Brews News Issue 44 - December 2003
Home >> Eating & Drinking in Tokyo >> Brews News
In this issue
Beer Here: All-you-can-drink Christmas & Winter Beer on Dec. 24th
Bar Beat: Belgian Christmas Ale Dinner on Dec. 10
Beer Blues: by James Gibbs, Microbrew Tasting Party Organizer
Six Pick: Good beers from Japan, plus a trio of Great German Brews
Spouting Off: Why can't the Japanese craft beer movement get it together?
News: Saturday Evening Beer Live, Baird's Big Wheat Monster, Nitro Shakespeare
Ale Mail:

Beer Here

All-you-can-drink Christmas & Winter Beer on Dec. 24th

Three hours of beer plus roast turkey for 4,800 yen!

An event this crazy could only come about if Phred Kaufman, the Beer Professor of Sapporo, was involved. Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku, in cooperation with the Phred-ster himself, is holding a Christmas & Winter Beer evening on December 24th only. For 4,800 yen, you get all the Christmas and winter beers you can drink (3-hour limit, which will be doing you a favor with these beers), plus a roast turkey dinner and Christmas cake for dessert. Phred has not only helped with the selection of heavy, high-alcohol beers being offered, he will also be visible throughout the evening on a webcam link with his famous Mugishutei beer bar in the heart of Sapporo. Seats are limited, so reserve yours right away by phoning Popeye at 03-3633-2120.


Bar Beat

Belgian Christmas Ale Dinner on December 10

This overwhelming selection of Belgian ales was served at the November Belgian Beer Dinner at Bois Cereste.

The monthly Belgian Beer Dinners held at Bois Cereste on the second Wednesday every month seem to be offering ever-increasing quantities of beer. The November event featured 16 different Belgian ales. The theme was "Single, Dubbel, Tripel, et Quadruple d'Abbey" with each flight going from simple to complex as participants tasted beers from Floreffe, Grimbergen, Het Kapittel and Chimay. Special thanks go to Otsuki-san, an importer of Belgian Ales in Kansai, who came up to Tokyo for the event with a huge bottle of Carmeleit Tripel to offer the group with his compliments. This beer is a lovely, complex, soft and aromatic tour de force that easily pulls five stars on my rating scale.

The December 10 dinner will feature Belgian Christmas Ales from a number of breweries. Likely there will be some ales served which are unavailable anywhere else. A multi-course Belgian dinner will also be included, with the chef attempting to match each course with the rich, spicy flavors of these beers. The cost is 7,000 yen, and reservations are required. Phone Bois Cereste at 03-3588-6292 for details.


Beer Blues

Beer Tasting Blues

James Gibbs and just a few of the beers offered at his November tasting.

by James Gibbs

In December 2001, Yaesu Language School held its first beer tasting organized by me, James Gibbs, amateur beer enthusiast and organizer of many international parties and events in Tokyo. With the cost of some of the beer exceeding Y400 or Y500 a bottle, the admission price was set at Y4,000 to include all the beer and food, and five people attended. This was a bit of a disappointment compared to some of the international and singles parties where attendance was often over 100 people eagerly paying a Y3,000 or more to attend, and gratefully slurping down only Asahi Super Dry which costs a nice low Y160 a can.

Since the objective in doing the beer tasting was to sample various beers, the price was lowered to Y3,000, just about the break even mark. Attendance throughout this year has been averaging about 10 people per event. During the past year the focus has moved away from imported beer to almost exclusively sampling the brews selected from the offerings of the more than 200 microbreweries in Japan.

The event was originally been a formal sit-down tasting with each guest having five separate glasses to blindly sample five different beers. But from September I have streamlined things by changing to a one-glass self-service type of "Mini Beer Festival" with 10 to 20 different Japanese microbrews per event, as opposed to the previous five. This will allow us to finish sampling these 200 plus microbreweries four to five times faster over the coming years, and hopefully the party style of the event will have broader appeal to attract more people attending.

