Brews News Issue 33 - November 2002
Home >> Eating & Drinking in Tokyo >> Brews News
In this issue
Beer Here: Osaka Beer Summit
Bar Beat: Iwai Shokudo & Beany Beans
Brews in the News: Beer from Belgium and Japan
The Brew Crew: Rare brews captured here and there
Spouting Off: Cheap or expensive?
News: Pumpkin Ale and a New Brussels
Glassifieds:
Ale Mail: Three letters this month!

Beer Here

Osaka Beer Summit 2002



by Robb Satterwhite

I know a few people who travel from Tokyo to Osaka every year just to attend the Osaka Beer Summit, and now I understand why. It's three days of outdoor fun, with interesting food, music and entertainment from around the world, a friendly Osaka crowd, and of course plenty of good beer.

Although the Beer Summit is obviously organized around beer, it seems to be geared more towards the general public and even families rather than just beer connoisseurs, and it's a fun day out even if you don't drink. The entertainment this year included music and dance from Okinawa, Indonesia and Peru, and booths from countries around the world did a good business in traditional foods as well as beers. The event is held in the open space between the two towers of the Umeda Sky Building, and the weather was perfect all weekend, with blue skies and refreshingly cool breezes. Admission is free, and beer and food are reasonably priced (generally around Y300/glass for beer).



Although individual breweries were fewer than in past years, customers could still choose from at least a hundred different beers, including good selections from Belgium, Germany and Japan. The Yona Yona cask-conditioned ale from Nagano was probably my favorite discovery of the weekend, far superior to their canned product (which is already very good). This cask version of Yona Yona is available in Tokyo at Popeye (Ryogoku), Tableaux (Daikanyama) and Dancing Monkey (Aoyama), and of course their canned beer is widely available in stores. Waoh beers from Nara and AJI beers from Osaka also had booths and very tasty offerings, while a couple dozen other Japanese beers were available at a booth run by a Japanese brewers' group. I was looking forward to trying the "red rice" beer from Nest, but I found it a bit disappointing. I usually like Nest beers, and this one had rich, interesting flavors, but it was just far too sweet for my taste.



Other individual breweries and beers represented included Red Hook, Murphy's Stout, and Big Buck Brewery and Steakhouse from Michigan. Big Buck is hoping to open American brewpub-style steak houses in Osaka and Tokyo, and they did a very good business with their grilled steak platter and beer combo.



The Belgian beer booth was another popular destination. Run by Dolphins, a Belgian beer bar with four locations in Osaka, they served nearly a dozen Belgian brews, including beers from Duvel, Rodenbach, Leffe, Orval, Westmalle, Cantillon and Saison. The most popular food booths included those from Thailand, India, Peru, Indonesia and Turkey. The crowd was a good international mix as well (an Osakan of my acquaintance commented that half the foreign population of Osaka seemed to be there).

All in all it was a very enjoyable weekend, and a good excuse to visit the charming city of Osaka. I'm already planning my trip next year.

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Bar Beat

Bacon, Beans and Belgian Beer: Iwai Shokudo

by Jonathan Lloyd-Owen

Iwai-san is a graduate of the Brussels bar chain in Tokyo, where he ran the kitchen of the Kagurazaka branch before leaving to open his own place in June last year. Faithful to his alma mater, he stocks over 30 Belgian brews, among them Westmalle Tripel, given a mighty five plus rating in last month's Brews News.

On a recent visit to his diner-cum-bar, I had set my taste buds on the thick-cut bacon, potato and garbanzo bean platter, but no sooner had I settled in at the counter than a drunk followed me in and beat me to it. As he messed with his food and your correspondent, I rather lost my appetite for this truly satisfying dish and pondered the menu instead.

Iwai-san spent three years in the U.S., and many of the menu items are recipes he picked up Stateside. These include the mixed pickles - a bit overpowering the last time I tried them - onion baked in rock salt, and a soft white cheese served with dried grapes. If you're looking for something more substantial, I can recommend the duck with sauteed vegetables, and any of the freshly caught fish dishes. There is also a solid list of pastas, a pilaf or two, omuraisu and even French toast with maple syrup.

