Brews News Issue 48 - April 2004
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In this issue
Beer Here: Belgian Beer Taste Fest May 29-30
Bar Beat: Brews News Wants You!
Beer Talk: Ten Years Later by Jon McKinnon
Six Pick: Saranac Selection from Upstate New York
Spouting Off: The 2nd Tokyo Real Ale Festival by Wayne Gabel
News: Japanese Microbrew, Belgian Beer and Real Ale events
Ale Mail:

Beer Here

Belgian Beer Taste Fest May 29-30

Inspired by the enthusiastic turnout at the 2nd Tokyo Real Ale Festival, Yamada-san of Bois Cereste, the Belgian specialty beer bar in Akasaka, will be holding a small Belgian Beer Taste Fest on the weekend of May 29-30. There will be three sessions: 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday. A number of bottled Belgian ales will be available. Admission is 3,500 yen, which gets you a book of 10 tickets, each good for a 150 ml tasting of Belgian beer. That works out to 1.5 liters of Belgian beer, which is quite a lot considering its strength. Fortunately, coupons may also be used to purchase light food items. For those who really want to go the distance, extra coupons will be on sale at the event.

Each session is limited to 50 people, so it is advisable to reserve early. For those who have not been to Bois Cereste, this will be a good opportunity to see the place and taste some of the many, many beers Yamada-san stocks there at a reduced price. For reservations, phone Yamada-san on weekday evenings at 03-3588-6292. Bois Cereste is located near Akasaka station on the Chiyoda subway line at 2-13-21 Akasaka, Minato-ku.


Bar Beat

Brews News Wants You!

Please send in a short review of your favorite beer bar. Just a paragraph or two is fine, and be sure to include the address, phone number and operating hours. Deadline for the next issue is April 23rd.


Beer Talk

Ten Years After

By Jon McKinnon

In 1993 I started my company, McKinnon International Inc., as the Japan market sales agency for Seattle-based Pyramid Breweries, brewers of Pyramid Ales and Thomas Kemper Lager beers, Ten years later we've grown with Japan and Asia's rapidly developing specialty beer markets, and have installed 18 brewing systems. We also supply brewing ingredients to over 65 specialty beer and pub breweries in the region. Quality of life is very important and it feels great to be involved in a lifestyle industry that helps bring people together to enjoy good beer.

No one said it would be easy, and as most microbrewers would agree, it takes character to brew beers with character, and you have to have a passion for your mission. In Japan, I've visited over 60 breweries from Otaru in Hokkaido to Kagoshima, and one of the reasons I enjoy my work is there are so many great people involved in this industry, people who have a positive outlook on life, are committed to producing high-quality beers, and share my excitement for traditional German, Czech, British, and Belgian beer styles.

If anyone is interested in creating a homebrewing products purchasing club, I would be happy to supply brewing materials in bulk at wholesale prices. My company represents the following companies.

Wyeast Labs ( is the leading supplier of brewers yeast to the specialty brewing industry and offers the best selection of high quality liquid yeast for homebrewers and microbrewers. The 175ml "XL" packs are ideal for brewing 20 liter batches. The best beers are made with fresh, pure, liquid yeast cultures.

Hopunion CBS ( is the leading hop supplier to specialty breweries and offers an exceptional selection of high quality European, US, and New Zealand hop products such as hop pellets, raw hop mini bales, hop plugs, and organic hops.

Briess Malting Co. ( is North America's leading producer of specialty malts, malt extracts and organic malts since 1876.

Jon McKinnon
Email: mckinnon - at


Six Pick

Saranac Selection from Upstate New York

! ! ! ! ! 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.

Last month I received a mixed case of Saranac beers from a Brews News reader from New York. These are brewed in Utica, New York, at the F.X. Matt Brewery, a family-owned regional brewer in business since 1853. These beers are interesting because while they have various style designations that Brews News readers will be familiar with, they are all very clean tasting, smooth and not overly heavy or sweet. They are a whole lot like good-quality mass-produced beers (they are all tightly filtered and not bottle conditioned) and my guess is that they are probably pasteurized. As such, they are sort of like Heineken or Grolsch or Yebisu, but with more of an American microbrew slant in terms of flavor. While hard-core beer enthusiasts might easily dismiss these beers, I believe, after tasting six varieties, that they are an interesting bridge between "normal" beer and the strong, heavy, big-flavored beers that many of us seek out. Yet I do note that many Brews News readers are regular drinkers of high-quality lagers like Yebisu, so I am sure they will find these beers worth trying.

