Japan Beer Festival 2003
Sat. May 31st from 2:30 to 7 p.m.
Sun. June 1st from 11:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The Garden Hall - Yebisu Garden Place
Near JR Ebisu Station
By the time you read this, the Osaka event of this festival (May 3-4) may have already finished. Fortunately, you have enough time to plan for the Tokyo event held at the end of this month. While the event isn't perfect, it's one that shouldn't be missed by beer enthusiasts since there's nothing bigger, more enjoyable and as relatively inexpensive held anywhere else in Japan.
The festival is essentially a huge collection of booths, each pouring several
craft beers from a single brewery. Last year, around 80 different beers were on
offer, and this year plans to be the same, but with the addition of specialty
beer corners operated by noted beer specialty bars serving craft beer and Belgian
beer. These corners will be charging extra for the beer they serve, but will be
offering larger pours than the standard 50 ml tastes from the other booths, which
may be visited at no charge to those who have paid admission to the event.
Tickets are 3,600 yen at the door, and 3,200 yen in advance from Family Mart and
Lawson convenience stores, Ticket Pia and from the sponsoring Japan Craft Beer
While the duration of the event is about the same for both days, I recommend attending on the Saturday from 2:30 so that you'll be less likely to miss out on any beers that may run out during the course of the event. Even though the pours are supposed to be only 50 ml, some enthusiastic volunteers in the booths have been known to pour a little more (wink!). Still, 50 ml here and 50 ml there over the course of three or four hours can really add up, so pace yourself if possible. Those of you who know me will see me there on Saturday.
Among the some 80 beers planned to be served at the event are:
Yona Yona Ale (a version aged in wood!)
Fujizakura Kogen Doppelbock, Weizen and Rauchbier (a fabulous smoked malt lager!)
Ozeno Yukidoke Brown Weizen, White Weizen, and Black Beer
Kona Beer (from Hawaii) Fire Rock Pale Ale, Longboard Lager and Golden Pacific Ale
Shinshu Sunsun Organic Beer
For more details on the event, see the JCBA Web sites
Japanese (more complete information): http://www.beertaster.org/gjbf-top.html
last year's event.
How to get to Yebisu
Map of venue:
Rising Sun Pale Ale on Tap!
B1 Tokyo Int'l Forum in Yurakucho
As its name implies, this is a jewel of a place in the middle of what is essentially a beer desert - the business district between Yurakucho and Tokyo Stations. The interior is bright and snazzy, quite a surprise because it's in the basement of Tokyo International Forum. Seating is spacious and the decor is very modern. A joint effort involving nine producers of ji-zake (craft brewed sake), Takara is unusual in that it features a great list of very excellent ji-zake, sho-chu, awamori (a rice spirit from Okinawa), and - Spanish wine! (There are also three Spanish beers as well.) When you look at the food menu, it all makes sense because they have an enticing array of Japanese food and - tapas!
But there is an even better reason to visit Takara - they have Baird Beer's totally
superb Rising Sun Pale Ale on tap for Y900 a pint. While this may seem a bit steep,
let me remind you of the zillions of places in Tokyo that charge as much for a
pint of Bass or Guinness. Baird's Rising Sun is in a completely different category.
At present, it's brewed in 30-liter batches by brewmaster Bryan Baird at his Fishmarket
Taproom in Numazu, Shizuoka. (Let me also remind you that Guinness and Bass likely
spill more than 30 liters each time they fire up their mega-kettles.) In short,
this is fresh, hand-made bitter with American-style hopping, and easily as good
as the best pale ales I have had on the U.S. West Coast. Here are my tasting notes:
Rising Sun Pale Ale is faintly hazy yellow orange with a thick ivory head and
a lovely citrusy Cascade hop aroma. It has a stunningly smooth mouthfeel with
a light body, tangy malt flavors that are clearly distinct from the lovely floral
hop bitterness, yet balanced nicely. The carbonation is very fine and understated,
yet lively and reminiscent of real ale from a handpump, although this beer is
served light under CO2 pressure. As you drink, beautiful light fruity flavors
emerge then quickly disappear, while the hops linger in a long, clean and refreshing
finish. 5 stars.
Catch this beer at your earliest opportunity.
