Brews News Issue 36 - March 2003
Home >> Eating & Drinking in Tokyo >> Brews News
In this issue
Beer Here: Hitachino Nest Brewery
Bar Beat: Favori in Ginza, La Cachette in IIdabashi, Maya in Shibuya
Brews in the News: Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Spain and US
The Brew Crew: Fresh Belgian Beer
News: 1st Tokyo Real Ale Festival on March 15 SOLD OUT!

Beer Here

Hitachino Nest Brewery

This would be a typical family-run sake brewery in the Japanese countryside if it weren't for the fact that they brew some very good craft beer in addition to their rather high quality Kikusakari brands of sake. Formally known as Kiuchi Shuzo, they brew quite a good range of interesting sake, some of which is exported to the United States. Of note are the Kurakagami Tokubetsu Daiginjo (very tangy, with a fabulous aroma) and the Akamurasaki, made with a bit of "akamai" (an old strain of red rice) which gives it a bewitching deep pink hue and a butterscotch flavor with brisk acidity.

More unusually, of the seven craft beers they brew, four are exported to the U.S. - quite an amazing feat for a Japanese craft brewer considering the costs of making good beer in this country.

The beer brewery part of Kiuchi's operations, which produces the Hitachino Nest Beers, is far from a state-of-the-art brewhouse. Rather, it seems to be cobbled together from a lot of miscellaneous equipment, and gives the impression of a giant homebrewing operation. Perhaps that's why their beers have such great personality in addition to being very well made. All seven of their regular production beers scored three points or more on my scale, and tasting them all in succession was a true delight - rarely am I given so many great-tasting Japanese craft beers in a sitting. Here they are:

!!!! White Ale (5% abv; 50% malt, 50% unmalted wheat, spices and orange juice) Faintly hazy yellow, thin yet dense white head. Fruity spicy aroma, spicy complex "estery and flowery" flavor. Very interesting and unusual style, with a feeling of perfume dominating.

!!!! Weizen (5% abv; all wheat and barley malt) Hazy medium yellow, white head. Muted clove and banana aroma from the true weizen yeast, "warm" rich flavor with some tannin astringency, but overall satisfying and easily drinkable.

!!! Red Rice (7% abv; made with an old variety of "akamai" (red rice), with barley malt, and hops, with both beer and sake yeasts used in the fermentation) Hazy pinkish yellow, faint spicy aroma, astringency in the flavor with herbal and bitter notes. Truly in a style of its own, and certainly worth a try.

!!!! Sweet Stout (5% abv; malt, hops and lactose) Opaque dark brown with red highlights, and a light brown head. Coffee and burnt sugar aroma. Rich roasty malt flavor with "dark flavor" highlights emphasized by the sweetness of the lactose (milk sugar) which remains unfermented by yeast. A rich and intensely flavored brew.

!!!! Pale Ale (5% abv; all malt) Clear gold amber with dense ivory head. Juicy malt aroma, some hops apparent. Nice initial hit of bitterness in the flavor, with dryness increasing gradually for a brisk finish. Hops linger long in the aftertaste.

!!!! Amber Ale (5% abv; all malt) Clear reddish bark bronze, fluffy light tan head. Faint toffee aroma. The initial taste has a slight tartness, quickly leading to deep malt flavor, with some hops apparent. Surprisingly dry and quenching, with a short finish.

!!!!! XH (Extra High) (8% abv; all malt) With a name like this, it is unlikely they would get label approval from the BATF, the U.S. agency in charge of beer labeling. Yes, if you are not careful with this strong beer, you could get extra high. This is an interesting beer based on several Belgian styles, and is probably my favorite of the Hitachino Nest beers. Hazy reddish gold, thick tan head, sweet malt aroma with dusky tones from Pearl, Styrian Golding hops, and a tiny amount of spices such as coriander and nutmeg. The spices really kick in at the initial taste, then back off and let the malt and hops unfold in beautiful complexity. I begged the people at the brewery to export this beer to the U.S. as a holiday ale, but will they listen?

Hitachino Nest Beers available in the U.S. are the White Ale, Weizen, Red Rice and Sweet Stout.

