Brews News #52
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Brews News #52

Beer Here

World Craft Beer Festival

September 18th & 19th 1 pm to 8 pm

Ikebukuro Sunshine City - Bunka Kaikan 3F Hall C
Tickets: 3,200 yen in advance, 3,800 yen at the door
Sponsor: Nippon Broadcasting
Support: Good Beer Club, Japan Craft Beer Association
Cooperation: Beer Club Popeye, Yaho Brewing Company (Yona Yona Ale), Kiuchi Shuzo (Hitachino Nest Beer), Seiwa, Mokuya, Toshin-Brussels

By Toshi Ishii

This is the first World Craft Beer Festival event, sponsored by Nippon Broadcasting (AM 1242), and will offer some 100 kinds of beer on draught, including 10 real ales from Japanese microbreweries, and some import beers from Belgium and the USA. Some 20 Japanese microbreweries will be represented at the event, and all beers will be served through taps or hand pumps only. The admission price gets you all the beer you can drink (though those who are unable to remain standing may be asked to leave). Some types of beer may run out, so go early to avoid disappointment.

Also of note will be the appearance of nine beers that have won awards at the World Beer Cup. They are Hitachino Nest White Ale, Nasu Kogen Scottish Ale, Swan Lake Amber and Porter, Allagash White (Maine USA), Blue Point Toasted Lager and ESB (New York USA), Sierra Nevada Stout (California USA), and Victory Hop Devil (Pennsylvania USA). Presumably, those who show up early have a chance at tasting these beers before they run out.

The event will also be a chance to meet key people in Japan's beer scene, such as Bryan Baird, who will be attending on Saturday, and Phred Kaufman of Ezo Beer, who plans to be there both days. There will also be retail booths selling beer in bottles and cans for take-away or home delivery.

Aoki-san of Popeye and I have organized all the volunteers, who are mostly members of the Good Beer Club. The volunteers will wear uniforms, sort of like a bartender's outfit, when serving tap beers. I will be in charge of all the handpumps dispensing real ale.

While at normal beer festivals each participating brewery has a booth, at this festival there will only be four booths, each for styles of beer from different countries: American, Belgian, British and German. For example, the American booth will feature American-style beers from Japanese microbreweries, such as Swan Lake Porter, Taiko Ale and Yona Yona Ale.

Tickets may be purchased in advance at Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku, Beer House Kura Kura in Shimokitazawa, and at 7-Eleven, Family Mart, Lawson, and Sankus convenience stores. For more details, go to www.wcbf.jp or phone 0180-99-3544 (24 hours, in Japanese).

Yokohama Oktoberfest 2004

October 2 through 11, 11 am to 9 pm

Aka-Renga Soko (Red Brick Warehouses) Event Plaza, Yokohama
Pre-Event on Friday, 1 October, 6 - 9 pm
Daily from Saturday, 2 October through Monday, 11 October, 11 am - 9 pm
Located five minutes from Minato-Mirai station or Bashamichi station on the Minato-Mirai Line (direct from Shibuya) or ten minutes from JR Sakuragi-cho station. For more information, phone the Okotoberfest Organizing Committee at 045-682-0021 or go to www.yokohama-akarenga.jp/event

By Glenn Scoggins

Following the success of last year's inaugural event, an expanded Oktoberfest is in the works, taking advantage of a picturesque location at Yokohama's Taisho-vintage Red Brick Warehouses (Aka-Renga Soko). The event has been lengthened from four to ten days, and last year's attendance of 325,000 thirsty drinkers (who collectively quaffed 13,000 liters of beer) encouraged the organizers to add greater seating capacity as well. In addition to a giant nine-meter high tent (imported from Germany, naturally) seating 340 inside, an equal number can be accommodated at long tables outside, with a view of Yokohama's harbor and the dramatic skyline of the Minato-Mirai area. Three German beers will be on tap (and available for purchase at stalls that also sell other German products), along with Japanese beer and a full menu of German favorites.