Tokyo International Forum B1
(Under the "C" block)
3-5-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
11:30 to 14:30 (lunch)
16:00 to 17:30 (bar time)
17:30 to 23:00 (dinner)
On weekends and holidays: 11:30 to 22:00
Old Gurners from Osset Brewing, Yorkshire
Town Cryer Pub
At the end of last year, the Town Cryer Pub in Otemachi closed, leaving only the
Kamiyacho location open. However, at the beginning of April, they reopened in
the basement of the Hibiya Center Bldg. next to Uchisaiwaicho station on the Mita
Line, and a short walk from Hibiya, Kasumigaseki, Shinbashi and Toranomon stations.
While downsized somewhat from the previous Otemachi location, the new Hibiya Town
Cryer is still a comfortable spot, if you are able to overlook the typically overdone
Ye Olde English Pubbe decor. While the high-tech bidet toilet in the men's is
certainly incongruous with the whole vibe of the place, you're certain to welcome
the cleanliness that pervades the entire joint. Seating is comfortable and the
lighting is just right.
The best reason to visit, however, is to try an interestingly quenching pale ale called Old Gurners, brewed by the small yet skillful Ossett Brewing Company of Yorkshire, England.
This is a clear, sparkling yellow ale with a pleasing hop aroma with faintly sweet
malt in the background. It has a light, pleasant taste with brisk carbonation
that is sure to win over your friends who are normally pulling back Heineken and
the like, though there is still some characteristic ale fruitiness amidst the
solid malt flavors despite the overall dry, sharp taste. It finishes with minimal
sweetness and a good, strong hop bite. 3-1/2 stars .
Plus, if you read the label on the bottle, you'll learn what the practice of "gurning"
is all about. For details on the brewery, go to www.ossett-brewery.co.uk
Town Cryer Hibiya
Hibiya Center Bldg. B1
1-2-9 Nishi Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Open until "about 11 pm
Closed Sundays and holidays
Brews in the News
Beer from German 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.
We recommend that you avoid this product.
[No Rating Given] Kaze No Tani Weizenbock (Shizuoka, Japan - 5.5% abv; all organic malt) Deep amber color with light tan head and lovely floral aroma with characteristic weizen yeast notes of cloves and bananas. However, something had happened to this beer between the brewery and the liquor section of the Isetan Dept. Store because there were small clumps of solid matter that indicated the beer was improperly stored. Normally, beer in this condition tastes terrible, but for some reason, it didn't seem to adversely affect this beer at all. In fact, it tasted pretty good. However, it's not fair to rate this particular example. I'll get another bottle and try again. 500 yen at Isetan in Shinjuku.
Satsuma Ale (Kagoshima, Japan - 5% abv; all malt) Fiery orange amber, thick dense light tan head. Hops predominate in the aroma, with a faint bit of fruitiness in the background. Brisk yet fine carbonation greets you, highlighting a strong hop flavor that is followed by dry, tangy malt flavors. Both hops and malt linger lightly, but long, in the finish. Overall, a tight, dry ale with restrained fruitiness and good balance. Brilliant. 380 yen at Isetan.
Swan Lake Ale (Niigata, Japan - 5% abv; all malt) Faintly hazy pale yellow, thick
white head, lovely fresh floral aroma with hints of citrus, and a touch of malt
way in the background. Clean yet tangy malt flavor in a light body, but with understated
complexity and less hop bitterness than in the aroma. Some sweetness lingers in
the aftertaste, followed by a bit of hop bitterness at the end. Very pleasant
light ale with good balance. Superb. 320 yen at Isetan. Check out their Web site
in Japanese: www.swanlake.co.jp/
Yebisu Dark (Japan - 5% abv; all malt) Now THIS was a surprise. Recent "dark" versions of popular mass-produced Japanese beers have usually just been darkened versions of the regular stuff, with no appreciable difference in flavor. Kirin's Ichiban Shibori Dark comes to mind. However, this dark version of the popular all-malt Yebisu Beer from Sapporo Beer is a different beer entirely. Virtually opaque dark chocolate brown with brilliant magenta highlights when held up to the light. Light brown sudsy head. Full aroma of hops and fruity malt with distinct notes of toffee and faint notes of coffee. Surprisingly rich dark malt flavors expressing a complex mixture of toffee, dark chocolate and hints of dark roast coffee. These deep roasty flavors linger long in the finish with a richness that surpasses Guinness, though it is a different kind of beer entirely. Think of the deep flavors of the interesting Kirin Stout and Asahi Stout - though both of these are heavy 8% alcohol brews, Yebisu Dark has similar flavors with a lighter body and only 5% alcohol. I wonder if Sapporo will release a draft version of this?