A few other things set this operation apart from the typical local sake brewery. They have recently obtained a license to distill sho-chu, and are working on a few prototypes as you read this. More interestingly, they have planted vineyards behind the brewery, and started producing wine in 2001. While the wines are still in the testing stages, they plan to begin sales of their branded wine in a few more years.

If that weren't enough, the brewery also operates a Brew On Premise (BOP) operation open to the general public, where people can go in and legally brew their own beer using the brewery's equipment- with plenty of instruction and help from the staff. Contact them for more information

Kiuchi Shuzo - Kikusakari Sake & Hitachino Nest Beer
Ibaraki-ken, Naka-gun, Naka-cho, Konosu 1257
Phone 029-298-0105
English language website:


Bar Beat

Favori, La Cachette, Maya


Favori specializes in Belgian beers, and represents the newest effort from the folks that brought you Belgo in Shibuya and Frigo in Shinjuku. Just around the corner from the eastern exits of Ginza 1-chome station, Favori opened on February 22nd and by the time you read this it will have likely become a crowded oasis in the Belgian beer desert of upper Ginza. Just like with Belgo and Frigo, you pick out your beer from the large glass-doored refrigerator and take it to the cashier to pay. With your change you get the proper glass for the beer you choose. Unlike Belgo and Frigo, however, only Belgian beers are served, with the exception of Guinness on tap. Interior decor is more like Frigo, but a small measure classier. There is a small menu of snacks and Belgian dishes. My only complaint is that most all of the bottled beers should be about 200 yen cheaper - 1,250 for a Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit is just too much. However, they do have many hard-to-find beers here which are priced about the same as the more common ones, though in order to purchase them you are obliged to buy a Belgian Beer Passport (300 yen) which works like a point card.

Open 5:30 p.m to 2 a.m. (4 to 11 p.m. on Sundays and Holidays)
Ginza 2-10-5 1F (on the same block as the Hotel Monterrey)
Favori - (03) 6226-6117

La Cachette

La Cachette specializes in Japanese craft beer, and is handily located near the entrance of Kagurazaka-dori, just across the boulevard from Iidabashi station. On a recent visit I found 19 types of Japanese craft beer, joined by over 20 kinds of good imported beers. Prices are on the reasonable side, ranging from 550 to 1,080 yen. Among the offerings are Shinano Dragon Ale, several types of Echigo Beer, the lovely Fujizakura Kogen Rauch Beer (a smoked lager), Loco IPA from Chiba, and many more recommended brews. The low prices are offset by a 500 yen charm charge, making it a place to go when you're planning to have more than one. No recommendation is made for the food, however, since I didn't have enough to pass judgement. The interior is sort of early 80s Tokyo snack pub, so consider the beer the primary draw here.

Open 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Kagurazaka 1-10, Sankei #22 Bldg. 3F (Nova school is in the same bldg.)
La Cachette - (03) 3513-0823


Maya is a welcome addition to the Shibuya station area, offering nearly 100 beers from around the world, with Bass Pale Ale, Carlsberg and Hoegaarden White on tap. A cozy and friendly place run by two brothers from Nepal, Maya features a few Nepalese food items on its inexpensive menu of standard pub snacks. There are also dart machines to help you and your friends to work up a thirst for the next beer. Beer prices are slightly lower than average, and there is no charm charge. Maya is near the South Exit of JR Shibuya Station; go up the side street between the Yokohama Bank and the Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, and walk all the way to the end, up the small hill. Where the road dead ends, you'll see the sign for Beer's Bar Maya in front of you, slightly to the right.

Open 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Dogenzaka 1-13-3 MST Dogenzaka 2F
Maya - (03) 3770-7925


Brews in the News

Beer from Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Spain and the U.S.A.

! ! ! ! ! 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.

!!!!! Divine Vamp IPA by Echigo Beer (Niigata Pref. - 6.5% abv; all malt, unfiltered) Hazy reddish bronze with big, dense ivory head. Intense fruity aroma with huge floral hop presence, giving sharply bitter notes. Flavor is enormous - the initial taste is a giant slam of clean, well-defined bitterness and a touch of saltiness, joined by sharp juicy malt sweetness with strong saliva-inducing powers. Smooth, creamy texture with moderate carbonation. Sweetness quickly fades, overpowered by the hops which permeate into every nook and cranny of your mouth and linger long, laughing at you. An intensely flavored beer with a lot happening. Certainly not for everyone. This limited edition beer (only 40 cases offered for sale) was produced by the Popeye beer bar of Ryogoku and regular customer Hoso'oka-san. 60 IBU (International Bittering Units) makes it four times more bitter than Budweiser. Just under 400 yen per bottle, by the case, but no longer available. As of this tasting, the beer still seemed young, so I am putting away several bottles for appraisal early next year.

