Beer & Chocolate Tasting
Mr. Fred Eckhardt, the dean of American beer writers, will be visiting Tokyo this month. Fred's first book, A Treatise on Lager Beer, published in 1969, was the first American homebrewing text and the first featuring all-malt brewing in the home. Since then he has become known as the 'Dean of American Beer Writers' and one of the world's foremost authorities on beer. In the past ten years, among Fred's many activities has been the introduction and development of the concept of Chocolate & Beer tastings.
A special Beer & Chocolate Tasting with Fred Eckhardt will be held on Saturday May 15 from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku, Tokyo. The event is sponsored by the Good Beer Club, and the cost is 4,000 yen, or 3,500 yen for members. Seven different beers will be tasted in order, each paired with a particular chocolate treat, with explanations given by Fred. The beers will all be premium, high-quality examples, ranging from pale ale to a dark, aged Belgian Trappist Ale at over 11% alcohol, with a total quantity of about one liter served. This event represents not only the chance to enjoy a good selection of beers, chocolate items and expert explanations by Fred, it will also be a good chance to meet Fred in person and perhaps join us for more beer afterward.
Since space is limited, those wishing to reserve for the event should e-mail me immediately at brewsnews at yahoo dot com
Dueling Beer Events?
On Saturday, June 19, there will be two major beer events held in Tokyo at roughly the same time. One is the 7th National Craft Beer Festival held by the Japan Brewer's Association, and the other is the Great Japan Beer Festival 2004 in Tokyo held by the Japan Craft Beer Association. Is it that these two organizations can't get together and plan their annual events on different days, or is it that one or both groups are deliberately competing? Fortunately, the JBCA is holding a second session of their event on Sunday the 20th, so it will be possible to attend both events, one on each day. Still, two big beer days in a row is not an ideal situation. Anyone else planning to take Monday the 21st off work?
The 7th National Craft Beer Festival
Saturday June 19, noon to 7 pm.
Tokyo Prince Hotel "Garden Island" in Shiba Koen, Tokyo.
Tickets are 2,000 yen in advance; 2,500 yen at the door.
The Japan Brewers Association, a group of small independent brewers, holds a beer event each year in the early summer. The beer is from small brewers around Japan, some on draft and some in bottles, and it's all-you-can-drink. This year the event will be in a new venue, the Garden Island in the Tokyo Prince Hotel near Tokyo Tower; the nearest station is Onarimon on the Toei Mita subway line. Participants will also receive a copy of the JBA's new "National Craft Beer Map." Reservations can be made online at www.beer.gr.jp/ (Japanese only), or by fax at 03-3797-0808. Fax reservations must include your name, number of people in your group, phone number and fax number or e-mail address. For more details, phone Sugahara-san or Takami-san at the Japan Brewer's Association office at 03-3797-0707 weekdays.
Huge amounts of beer were consumed at last year's Great Japan Beer Festival in Yebisu Garden Place.
Great Japan Beer Festival 2004 in Tokyo
Saturday June 19, 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Sunday June 20, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets for each session are 3,200 yen in advance; 3,600 yen at the door.
Sample over 120 microbrewed beers at Garden Hall in Yebisu Garden Place near Ebisu station in Tokyo. Samples are not limited, making it an all-you-can-drink event. This yearly event is quite popular with Brews News readers, and is a great place to catch up with fellow beer fans. Tickets can be ordered on-line from the Japan Craft Beer Association's Japanese-language Web site at http://cgi.beertaster.org/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).
Antwerpen in Nihonbashi
Antwerpen is run by Mari Komura and daughter Maki.
This is an elegant yet casual beer bar that specializes in Belgian beers, with a handful of great German and Czech beers to round out the selection. Run by Mari Komura and her daughter Makiko, it is an oasis of home-style friendliness in the business district on the east side of Tokyo Station. Service is low-key, which means if you are sitting at one of the tables in the spacious antique-bedecked room you'll probably have to go up to the counter to give your order. But this also means you won't be pushed for more drinks, and considering how strong Belgian beer can be, this may be a blessing. Beer is reasonably priced, typified by Pilsner Urquell at 600 yen, Hoegaarden White at 750 yen, Forbidden Fruit at 800 yen, Satan and de Konnick at 900 yen and Duvel at 1,000 yen. There is a small menu of sausages and sandwiches, but customers may also order take out - off the menu of the Chinese restaurant on the first floor of the building, or from the local Pizza-LA outlet. Just ask for the "demae" menus. Antwerpen is a short walk from the Mitsukoshi exit (B1) of Nihonbashi Station on the Ginza subway line, and about eight minutes from the Yaesu exit of JR Tokyo Station. It's on the fifth floor of a building; so look carefully for the sign. Note that Antwerpen is only open weekday evenings.
