Brews News Issue 27 - May 2002
Home >> Eating & Drinking in Tokyo >> Brews News
In this issue
Beer Here: Japan Beer Festival 2002
Bar Beat: Belgian Beer Paradise at Bois Cereste in Akasaka
Brews in the News: from Asia, Australia, and South Africa
The Brew Crew: Swedish craft beers courtesy of Ake Nordgren
Spouting Off: Is your local pub for sale?
Ale Mail:

Beer Here

Japan Beer Festival 2002

May 18 - 19 Weekend at Yebisu Garden Place in Tokyo

The organizers of this largest of craft beer events in Tokyo now peg the number of beers to be served at 130, though visits to their website have yet to turn up a list of participating breweries. Still, this is the largest Japanese craft beer event anywhere, and we are lucky to have it in Tokyo. Best of all, for the price of admission you can drink as many 50 cc samples as you are able to get, making it a great place to acquaint yourself with Japanese microbrew. Tickets are 3,200 yen in advance and 3,600 yen at the door, or 3,200 yen in advance from Family Mart (P code 683596) and LAWSON (L code 32189) convenience stores.

Directions to Yebisu Garden Place


Bar Beat

Belgian Beer Paradise at Bois Cereste in Akasaka

Starting out as a classy Belgian beer specialty bar in 1988, Bois Cereste (owner Masaharu Yamada insists on the "r" spelling) preceded the interest in locally produced craft beer that began around 1995. Today, it is my favorite place in Japan to have a beer, although you are limited to Belgian beers only. What a hardship!

Nevertheless, beer geeks consider Belgian beers to be among the world's best. More styles of beer being brewed in that Kyushu-sized country than in the rest of the world combined. Bois Cereste boasts Japan's largest assortment of Belgian Beer at 140 kinds and counting, which is a mere fraction of the more than 1,000 brands being brewed there as you read this.

Most customers ask Yamada-san be their beer sommelier, but with a little practice you will soon have the confidence to make your own selections. While some Belgian beers are only about 5% alcohol, the same as conventional mass-produced beer, be warned that most are between 7% and 9% with a few pushing 12%. Sip slowly, please.

A few of my favorites are the fragrant and refreshing Hoegaarden White served on tap, the rich and satisfying Westmalle Tripel, the tangy and herbal Leffe Radieuse, and the heady Bush 12% which unfolds gloriously on the palate like a fine brandy or sherry.

Please note that there is an extra 500 yen charge for seating in the bar, where you will be better able to enjoy Yamada-san's piano playing later in the evening.

Bois Cereste
Kiyokawa Bldg. B1
2-13-21 Akasaka
Minato-ku, Tokyo
(03) 3588-6292
Open nightly except Sundays and holidays
Close to Akasaka station on the Chiyoda line; exit the station and come up onto Akasaka-dori. Walk towards the large boulevard named Sotobori-dori. Two blocks before it, turn right on Tamachi-dori, then take the first left onto a small alley. Bois Cereste is about 20 meters down on your left. Look for the red-yellow-black Belgian flag.


Brews in the News

Beer from Germany, Belgium, Scotland, USA, Japan

! ! ! ! ! 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.
ugh We recommend that you avoid this product.

!!!! Duckstein "Copper-gold Lager-ale" (Germany) - 4.9% abv, all malt. First of all, you gotta love the name. Somehow it reminds me of the Marx Brothers. The label also says "beechwood matured" - shades of Bud! Nonetheless, you're gonna love this beautiful clear copper-orange brew with a gloriously thick light tan sudsy head. Aroma is faint, with malt highlights. Flavor is very clean, nicely balanced, sort of like a German Bass Pale Ale, but with more complex malt flavors. Very interesting and unusual style. The bottle and label are very beautiful, but at 500 yen it's not cheap.

!!!!! Aventinus Dunkel Doppelweizen by Schneider (Germany) - 8% abv, combination of wheat and barley malt, hops, yeast and water only. This is a world classic, and worth almost what you have to pay for it, though it's less than 1,000 yen at most places. As its name says, it is a dark double-strength wheat beer. Gloriously dense light tan head atop a nearly opaque dark reddish brown body, with a bit of haze in the light. Clove/banana weizen yeast aroma predominates, backed by spicy wheat malt and earthy, floral hops. Tart, fruity initial flavor, followed by an unfolding of malt, leading to a dry yet lingering finish. Complex, yet restrained in a beautifully balanced way.

