Brews News Issue 51 - July/August 2004
Home >> Eating & Drinking in Tokyo >> Brews News
In this issue
Beer Here: Japanese Microbrew at the Hilton
Bar Beat: Fishmarket Taproom, Belg Aube, Les Hydropathes
Beer Talk: What's Brewing in Korea? by Phil Kelm
Six Pick: Big Brewery Beer from Japan
Spouting Off: Festival Roundup
News: Mini Microbrew Festivals Postponed
Ale Mail:

Beer Here

Japanese Microbrew at the Hilton

Through September 15th

The Hilton Hotel in Nishi-Shinjuku is offering a selection of eight different Japanese microbrews at their restaurants and bars:

1. Otaru Winery Helles Beer
2. Kaihinmaru Yoruno Uragiri Dark Beer
3. Nihonkai Yuhi Koshinohikari Lager Beer
4. Tama no Megumi bottle conditioned ale
5. Koedo Green Tea Lager
6. Umenishiki Ume Sparkling
7. Doppo Beer
8. Ishigakijima Weizen

Plus, Kirin Heartland 100% malt beer will be offered for those who prefer a good standard lager. For more details, phone the hotel at 3344-5111.


Bar Beat

Fishmarket Taproom

Numazu, Shizuoka

I recently took a little break from Tokyo and went down to spend the night in Numazu. It was July 2nd, and the Fishmarket Taproom was jumping with the great music of Code, a band that was previously based in the area, but now works out of Tokyo.

Keeping to small glasses, I managed to try all of the Baird Beers on tap, including the remarkable seasonal Natsumikan Ale. This is a highly aromatic and very tart beer with the uncanny aroma of natsumikan (a Japanese citrus fruit), right down to the bitter notes in the peel. The first sip grabs your tongue, but once you get into this beer you will be surprised at how refreshing and balanced it is. I also noted that the taste of the Rising Sun Pale Ale has shifted somewhat. Brewer Bryan Baird told me it was a matter of tweaking the beer each time it's brewed to obtain the most character while maintaining good balance. In any case, being able to enjoy all six of his regular brews at only 700 yen a pint is certainly worth the time it takes to get to the Taproom from Tokyo.

But that's only part of the story. The food there is just as great, and prices are at least 50% lower than what you would expect in Tokyo. Portions are generous, and spicing and seasoning is not timid. I particularly enjoyed the chicken salad and lemon herb potatoes - to me they tasted like good California home cooking.

I recommend arriving in Numazu in late morning on a Saturday or Sunday, and heading straight to the fishmarket area for a good sushi lunch from one of the scads of places within the few blocks adjacent to the dock. From there, it is only a short walk to the Taproom near the entrance of the fishmarket area.

Fishmarket Taproom
19-4 Senbon Minato-cho
Numazu-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture
Phone/Fax: 0559-63-2628
Weekdays 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Weekends and holidays: noon to 1 a.m.
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Belg Aube
Roppongi, Tokyo

This is a new Belgian food and beer joint on the scene, hidden away in a small corner of Roppongi. Although they claim to have 100 different beers, I think the number might be closer to 80. In any case, you're certain to find a Belgian brew to your liking. Beer prices are a bit higher than average, but the food prices are rather low and the location is perhaps welcome to those who find themselves in Roppongi with friends and need a bit of good beer to wash the experience down.

Belg Aube
7-9-2 Roppongi
Minato-ku, Tokyo
Phone 03-3403-1161
Open from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.
(to 11:30 p.m. on Mondays and holidays)
Closed Sundays

Les Hydropathes
Shibuya, Tokyo

This sleek Belgian Beer bar, located in the basement of Parco Part I, has turned up a few surprises recently in the form of very fresh draft beer from Belgium. These include light brown ale, a honey beer, and a sweet and aromatic fruit beer. The selection changes regularly, so there is likely to be something interesting when you drop by.

Les Hydropathes
B1 Parco Part I
15-1 Udagawa-cho
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Phone 03-5456-9123
Open daily 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. (to 11 p.m. on Sundays and holidays)

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.