Japanese microbrew is expensive, though, at Y400, Y500 and even Y600 a bottle. It gets worse when the shipping charge and COD fee or bank transfer fee is added for just a six- or 12-pack. Microbrew lovers fear not, however, as every first Friday of the month a great deal is awaiting you near the Yaesu exit of Tokyo Station, where you can drink Japanese microbrew to your heart's content with food included for just Y3,000. Leave the financial blues to me - I'm the one who is willing to "work for beer."

The next tasting will be on December 5 from 8:00 pm. If you would like to make a reservation, contact or phone 03-5255-3090.

As tasted by Bryan Harrell, from left:

!!!!! Fujizakura Kogen Rauchbier is a superb example of a German-style smoked beer, made with a bit of smoked malt in addition to regular pale malt for an excitingly complex flavor with a hint of smoke. Available from the Fujizakura Kogen Brewery, phone 0555-83-2236.

!!!!! Izu Kogen Kuro is a rich, slightly sweet dark ale with complex layers of sweet coffee, chocolate and toffee flavors.

!!!! Izu Kogen Amashiro is a dark golden ale with tangy malt flavor and a clean, smooth taste, making it a good session ale.

!! Izu Kogen Yamamomo is a seasonal beer with a striking appearance similar to rose wine. While it may appeal to some, I found it too sweet and one-dimensional. Available from the Izu Kogen Brewery, phone 0557-51-3000.

!!!!! Oyama Loreley Weizen is a very yeasty, rich creamy and bold version of Germany's most popular ale style. Available from the Inuyama Loreley Bakushu Kobo, phone 0568-67-0033.

!!!! Hansharo Daiginjo Masako is a rich golden ale made with sake yeast normally used for daiginjo sake. Said to be a new type of beer, it tastes much like a bock or marzen-style German beer with a good tangy malt chewiness up front. Available by mail order from the Izu Nirayama Brewery, phone 055-949-1208, or go to


Six Pick

From Japan
Plus a Trio of Great German Brews

! ! ! ! ! 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.

!!!!! Taiko Ale from Iki-iki Brewery (Osaka, 7.5% abv, all malt, unpasteurized and unfiltered) This decidedly US West Coast style IPA has thick fruity-malty richness, yet is remarkably dry in the finish. Superb hop flavors in good balance. Made with UK malt and USA Cascade hops. Available from Shochu Authority in Tokyo Station, or from the brewery, phone (0766)91-8200. Taiko Ale has its own Web site at

!!!! Tancho no Habataki Alt Beer from Kushiro Minato-machi Beer (Hokkaido, 4.5% abv, all malt) OK, if this is supposed to be an Alt, why is it bright gold? Tangy sweet aroma, rich malt flavor. But this is never an Alt! What's going on here? It's a very good beer though, and tastes like a Bock or a Marzen. Available from MOO Sakagura in Kushiro, Hokkaido. Phone 0120-606-946 (toll-free), or (0154)23-0517.

!!!! Nusamai no Irodori red ale from Kushiro Minato-machi Beer (Hokkaido, 5.6% abv, all malt) Lovely high-clarity light reddish brown, good strong aroma of hops and lightly roasted malt. Rich flavor, yet medium body, very little lingering sweetness but long tapering hop bitterness. Quite a good work, and a superb Hokkaido autumn session ale.

!!!! Suntory Malt's Kuro-nama Black Beer (Tokyo, 5.5% abv, unpasteurized, all malt) The can design not only looks very much like Yebisu Black, but the label indicates it is in the same "schwarzbier" style, so one can only assume this is a "me-too" product out to capitalize on the resounding success of Yebisu Black. It's close, but not quite as good. It's jet black, with a dense tan head. Rich creaminess to the head and body, and quite a good beer from a major brewery. Lighter and less complex than Yebisu Black, but with essentially the same flavor profile. Recommended party game: do a blind tasting of both and see how many can tell the difference.

