Brews News Issue 32 - October 2002
Home >> Eating & Drinking in Tokyo >> Brews News
In this issue
Beer Here: Oktoberfest in Tokyo
Bar Beat: Hobgoblin Roppongi
Brews in the News: Belgium, France and Japan
The Brew Crew: Hop harvest beers at Bois Cereste
Spouting Off: On tap, off!
News: Tokyo's best craft sake event
Ale Mail:

Beer Here

Oktoberfest in Tokyo

Many don't realize that Oktoberfest in Germany really begins in the middle of September, but the few places in Tokyo that observe this most famous of all beer celebrations don't really get into gear until about now. Note that the special beers for Oktoberfest (festbier) are traditionally brewed in spring, then lagered (stored cold) until the beginning of fall, when all hell (and bock and festbier) breaks loose. Festbiers are brewed stronger and heavier so that they store nicely, so beware of the higher alcohol content. Here's what's happening for Oktoberfest at three of my favorite German beer places in Tokyo.

Bernd's Bar -- Erdinger Oktoberfest Bier is now being offered for 800 yen (330 ml) and 1,000 yen (500 ml). No special food is offered for Oktoberfest, but with Bernd's thoroughly authentic menu of German everything, what more could you ask for? 5-18-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo (03) 5563-9232.

German Farm Grill - Owner Imazato-san must be the hardest working German restaurant proprietor in Tokyo. To make sure he had a good supply of Festbier for Oktoberfest, he had a shipment of Spaten Oktoberfest beer flown in from Germany. By the time that runs out, the sea shipment should be in, providing enough to last until the end of the year, by his estimate. It's priced at 900 yen (500 ml). Even more remarkable is the special Oktoberfest Beer Course at 2,900 yen, which includes one Spaten Oktoberfest beer, your choice of one of five appetizers, your choice of one of five main dishes, a big hot soft pretzel, salad and more. And, this bargain meal is further discounted 5% from Sunday through Thursday. Worth checking out. 8-1 Shinsen, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 5457-2871.

Kandagasse - This delicious oasis in the electronic wilds of Akihabara is now serving Erdinger Oktoberfest (500 ml) for 1,150 yen, and Kostritzer Oktoberfest (500 ml) for 1,000 yen. 2-4-4 Soto Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3254-1339.


Bar Beat

Hobgoblin Roppongi

Late last spring, beer lovers and ordinary pub punters alike were looking forward to the opening of the second Hobgoblin pub in Tokyo in time for the World Cup games. As it turned out, a number of glitches delayed the opening until mid-July, long after the games had finished and visitors returned home.

By the end of August, the pub was up and running smoothly when three friends and I ventured in for a Sunday night visit. The first-floor location, with plenty of windows, makes for a much more spacious impression than one gets from the basement-bound Akasaka Hobgoblin.

While the staff was friendly enough, it seemed that nobody could really answer our beer questions. We ordered Hobgoblin drafts, and one bottle of my favorite Wychwood brew, Fiddler's Elbow. (Wychwood is the U.K. brewery sponsoring both Hobgoblin pubs in Tokyo.) While the draft was acceptable save for being quite a bit too cold to enjoy the complex flavors, the Fiddler's Elbow was quite skunked.

This happens when beer is exposed to light, particularly that from fluorescent lighting, which breaks down hop oil to release particularly unsavory sulfur-like aromas. (Think of the smell of a long-haired dog which has just come in from the rain.) Most brewers use dark brown bottles to minimize the effects of light on their products. Wychwood, however, uses perfectly clear bottles to display the beautiful color of their beers. Unfortunately, it leaves the beer prone to skunking if care is not taken to keep the bottles in a dark place.

Thankfully, the staff replaced the offending bottle after a lengthy explanation to the manager about how this happens and what to do to prevent it. (Actually, this is something he should have known about.) Rather than risk another clear bottle, we opted for another Hobgoblin draft. The draft ale, dark and gloriously rich, was acceptable, but clearly not in its prime. I recall once having the same beer at the Akasaka location, just after being brought in from England, and it was indeed far better. Apparently this beer has a relatively short shelf life, so one would presume that the pub would do everything possible to get people to drink it in order to increase the pace of turnover. But a glance at the menu and the bar signage showed no special promotion of what is otherwise a great ale when in good condition.

A look around at the bar and various drink offerings revealed that, while this is a pub ostensibly run by a small craft brewery in England, there is a lack of focus on its beers. Quite a number of beers from other breweries were offered on tap and in bottles. These included the rather interesting Jenlain beers from northern France, though I had to wonder why they were being offered in what was otherwise an English-style pub. Ditto for the Hoegaarden White, even though it is a wonderful brew. Hardest to comprehend were the handful of alcopops - exotically flavored alcoholic drinks made from a malt base.

