By Bruce Wollman
Upon seeing the framed picture of Beer Club Popeye's proprietor with legendary beer writer Michael Jackson, I knew I was in for an outstanding experience.
Billed as featuring the world's greatest selection of Japanese microbrewed beers, Popeye far surpassed my expectations. Nearly 50 Japanese beers were available, ranging from Pilsners to Stouts. A few of the products can be enjoyed from the handpump in true British fashion. Patrons could also choose from more specialized styles such as Rauch ("smoke" in German) and Barleywine (British high alcohol beers); an Espresso (coffee) from Hiroyuki was like nothing I had ever experienced before. A small but well-chosen selection of American and other non-Japanese beers is available as well.
Personal favorites included Fujizakura Kougen Weizen (wheat), Hakusekikan Barleywine and Hidatakayama Karumina, but the grand champion was Baird Beer Porter on the handpump, a world-class version of this British style. However, when you come to Popeye do not expect to be able to try all of those beers-even on my repeat visit two days later, about a third of the products had changed. This is a good thing since high turnover ensures freshness and quality of the beers.
To complete the experience, Popeye offers a nice set of dishes to eat while drinking, including pizza (ours had hop shoots!), sausages and cheeses. Foreign visitors-- as well as locals-- unaccustomed to the high prices of beer in Japan will enjoy the value of coming in the early evening, when Popeye offers a free half plate of food of the drinker's choice with each beer purchased.
Located at 2-18-7 Ryogoku it is a short walk from the train station and the sumo stadium. Therefore if seeing a sumo match, eating a meal of chanko nabe (wrestlers' stew) or just searching for good beer is in your future, make sure to visit Beer Club Popeye.
If you are headed to Popeye, you may also want to know that the Beer Station brewpub jointly operated by Sapporo and New Tokyo Restaurants is located adjacent to the east side of the JR station. Its Praha Dunkel, based on perhaps the most famous dark beer of Prague, Czech Republic, is definitely worth a taste.
Open 5 pm to 1 am, Closed Sundays
Baird's New Brewery
Brewmaster Bryan Baird of the Fishmarket Taproom in Numazu certainly has a lot to celebrate. Not only is his beer being celebrated by beer lovers in Japan lucky enough to find it (see above story for just one example), he is also celebrating the successful startup of his new brewing system, imported from the US just months ago. The new equipment is up and running, and it has given Bryan - and beer lovers in Japan - another reason to celebrate in the form of two new beers, New Brewery Celebration Ale and New Brewery Bitter.
The New Brewery Celebration Ale arrived at Takara in Tokyo on June 28, and it is a treat. However, his existing Pale Ale is a hard act to follow, and in my opinion, both beers get the same high rating - five stars. Celebration Ale isn't better - it's just different, and that's what craft beer enjoyment is all about. Can you think of any better reason to go try it?
Baird Celebration Ale is a hazy orange amber, with a thick creamy ivory head. The restrained malt aroma is leavened with spikes of hop bitterness dominating. Very creamy mouthfeel (like beer flavored mousse), with strikingly wfresh and well-defined hop flavors. Very fine carbonation gives a brisk sensation without fizziness, while the hop-forward citrus and "pine tree sap" flavors linger long in the finish. In a word, sensational. This is said to be an amber ale, but to me it is more like a modern US West Coast IPA. Baird really earns his five stars with this one.
The new brewery has catapulted Baird's operation from "homebrewing" scale (a 30 liter system!) to a nano-brewery, when compared with the Big Four in Japan. However, Baird assures us that the new equipment will have no impact on the character of his beers. He will continue to use floor-malted barley and whole flower hops. The beers will not be filtered, and will be naturally conditioned in the bottle or the keg.
Baird Beer will be having a 3rd Anniversary Party at the Taproom in Numazu on July 19th, and several people from Tokyo are heading down for the event, including sake writer John Gauntner.
For more details on the whole sh'bang, the Fishmarket Taproom and Baird Beer in general, go to www.bairdbeer.com
Baird Beer is available in Tokyo at Popeye (see above) and Takara in Yurakucho, in the basement of the Tokyo Kokusai Forum Bldg., phone 03-5223-9888.
