Brews News Issue 46 - February 2004
Home >> Eating & Drinking in Tokyo >> Brews News
In this issue
Beer Here: Real Ale Club Update: Festival this March
Bar Beat: The Black Lion & Super Deluxe
Beer Talk: Gonzo Homebrewers Get Resourceful
Six Pick: Good beers from Japan and the United States
Spouting Off: Growing Japanese Premium Beer Category
News: Japanese Microbrew and Belgian Beer Dinner events
Ale Mail:

Beer Here

Real Ale Club Update

By the time you read this, the tentatively named Real Ale Club will have had their kickoff meeting on January 31st, where a number of things were officially decided, including the new formal name for the group. Since Real Ale Club is limiting, and does not necessarily include all types of good beer, I suggested the Good Beer Club at a recent directors meeting, and most people seemed to like it. However, consensus takes time, and I am impressed with the thoroughness and care taken by all the directors of the club for right and fair procedure.

One of the first events the group is planning is a Real Ale Festival on March 20th at Popeye in Ryogoku. There is talk of having two shifts due to the large number of people expected. The group has already been written up in the January 23rd edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun. My role in the group will be primarily to make the group's news and other information available in English. The overwhelming feeling among the directors and present group of about 60 founding members is that membership and participation in the group is open to all who enjoy good beer.

Stay tuned. For those who read Japanese, check out the group's current Web site at


Bar Beat

Black Lion in Meguro

This has always been one of the more genuine British-style pubs in Tokyo, despite the temporary insanity of renaming it Little Euro for a few years. The original Black Lion name has been back for a while, and this rambling large-ish pub is friendlier than ever. One reason is amiable manager Scott Sanderson (formerly manager of Paddy Foley's and other places around town), who offers a personal greeting to those walking in the door. He spends a great deal of time talking with customers, and really seems to care about what people think about the pub's food and drink.

The Happy Hour from 5 to 7 p.m. presents some good beers at good prices - all draft beer is 700 yen per pint, while all bottled beer is 600 yen. Even beyond happy hour, prices are quite reasonable by Tokyo standards. Among the ten beers on tap, the Hoegaarden White and Murphy's Stout are recommended, while cider lovers will go for the Blackthorn. There are 18 bottled beers available, with standouts being Chimay Red, and Redhook IPA and ESB, while lager drinkers will appreciate Czech Budvar, and Steinlager from New Zealand, which is one of the better international-style lagers around. The recently remodeled kitchen and revamped menu has put the food up a few notches; the avocado salad I had the other night was pretty good. All said, the Black Lion is certainly worth a visit - if you are new to the place, you may find yourself becoming a regular.

Black Lion
1-5-16 Meguro
Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Open daily from 4 pm till late
The Black Lion is a short walk from Meguro station.

Super Deluxe in Roppongi/Nishi-Azabu

Situated a stone's throw from the massive Roppongi Hills complex, this spacious basement establishment takes on a surprising number of roles, from event space to art gallery to DJ club to what-have-you. While on some nights there are events that require admission, much of the time you can just walk in and have a seat and marvel at the interesting things on the walls. The reason Brews News readers would want to do that is the beer - three taps serving craft beer only! That's right, no Asahi Super Dry, no Corona, no Heineken. Not even Belgian beer. Just three good beers on tap, mostly Tokyo Ale brewed by the Sankt Gallen brewery in Kanagawa Prefecture, and sometimes other craft beers.

Choices the other night were an excellent Pale Ale, a rich yet smooth Brown Porter and an excitingly hoppy IPA. Prices were 700 to 800 yen per glass, which is slightly smaller than a true pint, but quite a good value for such fresh, tasty, well-kept and well-served beer. Call ahead to find out what's on tap and check on what event may be happening. Or, just drop by, but be forewarned that Super Deluxe is a bit hard to find, so a look at the map on the link below will be a great help.

Super Deluxe
In the basement of the John Kanaya Hotel
3-1-25 Nishi Azabu
Minato-ku, Tokyo
Open Monday - Saturday 6 p.m. till late
Map: EN /map/ index.php?m=01&y=2004&lang=EN


Beer Talk

Gonzo Homebrewers Get Resourceful

I recently had the pleasure of receiving an e-mail with the subject line "Kanazawa Homebrewers Need Help! Really...Bad!" The message was from two "brews brothers" living in Kanazawa named Phil and Tyson, asking if I knew of any English-speaking homebrew suppliers of homebrew equipment. They also wrote: "We are currently making our own equipment using water jugs for carboys and sippy cups for air locks." Best of all, they attached a photo which tells the whole story.

