Brews News #54
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Brews News #54 - December 2004/ January 2005

Beer Here

Niigata Beer Benefit

This Sunday, December 5th at Popeye

By Toshi Ishii
Brewmaster, Yona Yona Ales

As all of you know, there have been a lot of troubles in Niigata and Nagano due to the earthquakes recently. Many people still cannot go back to their own homes, and many houses, buildings and railroads -- even the Shinkansen -- were broken up and are still out of operation. It's been the most serious damage since the big Hanshin earthquakes in 1995. Mt. Asama, one of the most famous active volcanoes in Japan, has been erupting since September. The other night, it had a middle-scale eruption, scattering tiny stones and smoke around Karuizawa town, near the brewery where I work. Fortunately, we didn't have any damage. Since then, I've thinking of what to do for the people of Niigata.

Since I brew and promote real ale, I thought we could support the people in Niigata through our Yona Yona real ales. Real Ale for Niigata -- that's my answer! So I'd like to introduce our charity event to Brews News readers.

As a Japanese growing up in the era before microbrewing in Japan, I'd never experienced brewing and running a microbrewery until I went to California and worked at Stone Brewing near San Diego. At Stone, I acquired all kinds of experience necessary in running a brewery business including the way the Stone Brewery, as a member of the local community, gave back to the community in the form of various charity activities. One of our biggest activities at Stone was an open house anniversary party every August at the brewery to celebrate with our loyal customers and people from other breweries. This event gets larger every year, and we brewed a special beer each time. We also raised money and collected donations for our community. In years past we have raised money for people who've suffered in the Sept. 11 tragedy in New York, and also for those who'd lost their homes in the big California fires.

In this spirit, I've organized a similar event called "Real Ale for Niigata" to support people in Niigata who are victims of these unlucky earthquake disasters. I have asked my colleagues at 10 breweries to participate in this event, and all breweries have been very delighted to brew special beers as a donation.

The Tokyo event will be held at Beer Club Popeye, and I hope all of you can attend, enjoy our real ales, and know that all the money you spend will go to support the earthquake victims in Niigata. Still, many people cannot return to their homes, and have to welcome in the New Year in public areas. I'd like to encourage them by our beers.

When: Sunday, December 5th
Time: from 2 to 7 p.m. (or until all the beer is gone!)
Where: Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku, Tokyo
2-18-7 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku
Phone 03-3633-2120
Cost: 500yen/half-pint with all proceeds donated
The Beer: 10 different ales, 200 liters total
Event details in Japanese at

Special thanks to the participating breweries.
10. YO-HO BREWING "Yona Yona" (NAGANO)
And special thanks to Popeye's Aoki-san for providing the venue.

Bar Beat

Beer Belly in Osaka

By Tim Eustace

The Osaka beer scene is heating up even as temperatures outside continue to drop. The latest addition to the Kansai scene, Beer Belly, threw open its doors in as Typhoon #24 came billowing through the region on October 20th, ravaging the area and causing a great deal of destruction. However, since that unfortunate opening date I am pleased to say it has been nothing but clear skies for Beer Belly. There are no bottles at Beer Belly, but with twelve taps, including five from the local Osaka Minoh brewery and two real ales, who really needs bottles anyway?

The seven guest taps are from all across Japan, and the staff plans for them to be used on a rotating basis, which obviously will bring back people if just to simply try some new beers. The prices can't be beat either, at 450 yen for the Minoh beers and 550 yen for guest taps in 350ml glasses. The real ales are served in standard English pint glasses and start at 800 yen/pint.

The food menu is limited but very reasonably priced, and though portions are on the small side, I have yet to hear anything but praise for the food. It should also be noted that Beer Belly is one of the most dangerous bars in Japan, not from rowdy customers, but because they have macadamia nuts (for free!) that you can break open yourself with a macadamia nut cracker. If you have ever done this before you know how dangerous those flying nutshell pieces can be. I thought the nuts went particularly well with the Real Ale Minoh Stout.

The word is that business has been great since Beer Belly opened its doors, which may create the problem of never being able to get a seat there. I have been three times, and every time the approximately 18 seats inside have been near or at capacity - and these were weeknights! I have also heard other beer bars in the Osaka area say that business is very good right now; this is hopefully a sign that the craft brewing/specialty beer market in Japan is finally coming around. If you are visiting the Osaka area, this should be high on your list of places to eat, drink, and have a good time.