Franziskaner Bar & Grill Opens in Ochanomizu
Zato Trading, the folks who brought you Shibuya's German Farm Grill in Shibuya and Kamiyacho's Die Wurst (don't panic, the name is in German) have recently opened up what is easily their nicest place so far, the Franziskaner Bar & Grill, in Ochanomizu. While the location may seem a bit remote for most Brews News readers, it is actually very convenient to get to if you arrive by the Chiyoda subway line since it is just across the street from the B3 exit of Shin-Ochanomizu station, one stop away from Otemachi.
Convenience is far from the best reason to visit, though. It is actually a very lovely restaurant created in an old merchant's shop/home, and runs from the basement to the 2nd floor, with various sized rooms and nooks and crannies. There is even a cigar room. This is one of the few good-beer places in Tokyo that is elegant enough to bring a hot date; and should your date not like beer, there are plenty of good wines to choose from.
Here you can get the same German beers available at Zato's other places (including Spaten doppelbock on tap!) with the welcome addition of Franziskaner wheat beers on tap, though you should call ahead to confirm availability. As with the German Farm Grill, the food is superb and reasonably priced.
Franziskaner Bar & Grill
3-1 Kanda Surugadai
Open daily from 11:30 am to 11:30 pm
Brews in the News
Beers from Japan and Germany
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.
Thanks to James Gibbs, David Satterwhite and Robb Satterwhite for supplying many of these beers.
Hecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen (German smoked beer, 5.1% abv, all malt, best by 5/2003, tasted 2003/6/18) Dark reddish brown, creamy tan head. Peaty ocean aroma with smoky tones. Tangy dry malt flavors with minimal sweetness. Low carbonation and a lack of fizziness makes for a smoother, creamier texture. Superb balance of malt, hops, and smoke; richly flavored yet with a light body. Dry yet lingering finished marked by smooth smoke and spicy hop bitterness. Unusual flavor, yet perfectly balanced, making this a lovely drink indeed.
Hecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen (German smoked wheat beer, 5.2% abv, all malt, best by 6/2003, tasted 2003/6/17) Dull hazy reddish gray brown, dense light tan head. Brisk "ocean" aroma, like scotch whisky from Islay, with both sweetness and smoke. Tangy but rather dry and faintly astringent flavor due to the smoked malt, which makes a lot of hops unnecessary, so actual bitterness is low. Very smooth and quenching, with low sweetness and low bitterness. Smoke flavor lingers somewhat. What a wonderful beer for BBQ spare ribs or even a pork chop with apple sauce.
Scottish 80 Shilling, Recipe 007. (Scottish ale, 4.8% abv.; pale, crystal and black malts; East Kent Golding and Fuggles hops, infusion mash, brewed in Sakura, Chiba by Shimono Sakaten under the direction of the Tokyo Bakushu Kenkyukai) Clear deep reddish brown, tan head, superb roasty and sweet fruity aroma, rich and complex juicy malt and toasty malt flavors meld into a rich, tangy brew which has a surprisingly light body for so much flavor. Dry and quenching with only enough hops to balance the malt and leave a clean bitter finish. Interesting faintly smoky notes in the finish. Japanese craft beer doesn't get any more geeky than this, with all the specs proudly displayed on the label.
Young's Special London Ale (6.4% abv; all malt, bottle conditioned, best by 7/2003, tasted 6/16/2003) Faintly hazy fiery amber, appealingly thick iveroy head. Lovely floral aroma of English hops (Kent Goldings?), with tangy malt in the background. Rich juicy malt flavor in a comparatively light body, perfectly balanced by good hop bitterness . Clean yet lightly tangy long finish with excellent balance extending all the way to the end. Label says "phenomenal amount of hops" but apparently they are unfamiliar with the hedonistic hop excesses being committed in the U.S. these days. THIS is a truly superbe beer in nearly every respect, and what Bass on draft should taste like, at 900 yen/pint, already. Said to be the CAMRA bottle-conditioned Champion Beer of Britain.