Although the Saranac beers are not yet imported into Japan, there will be a selection available as part of the beer tasting held this Friday at YLS near the Yaesu Kita exit of Tokyo station. (This monthly event has been announced many times before in Brews News.) Limited amounts of all six beers reviewed below will be available. For details on the tasting, see the News section at the end.

!!!! Saranac Lager (New York, USA; 4.8% abv, all malt) Deep gold color, off-white head. Little hop aroma, some dry malt aroma. Sturdy malt structure and good, rich body. Honey-like flavors joined by faint spicy tones. Little bitterness at first, but it emerges as the minimal malt sweetness quickly fades, then slowly tapers off in a faintly bitter finish.

!!! Saranac Pale Ale, English-style (New York, USA; 5.5% abv, all malt) Bright golden amber, thin off-white head. Solid malt aroma with hope notes in the background. Somewhat thin body and minimal fruitiness, but very clean taste with some hop character coming forward. Hop bitterness is not strong, but lingers long.

!!! Saranac Adirondack Amber (New York, USA; 5.1% abv, all malt) Billed on the Saranac Web site as a "German amber lager" (would this mean a bock, a dunkel, or what?), this is a very easy going beer. Very bright bronze, light tan head. Rich malty aroma like dried apricots, very clean and smooth. Rather light body, firs some slightly juicy malt flavor, then followed by moderate hop bitterness, and a clean finish with some sweetness lingering for a short bit, followed by longer lingering hop bitterness. A nicely flavored session beer for lager drinkers who are looking for something more interesting.

!!! Saranac American-style India Pale Ale (New York, USA; 5.8% abv, all malt) Medium gold, dense snow-white head, faint hop aroma, initial bitter hop flavors on top of a rather thin body, but as it warms it develops a heavier taste, but hop definition is lacking compared to other IPAs in this style. Cascade hops are used exclusively in this beer.

!!!! Saranac Black Forest, Bavarian Schwartzbier lager (New York, USA; 5.2% abv, all malt) Quite an attractive beer. Very dark brown, near black, but with lovely red highlights when held up to strong light. Coarse tan head. Roasted malt aroma, like sweet black coffee. Very smooth initial mouthfeel, but quite mild, rather light bodied, and surprisingly dry, particularly in the finish.

!!!! Saranac Black & Tan (New York, USA; 5.1% abv, all malt) The label says this is a blend of their Irish Stout and an all-malt German-style Amber Lager. Dark deep reddish brown, sudsy tan head, complex malt aroma with faint hops in the background. Interesting sweet stout initial flavor is strong and lingering, with a good measure of dark roasted malt flavors bolstered by a sharp sweetness. But a fairly quick dry finish ends it soon, leaving lingering burnt caramel flavors and a touch of hop bitterness.

For technical details on these beers, including the types of malt, hops and yeast, go to products/ beer/ index.html


Spouting Off

Thoughts on the 2nd Tokyo Real Ale Festival

By Wayne Gabel

What ails me these days is the knowledge that I'm missing out on all of the beery diversity that my hophead friends back home take for granted. By virtue of residing in lager-loving Japan, I'm condemned to drinking slight variations on a single theme.

Most of the time, that is. The Good Beer Club's Tokyo Real Ale Festival, which took place March 20 and 21 at Bakushu Club Popeye in the capital's Ryogoku district, offered a such a diverse range of brews that my midlife beer crisis was resolved, if only for an afternoon. The event was reassuring proof that Japanese brewers can accomplish some amazing feats when they're freed from the obligation to try to please everyone.

Actually, just about any visit to Popeye provides that sort of reassurance. Boasting an unheard of (for this country, anyway) 40 taps, not to mention the three hand pumps, Popeye is in a league of its own when it comes to Japanese craft brews. But even Popeye doesn't have the muscle to do this sort of thing day in, day out. What makes the Tokyo Real Ale Festival so special is that it's the only time of year in this country when you can enjoy so many cask-conditioned ales in one place at one time. The 4,000-yen admission fee, which got festival-goers eight servings totaling two pints, might have seemed a tad expensive, but only if you were thinking only in terms of volume. Like so many things in life, you get what you pay for. If it's beer with bold flavors you're after, this festival definitely offers value for money.