!!!! Christoffel Blond "Double Hopped Beer" (Belgium) - 5.5% abv, all malt. Very hazy whitish orange yellow. Thick and creamy white head. Aged hop aroma with funky Belgian yeast highlights, in this case a lot of acidity and some "aspirin" type astringency. Then yet meaty flavor, with the acidic aromas carrying over into the taste. Nice hop bitterness, yet subdued "aged" hop aroma. Malt is wheat oriented for lighter, more tart flavor. Good rich malt flavor, but nice tart yeasty bite keeps it dry and refreshing. Drink this one slowly or the space of an hour or so to let it open up and change as it warms slightly.

!! Isle of Arran Blonde Premium Ale (Scotland) - 5% abv, all malt. Hazy orange yellow with thin white head. Dusky hop-dominated aroma. Balanced toward hops and tartness, lacking in malt structure. Thin, one dimensional flavor. Seems like it's trying to be a lager. With no history of this style in Scotland, this could be a marketing ploy masquerading as a traditional ale. Disappointing compared to other fine Arran beers.

!!!! World Burp Beer 2002 (bottled version, brewed in Oregon, USA) - 5% abv, all malt. This crazy beer was created by Phred Kaufman to cash in on the World Cup football (soccer) craze. In Japanese it's called "world geppu" (geppu means "burp" in Japanese) which is very close to the sound of "world kappu" (how Japanese pronounce "cup") and that's all there is to the gag. What's inside? Ezo White Crane Beer, made by Rogue of Oregon, and sold there as Rogue Ale. It's a nice, well-balanced medium pale ale with somewhat sweet malt flavor. You've probably had it before. Could be the world's first beer sold under three brands.

!! World Burp Beer 2002 (canned version, brewed at an undisclosed US location) - 5.5% abv, malt, hops and sugars. NOT the same as the bottled version. The one in the can is a low-malt beer made in the US, which Phred manages to sell here for around 150 yen per can. Still, it's better than one could expect for such a cheapie with a gimmick. Very clear medium yellow, sudsy white head, strong sugary malt flavor but balanced with noticeable amounts of good hops. A good low-malt effort, but no cigar.

! Kirin Tanrei Green Label (Japan) - 4.5%, malt, hops, barley, sugars, yeast extract, said to have 105 calories per 350 ml can. This low-malt beer looked too weird not to try. Said to have 70% less residual sugars than normal beer. Would this be a diet beer, or one for diabetics? Very clear light yellow, dense white head, malt dominated aroma, astonishingly thin and watery, but very dry. Keep it cold, very cold, and you can pound a whole can of beer and take in fewer calories than half as much cola. But if you could drink a really delicious beer as long as you manage to drink only half as much.

! Shirokirin (Japan) "Winter Is Wonderful" (but how about low-malt beer?) - 5.5% abv, malt, hops, barley, rice, cornstarch, sugars. Clear pale yellow, short-lived white head. Sour grainy aroma, same flavor. Some body and weight, but ersatz beer, for sure, lacking any malt structure, or any interesting hop flavors. Better deeply chilled, but best avoided.

ugh Kirin Gokunama (Japan) - 5.5% abv, malt, hops, barley, rice, cornstarch, sugars. "Yeah, just throw in anything that will ferment -- malt is expensive, to limit it to no more than 25% off all the fermentables" you can imagine them saying at the brewery. Pale very clear yellow, short-lived white head, almost no aroma, thin body, tart aftertaste leading to a puckering feeling. Practically no sensation of malt and hops, no strong off-flavors, not much of anything except wet and fizzy.


Brew Crew

Swedish craft beers courtesy of Ake Nordgren

These beers were a gift hand-carried from Sweden by Ake Nordgren, owner of a pre-press graphic production firm in Stockholm and importer of Japanese sake to the Swedish market. He also runs a sushi bar there, too. These great and rare Swedish microbrews were tasted after hours at Sasagin, my favorite craft sake place in Yoyogi Uehara. On the brew crew this time were master chef David Chiddo of TY Harbor Brewery (not pictured), beer writer Ken Tanaka, Sasagin owner Mitsuru Narita, Ake Nordgren, Bois Cereste owner Masaru Yamada, and Bryan Harrell. It was a great late evening, so the notes are a bit hazy.

!!!! Spendrups Old Gold - 5% all malt. This pale yellow light lager is crowned with a white head, and features low carbonation with floral hops. Delicate yet well-formed malt structure. David noticed a rose-like aroma, while Yamada-san observed "hardly any aroma, and more bittering hop character than aroma hops...grassy."

!!!! Lundgren's Lager - 4.9% abv, all malt. Medium yellow, heavy malt aroma, faint hop aroma. Interesting yeast character, initial sweetness, quickly tapers to dry bitter finish. Very good balance.

