In this issue
"Hop Festival" Belgian Beer Dinner
Binimaru near Harajuku, Gargery House in Gaienmae
by John Schultz, Minami Aizu Brewing Company
A selection of great beers from Belgium and Scotland
Part Three: The Fraud Squad
AIDS Walk, Beer Tasting, What Are They Thinking?
Note: The fun and informative article about Popeye in the last issue of Brews News was penned by Bruce Wollman. Unfortunately, I neglected to include his profile. Belatedly, here it is:
Bruce Wollman is a physician living in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. While his recent trip to Tokyo was his first time in Japan, he looks forward to a return visit for more sumo, chanko nabe and Japanese beer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
"Hop Festival" Belgian Beer Dinner
A regular feature at Bois Cereste, which I consider one of the best Belgian beer specialty bars in Japan, is the Belgian Beer Dinner held on the second Wednesday of every month. These dinners typically feature between six and ten Belgian ales, with light food courses served that match the flavors of the beers presented. While customers may only receive 150 ml or 200 ml of each beer, with such a large number of beers offered, the quantity really adds up.
In September, Bois Cereste observed Belgium's autumn "Poperinge" Festival celebrating the hop harvest with six interesting and rather hoppy beers: Hommelbier, XX Bitter, Guldenberg, Brugse Tripel, Reinaert Tripel and Orval. As great as these beers are, they were overshadowed by the quality of the food. In addition to thoroughly authentic artisan style French bread - with a thick, chewy crust, courses of Salade Nicoise, Quiche Lorraine, Mushroom Omelet with summer truffles, a Scotch egg made with a quail egg and accompanied by a cream made from the yolks of Chinese preserved eggs and diced "aspic" made from the whites of those eggs.
Finishing up was Fond'or Fromage, a dish much like fondue, but made from bread crumbs and wash cheese. All this food, plus a cumulative total of well over .5 liters of high-test Belgian beer, came to only 7,350 yen. A particularly good deal considering that many of the beers are not usually available in Japan, and that all the guests of the dinner were dedicated Belgian Beer enthusiasts, and not a smoker in the bunch. The proceedings are conducted in Japanese, and the handouts are in Japanese with many foreign names rendered in roman letters, making it somewhat less accessible to those who don't speak Japanese, but the food and beer clearly speak for themselves.
The next Belgian Beer dinner will be held on Wednesday, October 8th from 7 p.m. For reservations or more details, call Bois Cereste owner Yamada-san at 03-3588-6292. He speaks English, French, some Flemish and, of course, Japanese. Bois Cereste is located in Akasaka near Chiyoda Line Akasaka station.
This is a fabulous new addition to the Tokyo Belgian Beer scene, run by former Brussels Harajuku and Brussels Nishi-Azabu manager Mikiya Nosaka, who opened Binimaru this summer. A bit out of the way, but worth finding, Binimaru is a cozy and well-designed Belgian beer bar with a long, wooden bar that features both-sides seating at each end, giving you the convenience of four-at-a-table with the intimacy of bar seating. Brilliant.
The range of Belgian beers could be more complete, and many of the beers imported by the Brussels company are featured at the expense of more well-known Belgian favorites, but beer fans will certainly find enough good beer to keep themselves happy. For advice on what to order, just ask Nosaka-san; he speaks surprisingly good English, and really knows his Belgian beer. I've only had food there once, but it was superb - a rugged "masculine" quiche and some hearty pork stew.
Villa Gloria B1
Open 6 pm to 1 am, Closed Sundays
My Oklahoma-born grandfather frequently used the expression "all hat and no cattle" to describe someone who was of far smaller stature than his own best self-promotion efforts would lead people to believe. A visit to Gargery House in Aoyama, after reading a glowing report in a trendy magazine, immediately brought to mind grandpa's old expression. While it would be unfair to say that Gargery House is "all hype and no beer," they do come fairly close. The magazine article touted the Gargery outfit's claims that the beer is "unlike any other in the world." This nonsense was put to rest by a quick peruse of the kegs outside the bar. They come from Echigo Beer in Niigata, and they contain a very good stout.