Lowenbrau non-alcohol (Germany - less than 0.5% abv; all malt) Rich yellow color with thin white head. Hoppy aroma with a touch of graininess. Brisk carbonation, somewhat sweet at the beginning, leading to a long-lingering unfermented malt flavor reminiscent of corn flakes. However, the use of good quality hops makes this N/A brew a cut above average.
Kirin Lager Blue Label (Japan - 5% abv, malt, hops, rice, cornstarch) It should be noted that this is sold as some sort of "diet" beer, with 50% less sugars than regular Kirin lager. Calories are 119 a can, which is perhaps at most 1/3 fewer than a normal lager of this type. Unfortunately, this beer was so unsavory the first time I tried it, I decided to wait a few weeks and taste another can. Nonetheless, my tasting notes from both occasions coincided closely, so here goes. Pale clear yellow, coarse and thin off-white head. Faintly sweet grainy aroma with a hint of sourness and faint note of floral hops. Thin, watery taste with malt richness stripped away. Nondescript hop character that is somewhat metallic. Quick dry finish with a faint lingering of sour graininess. This is real beer that impersonates "happo-shu" and let's hope this is not the start of some new trend. My take is to drink 1/3 less of your favorite lager if you are worried that much about calories.
Unusual beers hand carried into Japan
I recently had a group of friends over to my house for a tasting of beers I've received recently. Some I have hand carried back from California, while others have been gifts from friends. Some of these beers were quite unusual, and deserve mention. Special thanks to Ake for the many beers from Sweden, to Kjetil for the many beers from Denmark, to Crayne and Mary for the beer from Washington, to Gavin for the beer from Tanzania, and to Jonathan for the ale from England.
Kloster God Jul 2002 Ale is a lovely rich, malty 9% holiday beer with mild spicing. (Slottskallans Brewery, Sweden www.pilsner.nu)
Blakkulla (Slottskallans) is a dark 4.8% beer with a fairly light body, and is made with roasted Munich malt.
Skibsol is a non-alcoholic malt drink originally made to be carried on ships as a restorative for tired sailors. Very rich, very black, very flavorful. But no alcohol. (Refsvindinge Brewery, Denmark)
Carlsberg Criollo Stout is a rich, deeply flavored 6.8% stout made in small quantities at the Carlsberg Brewery in Denmark (Carlsberg Brewery, Denmark www.carlsberg.dk)
Paskebryg is an interesting 7.2% red ale made with some smoked malt for a faint smoky, peaty taste. It's a stealth beer that doesn't taste as strong as it really is. (Orbaek Brewery, Denmark www.orbaek_bryggeri.nu)
Orbaek Bock Beer is a briskly hopped 7.8% beer with a heavy malt body (Orbaek)
Nils Oscar Barleywine is one of the smoothest, most nicely balanced barleywines I have ever tasted, and doesn't at all give you the impression that it's actually 9.5% alcohol. Be careful with this one! It's so good you could drink several at a sitting. (Nils Oscar Brewery, Sweden www.nilsoscar.se)
Lovedoll-Dorf Pilsener is a rich lager brewed to commemorate the 60th birthday of Tom Dalldorf, the publisher of the Celebrator Beer News, America's foremost Brewspaper (www.celebrator.com) (Anderson Valley Brewing, California USA www.avbc.com)
Crazy Old Bastard Ale is a relabled version of the famous intensely hoppy and rich 7.2% Arrogant Bastard Ale, bottled in commemoration of Tom Dalldorf's 60th birthday last year. It is brewed by Stone Brewing Company of California USA, the former workplace of Yona Yona Ale brewer Toshi Ishii. (www.stonebrew.com)
Leviathan Barleywine-style Ale (batch #4 Nov. 2002) is a massive 10% ale aged in oak wine casks before bottling. Chinook hops are used for bittering, while Cascade hops are used for flavor and aroma. This is an amazingly flavorful beer. (Fish Brewing Company, Washington USA www.fishbrewing.com)
Alaskan Smoked Porter 2001 is one of the most famous beers in the US, and a consistent award winner. Part of the malt used in this 6.5% porter is smoked with alder wood for a distinctly unusual flavor when combined with the dark roasted malt. I brought this bottle back from the U.S. in August, only to find out later that it is being imported into Japan. Several friends felt that the commercially imported version is lacking compared to the beer in the bottle I hand-carried from the U.S. (Alaskan Brewing Company, USA www.alaskanbeer.com)
Banana Bread Beer is one of the most unusual English ales I've ever had. This 5.5% ale is sweet, rich and delicious, with a very strong banana flavor. Brewed with fair trade bananas, so the flavor is real. (Charles Wells Brewery, UK www.charleswells.co.uk)
Safari Lager is a fairly standard export-style 5.5% lager made with malt, cornstarch, sugar, and hops. Rather good. (Tanzania Brewing Ltd. http://www.sab.co.za/b_safari.asp)
The curious case of Kirin Namakuro.
