low-malt beer (25% malt, hops, unmalted barley, rice, cornstarch, sugars). Very clear pale yellow, coarse white head, surprisingly malty aroma with some floral hop notes. Thin body yet flavorful, marred somewhat by a distracting sourness (a by-product of sugar fermentation). Fine subdued carbonation. Surprisingly good for this category, and comparable with Budweiser. Y145
Fuyu Doraku from Suntory 6% abv, low-malt beer (25% malt, hops, saccharified starch). Palee yellow, thin white head, sour grainy aroma, cidery flavor with hops distant in the background. Some sweetness reminiscent of U.S. 'malt liquor.' Y145
Kanpai Nama from Sapporo 5.5% abv, low-malt beer (25% malt, hops, rice, cornstarch, sugars). Pale yellow, sudsy white head, faint malty aroma, low hopping, slight sweetness, not so sugary and funky as others, but lacking in flavor. Y145
Special "Brewing Science Fiction" Award a Brews News first!
Diet Draft by Suntory 3.5% abv, artificially sweetened low-malt beer (25% malt, hops, saccharified starch, acidic flavoring, sodium citrate, artificial sweetener, sucralose, bitterness flavoring, garcinia. If we awarded TWO skulls, this would win it. Very clear pale yellow, thin sudsy white head. Sweet grainy aroma, very thin flavor, watery body, subdued carbonation, very mild flavor, but with some bitterness in mid-palate which lingers. This chemical stew is said to have 74 calories per can, about half of Suntory's normal beer. Y145
Beers with booze added turn out to be better than expected
Deep, cold winter is really the only time I think of drinking spirits, and so I thought it appropriate to assemble a collection of beers flavored with spirits for The Brew Crew. John Gauntner, Aaron Held, Robb Satterwhite and Bryan Harrell did the tasting. Odd that all but one are from France.
Spirit of Hemp by Eggenberger 4.5% abv (malt, wheat malt, ascorbic acid, Tyrolean hemp extract). Okay, okay, this is not a booze beer, it's a pot beer, but the sentiment is the same. The hemp flavor is imperceptible, and seems to have been added only for marketing reasons. Otherwise, it's a great, rich lager, as one would expect from the Eggenberger Brewery of Austria, brewers of Samichlaus and other distinctive high-gravity beers.
X.O. Beer "La Biere au Cognac" 8% abv (5% abv beer, 40% abv Cognac X.O., natural flavorings). Rich, sweet, full flavored, warming. True Cognacesque flavor, low hopping.
Beer & Brandy by Terken 6.5% abv (malt, hops, ascorbic acid, flavoring, caramel color, sugar). Vanilla notes over a sweet beer. Pretty nice.
Pravda Beer flavored with vodka 4.5% abv (Malt, hops, vodka). Standard Euro-lager, with intriguing vodka flavor. Robb noted it tastes like it's flavored with flavored vodka. My guess is Zubrovka, the Polish vodka flavored with buffalo grass. We hauled out a bottle of Zubie from the freezer for more field research, which turned out to be inconclusive.
Garimperos, tequila flavored beer by Terken 6.5% abv, malt, hops, ascorbic acid, citric acid, tequila, flavoring, sugar). Perfumey pine-like aroma, tastes faintly like ginger ale.
Tequieros, tequila flavored beer by Les Brasseurs de Gayant 5.6% avb (malt, rice, hops, sugar, tequila, aromatic compounds, citric acid). Wildly aromatic, sweet "tree sap" flavors, reminiscent of ginger ale. Cool screen-painted bottle. This is alcopop, pure and simple.
"Save" happoshu? C'mon, let's give tax breaks for REAL beer!
Foaming at the Mouth
During the latter half of last year, I was receiving e-mails and faxes from a couple of beer-related organizations in Japan who were all riled up about the Government's proposal to raise the tax on low-malt beer.
Simply put, they want consumers to rise up and protest raising the tax on the abomination called "happoshu." Two of these organizations are related to the craft beer movement, and I think they've really got it all wrong. They're telling me that it's okay for brewers who make this low-malt crap (which is made with cheaper ingredients) should pay less tax on it than brewers who make real beer?
Do the math, and you'll find it's more profitable for the Big Four to sell low-malt beer. The only losers are the consumers, who are given crappy tasting beer passed off as "delicious brew" by shrill and annoying advertising. Sure consumers save money on a lower tax brew, but the Government will find out a way to make up the shortfall in beer tax revenues, and guess whose pocket the new taxes will come from?
C'mon, how about switching the tax rates around, and taxing happoshu at 222 yen a liter, and real beer at 88 yen a liter. Now THAT's a protest worth taking to the Government.
But the first thing to keep in mind here is that there are three taxable categories of happoshu. The 88 yen/liter category can contain no more than 25% malt. This type is the most prevalent, and most all brewers aiming to get into this tax bracket are the Big Four, who've loaded convenience store shelves with some of the most undrinkable (really!) stuff imaginable. One notable exception is a low-malt beer made in Germany with 75% wheat malt (sort of a hyper-Weizen, if you will) which tasted like a reasonably good krystallweizen, but cost only 100 yen a can at Tobu Ikebukuro's basement beer store.