Beer Talk

What's brewing in Korea?

by Phil Kelm

It was almost the final frontier for beer makers: Just over two years ago, South Korea lifted its ban on small scale brewing, allowing microbreweries to establish here at last. Oddly, the Korean micros that began operations just after the 2002 World Cup were not the first on the peninsula; North Korea had beaten the South to the punch, with one or two operational in its tourist hotels. I arrived from America to install and operate one of the first in Seoul. The owner is a Korean entrepreneur who had seen the concept in America.

Of course, beer (of a sort) already existed in Korea: the nation is home to two huge brewing companies, Oriental Brewery (OB), and Hite (formerly Chosun). These brewers churn out lifeless, watery American-style lagers - beers that offer as much character as a spam sandwich on white bread. The beverage of choice for most Korean drinkers is a 22% sweet potato liquor called "soju". This is a tasteless, vodka-like "head hammer" designed largely to intoxicate.

How, then, did Koreans react to their first taste of full-bodied, flavorful microbrews? Many were taken by surprise. Korean citizens have only been able to travel for pleasure since 1987, and there are pitifully few decent imported beers available, even at the largest of supermarkets. So this culture has had little experience with sipping a well-crafted beverage for the sheer enjoyment of taste.

But there was a precedent. Wine had paved the way for beer with many people now familiar with the major varietals. However, this raised a further problem for a brewer (myself) producing a range of world style beers: Just as the Korean stereotype of wine is that it must be from France to be "real wine," so too must beer be from Germany to be "real beer." Thus the overwhelming majority of the 60+ startups in Korea use German equipment, with German brewers (most on their first job), producing three (generally mediocre) styles: helles, dunkles, and weizen.

Fortunately there are a few brewers not straight-jacketed by the harsh mandate of ill-informed public preconception. I should declare my colors here: I brew a total of nine styles with seven on tap at any time. Our best sellers are an American style pale ale rich with Cascade aroma and flavor, and a Belgian Wit served naturally cloudy. We also have a nitrogenated Oatmeal Stout, English Ale, Belgian Brown, Czech Pilsner, German Weizen, Strong Belgian Ale, and a Doppel Maibock.

So what of the future? For the Korean microbrewery scene to prosper, I believe a number of issues should be addressed:

1) Taxes are too high. Taxes on imported malt are 275%, compounded by another 130% for finished beer. And now the government is threatening to require microbreweries to use "domestic malt" (Surprise, surprise: This is only made by the two mass-market breweries...)
2) Bottling and kegging must be allowed. (Surprise, surprise: This market segment is currently exclusive to the two mass market breweries...)
3) Mediocre beer in only three styles will never capture the imagination of Korean beer drinkers.
4) Pub owners must learn more about the product they purvey and cultivate diversity in the beer world.

But let me finish with a free advertisement. Next time you're in Seoul, stop by Platinum Microbrewery and introduce yourself. We are at subway line 2, Gangnam stop, just outside exit 8. All you need to do is follow your nose.

Cheers, Gungbae and Kampai!

Phillip Kelm - Brewer
Korea's Beer Ambassador
Platinum Microbrewery
Gangnam & Apkujeong


Six Pick

Big Brewer Japanese Beer

While the market seems to be dominated by ho-hum brews from the Big Four, there are several interesting beers worthy of attention, particularly in this hot summer weather.
! ! ! ! ! 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.

!!!! Kirin Hojun (5.5% abv, 100% malt, unfiltered, unpasteurized) Deep olden color, light tan head, aroma of juicy malt and fragrant hops, rich tangy flavor with minimal bitterness, through there is plenty of good hop aroma. Fine, smooth carbonation, a bit sweet and malty into the finish, leaving just a touch of lingering bitterness. Heavier in body than other Kirin beers, but remarkably smooth and drinkable. A cut above the usual "premium" beers. And, a beautiful label, too. This is one of those 'cold delivery' beers sold at 7-Eleven convenience stores, and bears a 60-day shelf life. Good job!

