Brews News #53
Brews News #53 - October/November 2004
The Great British Beer Festival
by Philip Thacker
For those of you who have not been to the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), let alone England, the festival might come as a surprise. Beer festivals in other parts of the world may have commercial, historical, mythical or even seasonal origins as a fair excuse to drink a little more than usual.
GBBF, run by the world's largest beer consumer group, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), is somehow different. It is a festival run by and for the beer enthusiast to celebrate and enjoy beer in its rich diversity. Some say CAMRA is one of the world's largest consumer groups of any kind, let alone beer. Whether due to its sheer scale of members and variety of beers or some other factor GBBF is a unique event.
First, a few facts for the thirsty reader. GBBF is all about real ale. So lets try to define that. Essentially the idea is that a naturally produced beer is served without being pasteurised or otherwise processed. I suppose a Japanese audience might think of real ale as truly fresh beer. The shelf life of real ale is not so much longer than that of fresh milk. Draught real ale is a British phenomenon.
Of the mere 700 different beers, ciders (the real stuff - i.e. with alcohol and opacity to match the Sumida river) and perry (pear cider) on offer, around 450 are from the UK. These 450 beers offer a snapshot of human culture (well yeast culture at least) from across the United Kingdom. The names and brand logos and hand-pump-handle images (no forced carbonation here, if you don't mind) offer as much of a heady mixture of history, bawdiness, humour, repetition and irrelevance as the contents of many discussions amongst fellow drinkers, advanced into their ales.
For each of the 450 British beers, over a hundred people turn up at the "one-room, with a room on the side, biggest pub in the world" event. Fortunately not all 45,000 plus drinkers turn up at once. Perhaps the antiquated public transport infrastructure in London does have some advantages?
Once at GBBF, a keen drinker could manage to drink a pint of each of the available brews within a mere two and half months, assuming they can quaff a modest daily 10 pints (that's about 6 litres for those countries who adopted that strange way of measuring liquids invented by our dear French wine-selling cousin, - Monsieur Claude Emile Jean -Baptiste Litre - yes that really is the sad origin of that undrinkable measure).
Sadly the festival only runs for about a week - no one seems quite sure when it really ends - perhaps after the last hangover has floated away into the foggy London air?
So, given that England (or Britain, or Great Britain, or the United Kingdom or the British Isles or whatever name you wish to use in these days of national and regional devolution mixed with some mildly insane political correctness) is the undisputed home of football hooligans (apologies to any Canadian readers who would like to claim the title) surely the event is a mass of brawling, shouting, spewing, drink-inflamed, over-the-top-lads, would-be-fornicating drunkards?
I am sorry to disappoint anyone with a particular prejudice about the British but the GBBF is the calmest, friendliest and best disciplined drinking venue on the planet. Were a guest to accidentally drop a glass within seconds the sharp parts are swept up and brightly coloured sawdust scattered to warn other guests of a possible hazard.
Would you like to try a beer before buying it? No problem. Did you forget that children are not admitted? Well, there is a children's area with fun activities and a clean safe location on the second (first floor for British readers) floor.
The audience at GBBF is drawn from a diverse cross section of society covering the genders, ethnic varieties and socio-economic groups who all get on famously at the event. If the United Nations were run just half as well...
I have not mentioned so far details of any individual beers as so many were exceptionally good but interested readers can see much more information at http://www.camra.org.uk
Finally, what I would like to convey is a message that GBBF is unique in its range of beers; in its enjoyable but safe atmosphere, and an event that should be on the long-term calendar of someone who enjoys the rich fruits of traditional brewing as it was done before the age of bottle, can and fizzy keg.
Two Takes on Towers
By Jonathan Lloyd-Owen and Robbie Swinnerton
Last night I was walking through Yaesu and came across a bar called Towers - named after the four draft beer towers lined up at one end of the counter serving Boddingtons , Hoegaarden, Gargery Stout and Yona Yona Ale. Towers is tiny -- with a half-dozen people at the bar, the place is full. It's run by Yasushi Sato, who says "I want to serve beers most Japanese probably haven't tried."