The L-shaped counter seats about 12, and Iwai-san is assisted on various nights of the week by sister Chika, ballerina Rie, and three other part-timers. If you go, definitely try the bacon and beans - but look over your shoulder before ordering.

Iwai Shokudo
Araki-cho 8-1, Shinjuku-ku
Phone: (03) 5919-1061
Hours: 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. (closed Mondays)
Nearest station: Yotsuya 3-chome (Marunouchi Line)
How to get there: Use Exit 4, and head down Gaien Higashi dori in the direction of Akebonobashi. After about 3 minutes you will pass Fairfax Grill on your left. Take the next right, at the corner with the advertisement for second-hand cameras. This leads into Sugi-daimon-dori. Iwai Shokudo is about a minute from the corner, on the left-hand-side, diagonally opposite Pas-a-Pas. It has a pink facade. (You can also reach it from Akebonobashi: Turn left out of Exit 1 onto Yasukuni dori and left again up the hill. When you reach Gaien Higashi dori, the entrance to Sugidaimon-dori is facing you on the other side of the street.)


Yona Yona Ale in a Bottle: Beany Beans
by Jonathan Lloyd-Owen

Another brew highly recommended last month was Yona Yona Ale. The only place I know where it is served in a bottle is Beany Beans, a basement cocktail bar run by the delightful Yamazaki-san. The ultimate professional, Yamazaki-san knows her booze and has a great sense of humor, too. (In case you're wondering about the name, she looked up 'genki ippai' in the dictionary, found 'full of beans' and gave it a shake.)

Beany Beans
Yotsuya Akebonbashi Bldg. B1
Sumiyoshi-cho 2-14, Shinjuku-ku
Phone: (03) 3358-0844
Hours: 7 p.m.-2 a.m. (closed Tuesdays and first Monday of the month - and depending how late it stayed open the previous night, it may not always open smartly at 7)
Nearest Station: Akebonobashi (Toei Shinjuku Line)
How to get there: Turn left out of Exit 1 and head along Yasukuni-dori in the direction of Shinjuku. After about 30 meters, look out for the orange Beany Beans sign standing on the street. If it's not lit, you're out of luck.

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Brews in the News

Beer from Belgium 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.

!!!!! Ai ("love") by Nasu Kogen Beer Japanese lager (Tochigi Pref. - 5% abv, all malt). Pale yellow, snow white head, beautiful hop aroma (Kent Goldings?). Light crisp juicy pale malt flavors expertly balanced by minerally, almost "salty" hop bitterness, leading to a slowly tapering finish with a faintly hoppy aftertaste. This is a very superb lager that makes me think of a vastly improved version of Yebisu. I think most Japanese mass-produced beer would be like this if it could.

!!! Sapporo Fuyu Monogatari (The Winter's Tale) Japanese seasonal lager (Japan - 5.5% abv, malt, hops, rice, cornstarch). Medium yellow, white head. Dry malty aroma, faint hops in background. Rather rich and full malt flavor, yet dry and sharp, with a solid malt background. However, there is a slightly peculiar sweetness that emerges in the finish.

!!!!! Rodenbach Classic Belgian red ale (Belgium - 5% abv., malt, corn, hops, yeast). Dark hazy brown with red highlights, sudsy tan head. Complex herbal and woody aromas. Quite tart, but the sourness is tempered by smooth, "warm" caramel-like malt flavors, with the faint flavors of fine hops in the background. Alcohol becomes more apparent in the aftertaste when the tartness fades. This is a blend of new beer and beer which has been aged about 18 months in oak barrels.

!!!!! Rodenbach Grand Cru Belgian red ale (Belgium - 6.5% abv, malt, corn, hops, yeast). Deep reddish brown, sudsy light tan head. Sour woody Complex herbal aromas. Nice sweetness balances well with the enhanced tartness of extended aging. Generally tart throughout, but punctuated by sweet spikes of flavor. Rather thin body for such an intensely flavored beer. Aged for 20 months in large oak barrels.