While it is commendable to have another Hobgoblin pub in Tokyo, particularly in a high-traffic area like Roppongi, I would welcome management that takes a stronger focus on Wychwood's area of core competence - their wonderful range of English ales. This would include a staff more knowledgeable about the flavor differences in the various Wychwood ales, more prominent promotion of those ales, and the elimination of beers which are easily found elsewhere. Still, the Hobgoblin Roppongi is well deserving of a visit, and strong support from those customers who find it to their liking.

Hobgoblin Roppongi
Aoba Roppongi Bldg. 1F
3-16-33 Roppongi
Minato-ku, Tokyo
(03) 3568-1280


Brews in the News

Beer from Belgium, France and 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.

!!!! Corsendonk Pater Noster abbey style dubbel (Belgium - 7.5% abv., malt, hops, sugar, yeast). Hazy brown, with sudsy tan head. Malt and alcohol present in the aroma. Full flavor, yet surprisingly dry with minimal roasty and caramel character. Tartness present, owing to the nature of the yeast strain, which balances the sweetness from the malt and rock sugar (also called "candi sugar" and a common ingredient in high-alcohol Belgian beers). Overall, this is drier and more accessible than most other Abbey style dubbels. Most remarkable about this beer is the price: it comes in a 250 ml bottle (plenty for a beer this strong) sold at Yamaya for 198 yen or 3 for 500 yen, making it a better alcohol value than cheap happo-shu.

!!!! Corsendonk Agnus Dei abbey style tripel (Belgium, 7.5% abv., malt, hops sugar, yeast). Hazy light yellow, with a thin white head. Fruity aroma with grassy notes imparted by the yeast. Crisper and drier than other abbey style tripels, with little spice apparent. Not really a lot going on here compared to other tripels, and decidedly less complex, but still rich and flavorful despite the lack of interplay of various flavors. Still, quite remarkable considering the quality for the price, which is the same as the Pater Noster version above.

!!!! Biere du Desert golden ale (from Les Brasseurs de Gayant of Paris, France; 5.6% abv., all malt). Clear, very pale yellow with a sudsy white short-lived head. Faintly fruity ale aroma. Sweet malt flavor that's largely one-dimensional, with bitterness kicking in at mid-palate. Not a lager, of course, but almost as light as most, yet with an interestingly fruity flavor. This must be someone's idea of a light beer for a hot summer's day intended for people who normally drink stronger beers like Duvel or other Belgian golden ales. This one comes in a 330 ml bottle, and is also sold at Yamaya for 198 yen or 3 for 500 yen. At this price, why buy mass-produced lager in cans?

!!! Kirin Aki Aji lager (Kirin, Japan, 6% abv.; malt, hops, rice, cornstarch). Bright golden yellow, sudsy white head, rich lager beer aroma. The flavor is marginally sweeter than the average Kirin beer, but the richer malt flavor is as one-dimensional as the hopping, which is somewhat metallic and not nearly aromatic enough. The can says it is made with 1.3 times the malt of Kirin's other beers. Even though this year's version isn't quite as good as in years past, thank goodness Kirin is keeping this product as a beer instead of turning it into a happo-shu.

!!!!! Yona Yona Ale pale ale (Karuizawa, Japan, 5.5% abv., all malt) Hazy orange amber, thick ivory head, juicy and fruity malt aroma. Sweet tangy malt flavor greets the tongue, then is soon overpowered by brisk and citrusy Cascade hop bitterness, leading to a rich yet refreshing finish. The carbonation is very fine, and makes for a creamy sensation in the mouth. The label says it is naturally carbonated. I hadn't reviewed this beer in a while, and came back to it on a hot day to see if it was as good as I'd remembered. I think it's actually gotten a bit better. One of the best values in Japanese craft beer at only 248 yen per can. Widely available throughout the Tokyo area. For more information, phone the brewery at 0267-66-1211 or check out the website at

!!!! Niigata Beer (Niigata Pref., 4.5% abv., all malt). Deep hazy yellow with a thick ivory head, faintly fruity and malty aroma with herbal hop highlights. Rich malt flavor is unquestionably big, but quickly recedes to a refreshing, clean finish. Unpasteurized. For more details, go to


Brew Crew

Hop Harvest Beers at Bois Cereste

This month's Brew Crew took place in mid September at Bois Cereste, a Belgian beer specialty bar in Akasaka, where a special selection of Belgian beers were selected to enable comparison of the major hop varieties used in Belgium. Varieties represented were Brewer's Gold, English Fuggles, German Tettnanger, Hallertau Hersbruck, Hallertau Mittlefruh, Kent Goldings, Saaz, and Styrian Goldings. I joined nine other participants in the tasting, which also included a light dinner designed to complement this particular flight of Belgian ales. Beers are listed in order of tasting.

!!!!! Hommelbier (Brewer's Gold and Hallertauer Mittlefruh) Hazy medium yellow with thick creamy white head, sweet aroma with soft floral hop bouquet. Fruity flavor, soft mouthfeel, with bursting fresh hop flavor, though somewhat subdued and not as strong as the bitterness in many US microbrews. Overall, it was sort of like a toned-down Duvel with more complexity.