Fire Valley Pale Ale (Mie Prefecture, 5% abv; all malt; tasted 2003/6/25, best by 2003/7/15) Clear amber, ivory head, bewitching burnt caramel aroma, appealing butterscotch-like malt flavor with subdued sweetness but highly fruity, and rather low bitterness from Cascade hops. Quite interestingly complex, unique and delicious. For more details, contact the brewery, Hi-no-tani Beer Kojo, phone 059-272-1102.
Suntory Kohaku no Kuturogi Alt Beer (5% abv; all malt, 2-row, 6-row, crystal and wheat; brewed 5/2003, tasted 6/2003, best by 1/2004) Beautiful clear bronze amber, dense light tan head. Nice complex malty aroma with faint hops in the back. Sort of too lightly colored and too rich to be an alt, but a nicely crafted ale with a solid and complex malt backbone, backed by nice bittering hops. Malt-dominated finish with minimal bitterness. One of the Suntory Table Beer series; for details see http://www.suntory.co.jp/beer/tablebeer/index.html
Kirin Maroyaka Kobo "Hana Kaori" version (White Beer, 4.5% abv; all malt, unfiltered; bottled May 24, tasted June 10, best by July 22) Hazy dull whitish yellow, sudsy snow-white head, beautifully floral "white beer" aroma with interplay of malt sweetness and yeast aromas. Soft texture with floral flavors and a bit of hop sharpness, leading to a quick tingling finish with floral notes lingering. Good amount of yeast sediment in the bottle. If Kirin puts this on draft, Hoegaarden White could be in trouble. Lack of spices and timid recipe is more than compensated by sheer freshness and very good yeast. A winner from Kirin, and only 238 yen at 7-11 stores nationwide. www.kirin.co.jp/maroyaka
Wernesgruener Pils (Germany, 5% abv; all malt) Pale yellow, dense white head, good earthy floral hop aroma with some malt aroma behind. Very fine creamy texture, brisk hop bitterness and minimal sweetness. Very well made, good flavors in fine balance, nice quenching hop bitterness that lingers moderately. Check out www.wernesgruener.de for details on the brewer. The best part is that it is only 168 yen (or only 144 yen when you apply for a free member's card using the name and address of your choosing) at Mine Mart discount liquor stores: www.mine-mart.co.jp
Corsendonk Christmas Ale (Belgium, 8.5% abv; all malt; tasted 2003/6/15, best by 2003/11/19) Christmas in July? Why not, when a 250 ml bottle of this rich Belgian ale is only 298 yen at Kawachiya. Deep reddish brown, tan head, sweet and nutty aroma with highlights of spice. Bitterness and faint tartness combine to provide counterpoint to the layers of roasted malt complexity, making this an interesting but not-too-sweet dark ale. The vinuous finish lingers long. Despite the November freshness date, this should improve well for another year if kept refrigerated.
Doppo Wiezen (Okayama Pref, 5% abv; 60% wheat malt, 40% barley malt) hazy deep yellow, white head. True Weizen clove and banana aromas from the authentic yeast combine with caramel and butterscotch aromas of darker malt. Complex flavors with many layers of taste - quite a nice work.
Fire Valley Weizen(Mie Prefecture, 5% abv; all malt; tasted 2003/6/25, best by 2003/7/31) Faintly hazy whitish yellow, white head. Fine weizen aroma, sweet and tart, typical of style. For more details, contact the brewery, Hi-no-tani Beer Kojo, phone 059-272-1102.
Suntory Toreta Komugi No Shirobiiru (Weiss beer, 6% abv; malt, sugars, hops) Hazy yellow, snow white head, little aroma. Stimulating initial taste of tartness and bitterness, but thin body with little malt structure. Some sweetness at the start, which quickly fades to a dry, lightly hoppy finish. Said to be in the style of a German Weissbier, but alcohol is way too high, and flavors are way too different.
Doppo Peach Pils (Okayama Pref, 5% abv; malt, hops, natural peach juice) I love peaches and I love pils beer, but please, not together!
Doppo Muscat Pils (Okayama Pref, 5% abv; malt, hops, natural Muscat grape juice, flavoring) "Sorry, but grapes - even Muscat - belong in wine," said Bryan. "It's like a shandy," explained Victor. "It's not a beer, that's the problem," said Robb.