!!!!! Nostrodomus Belgian brown ale (Belgium - 9.5% abv, no ingredient information available). Deep auburn mahogany with thick, creamy tan head. Fine, smooth carbonation. Faintly tart "aged malt" aroma that carries into the flavor with intense sweetness in the background. Rather thin body and intense sweetness becomes more apparent in the finish. Awesomely complex and satisfying. Available only at Bois Cereste in Akasaka, as far as I know.

!!!!! Duchesse de Bourgogne Belgian red ale (Belgium - 6.2% abv, all malt). Clear reddish amber with tan head. Sweet aroma of prunes, raisins and sweet spices, and these carry into the flavor, joined by a bit of smoked malt taste in the background. This smoky taste may be due to some spice, perhaps anise? An interesting beer which is more accessible than more sour red ales.

!!!! Petrus Oud Bruin Belgian old brown ale (Belgium - 5.5% abv, all malt). Deep reddish brown, tan sudsy head, sour woody aroma. Sweet malt flavor quickly overpowered by tartness, followed by the emergence of some earthy bitterness. Aged 20 months in oak barrels.

!!!! Petrus Speciale Belgian amber ale (Belgium - 5.5% abv, malt, corn, hops and yeast). Clear reddish gold, sudsy off-white head. Herbal earthy hops dominate the aroma, backed by cookie-like malt tones. Rich, solid malt lingers a bit, then fades as sharp hop bitterness comes to the fore and takes over the tapering dry finish. Fine but intense carbonation makes it even more refreshing. This is a good well-balanced "session" Belgian ale for everyday enjoyment in fall and winter. Interestingly, the label says to chill it well (6 to 10 C.) for serving.

!!!! Petrus Triple Belgian tripel ale (Belgium - 7.5% abv, all malt). Slightly hazy yellowish gold, off-white head, sweet malt aromas. A much more simple, and nearly one-dimensional flavor compared with other Belgian tripels, perhaps I am spoiled by the better examples of this style. Still, a nicely made beer, and certainly worth the very low price at Yamaya.

The Petrus beers reviewed above are available in 250 ml bottles at Yamaya, priced at only 500 yen for three bottles, mix and match. A great beer deal.

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Brew Crew

Beers Enjoyed Here and There
This month's Brew Crew is just me, and features a sampling of beers I've enjoyed at various specialty beer bars around Tokyo.

!!!! St. Amand Belgian abbey ale "L'Originale Biere Sur Lie Aux Baies de Genevier" (Belgium - 7% abv). Yes, this ale is brewed with Juniper berries! Cloudy peachy yellow, thick off-white head, fresh floral aroma. Nice acidic bite over subdued fruity malt, with lemons and apricots emerging in mid-palate. The softened hop bitterness balances out the quickly fading sweetness, making for a dry finish overall with clean bitterness lingering. The Juniper berries are not at all apparent (don't expect anything tasting like gin), but seem to be a small component of the complex flavor profile. I believe they may contribute to the acidity. Tasted at Brussels in Harajuku for 1,000 yen. Also on the menu at Frigo for 1,250 yen.

!!!! Iwate Kura IPA (bottled) (Iwate Pref. - 5% abv, all malt). Hazy amber orange, thin tan head. Extremely hoppy aroma, which seems like Cascade hops at first, but later seem like Kent Goldings (perhaps because the only beers I've had this hoppy have been made with Cascades). Pure U.S. West Coast style with jacked up hops that overpower the moderate sweetness of the malt to give a rich yet quenching effect. Brewed only in autumn. Tasted at Kura Kura in Shimokitazawa for 850 yen, surprisingly inexpensive for a Japanese craft beer of this quality. I have also tasted this beer on draft at Popeye in Ryogoku (700 yen for a small glass) and it tastes virtually the same, but is a bit more cloudy.