Live music and other entertainment are also planned, to enhance the festive Bavarian atmosphere, following last year's crowd-pleasing German bands. There is no admission charge, but expect long lines on a warm weekend afternoon. Brews News readers with flexible schedules may want to take advantage of the 11:00 am opening time for an early start to a leisurely weekday lunch - but why not get the full Munich experience by jostling shoulder-to-shoulder with like-minded drinkers under the tent or the evening sky? October promises glorious outdoor weather, and how better to enjoy it?

With the opening of the Minato-Mirai subway line, Yokohama has never been easier to reach, and you can combine your Oktoberfest with other events during the autumn holiday weekend of 9-10 October: World Festa Yokohama in Yamashita Park (with food, drink, music, and dance from over 100 countries, including ever-popular Lebanese belly-dancing) and Jazz Promenade Yokohama (featuring world-class jazz in the city where it was introduced to Japan, at dozens of indoor venues and outdoor street corner performances).

Bar Beat


Summer in Sapporo

By Glenn Scoggins

The oppressive July heat had me dreaming of cool breezes and cold beers. And where better to enjoy both than in Sapporo? It's the capital of that other island country, where beer is the national drink and the eagerly-anticipated summer is enjoyed to its fullest. So I escaped Tokyo's record heat wave on a flight north, and found the mercury topping 32C in Hokkaido as well, which was a near-record but, with lower humidity, made for ideal outdoor drinking conditions, especially during the long sub-Arctic twilights.

The enlightened Sapporo city government sets aside prime downtown real estate, in the form of the 16-block Odori Koen, for a month-long summer festival in July and August, and one of the highlights is the three-week Natsu Matsuri Beer Garden in the grassy squares overlooked by fountains and statues, often overflowing into the nearby cafes and restaurants near the park. Asahi, Kirin, and Suntory each have their own turf for beer, sake, whiskey, soft drinks and mounds of food, but double the space is devoted to local legend Sapporo Beer, in business since 1876. (There is also one block for overseas beers, including all the usual suspects.)

Sadly, the block set aside for Hokkaido jibiiru, which until 2002 featured 15 small breweries from Hakodate, Furano, Obihiro, and the like, has been discontinued, but the well-run Otaru Beer has set up shop directly under the NHK broadcast tower that anchors the eastern end of the park, with weizen, pilsner, and dunkel on tap and good German food. The fun started at noon every day (until 10 August) and allegedly closed at 10 pm.

So what's a drinker to do after the Odori Natsu Matsuri finishes? Head for Susukino, entertainment capital of the frozen north! There's a bar for every drinker, with food based on delicious island ingredients, testimony to the priority the energetic "Dosanko" locals place on the pleasures of the palate and the gullet.

Once you've wound your way through the bright neon of the biggest entertainment area north of Tokyo to the more subdued streets near Nakajima Park at the southern end of Susukino, you are approaching a legendary Hokkaido nightspot: Mugishutei, run by the unforgettable Phred Kaufman. As you descend the stairs into this unprepossessing basement, its cluttered interior does not prepare you for the virtual epicenter of Hokkaido drinking.

Phred, originally from Los Angeles and a veteran resident of Japan for nearly 30 years, opened the bar in 1980, long before craft beer was dreamed of and when the most exotic brew in Sapporo was Miller High Life (still emblazoned on the stairway sign). Since then, this puckish raconteur with the Santa Claus beard (put to good use at Christmas when he delivers presents to local orphanages) has introduced over hundreds of beers into Japan and currently has close to 300 on the menu, the largest variety in the archipelago. (As a new sideline, Mugishutei features fifty brands of tequila as well.)

As the exclusive importer into Japan of Rogue Ales from Newport, Oregon, Phred has educated Japanese and foreign tastebuds with Shakespeare Stout and Rogue Golden Ale, including re-packaging Rogue's most interesting products with locally-designed labels under his own Ezo Beer label. Shakespeare is known in Japan as Higuma Koi Bakushu (Brown Bear Stout), for example, while Rogue's rauchbier is appropriately re-named Noboribetsu Jigoku-dani (Valley of Hell) Ale. Phred has also created many original beers that are brewed under his direction by Rogue Ales.