Echigo has won awards for its stout over the years, and the stout is certainly a good beer. I am not certain that Gargery Stout, at 7%, is exactly the same as Echigo Stout, but it is pretty close. Gargery House serves it in interesting conical glasses that come with a special holder. What this seems to do is give you the impression you are having a pint, when it's really only about half a pint. Not enough beer for 1,000 yen in my opinion, but certainly a better deal than a full pint of Guinness at the same price in one of Tokyo's English or Irish theme pubs. Better yet, Gargery Stout is now being served at over 50 places in Tokyo, including Legato in Shibuya, Cafe des pres in Hiroo, and the Origami restaurant at the Capitol Tokyu Hotel in Akasaka.
If you read Japanese, and are interested in where you can find Gargery Stout, and want to read the hype that has been created to surround this rather good (but overpriced) brew, go to www.gargery.com and read all about it. Or pay a visit to Gargery House, have a beer, and pick up one of the pamphlets. Like a friend and I did in late August.
2-26-9 Minami Aoyama
Open 2 pm to midnight, closed Sundays
Blues and Brews from Minami Aizu
By John Schultz,
Proprietor and Brewer of Minami Aizu Brewing Company
It has not been exactly blue skies for most breweries this summer and Minami Aizu was no exception. We successfully developed a new summer brew, a light rice ale which we dubbed Hanabi, and begged and cajoled local beer gardens and hotels into taking the trouble to serve it cool and live. Come July we were busy counting our chickens while the orders rolled in. But then, as you all know, summer never came. Cold, greasy chicken nuggets are about all we got out of it -- leftovers from the Tsumami counter. All the good stuff got blown away by the gale-force winds and rain. Oh well, the banks are used to our tales of woe.
Let us put this behind us and move on to the News. Jumping on the Real Ale bandwagon: Having taken note of all the hubdeeduh about real ales drifting around in the Brews News, this autumn we have decided to launch a line of real-real ale(s). The first chance to sample this stuff will be at the Akasaka Hobgoblin in the guise of Dog's Bollocks. The Bollocks will be about the same as you have all had before but the serving device will be a real hand pump. We have always considered our Akasaka Bollocks to be as close to real ale as any commercial establishment could handle. The ale is unfiltered and shipped straight from the brewery. The keg sits right under the counter in a refrigerator that is kept at 7 degrees until the ale is urged out of the keg by minimal pressure from a CO2 tank dedicated to this one brew. This is possible because the brew only has to travel 20 centimeters to the faucet before reaching the glass.
Turnover at Akasaka is usually decent so the pint you get is usually only slightly carbonated - a level I figure that keeps Americans happy while not upsetting UK drinkers' tender bellies. Starting around September 29th, our new hand pump will take this effort another step forward. The bartender will pump the beer out of the keg just like pumping ater from a well. About three draws from the pump should fill your glass with a smooth effervescence that drifts to the surface to form a beige frothy head blanketing a brownish-orange brew. This serving system uses no CO2 to push the beer out of the keg. So, the only CO2 in the beer will come from the fermentation process itself. The ale will greet your tongue with a smooth hello so you can enjoy the hops and malt without having to worry about getting a bite from the carbonation. Don't forget to lick the froth off your mustache!
There are those clients that swear they can drink more real ale without suffering a hangover in the morning. But the real motivation for drinking real ale should be the enjoyment of unadulterated malt and hops. Hey, I am not trying to encourage you to drink with reckless abandon, but who really cares about the morning after? Especially if you are having fun. Drink up.
(well, seven, really)
Beers from Belgium and Scotland
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.
These beers were sent to me by beer impresario Phred Kaufman, who is importing all of them for sale in Japan. See below for ordering information.
Kelpie Seaweed Ale (Scotland, 4% abv, 330 ml/380 yen) has easily the most uninviting name of the bunch, but turned out to be the tastiest by a large margin. A good medium brown, it has a bewitching chocolate/cocoa aroma, followed by a smooth creamy texture.
Alba Pine Ale (Scotland, 5% abv, 330 ml/380 yen)
A light amber ale made with spruce and cedar leaves, in addition to malt. The "tree" flavors are barely perceptible, but at a refreshing zip nonetheless.
Ebulum Elderberry Ale (Scotland, 6.5% abv, 330 ml/380 yen)
Very dark brown, full sweet aroma with malt dominating, made with elderberries in addition to barley malt, wheat and oats. A truly different dark beer, and quite savory.