Prices are as follows:
Towers is good for quick half but also works if you want to stay longer, talk with the master or whoever else is there and of course drink more beer. The set-up encourages conversation. On a recent visit, Sato-san was serving tomato pizzas and sausages. You can help yourself to dry snacks on the counter for free. I think Towers should do well. Could it be the start of a trend?
Although food is limited to snacks, a great meal isn't far away. Turn left out of Towers, walk up to the main road (Kajibashi dori), cross over and the excellent South Indian restaurant Dhaba India is on the left. (Great dosa served here.)
I am sure there are more profound examples of serendipity that one could think of, but this one was pretty good in a beer-related way...
It was just starting to rain. I was heading round the back of Ginza, along a street I never usually take. The rain is getting harder. I skip from one awning to the next, starting to get seriously damp. Just as it's about to really tip down I notice the window of a bar across the street. My eyesight ain't that great these days but I see people standing there drinking, so I make my way over and duck through the doorway. Doesn't matter what they're purveying as long as I can get out of the wet.
But wait, what is this I see on the bar? A pump that dispenses Hoegaarden, and right next to it -- even better -- a hand pump with that familiar old Yona Yona logo on it. There are two more draft beers: Boddington and that Gargery Stout (well, two out of four ain't bad!) And no Asahi Super Dry anywhere in sight!
It's literally (well, figuratively) a hole in the wall. The counter is just long enough for six or seven, maximum eight, people to prop themselves up at side by side without too much discomfort. Absolutely no frills and pay as you go. Plus excellent beer.
Towers just opened on September 1. The master of the house, Yasushi Sato has his own internet/software-related business, and this is just a fun evening gig for him. He's a friendly young man who knows Popeye and the real ale gang pretty well. Besides the four draft beers -- when he said he's thinking of dropping Boddington for another bitter, I suggested Greene King (we shall see) -- he keeps one "guest" bottled beer which he plans to rotate as soon as he gets through each case. He also has some sake, shochu and other spirits.
Snacks -- chips and mixed nuts -- are poured out of packets onto small saucers. A blackboard promises garlic toast but on that serendipitous day he had meat pasties that looked almost homemade and wafted a great aroma as they came out of the oven-toaster. But the optimum strategy, should you work up an appetite, would be to head down the block to Dhaba India, currently (IMHO) Tokyo's best Indian restaurant, for some marsala dosas and a south-Indian curry or two.
Did I forget to mention the prices at Towers? It's 900 yen for a pint of Yona Yona, 500 yen for a half; 1,000 yen for a large glass of Hoegaarden, 700 yen for a small; -- and similarly honest prices throughout. That's the best bit of all!
B1, Onda Bldg.
2-8-10 Yaesu, Chuo-ku
Open Monday to Friday 5-11 p.m.
From Tokyo Station (Yaesu side) walk towards Yurakucho along Sotobori-dori. Turn left at the first bit intersection (shortly after the Yaesu Book Center), then turn right down the side street at the Kinko's. Tower is on the right after about 50 meters.
From Kyobashi Station (Ginza Line) Exit 3, walk down Kajibashi-dori toward Tokyo Station and turn left at Kinko's. Towers is down the street on the right.
More on Oktoberfest
by Glenn Scoggins
If the thought of October puts you in an Oktoberfestive mood, you are spoiled for choice among the German drinking opportunities in Tokyo. (A good place to start is Bryan Harrell's Metropolis article, "Prost!: A six-pack of German beer places", while the Tokyo Food Page yields twelve possibilities on its search list of German restaurants. But why not enjoy an afternoon or evening in Yokohama, drinking good Bavarian beer on the waterfront? Braustuberl, opened in 1997 in the World Porters shopping complex, offers a casual atmosphere, intriguing surroundings, passable food, and a variety of interesting brews.