!!!! Diebels Alt Plato 13 (Germany -- 6% abv; all malt) The name is nothing to get philosophical about; it refers to the initial malt strength of the beer before fermentation. This is one of the few ales made in Germany, and Alt (or "old") is an old style of light-bodied dark ale that has been brewed in Dusseldorf for centuries. Deep reddish brown, dense light tan head. Rich prune-like aroma with floral hops in the background. Coffee, toffee and a hint of bitter chocolate in the deep and rich malt flavor, which is hardly sweet and fades fast to reveal a deliciously complex hop bitterness that lingers long. Quite a rich and agreeable flavor from such a light-bodied beer. A rich tangyness emerges as the beer warms slightly. Y370 at Tanakaya in Mejiro (3953-8888), one of the best places in Tokyo to purchase beer.

!!!! Zaragoza Export Special (Spain - 7% abv; all malt) Beautiful golden bronze, short-lived ivory head. Rich malt aroma with dried fruit notes. Good initial flavor of tangy malt and rich fruitiness, balanced by a bold hop bitterness. Sweetness slowly fades to leave some malt tang and pleasantly strong herbal hop bitterness with a slightly salty sensation. A very interesting strong lager with a complex and satisfying flavor. Y330 at Tanakaya.

!!!! Zaragozana Ambar 1900 Pale Ale (Spain - 4.8% abv; all malt) Hazy golden yellow, short-lived dense white head. Fruity malt aroma with some floral hops. Rich and bitter initial taste with mineral-like highlights, almost salty. Crisp, clean finish with faint hop flavors slowly tapering off. Rich and refreshing - a good quality beer. Possibly an ale, but very much like a lager. Y330 at Tanakaya.

!!!! Peroni Gran Riserva (Italy - 6.6% abv; malt, grains, hops and yeast) Faintly hazy orange yellow, with a short-lived snow white head. Rich spicy malty flavor with an intriguing tang. Sweetness emerges in mid-palate, with a tangy finish that becomes drier and drier, but lingers long. A satisfying strong lager that's a bargain at only Y230 at Tanakaya.

!!!! Koedo Mitterbauer (Saitama Pref. - 5% abv; all malt) Deep gold with thin off-white head. Sweet malty aroma, some floral hop notes. Rich malt flavor, with a creamy texture. Tangyness emerges towards the end, leading to a long, tangy finish that suddenly finishes dry. Y210 at Tobu Ikebukuro.

!!! Koedo No.1 Premium Pilsner (Saitama Pref. - 5% abv; all malt) Clear medium yellow, thick white head, faint malt aroma with little hops apparent. Soft initial mouthfeel with rather low carbonation. Some herbal earthy hop flavors emerge - quite interesting in a light pils like this one. Y250 at Tobu Ikebukuro.

!!!! Kirin Braumeister "Beer Shokunin" Premium All-malt Beer (Japan - 5.5% abv; all malt) I know a few Brews News readers who like this beer, so I thought I'd give it an updated review. Rich medium gold, dense white head that fades quickly. Some malt aroma, but little hops apparent. Rich, clean malt taste with brisk carbonation. The malt sweetness is a tad cloying, so more hops are called for. Still, a good solid lager that is a clear cut above the normal Japanese mass-produced lager.

!! Asahi Fujisan Premium Beer (Japan - 5.5% abv; malt, hops, rice, yeast) Solid yellow, short-lived white head. Some malt aroma, but little hops apparent. Rich but rather one-dimensional flavor. Hopping is characteristic of Asahi's other beers in that there is an almost metallic bitterness with practically no aroma. Malt flavors fade rapidly, yet the hop bitterness lingers. This seems like a higher gravity version of regular Asahi Super Dry - the flavors are practically the same. Said to be made with pure natural water from the Mt. Fuji area. Rather disappointing for a premium Japanese beer. I know Asahi can do better than this.