Joseph (Belgium, 5.4% abv, 250 ml/330 yen)
Light cloudy yellow with a deep fruity flavor spiked with generous acidity for a clean, refreshing taste. Champagne-like body and carbonation. Made with a grain called spelt, along with orange peel, which gives it a unique, rustic flavor.
Fraoch Heather Ale (Scotland, 5% abv, 330 ml/380 yen)
This style of beer predates those made with hops, and Fraoch gives you a glimpse of how beer in Scotland tasted about 1,000 years ago. Strikingly dry for such a fruity aroma and flavor.
Grozet Gooseberry Ale (Scotland, 5% abv, 330 ml/380 yen)
Medium gold, with tart flavors from the gooseberries used in brewing. Sort of the Scottish version of an odd lambic; good and refreshing, but not likely everyone's favorite.
Sara Organic (Belgium, 6% abv, 250 ml/360 yen & 750 ml/1,000 yen)
Phred was one of the pioneers of buckwheat beer with this Ezo Soba Beer. He now takes this concept to Belgium with Sara, which features full-on Belgian yeasty funkiness with the light, dusky taste of buckwheat, in this case, organically grown. Good tartness, with a dry yet lingering finish. A non-organic version of this beer is available at a slightly lower price.
If you are interested in ordering these beers for home delivery, Phred says that Brews News readers who order at least two cases will receive a 10% discount and free shipping. For ordering information, go to www.ezobeer.com or phone 011-614-0191 and ask for Phred.
Part Three: The Fraud Explained
In the two previous issues I have detailed a story of a brewmaster being impersonated in a presentation in a department store. This fraud was perpetrated by the brewing company itself, which seemed to have little respect for their own head brewer. Read the first story and the second story by clicking on these links.
The saga continues. Over the summer, I received a reply from the president of the brewing company who half-answered my questions with vague statements.
He began by pushing the responsibility for the deception on his head salesman. The letter went on to claim that the brewmaster was "somehow unable to attend," which conflicts with the brewmaster's assertion that he had no idea about the event, even after it had happened. The brewmaster told me he would have been happy to attend if he'd known about the event in the first place.
The letter goes on to detail the impasse between the brewery's sales staff and the brewmaster in a subsequent meeting at their headquarters in Tokyo. More waffling language was followed by a statement that the brewery had apologized to the Tokyu Department Store for the deception, and promised they'd never let something like this happen again.
Meanwhile, the brewmaster has now left the brewery and is now working at another brewery.
Would anyone care to guess which Japanese craft beer enterprise that foisted this fraud on the public? A free beer to everyone who guesses correctly. Send your answers to me at email@example.com by September 25th.
In the next issue, we will reveal the culprits.
Microbrew Fair at the Park Hyatt Tokyo
Granted it's an expensive place to drink beer, but the view and service are worth it. The New York Grill in the hotel is offering a selection of some of our favorite beers now - call them for details.
Every year I buy a can of Kirin's autumn special, Aki-Aji, and am most always underwhelmed by the flavor. Yes it is richer and tastier than Kirin's flagship Ichiban Shibori and Kirin Lager, but these days that's not really saying much since I believe that both of these beers have been "dumbed down" in the past five years or so.
Nonetheless, John Gauntner, sake writer and longtime "brews brother" (both beer and sake are brewed) raved about it over sake the other night at Sasagin in Yoyogi Uehara. The next day I bought a can, and John was right. This year's version is a measure better than those in years past. Not fabulous, but a pretty good effort from Kirin. What is interesting is that the beer is rather heavy and strongly flavored, yet still has a rather quick dry finish. Perhaps this means that good, rich lager is coming back to the Japanese beer market. More evidence of this can be found with Sapporo's new Pilsner Premiere, a brew which I find richer, tastier and more lively than Sapporo's Yebisu, though the dark version of Yebisu is yet another example of a great, full-bodied beer. In any case, Kirin Aki-Aji and Sapporo's Pilsner Premiere (only available at 7-11 says Sapporo PR), are worth a try.