New Suntory Malts - You have probably seen this advertised, with four different variations in identical looking cans. Each variation comes from a different Suntory brewery, and uses a different source of pure spring water. Of course, it is still a mass produced lager, but a closer taste will reveal something better than Asahi Super Dry, Kirin Ichiban Shibori and even Sapporo Draft. Unfortunately, it was difficult finding all four in the same place, so they were tasted two at a time. Interestingly, all four were marginally different, and while Suntory claims that the only difference is in the water, a friend in the beer business tells me that it is common practice to slightly tweak recipes to suit regional tastes. (5% abv, 100% malt, unpasteurized) Medium yellow, off-white head, brisk carbonation, good malt flavor and hop bitterness, but a bit lacking in hop aroma. Here are the specific notes to each beer, from south to north (the order of my preference).

!!!! Kyushu Minami Aso version - Sharp, tangy and more richly flavored, with slightly higher acidity that gives it a little zip. Solid body, and somehow reminds me of how Kirin Lager tasted about 25 years ago.
!!!! Kyoto Nishiyama version - Slightly more bitterness than Tanzawa and Akagi versions, along with more fruitiness, though the finish is drier.
!!! Musashino Tanzawa version - Soft and smooth, more sweetness than the others, with a nice floral hop aroma.
!!! Tonegawa Akagi version - Sweet, less bitterness than the others, with a nice array of gentle malty flavors.

!!! Asahi Kiwami (5.5% abv, malt, hops, rice; unpasteurized) Yellow gold, sudsy white head. Malty aroma with bitter hop fragrance present. Rich, clean taste but unfortunately little distinctiveness, even after it warmed up slightly. Sufficient hop bitterness, but not enough aroma. This seems like a copy of Kirin's quite delicious Hojun, and wouldn't you know it, it is another one of those beers developed for 7-Eleven, and shipped chilled with a shelf life, this time 90 days. The deal with this brew is that it is made with carefully selected ingredients, such as "scarlet malt," German Hersbrucker hops, and the finest Japanese rice. Enough said?

!!! Kirin Honey Brown (5% abv, 25% malt, hops, barley, rice, cornstarch, sugars, honey) Dark gold, sudsy white head, malty sweet aroma with a very faint bitter hop fragrance. Solid honey flavor with sweet floral tones, a smooth mouthfeel, and no "cereal and cardboard" happo-shu weirdness. The fragrance of honey continues into the finish, with minimal bitterness. Certainly worth a try at 145 yen.

!! Sapporo Mugi 100% Namashibori (4% abv, malt, hops, barley, 106 calories per can) Of course it is 100% barley, but not all of it is MALTED barley, so that is why this is a happo-shu low-malt beer. Very pale yellow, thin white head. Very mild flavor, but no odd cereal or grainy tastes, or any sour flavors usually found in happo-shu. Fairly decent, with a clean and simple flavor.


Spouting Off

Too Much Time, Too Little Beer

The recent pair of beer festivals in June was fun, as usual. I particularly enjoyed meeting Brews News readers whom I only seem to see at these festivals. While the JBA and JCBA festivals are normally quite different in character, this year they had more in common than just being held on the same day. In both events, many booths ran out of beer in the early afternoon. Was it that the organizers didn't expect such large numbers of people? Or was it that the beer was limited so that people would resort to drinking even the less-than-acceptable brews that are a common part of these events?

At 2,000 yen with reservation, my choice was the JBA's 7th National Craft Beer festival held on Saturday, June 19th. The ticket for a plate of beer snacks dished up by the Tokyo Prince Hotel chefs was a nice touch, and the large selection from 55 brewers was greater than offered at the JCBA's Great Japan Beer Festival held at Yebisu Garden Place, though that event did have an impressive number of imported beers on tap and in bottles. Still, I think an event of this type should focus on Japanese craft beer, which seems to be getting better over the last few years.

In any case, at the prices charged, these events are pretty great. The only think we have left to hope for is that year's events will offer more beer of better quality.



Mini Microbrew Festivals at YLS near Tokyo Station

James Gibbs, the host of these casual microbrew events, is taking a break from holding them due to other commitments. He plans to restart this event sometime in the near future. Read Brews News for further details.



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