!!!!! Yona Yona Cask Conditioned Ale (Nagano Pref.). Cloudy amber orange, hyper fruity aroma with good hops. Very soft carbonation. Sweet initial taste, followed by malt tanginess then hop bitterness which lingers long in the finish. Quite a lovely beer with intense flavors. On tap at Popeye in Ryogoku for 600 yen for a small glass.

!!!!! Baird Teikoku IPA (Shizuoka Pref.) Two of the legendary Baird Beers of the Fishmarket Taproom in Numazu are now available at Popeye in Ryogoku! This draft IPA is hazy fire orange, and hops predominate over malt in the aroma. A huge jolt of hops in the initial taste, followed by complex tangy malt flavors. Very well crafted, with layers of flavors unfolding on the palate. Not cheap at 700 yen for a small glass, but worth it.

!!!!! Baird Cask Conditioned Kurofune Porter (Shizuoka Pref.). Served on handpump, this is the beer that I would like to force feed to all of the many people who insist that Guinness is the apex of dark ales. Opaque black, gloriously rich and complex flavors, yet surprisingly dry with good flinty and minerally flavors from darkly roasted malt. Extremely smooth and inviting thanks to the totally natural carbonation obtained by cask conditioning. Worth a trip to Numazu to drink where its brewed, making 700 yen for a small glass at Popeye in Ryogoku a bargain.

!!!! Asahi Stout on draft (Japan - 8% abv). Aoki-san of Popeye spent years talking Asahi into providing him with their high-alcohol stout in kegs. Until now, this unusual-for-Asahi stout has been available only in bottles. Well, the folks at Asahi finally gave in, and are delivering one keg each month to Popeye. It's dark brown to black in color, with a mild sweetness that slightly lingers while flavors of caramel and prune dance on your tongue. While it tastes pretty much the same as the bottled version, there is some improvement in texture. It is softer, smoother and has finer carbonation - all factors that can be controlled in the keg serving process. Worth it at 700 yen for a small glass, at least for the curiosity value.

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Spouting Off

Cheap or Expensive?

We in Tokyo are fortunate to have quite a number of Belgian beer specialty bars to choose from, but most everyone will agree that an evening of drinking in any one of them can cost a fair amount of money. In the past, I have always considered Bois Cereste to be the most expensive, followed by Brussels, with Belgo/Frigo on the lower end of the scale. However, this assumption has only been created through a series of impressions and not through a comparison of actual prices. Bois Cereste is the only one to have a seat charge (500 yen, which includes a small bowl of nuts in the shell) but this can be avoided by taking a seat in the restaurant area.

Recently I decided to challenge this assumption by comparing prices in several places. What I found is that no clear distinctions can be made, and that lower prices overall can be found at Kura Kura, a beer bar in Shimokitazawa that originally specialized in Japanese microbrew, but has added Belgian ales to their menu.

I made a list of most of my favorite Belgian beers, then compared the prices of them at each of the four places. Keep in mind that Brussels has many places in their chain, and that Belgo and Frigo are operated by the same company.

Beer Bois C Bruss. Belgo/ Frigo Kura Kura
Boon Geuze 1200 1200 1200 1100
Bush 12% 1000 N/A 1050 N/A
Chimay Red 1000 950 950 800
Chimay White 1100 1100 1150 850
Chimay Blue 1200 1250 1200 900
Hoegaarden Adam & Eve 800 1100 1100 850
Hoegaarden Grand Cru 800 1000 1100 N/A
Hoegaarden White (draft) 800 900 700 800
Leffe Radieuse 1000 1250 1250 N/A
Lindeman's Pecheresse 1400 1800 1250 N/A
Orval 1200 1350 1350 950
Pauwel Krak 1200 1500 1250 N/A
St. Sebastiaan 2000 N/A 1900 N/A
Westmalle Double 1200 1250 1250 900
Westmalle Triple 1200 1350 1350 N/A


From comparing prices, it's clear that the three major destinations are essentially comparable, but lower prices can be found at Kura Kura, though the selection is more limited. On Thursdays, Kura Kura becomes even cheaper with their "Belgian Beer Day" with 100-yen discounts on all Belgian beers.