Prostel Alkoholfrei (from Kaiserdom Brewery of Bamberg, Germany, non-alcohol beer, 0.5% or less abv; barley malt, wheat malt, hops, hop extract) Pale yellow, brisk carbonation, white head. Grainy "unfermented malt" aroma (like corn flakes cereal), strong flavor that is similar, with rather low hopping, creating a sweet "breakfast" flavor.
Kirin Malt Squash (beer-flavored beverage made from malt, fiber, glucose syrup, hops, citric acid, vitamin C, 0.5% or less abv) Pale yellow, thin sudsy white head. Sweet slightly fruity yet largely grainy aroma. Brisk and tart initial flavor, some malt flavor, rather thin and watery but no seriously noticeable off-flavors, very clean and quenching finish with faint hop bitterness. A nice alternative to mainstream soft drinks. Well, at 130 yen you might choose it over a cola, and get only a fraction of the calories. Each can contains only 49 calories, but has 5.3 grams of fiber. What is Kirin trying to tell us?
Iga Craft Beer Kunoichi Pale Ale and Kaminari Amber Ale - Both of these beers had the same problem. They were off and infected, with sulfurous aromas and sour flavors. This is what a lot of Japanese craft beer tasted like in 1995-1996, and I thought this didn't happen any more, but I was wrong. Turns out both are happo-shu, made with 50% honey, so the cause could be obvious.
NO RATING Hachigatsu no Kirin (happo-shu, 'nuff said) I bought it only because the copy on the can proclaims "The pleasant aroma of New Zealand's hop gives you a relaxed feeling." After trying it, I can vouch for 'hop' in the singular here. I would have felt more relaxed, however, if hops were in the plural here.
NO RATING Suntory Malt's The Premium (all malt, 5.5% abv) This must be a replacement for the wonderful Malt's Super Premium, which I can't find in stores any more. This one is close, but not as good. Seems like cheaper hops were used. Too bad, though this isn't a bad beer, but it is a sign of the ratcheting down in flavor of quality Japanese beer in recent years.
Beers of Yaho Brewing Company, brewers of Yona Yona Ale
In this issue we are featuring the beers of Yaho Brewing Company of Karuizawa. Brewmaster Toshi Ishii was kind enough to send a can each of their current lineup. The beers were tasted in late June by David Satterwhite, Robb Satterwhite, Victor Shkawrytko, Michael Turner and Bryan Harrell.
This selection represents their entire brewing lineup, and not all are easily available in Tokyo. Some are sold at the Tokyu Department Store Toyoko-ten under Shibuya Station, and at Tanaka-ya in Mejiro. Fortunately, you can purchase them on-line at www.rakuten.co.jp/yonayona/ For more details, phone the brewery at 0267-66-1211.
Yona Yona Ale (5.5% abv; all malt) Pale amber, ivory head, brisk hop aroma, backed by juicy and fruity malt flavors. One of the best beers made in Japan, and clearly the best value at 248 yen a can in many places.
Shinshu Zenkoji Porter (5% abv; all malt) Opaque black with deep red highlights under strong light. Coffee/mocha aroma, with sweet notes. Rather light body, good texture, plenty of complex roasty flavor, and a nice clean finish. Nice work.
Karuizawa Kogen Beer "National Trust Porter" Seasonal (5% abv; all malt) Opaque black, black, black, light tan head. Complex dark malt flavors; solid structure with good balance. Rich and satisfying.
Shinshu Sun Sun Organic Beer (4.5% abv; all organic malt) Clear pale yellow, off-white head. Rich well-balance aroma. Soft, clean simple flavor with nice malt structure and good herbal hop bitterness in the background. Nice crisp finish.
Karuizawa Kogen Beer "India Pale Ale" Seasonal (4.5% abv; all malt) Clear pale yellow, off-white head. Rich well-balance aroma. Soft, clean simple flavor with nice malt structure and good herbal hop bitterness in the background. Nice crisp finish.
Shinshu Zenkoji Blonde Ale (6% abv; all malt) Clear amber, ivory head, clean floral hop aroma, tangy malt flavor, lingering malt in the finish, when bitterness emerges late and intensifies toward the end.