Naturally, the photo made me curious so I wrote back to ask more questions. I received a rather serious reply from Phil: "We were looking for a substitute for an air lock and Tyson came up with the idea of using a child's sippy cup attached to some tubing. We went to a 100 yen store and found a little bear that had a straw leading from its top to 5mm above the bottom. We are not proud people, and we will get a lot of strange looks, but it works!"

Phil and Tyson are totally cool, and their determination to make beer despite all odds (and odd looks) is truly admirable. They get special thanks for allowing us to use this great photo!

If anyone out there has an extra carboy or some more conventional brewing gear not being used or wanted, think about sending it to Phil and Tyson in Kanazawa. Reply to Brews News to get in touch with them.


Six Pick

From Japan and the USA

! ! ! ! ! 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.

!!!!! Tokyo Bakushu Kenkyuukai Saison beer (Chiba, 7.2% abv, unpasteurized and unfiltered; Recipe No. 008-1, infusion mash of Pilsner malt and Munich malt, East Kent Goldings hops, bitter orange peel, sugars. The label recommends decanting carefully to leave the yeast sediment in the bottle.) You have to love the dedication this group of enthusiasts has in producing their beer at a cooperative small brewery in Sakura, Chiba Prefecture. Bright orange amber, snow white head, powerful sweet ripe fruit and spice aroma that's almost bubblegummy, with clean hop aromas in the background. Rich, tangy malt flavor that is balanced well by the sting of high alcohol and sharp sweetness from the use of candy sugar (a traditional Belgian practice in some high-alcohol styles). Hopping is minimal in order to let the appeal of the orange peel come through. Saison is a style of beer that emerged in farming households in Southern Belgium, but this one is very sophisticated and urbane, with less funkiness and a smoother, more solid malt profile. More important, it is more like a Tripel, with its high alcohol and thick, rich body. Regardless of style categorizations, this is one excellent brew.

!!!! Chitose Hascup Malt Liquor (Brewed in the US by Rogue Ales for Ezo Beer, 5% abv; malt, hops, hascup fruit) Golden amber, snow white head, heavy malt aroma with slightly tart fruit and mineral notes faintly in the background. Firm malt flavor with a cassis-like bitter/mineral fruit flavor in the background. Low bitterness, with solid malt body that is not very sweet. One of the most un-fruitlike fruit beers, the hascup (a berry native to Hokkaido and Siberia) is an accent on a solid ale with minimal bitterness. This may be one of the few fruit beers that also works as a session ale since the fruit is restrained and entirely congruous with the malt and hop flavors.

!!!! Tama-no-Megumi Pale Ale (Tokyo, 5% abv, all malt) The earthy notes of what are probably Fuggles hops hover over the tangy malt aroma. The flavor continues this theme, with a very solid body and surprisingly thick mouthfeel. While it looks almost identical to Bass Pale Ale, which the brewers likely patterned it after, it is actually much richer with a more solid malt structure. It could use more liveliness in the form of higher hopping or more malt diversity, but is still a satisfying brew. More surprisingly, I found it in a convenience store in my neighborhood for 380 yen.

!!! Edinburgh Premium Ale from Niigata Beer (Niigata, 4.5% abv, unpasteurized, all malt) Golden, rich malt aroma, creamy texture with very tangy malt balanced well by an extremely bitter hop flavor and a tiny touch of tartness that work together to keep it refreshing.

!!! Edinburgh Premium Ale "Low alcoholic type" from Niigata Beer (Niigata, less than 1% abv, unpasteurized, all malt) Virtually identical to the 4.5% version above, and this is the reason I wanted to try these two together. While the 4.5% version is average-to-good, this one is quite superb within the category of non-alcoholic beers, and competes strongly with many in the normal alcohol range as well. Good on the brewers for making such a great minimal alcohol brew!