3-7-7 Nihonbashi 5th floor
Closed Weekends and national holidays.
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 May 22nd.
Ten Years After
(The following are notes that noted beer writer Fred Eckhardt was kind enough to share with Brews News. Thanks Fred!)
CLANDESTINE HOMEBREW JUDGING AND BEER AND CHOCOLATE TASTING
Tuesday, 25 November 1997
C-Line Beer House, Kobe Japan
by Fred Eckhardt
The evening began simple enough. Junko Saitoh (Beer Club of Japan, http://www.bcjkobe.com/english/index.htm ) picked me up at the hotel in a taxi for the short trip to C-Line Beer House, owned by Keisuke Yamaguchi and his mother. It is a tiny place located on the fifth floor of the INEX Building, somewhere in downtown Kobe. I met Keisuke in July at the Oregon Brewer's Festival, and again at GABF '97. The bar seats about 18 people or so, and is typical of a particular class of Japanese bars or izakaya. They had food either prepared there or brought in.
Junko's homebrewer group participated, with 28 members crowded into that small bar. I swear there was no way that place could accommodate 28 patrons, but there we were. This was a group of typical homebrewers, even by American standards. However, homebrewing is illegal in Japan, and it is fairly rare for Japanese to conscientiously break their laws, yet here they were. Each of them brewing beers that he (Junko, Mrs Yamaguchi, and another lady, were the only females in the group) was either very proud of, or felt in need of critiquing. The individual brewers were mostly (it seemed) professionals and salarymen, very intelligent (many spoke English), movers and shakers of Japan.
I don't usually hold court, that's Michael Jackson's job. Rather, I am a beer surfer; yet there I was holding forth, pontificating, and slurping merrily away. These beers, their beers, were more likely to be extract brews enhanced with grain, rather than all-grain beers (Japanese homes lack space for extensive brewing operations), but a couple of them were brewing in their business places such as restaurants, which allowed for more room. One fellow brought his well-made doburoku (farm sake), and another his well-made red wine. Several were into labels, and these were very well done. Three or four had brewed draft beers in small kegs (10 litres or so) with CO2 injection systems. Junko flitted about supervising all this and translating for me, she was definitely in command, and did a good job of that.
I sat there, like a king on his small throne, holding court as they lined up presenting their beers for my approval or critique. In a way this happens to me quite regularly, but it doesn't seem like I am holding court, since I usually wander about, and folks who wish me to sample their beers come up with the beer, and we talk about it. In this case I just sat there while they presented their beers and Junko translated my comments.
The beers were generally well done, perhaps not as aggressively brewed as Americans would do, but rather subdued in a more Japanese style of brewing. One fellow presented his well-made Irish ale, and Junko explained that his beer had always been bad, but this was his first batch of good stuff. Like most of the beers I tasted, this one was medium low gravity, at 1.040 OG, cleanly fermented and well made with no flaws, but also nothing to make it stand out. That seemed to be the pattern. I only tasted one barley wine, but also sampled a very well done Belgian style fruit brew.
A gentleman from Yamaguchi-ken (southwestern tip of Honshu, Japan's main island) presented an amber ale he was working on for a brew pub he was hoping to open. The beer was clean, but a bit thin, and I didn't think it would go all that well commercially (alcohol at about 3.5% abv), whereas most Japanese beers are somewhere in the 4.5-5.5% range. I felt the beer needed a bit more zing and recommended a 1.044 OG instead of the 1.040 he was using, to increase the alcohol to a little over 4%. He had a second experimental beer, better at 1.047, and a third with defects, probably lactic contamination. I recommended thorough sanitation with bleach (iodofor seemed not to be available to them) rather than the powders they had available.
Most of the beers, as I have noted above, were very well made. I found a very well done stout, but was overwhelmed with a very impressive extract IPA which had been augmented by some grains, and very well done especially regards the hopping.
After I had been tasting and discussing beers for nearly two hours, Junko informed me that I was to pick the "best" beer of the evening. I was a bit stunned, because I hadn't been "tasting" with that thought in mind, and so I hadn't noted my impressions particularly. I could only recall the few flawed beers, plus the amber, the oatmeal stout, the barleywine, and the IPA, and of those the IPA clearly stood out. It wasn't really fair and I told Junko, but she seemed to think it would be OK whatever brew I chose. It was the IPA then, and no doubt about it. The IPA had been brewed by Yasuo Yoshiuchi, director of G.Y.M. Dental Laboratory.