The operation is overseen by 36-year-old braumeister Christian Mitterbauer, a native of Regensburg who trained in Munich and Ulm. A veteran of Bischofshof, Riedenburger, and Janka Zwiesel breweries in Bavaria, he was recruited in 1997 by Koedo Beer of Saitama, which produces Braustuberl's six varieties at their plant near Kawagoe. (A small amount is also brewed on premises in Yokohama, in the gleaming equipment which catches your eye as you enter.)
While Koedo has been responsible for some truly awful fruit-based concoctions and unwise (and undrinkable) happo-shu experiments, Mitterbauer is committed to making high-quality beer as well, as shown by Das Reinheitsgebot of 1516, painted in stentorian Gothic script across one wall. The brewing equipment was all imported from Germany, as are the hops and other ingredients.
The four beers on the menu are all worth a taste. They are served in distinctive small (300-ml) and large (500-ml) glasses designed for each beer type. (Also on the menu but not worth attention are several happo-shu excrescences: a pasty, turgid stout and a seasonal rotation of fruit beers made of banana, apple, and grape.) The pale-gold Pilsner (5% abv, Y550 and Y650) is smooth, crisp, and hoppy, with fine bubbles and a clean aftertaste. The Weizen (5.5% abv, Y600 and Y700) is a good representative of the style, with a pale-yellow color, a sudsy head, and a light, refreshing mouthfeel. The amber Dinkel (5.5% abv, Y600 and Y700, and no, it's not a misspelling of Dunkel) is based on a type of aged barley-malt (dinkel-malz) with a foamy head, roasty aroma, and little aftertaste.
The signature beer is, of course, the Mitterbauer (5% abv, Y550 and Y650), and the braumeister has put his reputation on the line with a beer brewed strictly according to the Reinheitsgebot. This slightly sweet, cloudy beer has a thin head but a full body (and a substantial claim to your attention) before the slow finish--and the call for one more! By the time you read this, there will also be an Oktoberfest beer on the menu.
The spacious, 160-seat restaurant attempts an atmosphere which is Teutonic (insofar as this is possible in a Yokohama shopping mall) without being oppressive, with abundant flowers, unusual brass chandeliers, and sunlight streaming in through a wall of windows looking out on the Minato-Mirai skyline and the ferris wheel in adjacent Cosmo World. The long tables are of German origin; the blue-and-white checkerboard Bavarian flag is much in evidence; and the wall designs were painted by a German artist with an eclectic motif-why does Johann Sebastian Bach glower grimly down from one wall, one wonders?
The food menu is more Italian than German, with some pasta and risotto dishes which are value for money. Most entrees cost between Y1200 and Y1500, including five fish and eight meat dishes. At the upper end of the menu is Eisbein for Y2800. Appetizers, which are fairly substantial, range from Y600 to Y900 and up to Y1380 for sausages and sauerkraut. A good buy is the bread basket, with four types of bread for Y450. The background music is unobtrusive jazz. During the daytime the restaurant is full of shoppers and couples, many of whom stay only for coffee and dessert, but it is drinker-friendly all day long, often filling up in the evenings with large and cheerful parties. In good weather the outdoor tables are occupied with lazy souls drinking up the sunshine as well as the bubbly.
Yokohama World Porters
Open 11:00-23:00 (last order 22:30)
2-2-1 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0001
Five minutes from Minato-Mirai station or Bashamichi station on the Minato-Mirai Line (direct from Shibuya)
Ten minutes from JR Sakuragi-cho station (walk over the Kisha-michi bridge across the Inner Harbor)
Exploring American "happo-shu"
Fahrenheit 211 - Steel Reserve
By Bryan Harrell
The U.S. has had its version of cheaper, lower-quality beer longer than Japan has had beer-like "happo-shu." Known as "malt liquor," these brews are inexpensive, high in alcohol (typically between 6 and 8% abv), and have a sugary taste with a "hot" alcohol flavor. Popular brands include Colt 45, Country Club, Mickey's and (laughably) Olde English 800. The most popular size of these is the 40-ounce (1,183 ml) bottle. This is a bit less than two 633 ml "oh-bin" but when the higher alcohol is considered, one bottle is the equivalent of nearly three big ones of Super Dry.