!!!! Akane-iro no Hoh-jun Marzen Beer, Suntory Table Beer series (Tokyo, 6% abv, unpasteurized, all malt) Rich, dense creamy head, fruitiness with some faint tartness, a good example of the rich Marzen style.

!!! Ohotsk Kitajikomi Hotate Draft from Abashiri Beer (Hokkaido, 5% abv, happo-shu, unpasteurized; barley malt, Abashiri scallops, barley extract, hops. Said to be brewed with deep sea water from the Sea of Ohotsk). Yes, you read it right, this is a scallop beer! (It is not, however, the world's first non-kosher beer; that distinction goes to oyster stout.) However, this beer is only ever-so-slightly weird. It drinks like a normal mass-produced lager, but there is some peculiar meaty richness to it that gives it a nice flavor. It is very tangy, solid, oddly mouth-watering, and full of what is known in sake circles as "umami" (tasty goodness). Available from the Shochu Authority in Tokyo Station.

Special thanks to Hugh and Takami for the Kushiro beers.

Trio of Great German Brews

!!!!! Schneider Weisse Original (Germany, 5.4% abv, all barley and wheat malt) Faintly hazy light brown, fruit aroma with interesting bread-like taste.

!!!!! Frankenheim Alt (Germany, 4.8% abv, all malt) Gorgeous high-clarity copper color, interesting yeasty/grainy aroma, fruity flavor yet rather dry, minimal hop presence, with a fine dried fruit finish that lingers lightly.

!!!!! Weltenburger Kloster Asam Dunkler DoppelBock (Germany, 6.5% abv, all malt) Deep reddish brown, rich "dried fruit" flavors, minimal hop presence, lingering tangy malt sweetness extends into a long and glorious finish. This is from the world's oldest brewery, which has been in operation since 1050.

These beers are available at Zum Einhorn German Bar and Restaurant near Roppongi 1-chome Station (Namboku Subway Line) and Kamiya-cho Station (Hibiya Subway Line). Address: Roppongi First Bldg., 1-9-9 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo. Phone 03-5563-9240.


Spouting Off

Why can't the Japanese craft beer movement get it together?

In another year or so, the Japanese craft beer movement will be ten years old. Things are not going as planned though, as many small breweries throughout Japan are going bankrupt and closing up shop, while the average person has a low opinion of "ji-beer" as a result of very wrong business decisions made on the part of the management of most Japanese microbreweries. Most of these breweries were founded by people who knew little about craft beer, and cared even less about hiring skillful, well-trained brewers for their operations. The end result was that a whole lot of crap was being put into bottles and sold to tourists at remarkably high prices.

Luckily, a small minority of these breweries either did things right at the beginning, or improved quality in just a few years. We now have about a dozen truly great breweries in Japan, and perhaps a dozen more making pretty decent beer, though it would be hard to expect many more will appear in the next ten years.

One reason that consumer interest is flagging is that there is no beer specialty magazine being published in Japan. There are a number of Web sites with various orientations, including one in English (Brews News, the one you're reading now), but nothing in print.

However, this may change in the coming year with the founding of the Real Ale Club in the next few months by a group of dedicated Japanese enthusiasts. They don't like the term "ji-beer" (coined from the expression "ji-zake", or "local sake") and instead prefer the term "real ale" though they are all enthusiastic about lagers as well.

I have been asked to be one of the directors, and it will be my job to make sure that information on all club activities will be available in English. A quarterly club newsletter is now being discussed, and some English-language content will likely be included.

Though my involvement, I hope to help link together various disparate elements of the craft beer movement in Japan, hoping to bring together average consumers, home brewers, beer writers, bar owners, craft breweries, and beer importers. Factionalism is rife in Japan, making it hard for people from one organization to talk to another. Unlike the early years in the US microbrew industry, small breweries in Japan rarely offer assistance to other small breweries, with everyone pretty much keeping to themselves. At present, there are a handful of craft beer-related organizations, but cross-communication is the exception rather than the rule.