Some of these off-beat brews include a Hascup beer, featuring the sweet berry grown in Chitose, as well as a minty Hakka beer from Kitami (both towns in Hokkaido). In all, Mugishutei has twelve Ezo Beer brands alongside its Rogue labels. The stand-out has got to be Namara Nigai (Brutal Bitter), a rich, full-bodied bitter with a generous dose of hops. For those seeking other drinking pleasures, Phred has recently begun importing Belgian and Scottish beers, the latter including ales made from gooseberry, heather, and seaweed. Phred's Black Soba Ale is now available in a special keg at Mugishutei but is also the flavor of the month at the Rogue brewpub in Portland.

At present Mugishutei has a single tap, with the beer on draft changing as the tank expires, and all the other beers are kept in coolers where customers can inspect and choose their own. Phred plans to expand both, along with other improvements in the eccentric and rather dilapidated interior of the bar, in time for its 25th anniversary next year. The visitor's casual gaze is drawn first to the more than 5,000 beer cans perched precariously on wall-side shelves (sort of like your college dorm collection if you had never graduated); then you notice the burlap bags sagging from the ceiling and adding to the claustrophobic feeling under the counter stools; and then you realize with some relief that there is a perfectly normal ventilator shaft running the length of one wall-but that will soon be covered with several thousand beer caps, courtesy of students from a local art college.

The battered foosball table takes up space that could be used for more tables, as does the pinball machine - but why cram in more people at the expense of the bar's dusty character and moldy tradition? Mughishutei is a local legend for what it is but also for what it isn't: a spotless, soulless, neon-lit chain pub. The same can be said about Phred, the unelected mayor of Susukino, who is known by enthusiasts of good beer and good times the length of the country. (When asked his favorite phrase, Phred responded brightly, "Would you like a beer?") His infectious personality, his impish inventiveness, and his tireless (and competitive) promotion of Rogue and Ezo beers make him a unique character in Japanese beer circles.

After Mugishutei, any other drinking place would be an anti-climax. But just a quick stumble away is a total change of pace, with high-voltage energy and friendly enthusiasm. Basil Basil features a young and spirited staff with equally lively drinkers, drawing you in through the street-level windows. Seven taps dispense Guinness, Kilkenny, Hoegaarden, Yebisu (nama and black), Edelpils, and Sapporo Classic, with over fifty other beers from Europe and North America (including Rogue _Mocha Porter and Ezo's Namara Nigai). The food menu is extensive, with best sellers like Genghis Khan mutton, sausages, fried oysters, and various pastas and pizzas. The bar is a local darts hangout and has its own soccer team. The devotion of the six-man staff, led by Takashi Abe and his wife Shiori, is shown by their appearance at the Real Ale Festival in March - on a day-trip to Tokyo and back.

You've had a good summer day in Sapporo, from the sunshine of Odori Park to the dark alleys of Lower Susukino. But eventually you've got to leave, so you head to Sapporo JR Station to catch the airport train. What's that - just one more drink? You're in luck, at almost any time of the day. One (underground) block from the station is Paul's Cafe, a Belgian restaurant-bar opened last December by Paul and Walter De Conninck, two brothers from Antwerp, featuring mouth-watering chicken (eleven menu items) and over thirty Belgian beers, including the stalwarts Leffe Blond and Hoegaarden Witbier, both on tap, and Orval, Westmalle (dubbel and tripel), Duvel, and three types of De Konninck from Antwerp. Prices are lower than in Tokyo, averaging about Y800 per glass, with 300 ml of Hoegaarden at Y680, and none over Y1000. Paul's Cafe is convenient in more than location: it opens at 7:30 on weekday mornings, just right for a hair of the dog.

Sapporo is a drinker's paradise: not just for beer enthusiasts, but for lovers of sake and wine, and not just in the summer. But that's another story...