!!!! Nils Oscar "God Lager" - 5.3% abv, all malt. Clear yellow, faint aromas. Unique initial malt funkiness, a rich yeasty flavor with hops in the background.

!!!!! Hell - 5.1%, all malt. You have to love a beer named Hell that proclaims on the back label "a helluva beer." Dark yellow, great hop aroma greets you, followed by strong malt body in a very microbrewed characterful execution.

!!! Jamtlands President - 5.2% abv, all malt. Faintly hazy light yellow, spicy flavor, medium body.

!!!! D. Carnegie & Co. Stark Porter - Almost opaque dark brown, with reddish highlights. Sweet cookie aroma, very soft with low hopping, with sorghum syrup highlights and a strong, restorative flavor. Ake remarked that this beer is from an old Swedish brewer, and is considered Stout in the true Swedish style. Most on the crew remarked that it was quite a bit different from any other stout they'd had.

!!!!! GORM - This beer is labeled in an old Viking language, and the closest you can get with our alphabet is "Gorm." In the photo it's the tall bottle with a flip top. This is a homebrew made by Ake's associate Goergi. Deep, deep brown, remarkable fresh roasty flavor, fascinating complexity yet light body. A great tang that lingers a moment, then vanishes. Superb balance. Light alcohol apparent, maybe 4%? Excellent session beer, and feels very healthful for something with such great flavor. Proof that homebrew made by an expert often walks all over the finest commercial beers.

!!!!! Nils Oscar Barley Wine - 9.5% abv, all malt. This is apparently very difficult to come by even in Stockholm, so we were extremely fortunate to share a bottle in Tokyo. Such a superb beer, no doubt, and easily a world classic. Fiery amber, faint head, vanilla notes in the malt, rich but not too sweet, fascinating layered malt structure with sherry characteristics, nicely aged. Tanaka-san was amazed by its superb balance for such a strong and heavy beer. Bryan said it was one of the very finest barleywines he's ever had.


Spouting Off

Is your local pub for sale?

No, I don't mean to ask if your local pub is going out of business. I mean to ask if your local prosperous local pub is for sale to the highest bidder. And what is being purchased is the attention of the customers.

Perhaps you've seen an extensive collection of signs and materials promoting one brand of beer. This gets really thick around, say, Halloween or St. Patrick's day. Or maybe your pub has a cigarette machine selling only one brand of cigarettes. Or maybe your pub carries many kinds of good beer, but for some reason only the "major" beer is listed on the menu and bar signs.

Wonder no more. Your pub is being "bought" by a major corporation, who pays for the privilege of having customers steered their way in the form of heavy discounts on the product (more profit for the pub owner), free refrigeration or dispensing equipment for their brand of beer (notice the beautifully lit taps and gorgeous handles), or even free cases of beer on the side (wink wink, they're "samples") the pub owner can then sell for pure profit. And that cigarette machine? Well, the pub owner can count on a lucky strike of setting fees and perhaps even a cut of the price for each pack.

It's a very competitive world out there for beer, particularly for draft beer products which are typically more profitable than bottled products. And just because the brands are foreign, don't think that the major Japanese brewers are not involved. If you a fan of Bass (Asahi), Guinness (Sapporo), Heineken (Kirin) or even Carlsberg (Suntory) don't be surprised to find that a large Japanese brewery makes a few yen off of every pint you drink.

If you truly like the beer, fine. But if you seem to order it out of habit since it's the only name you immediately see when you walk into the pub, then your pub's obviously for sale to the highest corporate bidder.

The guilty pubs? Well, they're easier to spot than the pubs that give all their beer products a fair shake. The Good Guys? From what I've been able to tell, the Good Guys are running Little Euro in Meguro, Dirty Nelly's in Hiroo, Scruffy Murphy's in Harajuku, Popeye in Ryogoku, Bois Cereste and Hobgoblin in Akasaka, The Church and The Warrior Celt in Ueno, and Kura Kura, Mother and Mother's Ruin in Shimokitazawa. If your local pub is not for sale, please drop me a line at and let me know.



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Ale Mail

This appeared in the Wednesday, April 24 "The Japan Times":

[article about Suntory's plans to launch a low-malt beer with ads on for other companies on the cans]

This is what happened to public buses in Tokyo. A bus is now one big advertisement. Will this start a trend for real beer brands? It would be a way to defer the 222 yen per liter beer tax.
Scott Dotterer

Your comments and questions are always welcome at


Our Next Issue

Beer There - Report on the Japan Beer Festival 2002
Bar Beat - TY Harbor Brewery
The Brew Crew - Yes, we do lager!
Brews in the News - New beers and beers for the season
Spouting Off - Somebody will come up with something to complain about...


Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.

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