Okay, I was surprised when I saw that Kirin came out with a dark low-malt "happo-shu." I think the words "bitter" and "tangy" in the advertising caught my eye. After trying it, I was intrigued by how clever a recipe it was. The idea is simple: use the deep, rich flavors of a bit of dark malt to mask the "sugar-sour-grainy-watery" flavors of happo-shu. Although it's not a beer I would want to drink often, I think it's a pretty interesting work of brewing.
Rather than review it in the last issue, I instead asked readers what they thought of it. Understandably, among the kind of people who read Brews News, not too many are willing to try a cheap, low-malt beer out of a can. Still, a few did persevere, presumably for scientific reasons, and their reviews follow:
From Bryan Baird: "As for the Kirin Namakuro evaluation challenge, and the promise of being treated to a frothy one on our next encounter, here goes: Not only is this the first dark style happo-shu, it is, in my opinion, the best low-malt, industrial happo-shu produced to date. And why not? The chronic problem with low-malt happo-shu is a pervasive grainy vapidity. The use of dark specialty malts produces a robustness of flavor and a caramel sweetness that helps to mask the grainy blandness stemming from ample quantities of starch adjuncts. And at the price, I will reach for Namakuro before a Kirin Ichiban Shibori Black any day!
From Mike Stanley: "I don't think that Namakuro is the first dark happo-shu. Daiei used to sell a brew called "Drafty" that came in a lighter and a darker version. It was much better than Namakuro. I don't think Namakuro has enough taste and body for a dark beer. Also it is more brown than "kuro".
Thanks to Bryan and Mike for responding. Each of them receives a few cans of the
new Yebisu Dark with my compliments.
A beer tasting will be held on Friday, May 16th, from 8:00-10:30pm. at the Yaesu Language School just outside of the Yaesu exit of Tokyo station. Those unfamiliar with beer are very welcome to attend, and no beer knowledge is required. These are regular tasting events, and I attended one earlier this year. I was impressed by the amount of information on the beers provided to participants. This is a serious tasting, but not at all stiff - everyone is friendly, and there is lively discussion about the various merits of each beer. Those expecting a party or "beer bash" should consider their local pub. Reservations must be made by Monday, May 12th. The price is 3,000 yen, with plenty of beer and snacks included. The beers to be tasted will be decided sometime in April. For reservations or more information, phone (03) 5255-3090 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Bureiko Jikan Original Ale now on at the Fishmarket Taproom
On April 24, Bryan Baird at the Fishmarket Taproom rolled out a Belgian-style
seasonal beer called Bureiko Jikan ("break time"). Said to be "dangerously quaffable,
fruitily robust and outrageously delicious," it is brewed with a large dosage
of candy sugar, which lends a dry sweetness and hot alcoholic punch. Baird says
the flavor is "redolent of dried fruit, with soft earthy undertones from generous
late and dry-hop additions of East Kent Golding and Czech Saaz hops." Alcohol
is around 6.5%. For more details about Baird Brewing Company and their Fishmarket
Taproom, check out www.bairdbeer.com
Japan Beer Grand Prix
Friday, July 11, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
While this event is shorter and more expensive than the Japan Beer Festival later
this month, there is plenty of beer to be had, and extensive food buffets to gorge
on, making it a pretty fair deal for 5,000 yen. Some 100 varieties of Japanese
craft beer, on tap and in bottles, will be freely served. Sponsored by the Japan
Brewers Association, an organization of microbrewers in Japan, it's a good opportunity
to rub shoulders with industry people and Japanese beer geeks of all stripes.
Josui Kaikan Star Hall
2-1-1 Hitotsubashi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Near Jimbocho and Takebashi subway stations
Reservations must be made in advance by e-mail or fax
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 email@example.com . If you want to make beer that you will be proud to share with your friends, you won't be disappointed!
Letters are always welcome in Brews News. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.