! Asahi Minori Zanmai (Japan - 5% abv; malt, hops, rice, sugar: rice power extract) This one I couldn't resist trying because 1) it's a new product that's a beer rather than a happo-shu, and 2) its main feature is that it is brewed with "rice power extract." While this may seem like some kind of by-product from alternative energy generation, the label indicates that it's actually a form of sugar. In any case, it tasted practically the same as all other Asahi beers, but with a leaning toward the flavor of happo-shu. There is a fair amount of tartness (which is what happens when too much malt is replaced with rice and sugars in the grain bill) and there is an odd sweetness highly suggestive of happo-shu. Could this beer be an example of happo-shu flavor profiles influencing beer?

More non-alcohol beers...

!!!! Hakusekikan Zero Ale (Gifu Pref. - less than 1% abv; all malt) Deep golden bronze, off-white head. Aroma dominated by malt and beautifully clean floral hops, with a very faint grainy smell. The initial flavor is thin and a bit watery, but malt and hops soon kick in and it becomes easy to forget that this is a non-alcohol beer. Fortunately, there is no graininess in the taste - quite unusual for a beer like this. Very nice clean hop bitterness (are these Kent Goldings?) make this a great work of brewing for a non-alcohol beer. Y310 at Isetan in Shinjuku.

!@Grolsch Special Malt (Holland - 0% abv; all malt) Dark yellow, coarse off-white head. Tart, grainy aroma. Raw malt "corn flakes" flavor with practically no hops apparent in either the aroma or the taste. Heavier body than other European non-alcohol beers, but not really any better. According to the label, there is absolutely no alcohol in this beer, so that could be an advantage for some. I had expected something better from Grolsch since their regular beers are pretty good. Y100 at Yamaya.

!! Wild West Premium Select (U.S.A. - less than 0.5% abv; malt, corn, hops) Pale yellow, short-lived white head. Faint malty and grainy aroma, no hops apparent. Clean dry taste with little off-flavor and very minimal bitterness. A good replica of a mass-produced U.S. lager. Overall a rather dry beer, with a quick finished bolstered by strong carbonation. Surprisingly good for this style and price range. Y50 at Yamaya.


Brew Crew

Fresh Belgian Ales at Bois Cereste

The Belgian Beer Dinners held on the 2nd Wednesday of every month at Bois Cereste are a good opportunity to taste a wide range of Belgian beers with food to match. The dinner in February was exceptional in that many of the beers served were brought back from Belgium by owner Yamada-san, who visited there in January. Some aren't even available in Japan, so it was nice to have the chance to try them, particularly since they were remarkably fresh. A total of 14 beers were served, and it was manageable only because the pours were about 50cc each (two or three good sips). The dinner menu included a sort of Tako-yaki made with mussels, meatballs in a Karmeleit Tripel tomato sauce, grilled chicken in an Orval cream sauce, a mild French cheese and bread. The following is a list of the beers in order of tasting.

!!!! Rodenbach Classic - Tart, with woody and sherry-like flavors.

!!!! Moriau Old Geuze - Good but not particularly distinctive.

!!!!! 3 Fonteinen Special Geuze - Bewitching herbal and vanilla aroma, with hints of marshmallows emerging in the flavor. A superb balance of tartness and sweetness, with hops far in the background.

!!!!! Liefmans Kreik - Fantastic aroma, rich aged fruit flavor with a touch of violet pastilles in the background.

!!!! Liefmans Goudenband - Good tartness with tangy amber malt apparent, giving it a good depth of flavor.

!!!! La Rulles Blonde - Aroma similar to a white beer, with a sweet and tangy bready flavor. Could use more character.

!!!! La Rulles Brune - Chocolate and caramel aromas that carry over into the flavor. Not so distinctive.

!!!!! La Chouffe Blonde - Glorious sweet floral hop aroma, fine sweetness in the flavor with a touch of tang. Strong carbonation.

!!!! Mac Chouffe Amber - Less aroma than the blonde, with a toffee aroma that carries over into the flavor, with a touch of sweet spice in the background, and a faint tartness emerging in the finish. Strong carbonation.