There was one fellow there who owned a French restaurant, I tried his beer, and it was pleasing. Junko told me he gives his homebrew away to guests at his restaurant. He had brought a curious dish to the tasting. It was a very well done French light cream cheese, served on a cracker, topped with a small sheet of seaweed. What a delightful snack that was. Seaweed lends a fascinating touch to some rather ordinary American and European dishes.
THE CHOCOLATE AND BEER TASTING - The chocolate and beer part of the tasting was last on the agenda, a cross cultural education for all of us.
First was Victory Festbier, from Victory brewery, Downington PA, a German Marzen-style lager, pale amber with rich malt. The beer was accompanied by Hershey's chocolate chip cookies, and a commercial brand of Japanese chocolate chip cookies, which were better than the Hershey's product. One of the best combinations of the evening. Excellent. Chocolate chip cookies may really be the chocolate to go with any beer.
Next, Boon Framboise from Belgium, which was served with Lindt's Swiss Raspberry-filled chocolate. Yamaguchi's bar specializes in Belgian beers, which are quite popular in Japan.
After that we had Belgian Chimay Red, served with Japanese commercial truffles, which are not quite as sweet as one might expect. The Japanese, for the most part, tend to prefer less assertive elements in their diet. The exception to that might be in their own sweet bean confections, which seem to my Western palate as excessively sweet.
For the finale, we were served a fine oatmeal stout from one of the members, who had made a small keg with 8.5-liters of the beer. It was served with Liebender Ice Cream made in Kobe.
Everyone there seemed to appreciate what was happening, but they were also being very polite. It was difficult to tell whether this cross-cultural venture was 100% successful, and I kept wondering which beer would go best with Japanese sweet bean monju.
A wide array of beer from Japan
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.
Divine Vamp III IBA (India Black Ale) produced by Popeye & Hoso-oka, brewed by Baird Brewing Company (no data available) Intensely dense black, creamy thin tan head. Distinctively chocolate aroma that was nearly overpowered by the pungent "raw and resiny" aroma of fresh hops. At first sip, the hops take over and the flavor is extremely fresh. The dark roasty flavors then kick in, providing an interesting background for still more hop flavor. By this time, you may not be sure whether this is a beer or some sort of pornographic display of naked hops and malt getting it on in the pint glass. However, the malt profile, while complex, is very clean tasting and not at all heavy or cloying. Overall, this is clearly a new style of beer, and an unlikely combination of a lot of dark malt and a whole lot of hops in surprisingly superb balance. The roastiness is not as dark, intense and flinty as, say, Guinness. Rather, it is more reminiscent of a very strong cup of medium-roast coffee - rich, but not blackish-bitter. It is brilliantly executed, but radically different. While only a limited quantity was made, brewer Bryan Baird says he will be brewing another batch soon, and is likely to make it a semi-regular offering.
Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale (7% abv, 100% malt, aged in cedar casks) Hazy orange amber, tan creamy head. Looks VERY Belgian. Very intense fresh Japanese cedar aroma, which overpowers the aromas, and subsequently the flavors, of the malt and hops. Strongly brisk carbonation, followed by more wood flavor, and oh, way in the back, there are malt and hops. Apart from the excessive wood flavor imparted by the cedar casks, the beer is rather a lot like Orval. However, so thoroughly overwhelming is the cedar flavor that one can only think of those little square wooden sake cups called masu. I was told that the beer was created for the U.S. market, and now it all makes sense - some sort of deliberate "Japanese" flavor was desired. Not surprisingly, like so much sushi served in America that is thoroughly hammered by excessive levels of wasabi and jalapeno mayo and various chili sauces, this beer is practically obliterated by the wooden sake box flavor. Likely, it will be considered a good match in the States. I recommend that on a subsequent attempt that they crank down the cedar flavor, and put in some darker malt such as caramel or chocolate malt.
Asahi Jukusen (5.5%, malt, hops, rice, starch) Bright clear yellow, snow-white short-lived sudsy head. Faint malt aroma, with fruity highlights, but lacking in hop aroma. Solid malt mouthfeel, backed by hop bitterness. Seems like a full-bodied premium beer, but suffers from Asahi's signature hopping style which is low on aroma hops and high on bittering hops. Still, this is much better beer than Super Dry, so Asahi deserves credit.