Late this summer, I encountered one interesting looking brew in the malt liquor section of the supermarket, Steel Reserve. The label was puzzling for a malt liquor because it actually mentioned the brew itself.
Most notable is the huge "211" in red numerals on the can. The explanation is "The two eleven mark, based on the medieval symbol for steel, appears only on Steel Reserve high gravity lager. We use nearly twice the ingredients of many normal lagers & brew for over twice as long as many quality beers."
Hmmm, the Fahrenheit 911 of beers. But there's more.
"EXTRA Malted Barley & Select Hops For EXTRA Gravity"
Hmmm, a high gravity beer with more hops.
"Slow brewed for a minimum of 28 days"
Hmmm, a long lagering time for a cheap brew.
I wondered what it tastes like, so I bought one. The cheapest version was the 24-ounce can, which by my calculation, was like having two Westmalle Tripels back to back, but likely with a fraction of the flavor. But at the equivalent of 200 yen or so, it was worth a try. Since it was almost a six-pack worth of beer, I thought I'd give it the standard Six Pack assessment.
Steel Reserve (U.S. - not yet available in Japan)
To check out their snazzy but useless (in terms of finding out what's in the beer) Web site, go to: www.steelbrewing.com
For more information on U.S. malt liquor, simply search "malt liquor" on google.com and several 40 ouncers worth of links will come up.
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.
October is definitely German Beer Month, though the Germans actually begin celebrating Oktoberfest in September. Anyway, when researching things German in beer I came across this fascinating essay by Ron Pattinson, who was kind enough to give me permission to link to it. The essay is part of an amazingly complete Web site on the European beer scene. While his essay won't take long to read, don't look at the rest of the site unless you have plenty of free time because there is a great deal of information, and all of it very thirst-inducing.
Cheers, Ron, and thank you!
How Canadian can you get, huh?
The Maple Leaf in Shibuya now has what they call Blue Mondays, where 1,000 yen will get you a Labatt's Blue beer and a plate of Poutine, the famous Canadian dish of fried potatoes smothered in gravy and melted cheese. Check it out - the Maple Leaf is a fun and comfortable place, and has a good range of brews. Plans are also being made for a Halloween Party - call or check the Web site for details.
The Maple Leaf
Kokusai Building A-4F
Saturday, October 16th - the funk-infused progressive rock band CODE will be playing live from 9 pm.
Sunday, October 31st (Halloween) - Toshiba-EMI recording artist and guitar virtuoso Tim Donahue will be giving a rare local live performance from 8 pm. His music is very beautiful and totally unique, and worth the trip to Numazu (Shizuoka prefecture) even without Baird's great beer. But you can have both on Halloween. Plus, Baird's version of pumpkin ale, Country Girl Kabocha Ale, is expected to be ready by mid- to late October, so there's another reason to go. For details and directions, go to www.bairdbeer.com
Good Beer Club
October 31st (Sunday) - Annual General Meeting (2 to 3 pm) and Beer Party (3 to 5:30 pm) are open to members only, but you may join at the event (3,000 yen annual dues). To be held at the Shinagawa Chu-sho Kigyo Center, 1-28-3 Shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku. It's about a 13-minute walk from Oimachi Station on the JR and Tokyu Lines. A map in Japanese is available at
Attendees may bring their own beer to share with others.
November 21st (Sunday) - Beer School (in Japanese) part II "Beer de Cologne: Koelsch", in the afternoon, time to be announced. Members 1,500 yen, non-members 3,000 yen. To be held at the Shinagawa Chu-sho Kigyo Center (see above).
For more details, check (in Japanese) at www.goodbeerclub.org
Special thanks to Jonathan Lloyd-Owen, Glenn Scoggins, Robbie Swinnerton and Philip Thacker for their contributions to this issue. We'd love your contribution, too. Please write for details (brewsnews at yahoo dot com).