Annual AIDS Walk Appeal
Many thanks to Brews News readers Ake, Andy, Astrid, James, Jim, John, Jonathan, and Mark for their donations, which amounted to $322. This year's 10 km walk was much like any other, except for having one of my walking companions stung by a wasp and requiring first aid treatment from the competent volunteers from San Francisco's medical community. I'm hoping for a cure for AIDS soon, but second best would be receiving donations from Brews News readers for my participation in next year's walk. For more information on the San Francisco AIDS Walk, go to http://www.aidswalk.net/sanfran/index.html
September 19th, Friday, 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 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.
Bitter beer offers slim hope
From the Mainichi Shimbun, July 22, 2003 issue.
English adaptation provided by Mark Schreiber
Bitter-tasting beer curbs the development of fat inside the body, researchers at Japan's top brewery have found. A team of researchers led by Keiji Kondo, a vice chief of Kirin Brewery Co.'s development section, reached the conclusion after feeding a group of mice with high-fat feed containing isohumulones, an important component of hops that creates the bitter taste, and another group with plain high-fat feed. After six weeks, the group that was given the isohumulones-free feed grew 22 percent fatter than the other group. Kondo, however, warned beer lovers against gulping down their drinks to keep themselves in shape. "You won't get this effect by drinking beer only. You may even end up putting too much stress on your liver so we advise consumers to not to drink too much," Kondo said. The team found that the mice that were fed with feed containing isohumulones developed twice the amount of enzymes that transform fat compared to the other group. Kirin researchers believe isohumulones help the development of fat-dissolving enzymes. The discovery was announced during a recent meeting of the Japanese Society of Nutrition and Food Science.
What Are They Thinking?
What part of "too expensive" don't they understand? Don't get me wrong, I do like the beers from Echigo Brewing in Niigata Prefecture and Nasu Kogen Beer in Tochigi. They make some of the best in Japan. Except they have these mail order deals that are so expensive that you'd have to live out in the beerless boonies to think it's any kind of a deal. In Echigo Brewing's latest mailing, they offered a monthly plan where you get three small bottles of beer delivered to your home for a mere 2,000 yen. That's 666 yen per bottle for things like Honey Ale, Stout, Barleywine and an extremely bitter beer that's 100 IBU (international bittering units) compared to Budweiser's 11 or 14 IBU rating or whatever. Before that, in early spring, Nasu Kogen Beer sent me a direct mail ad offering such gimmicky limited-edition brews as "snow-aged pilsner" and a strawberry ale for 5,000 yen for a six pack of 330 ml bottles. Yeah, I know, it came in a wooden box and all, but the idea of ponying up over 800 yen for a small bottle of beer stopped me, uh, cold. Sorry, no sale. If these breweries could come in with their products delivered to me at about half that price, maybe we could talk.
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Still reading the Brews News here in Yorkshire. Thanks for the continuing support in Tokyo. Check our our new Ossett pub!
Brewers of Old Gurners, served at The Town Cryer in Hibiya and Kamiya-cho.
Thanks for the link to the story. Madonna putting in a kind word for real ale certainly changes my opinion of her.
What happened to Yebisu Black? -- it came out and then disappeared from all the stores I go to...I think it's really good. Also, Echigo beer make a really fine stout, available here in Tokyo in cans -- I pick it up from the Tokyu Toyoko-ten. Beats the stuff they call Guinness here. I don't remember seeing it in your column.
Yebisu Black was a runaway hit, and the first brewing run sold out way faster than expected. Also, Sapporo's Pilsner Premiere, originally to be sold only in one part of Shizuoka prefecture, has been such a hit that they've expanded their sales area. Apparently, Sapporo is on a roll with quality beer after spending so many years in the happo-shu doldrums. Echigo Stout is an old favorite. I plan to review the new canned version when the weather turns a bit cooler.
The Norwegian beer chiller you had the link to in the last issue uses the Peltier effect. That's a slab of material, one side of which gets hot and the other cold when you pass current through it. So, you can either heat something or cool it, depending on which side you place against the something. In this case, the guy has used a cafetiere holder as the chassis. The fan and heat sink attached to the hot side of the block disperse the heat conveyed away from the beer. If you read carefully, it's designed to be powered by his computer when he's near his machine, and from batteries when away from the machine. As a firm believer in the appropriate misuse of technology, I need one of these.
Don't we all! Thanks for the great explanation.
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