The 123 yen/liter category can contain no more than 50% malt. There are not many products in this category, but one worth trying is a canned wheat beer from Echigo Beer that tastes halfway between a Belgian Wit and a Berliner Weisse. I like to refer to it as a "Half-a-Weizen" though Rogue Ales in Oregon already has a beer called something like that.
Finally, there is a category of happoshu which is taxed at 222 yen/liter, the same rate as regular beer. These are usually what you and I would call real beer, except they might contain ingredients which are not allowed in what is called "beer" according to Japanese law. Such ingredients may be spices, honey, wheat malt, unmalted barley, or whatever.
By strict definition, Guinness Stout is not legally beer in Japan because it contains unmalted barley. Neither is Hoegaarden White, because it contains coriander seeds and dried orange peel. In fact, some of the best beer brewed in Japan, the products of Minami Aizu Brewing, are ALL happoshu, but brewer John Schultz has to pay the full beer tax on them. His Lager contains honey, his Buckwheat Brown contains "soba," the Pale Ale contains a bit of unmalted barley, and the Maple Stout contains a little maple syrup.
John says "Let's just call it all beer" and I agree. Let's do away with this arcane tax schedule for beer of any variety, and tax everything the same. If there should be any inequity in beer tax, it should be skewed to punish those who make beer with cheap ingredients. An equitable beer tax system would naturally reward those who make good beer.
Let's lower the tax on beer, and do away with the happoshu tax categories for malt beverages. Let's get back to the business of making real beer.
Homebrew gear for sale start now for a happier summer
It started out innocently, this home brewing hobby. A carboy, a brew kettle, a soda keg. A capper, some hoses, a few doo-dads. But little by little, new and hand-me-down equipment started to pile up. Then Daniel, a recovering home brewer, brought over all of his gear. After some New Year's cleaning, I decided to scale down my home brewing, and put aside a lot of equipment and whatnot to sell or give away.
5 gallon (20 liter) glass carboy
Several brew kettles
A 20 liter soda keg, stainless steel
Poly sparge bucket with spigot
Cases and cases of empty, washed bottles. Some with labels already removed. Free.
And a lot more.
Interested? Please e-mail me for a list of what's for sale. email@example.com
There's too much free stuff to list, so come over and check it out.
Hop Pellets, 13 varieties from Cascade to Willamette, with alpha acid ratings. 100 yen for 30 grams, plus shipping. Contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ezo Beer and Rogue Ales are available to Brews News readers directly from the importer, Ezo Beer of Sapporo. Special prices now on several heavy ales. For details, contact Phred at email@example.com
Redhook Ales are available to Brews News readers directly from the importer, Orca International. Special prices for three cases or more. For details, contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tokyo Ale is a tasty amber ale brewed in Atsugi just outside Tokyo. It's available by the case or in 15-liter kegs. (Did someone say party?') For details, go to www.tokyo-ale.com
True Blue beers from Minami Aizu Brewing Company can be purchased directly from their English-language website. Go to: www.johnnylager.com
Wolaver's Organic Ales and North Coast Ales, both brewed in Mendocino county, California, are now being imported by Tengu Foods and sold directly by mail order. For details, contact Tengu Foods at 0429-82-4811 or email@example.com
For more details, check out Robb Satterwhite's superb guide to mail-order craft beer. It's on the Tokyo Food Page at www.bento.com/wkbeer12.html.
"Snow job" in Sapporo
I found this news item in the Mainichi:
Japan's 'freshest' beer hall served up a decade of dregs
SAPPORO -- A top beer hall run by an affiliate of Sapporo Breweries Ltd. served leftover beer to customers for over a decade, it was learned Friday. Kenji Iijima, the general manager of the Sapporo Bier Garten, admitted that the questionable practice was going on for at least 13 years until February last year. "We believe there were no hygiene problems, but it was not right thing to do ethically," Iijima said. "I offer my sincerest apologies." Sapporo public health officers on Friday inspected the beer hall in the city's Higashi-ku but they said they did not detect any hygienic problem "for the moment."
Did it really matter?
Yes, it does. Frankly, I'm surprised. Maybe all that snow in Sapporo made them think they were Snow Brand. Of course there shouldn't be any hygiene problems, but if it had been a better beer hall, they would have used the leftover beer to cook or bake with. After Brew Crew tastings at my house, there are invariably a raft of bottles still not empty, each with several fingers of beer left inside. If any of us smoked, we'd use these bottles for ashtrays. (Some of the beers deserve no more than a smoking butt, anyway.) But being the consummate cheapskate I am, I save the beer and use it to instead of water in my favorite chili or bread recipe. I realize the Sapporo beer hall doesn't bake bread or make chili, but they could at least take a few tips from the Germans (after all, it's a Bier Garten,' right?) and use the beer for steaming sausages or stewing pork, resulting in deeper, richer flavor. However, the thought of a bit of day-old beer mixed in with fresh beer from the tap leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, and it's not from the hops!
Your comments and questions are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Next Issue
Beer Here - Not. But Tokyo's best craft sake event. Don't miss it!
Bar Beat - Paddy vs. Scruffy for St. Pat's
The Brew Crew - Heavy beers for late winter
Brews in the News - New beers and beers for the season
Foaming at the Mouth - Dublin finally gets an "Irish Pub."
Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.