Asahi Super Malt (3.5% abv, 100% malt) Bright clear yellow, short-lived head. Good malty aroma, hops in the background. Nice balance, easy drinking, good solid flavors, but nothing out of the ordinary. Comparatively light-bodied, but the rather full flavor creates the sensation that this beer is heavier than it really is. Surprisingly, this beer is slightly better than Asahi's premium Jukusen product reviewed above. Recommended for Yebisu and Heartland drinkers to try and compare.
Asahi Honnama red label (5.5% abv, 25% malt, hops, barley extract, starch, sugars)
Asahi Honnama Off Time green label (4.5% abv, 25% malt, hops, barley extract, starch, sugars)
At a recent beer tasting, a Brews News reader was chuckling about Asahi's new Off Time version of their Honnama happo-shu being advertised as "40% less bitter." Since the original is a very light brew with very little bitterness (and flavor), it seemed to both of us an impossibility to make a version 40% less bitter. So, what the heck, I thought I'd taste them side by side. First of all, they both look identical. Pale, very clear yellow, white sudsy head. Honnama has some beer aroma, mostly from hops, while the Honnama Off Time has practically no aroma. Original Honnama has some beer-like flavor, while Honnama Off Time has so little bitterness that only the grainy sourness characteristic of happo-shu comes through. By comparison, original Honnama comes off as almost a beer, while Honnama Off Time has flavors so dim that after a few sips you may be tempted to request that "the last person to leave this beer, please turn off the lights."
Crawling and Begging for a Decent Beer
The recent Shitamachi Pub Crawl on April 26th sponsored by the Good Beer Club really made me realize how far Tokyo, or Japan for that matter, has to go in establishing generally recognized standards for good beer.
The event also made me realize how spoiled I am when it comes to getting a good beer, as a habitual patron of Tokyo's best places. These include Beer Club Popeye for Japan's finest selection of craft beer, Bois Cereste for what is easily Asia's best selection of top quality Belgian ales, and other stops like Aldgate, Binimaru, Belgo, Frigo, German Farm Grill, Helmsdale, Kura Kura, Super Deluxe, TY Harbor and Zum Einhorn, all of which have at least one beer (but usually many more) worth the trip.
Since the theme was "Shitamachi" there were five pubs on the route. Since I'd been meaning to go to the most distant, Genjiro, since reading about it in one of Wayne Gabel's beer columns years ago, it was my first stop. Genjiro is a typical shitamachi izakaya with a large selection (about 50, but varies) of bottled 'ji-beer' from around Japan. The owner takes pride in the fact that he stocks beer that is unavailable anywhere else in Tokyo. After looking at the menu, I easily understood why. Most are brands with less-than-stellar reputations, brands that Beer Club Popeye and other places would refuse. The first beer I had was a "light alt" from Niigata which was custom bottled for the pub, bearing the Genjiro name. It was thin, sour, and had definitely gone bad. Although the label said the beer would be best by six months after the Feb. 16th production date, it had already gone off. Even at 650 yen for 500 ml, it was not worth it. To be fair, the next beer I ordered, a Forestpia Bock from Kobe on draft, was in decent shape with no obvious defects, but merely acceptable. As I was leaving, the owner was in the middle of a long explanation about how wonderful a certain wasabi beer was.
My next stop was the Sumidagawa Brewing Company, operated by Asahi Beer, and on the premises of their headquarters across the river from Asakusa, under the shadow of the giant golden, er, flame. A Good Beer Club member had told me they had changed brewers a year or so back, and that the beer was quite good now, so I put them on my list of places to visit. Soon after arriving at Asakusa station, I was fortunate to run into Jonathan, a Brews News reader, by chance. As he and I hoofed across the bridge, I told him I'd heard the beer there was quite good now. We got there, each ordered a sampler, and I was, to put it politely, underwhelmed. There were three beers brewed there on tap; a weizen, an alt, and a special beer, which was Blood Orange Ale. All three had practically no aroma, were served unusually cold, and were thoroughly unexceptional by any standard. Even when they warmed, there were no glaring defects, but the beers were bland, under-hopped, and all had very dry finishes. When I looked over at the bar and saw that the tap for Asahi Super Dry beer was larger and more prominent than the taps for the beers brewed on premise, I was convinced that either Asahi still doesn't get it with this kind of beer, or that they would rather people not develop a taste for craft beer, and continue to down Super Dry in increasing quantities. What was particularly disappointing was that a fellow Good Beer Club member would recommend these beers.