!!!! Duvel (Saaz and Styrian Goldings) Pale yellow, thick sudsy snow-white head. Fruity aroma that is a touch floral. Rather light body for such a high-alcohol beer, with sweetness and alcohol flavors largely overpowering the hop flavor, which does its best to provide balance. Fortunately, both small 330 ml bottle and large 750 ml bottle versions were available for comparison, and since this is a bottle conditioned beer, the differences were quite noticeable. The beer from the large bottle tastes younger, fresher and more complex while the beer from the small bottle has a tighter flavor range and is, by comparison, much more herbal to the point of being a bit medicinal.

!!!! Brigand (Saaz, and dry hopped with Saaz) Golden yellow, thin white head, spicy and more complex than Hommelbier and Duvel, but with more strident bitterness. Long, bitter aftertaste makes it an ideal beer to have with strong, ripe cheeses.

!!!!! Orval (Styrian Goldings, Hallertau Hersbruck, dry hopped) Hazy orange amber, with a rocky ivory head and a huge hop and tart yeast aroma. Moderate hop sweetness is overpowered by the twin forces of dry-hopping bitterness and Brettanomyces, a wild yeast strain that adds a characteristic tart acidity. This is a true Trappist beer made on the same site since 1070. Very distinctive with loads of character; most people either love it or hate it.

!!!!!+ Westmalle Tripel (English Fuggles, Czech Saaz, Styrian Goldings, Tettnanger, and German Saaz) I should admit now that this authentic Trappist ale is probably my favorite beer in the entire world, so this description should be considered less than purely objective. Glorious deep gold color with some haze, rich rocky and creamy head, thrillingly complex aroma with both floral and herbal hop highlights over a smooth, rich malt aroma. Juicy malt flavor that is intense with notes of citrus (sweet orange?) but with a mineralness that keeps the sweetness at bay. Long, deep flavors evolve and lead to a remarkably extended finish with ideal balance between sweetness and bitterness. Considered by Michael Jackson and most other noted beer writers to be one of the world's most classically excellent beers.

Bois Cereste holds Belgian beer tastings like this on the second Wednesday of each month. The 7,000 yen charge includes all beers, plus a light selection of food. For details on the next event, phone them at 3588-6292.

If you are interested in joining the next Brew Crew (date and location to be decided), please drop a line to


Spouting Off

On tap, off!

Alas, the Nishi Shinjuku restaurant serving Hoegaarden White with raw oysters didn't quite deliver the promise of deliciousness that I'd expected. While the oysters were fresh enough to be eaten raw, they were just a bit road weary, and lacked the sweet briny zip that makes a good raw oyster such a treat. Worse, however, was the condition of the Hoegaarden White beer, which was just a bit too sour and lacking in aroma - obviously something was wrong with either the keg or the serving system. What seemed like a great place by looking at the flyer turned out to be hardly worth the trouble. Fortunately I was with good company.

This, however, is not an isolated case. At many places in Tokyo I have often been served draft beers that have suffered from improper storage, unsanitary tap lines, or carbonation that is either too strong (too much head) or too weak (a flat, thin-tasting beer). Even when all this is perfect, the beer is too often over chilled.

Let's hope that the people who run pubs serving good draft beer can pay more attention to the fine details that make a good draft pint.



Tokyo's best craft sake event

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2002 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Akasaka Prince Hotel

No, it's not beer, but it's certainly what Japanese do best. I never liked sake much at all until I had stuff of this quality some years ago at the urging of sake writer John Gauntner. Since then, I sometimes have trouble keeping my mind on keeping up with good beer in Tokyo.

Perhaps the best opportunity to try more varieties of good sake than you can find anywhere else is at the twice-yearly Ginjoshu Kyokai event, held at the Akasaka Prince Hotel. It's essentially like a trade fair, and this month some 79 brewers will have booths serving their versions of ginjoshu, the most aromatic and refined sake, brewed from highly polished rice.

Visitors are advised to eat something before going in since there is no food at the event, and people are actively discouraged from bringing it in. There is, however, plenty of water to keep the palate refreshed for the next sample. Of course, spit buckets are everywhere, so you don't have to swallow your samples.

Admission is only 4,000 yen for all you can drink. PLUS, when you leave, you surrender your entry badge for a 750 ml bottle of very good ginjoshu, which is likely to be worth at least 4,000 yen anyway. It's not only a tremendous bargain, it's also a lot of fun.

You need to reserve for this event in advance by calling the Ginjoshu Kyokai (in Japanese) at (03) 3378-1231, or faxing them at (03) 3378-1232.



Hop Pellets, 13 varieties from Cascade to Willamette, with alpha acid ratings. 100 yen for 30 grams, plus shipping.
Contact Chris at
Send your beer-related ads to


Ale Mail

Letters are always welcome in Brews News. Write to:


Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.

Previous issue