Beer Inn Mugishutei
B1, Onda Bldg.
Minami 9-jo, Nishi 5-chome
Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi
Hokkaido 064-0809
www.ezo-beer.com/mugi
011-512-4774
Sapporo Nanboku Subway Line: Nakajima Koen station, 5 minutes walk
Open 7:00 pm to 3:00 am daily

Beer Bar Basil Basil
Minami 8-jo, Nishi 5-chome
Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi
Hokkaido 064-0808
(opposite the Excel Hotel Tokyu)
www.members.jcom.home.ne.jp/basilbasil
011-561-3533
Sapporo Nanboku Subway line: Nakajima Koen station, 5 minutes walk
Open 6:00 pm to 3:00 am daily

Paul's Cafe
B1, Sumitomo Seimei Sapporo Bldg.
Kita 5-jo, Nishi 5-chome
Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi
Hokkaido 060-0005
(under the Century Royal Hotel)
www.mnc.to/~pauls
011-231-7320
Sapporo JR and Subway lines: Sapporo station, 5 minutes walk
Open 7:30 am to 11:00 pm weekdays
Open 11:00 am to 11:00 pm weekends and holidays

Beer Talk

Brewing Up a Recipe for Success

An Interview with Bryan Baird

As the craft brewing industry in Japan enters its second decade, confidence is still wanting. While most of Japan's small breweries still make beer of mediocre quality compared to craft beers from Europe and North America, the brews from Baird Beer of Shizuoka are of outstanding quality by international standards, and have fast become recognized by Japanese craft beer enthusiasts as some of the best now being produced in Japan. Interestingly, the founder and brewmaster is an American, Bryan Baird. I interviewed him in June for an article in Metropolis magazine in July. Here is the full text of that interview.
- Bryan Harrell

Q: What gave you the impression that you could succeed in commercial brewing in Japan? Why didn't you try to get your business going in the U.S.?

BB: I never thought of launching this craft brewing business in the U.S. I've been a long-time student of Japan, and have lived here a while. My primary motivation, before beer even, was to create a business endeavor in Japan. So, pursuing craft brewing in Japan is how I can marry two of my great life passions -- characterful beer and Japanese culture.

I believe there is real and substantial potential for success in craft brewing here, with some palpable advantages. There are wonderful demographics. Japan is a well-educated and affluent society with a huge population in a small area. The social environment is also favorable because there is a great reverence for craftsmanship, and no psuedo-moral demonization of alcohol in Japanese society.

Finally, believe it or not, Japan has a fairly relaxed and uncomplicated legal structure regarding alcoholic beverage production. Specifically, there are no restrictions on shipping, distribution and sales between prefectures, and no limitations on the ability to both manufacture and retail beer. In addition, there are no complicated restrictions on Internet sales of beer, making it easier for an operation on my scale.

Q: What are some advantages and disadvantages to being located in Numazu? Wouldn't Tokyo, or someplace near it, give you better access to huge markets?

BB: Numazu, as a regional city in what I like to think of as the Japanese hinterland, poses great sales challenges for us. The people of Shizuoka prefecture tend to be quite middle-of-the-road, and the area is known as a test market for the products of industrial manufacturers. Our product, Baird Beer, is extremely flavorful and distinct and anything but middle-of-the-road. So far, we haven't exactly set the Numazu market on fire.

On the other hand, Numazu is not far from Tokyo. This makes it easy for beer enthusiasts to visit us on the weekends, while making it very easy and cost-effective for us to ship and sell Baird Beer in the Tokyo area. As a brewery location, Numazu is outstanding because of its low costs of living and doing business, superb water and proximity to major population centers. For subsequent pub locations, we are focused on Tokyo because of the general sophistication of consumers there.

Q: Most all microbreweries in Japan are having difficulties of all kinds. What do you consider the large, primary mistakes most operations have made?

BB: Craft brewing - ji-biiru - as an industry in Japan is in very poor condition. One main reason is excessive capital expenditure and high operating costs. They have to sell a lot of beer to make any profit. Another significant reason, to be frank, is poor to mediocre beer. The underlying cause of this is because many craft brewers themselves have insufficient passion and regard for beer.

The industry in the U.S. was forged largely by passionate beer enthusiasts who started on a very small scale. But in Japan, the industry has been spearheaded mainly by corporations spending hundreds of millions of yen without clear convictions regarding the character of their beer. In most cases, the aim of these 'craft brewing' companies has nothing to do with beer at all. Rather, it has been such things as bolstering regional tourism, or revitalizing dormant economic areas, or diversifying away from stagnant core businesses. Unfortunately, if the craft brewers themselves do not focus laser-like on the goal of superb, characterful beer, then their breweries rarely prove successful at accomplishing any of these other goals.