! Soba Draft (Shizuoka, happoshu, 5% abv, unpasteurized; malt, barley, hops, buckwheat, black rice) It is very clear pale yellow, grainy "saltine crackers" aroma, very light body, little sensation of beer flavor, with a faint sugary sweetness in the background. What were the brewers thinking? Are they trying to copy the original soba beer created by Phred Kaufman of Ezo Beer? If so, they have missed the mark entirely. Those who have read Brews News for even just a few months know that some of the very best beer in Japan is being made in Numazu, Shizuoka, by Baird Beer. Surprisingly, from the very same town comes this beer, which could be one of the worst in Japan. I just hope that this beer doesn't tarnish the image of Numazu as one of Japan's great beer capitals.


Spouting Off

Premium Japanese Beer Segment Emerging

We all know the horrors of the happoshu invasion in the past ten years, and it seems that these brews have served to lower the expectations of consumers of all brewed malt beverages. In step with their popularity, it seems that the flavor of mainstream mass-produced Japanese beer has seemed to drop during the past ten years. I personally believe that Kirin Lager now, even the so-called "Classic" version, is a pale comparison with the sturdy, hoppy Kirin Lager of 20 years ago. While I don't often drink Yebisu, I have been told by many long-term fans that it's not quite as good these days, either.

However, I am encouraged by the emergence of a small but strong premium beer category from the Big Four Japanese brewers. This is typified by Sapporo creating the rich and complex Yebisu Black to go alongside its long-selling Yebisu, both of which are available practically everywhere. However, some of these beers are said to be sold only in 7-Eleven stores that carry alcoholic beverages, but I have occasionally seen them in ordinary neighborhood liquor stores as well. These beers, in bottles only, are always shipped cold, kept refrigerated, and sold within 60 to 90 days of bottling. Interestingly, for all this extra care, they are priced only slightly higher than mainstream brands. Kirin has its yeasty Maroyaka Kohboh white ale and roasty Latte Stout, while Sapporo offers zesty Pilsner Premier and Suntory has its rich Super Premium Malt's. While these are not the top-rate world-class brews that we invariably lust for, they are nonetheless good, decent beers that offer a lot more flavor for only a little extra in price.

For this reason, the brewers deserve praise because of the good these beers do. They are widely available, almost always in stock, reasonably priced, have informative labels, and are generally fighting the good fight to educate people about the diverse styles of traditional beers. Most important of all, they present an alternative not only to happoshu, but also to today's ever lighter-and-drier mainstream beer in stores that people frequently visit. The Big Four brewers in Japan have the technical capability to produce some truly excellent and interesting beers, so purchasing these premium beers instead of "the usual" sends out a strong signal for better beer.



Super Bowl of Japan Microbrew

on Friday, Feb. 13th, 8:00-10:30pm. at Yaesu Language School near the Yaesu Kita exit of Tokyo Station. After sampling approx. 1/4 of the microbrews in Japan for the past two years, at this upcoming event we will revisit the champions; in other words, the "Best of the Best." If you are a beer fan don't miss the action. Drink Offs start at 8:00pm sharp. All Star Menu: Shinano Ale, Mountain Ale, Dragon Ale, Black Dragon Stout from Shinano Brewery in Nagano Pref.; Sanuki Alt, Super Alt, and Koelsh from Kagawa Brewery in Kagawa Pref.; Nest White Ale, Sweet Stout, Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Weizen, Extra High & Red Circle Ale from Hitachino Brewery in Ibaraki Pref, & Rising Sun Pale Ale, Red Rose Amber Ale, Angry Boy Brown Ale, Kurofune Porter, Shimaguni Stout from Baird Beer in Shizuoka Prefecture. (I know we just tasted Baird Beer last month, but it was that darn good.)
The cost is only Y3,000, all food and drinks included. Reservations are recommended, phone 03-5255-3090, or email beer-at-kokusaika-dot-org

Belgian Beer Dinner on February 12th from 7 p.m. at Bois Cereste in Akasaka.

This monthly event was not held in January since owner Yamada-san was in Belgium doing some beer research. He came back at the end of January with a great deal of fresh hand-carried beer with him, so the tasting this month should be an exceptionally good experience. On previous occasions, the difference in the hand-carried beers has been astonishing. If you want to get any closer to Belgian beer, you'd have to fly to Belgium. See you there! Reservations are necessary - phone Bois Cereste in the evenings at 03-3588-6292.

Suntory Beer STILL Not Profitable?

According to an article (page 94) in the February 8th edition of the Yomiuri Weekly, Suntory beer has posted a loss for the past 40 consecutive years. Should we be puzzled? Thanks to Mark Schreiber for this tip.



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