At this stage, cooperation is more important than competition since the task at hand over the next decade is to increase awareness of quality craft beer among the general population, while attempting to undo the damage done by poorly managed breweries in the initial years of Japan's microbrew era.

Look for more details on the Real Ale Club - including how you can get involved - in upcoming issues of Brews News.



Saturday Evening Beer Live

Japanese beer geeks continue to be enthralled at this monthly event at Popeye in Ryogoku. Usually held on a Saturday afternoon from 3:30, the event is the brainchild of beer expert and homebrewer Ichiri Fujiura, who has the distinction of being the first Japanese person to be selected Homebrewer of the Year in 1998 by the American Homebrewers Association. At the SEBL held on November 22, Fujiura gave a comprehensive explanation on the differences between homebrewing and microbrewing, along with a number of useful tips for making great beer at home. The detail and depth of his explanations were truly impressive, making SEBL a must for beer enthusiasts who understand Japanese. Fujiura is also the publisher of, a very impressive and comprehensive source of beer information in Japanese. Those who understand Japanese and are interested in broadening their beer knowledge are encouraged to attend these events. The 1,500 yen fee includes, of course, a craft-brewed beer. For details, see

Baird's Big Wheat Monster - Baird Beer in Numazu announces the release of one of their most unique beers, Harvest Wheat Wine. A wheat wine is similar to a barley wine (the strongest and heaviest of all beer styles) except that the base malt is largely wheat rather than barley. This wheat malt base makes the resulting beer lighter and livelier. The brewing of Baird Harvest Wheat Wine also draws on Belgian-style beer tradition in that a significant portion of the fermentable material comes from kettle additions of candy sugar, which serves to dry the beer out and sharpen the alcohol punch. Harvest Wheat Wine undergoes a three-month secondary fermentation and conditioning in the serving keg to which ample quantities of Czech Saaz whole hops are added. This dry hopping gives the beer a final layer of complexity in the form of an earthy, subtly floral flavor and aroma. Harvest Wheat Wine is on tap now at Popeye in Ryogoku (03-3633-2120) and at Bryan Baird's Fishmarket Taproom in Numazu. For more details, go to

Reminder: Baird Beer will be having the Baird Bottle Beer Launch Party at the Fishmarket Taproom on Saturday, December 6th from 6 p.m. For Tokyo residents, both the party and the Harvest Wheat Wine are excellent reasons to make the trek down. Attendance is by reservation only, and only a few spots are remaining. For details, visit or phone the Taproom at 055-963-2628.

A "Mini-Microbeer Festival" will be held on Friday, December 5th from 8:00-10:30 pm at the Yaesu Language School just outside Tokyo Station on the Yaesu East side. Sample 15 to 20 microbrews and enjoy lots of light food in a casual atmosphere, all for just 3,000 yen. Reservations are recommended, phone 03-5255-3090 or e-mail

Nitro Shakespeare Stout announced last month was recently tasted at Popeye, and after one good initial swig, I wondered who would prefer the venerable Guinness over this velvety, rich and complex oatmeal stout made all the more smoother by dispensing with nitrogen gas, which gives it a dense, thick head. While I prefer Shakespeare Stout without nitrogen, I believe I am in the minority, and that most beer enthusiast will greet this creation with a clenched hand and an open mouth. Shakespeare Stout is brewed by Rogue Ales of Oregon, USA, and imported into Japan by Ezo Beer.

Winter Beer and Holiday Ales are highlighted in an article I have written for Metropolis magazine. The article defines these beers, and tells you where to find them. The article is scheduled to appear in early December. .



Send your beer-related ads to There is no charge for Brews News readers.


Ale Mail

Your feedback and comments are always welcome. Send to


Brews News copyright (c) Bryan Harrell and contributors.

Previous issue