Q: So what approach do you take to brew a successful product?

BB: Craft beer, to me, means beer of character. My own equation for this when I create a new beer is that character is the sum of balance and complexity. This is a simple equation but, as with most simple things, it is easier to said than done.

That said, I work toward this goal by solid commitment to three things: the best ingredients, natural carbonation, and appropriate temperature. I use ingredients that are as flavorful and unprocessed as possible. This means exclusively whole flower hops and only floor-malted barley as a base malt. All of my beer is unfiltered, and naturally carbonated through conditioning in the keg or bottle. Finally, I store and serve the beer at the appropriate temperature. At our own Taproom, we are fanatical about refrigerating kegs and dispensing only at cool, not cold, temperatures. To us, this means 8 - 12 degrees C. We will not sell Baird Beer in kegs to bars that do not agree to refrigerate the product. In Japan, most bars cannot do this because of limited refrigeration capability. However, we can get them to refrigerate our bottled beer, so once concern is that they don't over-chill it.

Q: What do you envision for the future?

BB: Sayuri, my wife and chief business partner, and I had a long talk way back and decided we would build our business while also building a large family. We have just had our fourth daughter, and are now finished building the family. While balancing family and business has been harder than we ever expected, we would have not changed a single thing. As for the business, we plan to expand our beer production in tandem with opening more company-operated Taprooms.

For more information about Baird Beer, and to order for home delivery, go to www.bairdbeer.com

Six Pick

This feature is on vacation.

WANTED - People to review six interesting beers, and perhaps also take a photo of the empty bottles. If you are game, please write to brewsnews at yahoo dot com It's a tough job, but somebody has to drink 'em.

Spouting Off

Tokyo Beer Festivals - More and Better

Back in June we had dueling beer festivals. Now, just three months later, another new beer event is upon us, the World Craft Beer Festival next week in Ikebukuro. This newest of craft beer festivals is sponsored by a large organization, Nippon Broadcasting, which is certainly not in the beer business. This is a good sign that craft beer is finally of interest to the mainstream. Another good sign about this event is the way the beers are organized - by nationality, which seems to me an attempt at getting people to understand where these beers come from.

A look through the web site (www.wcbf.jp) shows a greater sophistication in terms of beer knowledge and presentation, while a look through the planning document, which was sent to me by a Good Beer Club director, shows even more savvy about craft beer. It is not as though a bunch of beer enthusiasts are finally planning a festival; rather, it seems that some ordinary event planners went to the trouble to educate themselves about beer, and then involve some of the best brewers, beer distributors, writers and other enthusiasts in Japan. While I will be out of the country and unable to attend this event, it certainly looks to be one worth checking out.

If you attend, would you please send me your comments and opinions of the event? And while you're there, have one for me. - Bryan Harrell

News

Baird Beer Announces "Public House Bitter" Seasonal Ale

Now pouring at Baird Beer's Fishmarket Taproom in Numazu, Shizuoka is their latest seasonal, Public House Bitter. According to Bryan Baird, this brew is an "ode to British ale brewing (and consuming) tradition." The term "bitter" dates from a time when most English breweries produced two basic types of everyday ale - a Mild and a Bitter. Whereas a Mild is a relatively sweet beer, a Bitter denotes a drier brew, although not necessarily bitter in flavor.

The dryness, or bitterness, derives from the emphasis on hops in the flavor profile. Baird Public House Bitter is crafted with traditional floor-malted English Marris Otter barley and generous dosages of English East Kent Golding whole flower hops. According to Baird, it is "a sparkling, translucent copper, with a soft fruity-floral aroma. It has a sprightly and tangy mouthfeel, with a dry and cleansingly bitter finish. With only 3.8% alcohol, this is a beer that can be drunk in quantity without the onset of serious inebriation."

Tanaka-ya in Mejiro Offering Baird Beer

Baird Beer in bottles is now being sold at Tanaka-ya in Mejiro, which features one of Tokyo's best selections of great beer. From JR Mejiro station, turn left as you go out the main entrance, and walk east on the left side of Mejiro-dori. You'll find it about 50 meters down on your left. Phone 03-3953-8888. For more information on Baird Beer, go to www.bairdbeer.com