From there we went to Ryogoku Beer Station, another brewpub operated by a joint venture between Sapporo Beer and New Tokyo Restaurants. That night they had just unveiled their Noble Pilsner seasonal beer, and it also proved to be a disappointment. The beer hadn't been given enough lagering time, and was still "green" and unsettled, making it unusually cloudy for a pils. The flavors were undeveloped and out of focus, and the hopping was timid. Had they left it age in the cold tanks for another three to six weeks, the beer could have been good. As a freebie to the GBC pub crawlers, the Beer Station did bring out several complementary pitchers of the seasonal they had just finished serving the day before, which was some sort of murky brown lager that was tired and lacking in flavor.
So far, three pubs visited and only one half-decent beer, the bock at Genjiro. That's when Jonathan and I decided to walk over to Beer Club Popeye. There we had glorious pints of full-flavored finely balanced Baird Beer, a bit of five-year aged imperial stout from the now-defunct Komi Brewery in Nagoya, and a pint of Swan Lake Amber from Niigata. The difference in beer quality at Popeye was astonishing, and this is because owner Aoki-san is highly knowledgeable and uncompromising.
The evening left me with the distinct impression that places serving poor-to-mediocre beer vastly outnumber the places in Tokyo that are well-managed enough to serve consistently good beer. It also left me with the impression that places in Japan consistently brewing good, honest and decent craft beer (Baird, Yona Yona, and a few others) are outnumbered by breweries spewing out suds that range from mediocre to downright undrinkable.) While it is a good cause to want to promote growth in the microbrewing industry here, and do everything possible to encourage those companies now brewing to work hard to upgrade the quality of their beer, my heart tells me to put all of my support into the few brewers and bars that are already doing the best job now.
As Popeye, Baird, and Yona Yona get more business, hopefully the bars and breweries that lag in quality will eventually take notice. In the meantime, I'll spend my beer money on the great beers and great places to drink them that already exist. Life is too short to do otherwise.
A Brews News reader reports that a limited quantity of hard-to-find Gouden Carolus Ambrio, brewed with coriander and bitter orange peel, is now available for 490 yen at National Azabu Supermarket in Hiroo. Mark also reports that a number of other interesting beers are now in their selection. The store is located a short walk from Hiroo station on the Hibiya subway line. 4-5-2 Minami Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-3442-3186.
Baird Beer in bottles is now available at Belgo Belgian Beer specialty bar in Shibuya, Tokyo. All six varieties are available, and are priced at 1,000 yen, which is less than most of the Belgian beers they have in stock. Best of all, the beers are not over-chilled. The Shimaguni Stout I had was so exceptional the glass was empty before I realized it. Belgo, 3-18-7 Shibuya B1, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-3409-4442. http://www.flex-inter.co.jp/beer/index_en.html
For more information on Baird Beers, and to purchase them on line, go to www.bairdbeer.com
Wednesday, May 12th
Belgian Beer Dinner from 7 to 10 p.m. at Bois Cereste in Akasaka. This month's event will feature Saison beers. The cost is Y7,350 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.
May 29-30, Saturday and Sunday
Belgian Beer Taste Fest at Bois Cereste in Akasaka
A variety of Belgian Beer will be served in small 150 ml portions during this weekend festival, held at one of Tokyo's nicest Belgian beer specialty bars. 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. 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, or about five regular bottles worth, which is quite a lot considering its strength. The price works out to about 700 yen per bottle, which is far lower than the going price in Tokyo's Belgian beer bars. Coupons may also be used to purchase light food items, and extra coupons will also be sold. Each session is limited to 50 people, so it is advisable to reserve early. 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.
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 - details are now on the GBC Web site at www.goodbeerclub.org
June 19, Saturday
The 7th National Craft Beer Festival in Tokyo
(see above article)
June 19-20, Saturday and Sunday
Great Japan Beer Festival 2004 in Tokyo
(see above article)
Home Brewing Equipment
Finally decided to take a break from home brewing, and have a lot of equipment for sale. Large 20-liter glass carboy, 25-liter stainless steel pot with lid, plastic mash tun, miscellaneous doo-dads and more. Buy it as a lot for a great low price. Also, many boxes of clean bottles (glass and ceramic) are free for the taking, whether or not you buy anything. Phone Bryan at 080-3421-6654 or e-mail brewsnews at yahoo dot com .
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