Karuizawa Kogen Beer "Wild Forest" (5.5% abv; all malt) Clear yellow, white head. Faint aromas. Clean and simple refreshing taste.
Part Two: The Fraud Unfolds
In the last issue I described an event featuring a brewmaster from a noted microbrewery in Japan. But the "brewmaster" turned out to be an imposter. Here's more to the story:
I e-mailed my friend the brewmaster, asking why the brewery sent a stand-in instead of him to the event. He wrote back asking "What event?" and "You said WHO?" I explained that an acquaintance of mine, a free-lance actor, singer and entertainer, introduced himself as the brewmaster and proceeded to read a script.
My friend the brewmaster was utterly appalled and rightfully resentful of the company. After several attempts to find out who was responsible, he did receive a letter of apology from the president of the brewery. Soon after, he gave his formal notice, and should be leaving some time this summer.
My friend the brewmaster is an American, and before being recruited for his Japan brewing position, had won a number of awards in the U.S. He is a highly skilled, very competent brewer, and a pretty nice guy. The imposter, an acquaintance of mine, has been told by the talent agency that put him up to this to not talk to anyone about it, so we can't get the story from that end.
I wrote a letter to the president of the brewery complaining that I went to the event to see the brewmaster, and instead saw someone else reading a script, saying things that my friend would never say. I also complained that one of the brewery's sales representatives gave incorrect information to the audience. One of the more obvious boners was "Beer is a naturally fermented product, unlike wine and sho-chu, which are distilled." I also complained that my friend's basic human right to his identity had been violated, adding that I doubt they would have done such a thing to a Japanese employee.
I'm still waiting to hear back from the brewery president. More in the next issue.
Annual AIDS Walk Appeal
This beer newsletter is a volunteer operation, but once a year I do ask readers to make a small contribution to sponsor me on the AIDS Walk, held every July in San Francisco. For more details on the charity, please check out the Web site listed below. This year the walk will be held on July 20th, and if you would like to donate, it's not too late. (Donations received later will still be turned in.) You can send your donations (yen, U.S. dollars or checks drawn on a U.S. bank are all OK) by mail to either of these addresses:
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0063
62 Stanton St.
San Francisco, CA USA 94114
For more information on the San Francisco AIDS Walk, go to http://www.aidswalk.net/sanfran/index.html
Friday, July 18th from 8:00-10:30 pm will be your chance to taste a range of interesting beers. Those new to the beer scene are very welcome and no beer knowledge is required to attend. The July tasting will feature craft beer from Hokkaido; Pale Ale from Niseko Beer, Dark Lager & Light Lager from Hittaka Beer, and dry hopped lager and a fruity Belgian-style ale from Kairinmaru Beer. The tasting will be held at Yaesu Language School just outside the Yaesu exit of Tokyo Station. Reservations are recommended. Y3,000, all food and drinks included. Phone 03-5255-3090, or e-mail beer(at)kokusaika.org.
Redhook Sunrye Ale
This summmer seasonal beer is now available in Tokyo at the Pink Cow in Harajuku, Tanaka-ya in Mejiro and other places. What gives this summer beer a twist is the touch of organic rye, in addition to the six different types of barley malts used. For details, go to www.redhook.com/ales_sunrye.html To find out where it is available, contact the importer at www.orca-international.com
No, it's not some sort of digestive disorder, it's a place to eat and drink. The ad made it look interesting: "Gastro-pub with modern British foods." Sounded good. The headline said "Do you know GASTRO-PUB?" After a visit to their Shiodome location, my answer was "No, and I don't think I care to." With only Guinness and Sapporo draft on the beer list, it's really not my idea of a pub ought to be.
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Can you make anything out of this...???
I think this is only part of the explanation on how to make a fan-driven system to keep a glass of beer cold. It seems that the fan is mounted in the base of the metal glass holder, and it blows air onto the outside surface of the glass, with the evaporation of the condensation keeping the surface of the glass cold. That's my guess, anyway.
The ironic thing is that it appears they are trying to keep a stout cold. In Norway, no less. What's with that?
Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.