!!! Uilen Spiegelbier - Funky herbal celery aroma, strong tartness in the flavor, with very little bitterness. Strong carbonation.

!!! Maerlant Damse Tripel - Floral malty aroma, simple flavor, rather thin and weak for a tripel.

!!!! Piraat - Rich yeasty aroma, spicy complex flavor with spikes of intense sweetness that explode at random and quickly fade.

!!!! Augustjin - Rich and meaty yeast aroma with brisk fresh hops in the background. Initial taste of cloves and spice, followed by a flash of sweetness, then quickly shifting to dry, all the way through the long finish.

Price for these beer dinners is 7,000 yen. The next will be held on Wednesday, March 12th at Bois Cereste in Akasaka. For reservations, phone Yamada-san at (03) 3588-6292.



1st Tokyo First Real Ale Festival, and Konne in Shinjuku

Sorry - this event was Sold Out soon after it was announced at the beginning of February!

History will be made on March 15th with the holding of Japan's first Real Ale Festival at 40-tap craft beer specialty bar Popeye in Ryogoku, Tokyo. The event will be held from 4 to 9 p.m. and will feature at least ten cask conditioned ales from Japan's best craft breweries. The Y3,800 admission includes tickets for 5 half-pints, 2 dishes of food.

For those who are not familiar with the designation, "Real Ale" is fresh beer is carbonated in the cask (keg) and served without any pressurized carbon dioxide gas. The beer is brought from the keg to the tap by a hand pump (traditionally known as a "beer engine") and represents true ale in its purest form. In the past year I have had the real ale from the Baird Brewery and from Yona Yona, and can attest that this style truly represents a departure from normal beer as we know it. Both the Baird and Yona Yona ales were soft, smooth and nicely aromatic in a gentle way. Beer like this, with its natural carbonation, may taste "flat" to some people, but there is a delicate, natural carbonation that makes it possible to drink the beer for extended periods without any bloating sensation. In short, "great flavor, less filling."

As of this writing, the following brands of cask conditioned ales will be served: Baird Beer (Shizuoka), Echigo Beer (Niigata), Hakusekikan (Gifu), Hitachino Nest (Ibaraki), Ikspiari Harvest Moon (Chiba), Isekadoya (Mie), Iwatekura (Iwate), Loco Beer (Chiba), Shinano Beer (Nagano), Yona Yona Ale (Nagano).

Unfortunately, tickets for the event quickly sold out after its announcement in early February, so this mention is for reference only. A report on the event will be featured in the April Brews News. For information on the event in English, go to:

Grab a Quick Craft Beer at Konne in Shinjuku

Konne is a small shop just opposite the South Exit of JR Shinjuku station that features the products of Miyazaki prefecture. These include the Hideji craft beers from the town of Nobeoka. On a recent visit, I had a wonderful beer with the curious English name of "Darken Boar Wheat Special" which turned out to be a dunkelweizen of particular note:

!!!! Hideji Beer Inoshishi Weizen (Miyazaki pref. - 5% abv; all wheat and barley malt) Hazy medium brown, creamy tan head. Well-balanced flavor with malty sweetness and wine-like tartness. Long, pleasant finish with a touch of bitterness at the end. Served with a paper cup for 588 yen.

The reason I mention Konne is that it's a great place for a quick craft beer, though you really wouldn't want to stay long. Just outside the south exit of Shinjuku station, on your right on the way to Starbucks opposite Mitsukoshi and Tokyu Hands, it's a perfect meeting spot or a place to kill time between appointments. Open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; phone (03) 5333-7764.



Brewing Kits
From Australia, delivered to your home in Japan. The hopped-malt kits are 100% malt based (no adding 1 kg of sugar, blech!) with nine styles including pale lager, bitter, stout, bock, weizen, and Czech pilsener. You get one of these of your choice (makes 21 liters in most cases) plus everything else you need to start brewing. You even get 50 x 750 ml lightweight bottles. The kits are custom assembled to my instructions in Australia and mailed direct to your door. I provide detailed instructions and helpful hints in either English or Japanese. I am an award-winning craft brewer and my primary motivation is to help people enjoy this wonderful hobby. Email me, Steve, for more details . If you want to make beer that you will be proud to share with your friends, you won't be disappointed!
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Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.

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