I started off with Real Rye from Niigata Prefecture's Swan Lake Beer and moved on to Taiko Ale from Iki Iki in Toyama Prefecture. I also tried the cask-conditioned version of Iwate Kura's India Pale Ale, which I've been told is brewed exclusively for Popeye. It seemed to pack less punch than what I've enjoyed on other visits to the bar, but perhaps that's because my taste buds were simply overwhelmed by the intensely hoppy Centennial IPA from the Tokyo Beer Research Club, a group of homebrewers who have their creations made on a commercial scale at Chiba Prefecture's Loco Beer. That particular offering made me think the amateurs have a thing or two to teach the pros at the big beer companies. It also made me wish that cold water to cleanse the palate had been more readily available.

Ya-ho Brewing's 2003 Barleywine, conditioned in an English wooden barrel known as a pin, was a rare treat, as it's brewed but once a year. I opted to skip Ya-ho's Double-hop Yona Yona Real Ale, as I'd enjoyed it several nights earlier at Helmsdale, which regularly serves brews from the Nagano Prefecture brewery. Baird Brewing's Dark Sky Imperial Stout was a great choice to end the afternoon. I really like what Bryan Baird is doing down in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and I'm glad his beers are starting to pop up in Tokyo.

I wish I'd had a chance to sample all 16 beers on offer. Three hours was certainly sufficient to try everything, but I arrived late and several of the kegs were drained before I could get to them. No new ones were tapped, as the organizers had to make sure that there was an equal amount of beer for all three of the festival's sold-out sessions.

Fortunately - or unfortunately, if you were unable to snag a ticket - the Tokyo Real Ale Festival is increasingly well-known outside of beer geek circles. And that growing recognition presents some problems for the future.

If ease of access and a friendly and knowledgeable staff (not to mention those 40 taps) were the only criteria for a festival, then Popeye would be the perfect venue. Though not the organizer of this year's event, proprietor Tatsuo Aoki's passion for beer is positively infectious, and he deserves all the praise he gets for turning an ordinary izakaya into something extraordinary.

Size, however, really does matter - and that's why Popeye's intimacy will be a problem if this festival is to grow. The place seats 90, which might seem like a lot - until you try to navigate your way to the bar when lots of other people are bound for the same destination. Having a band perform immediately in front of the serving area didn't help matters.

Specialized though it is, I view the Tokyo Real Ale Festival as a "gateway" event that can also appeal to even casual beer fans. Preaching to the converted is no way to spread the word, so this event has to be able to accommodate more people. Reaching the mainstream is essential if the Good Beer Club and its events are to have any impact on Japan's drinking culture.

Since no one likes being turned away, I would recommend staging next year's festival in a larger venue and eliminating the three-hour limit. However, that doesn't mean Popeye should be left out of the picture. It's just better suited for events that attract fewer people. Given the emphasis its kitchen staff have been placing on recipes that incorporate beer, it would be a great place for a sit-down, multicourse Real Ale Dinner, in which dishes could be paired with the ales used to prepare them. If it were necessary to hold the festival at Popeye again, I'd suggest limiting the number of sessions that a person can attend to one.

In deciding what they want their festival to become, the members of the Good Beer Club would do well to consider the strengths and weakness of the nation's two largest beer events: the Great Japan Beer Festival and the Osaka International Beer Summit.

While the GJBF, with its all-you-can-drink admission policy, is the clear choice if you want to sample lots of different brews from all over the country and, increasingly, the world, it still appeals mainly to hard-core beer fans. The pay-as-you-go Osaka event exudes a party atmosphere that attracts all kinds, thanks to an outdoor venue that's open until late at night, food stalls run by area restaurants, and an eclectic array of live music and other entertainment that's seldom obtrusive. From the consumer's point of view, the only down side is that the number of stalls seems to decrease every year, even as the crowds grow.