That's not to say the other three don't have advantages. For a relaxing evening, I find Bois Cereste most comfortable, enhanced by owner Yamada-san's encyclopedic knowledge of Belgian beer and live piano playing.

Belgo and Frigo are also great destinations because they have a great selection of beers from other countries, too. Plus, their self-service style allows you to inspect the bottle you'll drink before you buy it, though I am not always in the mood to get up and serve myself.

Brussels has the advantage of locations all over town, with new shops opening on a regular basis. In addition, they do have some great values on large bottles, making it an ideal destination for small groups of beer enthusiasts.

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News

Pumpkin Ale at Fishmarket Taproom

Brewer Bryan Baird of the Fishmarket Taproom in Numazu has announced the October 18th release of their seasonal Country Girl Pumpkin Ale. He writes: "We use loads of fresh pumpkin from the Heda garden of our carpenter friend and Taproom regular, Nagakura-san, as well as a panoply of spices (ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.) to produce this distinctive autumn ale. If you like pumpkin pie then you will love this beer!"

The base beer is a red ale (two types of crystal malt) with an O.G. of 1.060. The hops all are European noble varieties (East Kent Golding, Hallertauer Mittlefruh and Czech Saaz).

The name 'Country Girl' is in honor of Bryan Baird's mother-a Circleville, Ohio native-who as a little girl was named 'Little Miss Pumpkin' at the annual Circleville Pumpkin Show. Baird brewed three kegs of Country Girl so there may be some left by the time you read this.

Baird says that even though the ale is brewed with kabocha (a type of squash also commonly called "pumpkin" in Japan), he feels the flavor is virtually identical to pumpkin, though the lower sugar levels enable greater control in the brewing process. Nevertheless, if it is brewed by Bryan Baird, it is bound to be a standout.

The Fishmarket Taproom has also tripled their selection of Bourbon and single-malt Scotch whisky. Baird recommends capping off a fall evening imbibing Baird Beer with a dram of Wild Turkey Rare Breed!

Also, the Taproom will feature a special live performance by the superbly innovative guitarist and composer Tim Donahue on Sunday, December 8th. The 3,000 yen charge includes both music and a buffet meal. Plus, on Saturday, December 14th they will hold a Winter Big Beer Dinner and holiday party. Phone them for more details on either event.

Fishmarket Taproom
Numazu, Shizuoka
Phone/fax: 055-963-2628
taproom@af.wakwak.com


New Brussels location in Shibuya Parco

A new location of the Belgian beer bar chain Brussels has apparently opened in the recently remodeled basement of Parco Part 1 in Shibuya. A detailed review will be in the next issue of Brews News.

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Glassifieds

Hop Pellets, 13 varieties from Cascade to Willamette, with alpha acid ratings. 100 yen for 30 grams, plus shipping.
Contact Chris at cjpoel@zb3.so-net.ne.jp
Send your beer-related ads to brewsnews@yahoo.com

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Ale Mail

Roppongi Hobgoblin

Dear Bryan,

Spot on again. The bartender at Hobgoblin Roppongi asked me last month how I like my Circle Master, and I told him it was skunked. I don't know why, but their quality has slipped noticeably of late.

Aside from the obvious beer problems, they're having problems with food. On a recent visit, my girlfriend had to settle for her fourth choice for dinner. The waitress came back to the table three times to tell us they didn't have what she ordered. Actually, the poor Japanese girl was so embarrassed that she sent a gaijin waitress to deliver the bad news the third time. Running out of food can be understandable (although not to that extent), but there is no excuse for wait staff not knowing what's off the menu.

Also, we were there about a month before that with a friend who was drinking whiskey. We got into a discussion about the differences among bourbon, rye, scotch, etc. We asked the waitress, and she in turn asked the bartender. A couple minutes later he was over at our table with about six different whiskey bottles, very thoroughly and knowledgeably telling us all about whiskey.

It's strange that a microbrew pub would know so much about whiskey but so little about beer.

Keep up the good work.