It would be great to see a festival that not only combines the best aspects of those events, but also avoids the complaints made about them, especially their judged competitions. Frankly, I'd ditch the competitions altogether, and I'd nip any talk of pre-screening in the bud. Submitting the potential festival beers to a pre-screening might be a way to ensure a higher level of quality, but it could also lead to charges of charges of corruption and cronyism. So what if there are a few mediocre beers? Drinking the bad helps us appreciate the good all the more. Anyway, some people might not think they're bad. Different strokes for different folks. Let the drinker decide.

[Wayne Gabel was the author of Foaming At The Mouth in the now-defunct print edition of the Mainichi Daily News. Foaming At The Mouth was the only regular beer column ever published in an English-language newspaper in Japan.]



April 9th, Friday

Saranac beers will be joining several other Japanese microbrews at this month's Mini Microbrew Festival, to be held on April 9th, 8:00-10:30pm. at Yaesu Language School near the Yaesu Kita exit of Tokyo Station. A generous light buffet is also provided, with vegetable platters, cheese platters, bread platters and roast beef. Reservations are recommended. 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

Wednesday, April 14th

Belgian Beer Dinner on April 14th from 7 to 10 p.m. at Bois Cereste in Akasaka. This month's event will feature Belgian Witbiers, including the popular Hoegaarden White, along with Vlaamsch Wit, Blanch de Bruxelles, Titje Blanche, Blanch de Numur (an incredible beer), Grisette Blanch and Blanche des Honnelles.

Served with these white beers will be two other white specialties, white asparagus and white cheese. (Shouldn't Yamada-san have scheduled this event for March 14th?) The cost is Y7,000 per person, including beer and dinner. These events are held on the second Wednesday of every month. Reservations are necessary - phone Bois Cereste on weekday evenings at 03-3588-6292.

Monday, April 26th

Shitamachi Pub Crawl by the Good Beer Club is now being planned for April 26th from 7 pm at the following pubs:

1. Beer Station Ryogoku (at JR Ryogoku Station, 3623-5711) This beer hall differs from others in Tokyo in that some of the beer they serve is brewed on the premises.
2. Izakaya Genjiro (near Hikifune Station, Tobu Line, two stops from Asakusa, 3619-8441) A large selection of Japanese craft beer is featured here.
3. Sumida River Brewing Co. (Asakusa, in the Asahi Beer HQ complex, 5608-5144) This is a small brewpub operated by Asahi, and though the beers brewed here are radically different from Asahi's most famous brand, they are not called Super Wet.
4. The Warrior Celt (Okachimachi, near Ueno, 3836-8588) A broad range of U.K. beers are available here.

Show up at one or all of the pubs and look for the Good Beer Club sign, buy your own drink, and get to know other fans of good beer.

May 8-9, Saturday and Sunday

Great Japan Beer Festival 2004 in Osaka

Sample over 120 microbrewed beers at the Umeda Aura Hall, 10th floor tower, Tower West, Umeda Sky Building in Kita-ku. Sessions are from 1 to 6:30 p.m. each day, and admission is 3,200 yen, or 2,800 yen in advance.

Tickets can be ordered on-line from the Japan Craft Beer Association's Japanese-language Web site at user-cgi-bin/ gjbf/ ticket2004.htm

Tickets may also be purchased at Family Mart convenience stores (P-code 983-305) and at Lawson convenience stores (L-code 52155).

May 29-30, Saturday and Sunday

Belgian Beer Taste Fest at Bois Cereste in Akasaka. For details see the story at the top of this newsletter.

May 30th, Sunday

The Good Beer Club is planning real ale seminars and a bring-your-own-beer gathering for May 30th in Shinagawa. Mark your calendars - watch for details in updates on the GBC Web site at www. goodbeerclub. org

Jun 19-20, Saturday and Sunday

Great Japan Beer Festival 2004 in Tokyo

Sample over 120 microbrewed beers at Garden Hall in Yebisu Garden Place near Ebisu station in Tokyo. Saturday 2:30 to 6:30 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets for each session are 3,600 yen, or 3,200 yen in advance.

Tickets can be ordered on-line from the Japan Craft Beer Association's Japanese-language Web site at user-cgi-bin/ gjbf/ ticket2004.htm

Tickets may also be purchased at Family Mart convenience stores (P-code 983-306) and at Lawson convenience stores (L-code 31611).



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