-Pub Crawler



German Farm Grill Oktoberfest disappointment


Bryan:

On the basis of your recent recommendation (Brews News) of German Farm Grill, I met a friend there last night. Our intention was to order the Oktoberfest Beer Course, but were greatly disappointed to be advised that the course is available only if ordered in advance! I pulled out your review and explained that this was why we came, but got the simple "so sorry" treatment. Since we were pressed for time, we stayed and ended up paying Y1000 each over the price you described.

You might also want to note that the focus on their giant screen TV was awful (waitress said it was the reception) when we there, so much so that each team playing in the soccer game they had on looked like they had twice the number of allowed players. Still, food and atmosphere was good, and I'll go back again. You may wish to pass this advisory on to your other readers.

Sincerely,
Tom Dreves

Dear Tom,

My apologies for not checking further. Actually, the very same thing happened to me. I called on a Monday afternoon to reserve for four people that evening, and was told we needed to reserve that dinner at least a day in advance. When I rechecked the original e-mail announcement from German Farm Grill, I found the disclaimer at the very bottom, below other news. I mentioned it that evening to the owner, who apologized. But imagine my surprise two weeks later when I received the official printed postcard with the announcement about the Oktoberfest Dinner, and there was no such disclaimer. Believe me, the owner will be told again.

Still, as you say, it is a nice place worth re-visiting.

Cheers,
Bryan



Temperature Control?

Bryan,

I just finished my first Yona Yona of the night while reading BN Oct. 2002 and came away with this thought. After basically stamping my stock home beer as Yona Yona, I've been through a few over the past spring and summer, and noticed a very pleasant thing about this beer: it's really good at a wide range of temperatures. For me, that means 6-8 C fridge temp to 25 C room temp. Having fallen asleep one day after pouring out a can of YY, I couldn't stand the waste when I woke up, and whatdaya know, great taste even at room temp!

I've always been afraid of room temp because it usually reminds me of days after at high school parties of drinking Colt 45 (yep, American I am)... whoa! Now, after reading your latest BN and seeing your mention of temp (overchill, mainly) as being a big factor in the appreciation of taste, I thought maybe it would be great if you could include a hint as to the "good/best" temperature in your reviews. Mention a precise temp, say 8-10 C, or xC, or maybe just working advice like "let it sit 10-15 minutes after taking it out of the fridge before opening" (roughly 10C!), or something so we readers could start to get a feel for when/how to capture/control the best taste elements of the stuff we're trying. Given all the beers, wines, sakes we now have to choose from in Tokyo, it's a shame to get it all ruined by lazy staff etc.

I may be all wrong, and maybe there are, in reality, only a few temperatures to watch for in all this...in which case you could kill all birds with one stone by doing a short paragraph on temp tips. Either way, just a thought. Keep up the good work.

Thanks,
George

Dear George,

The mark of a really well made beer is that you can drink it at room temperature and not be turned off because off-flavors are amplified by higher temperatures. If the beer is clean and pure, with superb ingredients, nothing funky will emanate. If it isn't, either chill it down until it tastes acceptable, or throw it out. To see what I mean, try drinking a Corona or a Bud or a Super Dry that's been out of the fridge in for at least four hours.

As far as specific temperature advice, I would rather not say because even my own preferences vary with the season, the mood and whether or not there's food. Besides, I am afraid of giving too much detailed advice to readers because it might ruin their sense of discovery and impair their ability to form their own opinions.

Generally, 20 to 30 minutes out of the fridge for glass bottles (10-20 minutes for cans) puts the beer in a good temperature range to be poured into a glass. From then, use your palms on the surface of the glass to judge the temperature (somewhat cool sensation, but not cold). If the beer is too cold, leave your hands on the glass to warm it slowly. As a rule, the heavier the beer, the less it needs to be chilled. I do love a good, cold pilsener on a hot day - who doesn't? As well, a slightly chilled Barleywine on a brisk late fall evening is divine.

Cheers,
Bryan

Letters are always welcome in Brews News. Write to: brewsnews@yahoo.com


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