Beer Belly
Osaka River Bldg.
1-1-30 Tosabori,
Nishi-ku, Osaka
Phone 06-6441-0717

Beer Talk

Support Your Local Beer Club!

by Glenn Scoggins

If you're a beer lover who's looking for congenial folk to share good drink and a friendly atmosphere, why not join the local chapter of the Good Beer Club in your area? While the GBC organizes large-scale events, the individual branches are more cozy, featuring a group of like-minded drinkers who meet periodically to indulge in their shared hobby. Since the GBC got off the ground last year, three local chapters have been organized in the Tokyo metropolitan area, as well as others further afield in Sapporo, Shizuoka, and Tochigi. Information is available at the GBC website, While most of the membership, and therefore the conversation, is Japanese, all nationalities are made most welcome. And, beer is, of course, a universal language.

The three branches around the capital are:

1. Tama, covering the western suburbs (tama at goodbeerclub dot org);
2. Jonan Good Beer Society, taking in southern Minato, Shibuya, Setagaya, Meguro, Shinagawa, and Ota in Tokyo (tokyo-jonan at goodbeerclub dot org); and
3. A Drop of Good Beer in Kanagawa (drop at goodbeerclub dot org).

You are welcome to join any branch convenient to your home or workplace.

The Kanagawa group, a jolly bunch of about ten, gets together every few months, kicking off at Camden Lock near Ofuna station in Kamakura. Most recently they met in late November at a wonderful Belgian-emphasis bar called COPA in Aoba-dai (northwest Yokohama), where the master, Kobayashi Hiroaki, provided a warm atmosphere with great food and a wide range of Belgian beers. COPA was also a pioneer in introducing Bryan Baird's beers to the Kanto region.

A good opportunity to rub shoulders with other beer lovers is coming up on Friday, 10 December, when the Kanagawa chapter and the Jonan Good Beer Society will have a joint bonen-kai party, starting at 7pm. The location is one restaurant that goes by two names: Sul Ponte and Umaya no Shokutaku, specializing in hearty Italian fare. The restaurant (address and directions below) is on the second floor above a small brewery producing several varieties of little-known but interesting beer with Yokohama and Kamakura labels. (Brews News readers with long memories may identify the location near Bashamichi with the ill-fated Yokohama branch of Kobe's Csarda brewpub, but it has been under new, and improved, management for about five years.) Your Y4,800 fee will feed you all you can eat of Sul Ponte's excellent pasta and pizza.

For more information, contact Matsuo-san of the Jonan Good Beer Society or Koizumi Masayoshi of A Drop of Good Beer. You can reach Koizumi-san by phone at 080-5057-5518 or 045-783-7415, or by e-mail at the address above or at m_koizumi at nifty dot com. (His twin passions are real ale and English folk music, but ask him what his day job is!)

Tokyo and Kanagawa Good Beer Clubs joint year-end beer party
Friday, 10 December 2004 / from 7:00 pm
Sul Ponte/Umaya no Shokutaku (
6-68-1 Sumiyoshi-cho, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0013
Nearest stations: Less than five minutes from either Bashamichi (on the Minato-Mirai Line direct from Shibuya) or Kannai (on the JR Keihin-Tohoku Line)

Six Pick

Japanese craft beer

by Tim Eustace

Rating system:

! ! ! ! ! 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.

!!! Ginga Kogen Galaxy Express (Iwate, 5% abv, barley, hops)
Attractive labeling of a train (that somewhat resembles the Chuo line) heading up into space and a young blonde woman holding a crystal ball. Pale golden color with a big but quickly dissipating head. The nose is alive with soft hops bouqueting pine, lemon, bubblegum - all that smells nothing like any JR train I have been on, wonderful! The body starts slightly sweet and malty, but then a strange lemon undertone comes in from nowhere and takes away from what I thought was going to be a brilliant beer. The finish is dry with some lingering bitterness. Compared to the Classic the nose was much better, but it fell apart after that. This beer is only available at JR stations and I bought this particular beer at Tokyo Station.

!!!! Ginga Kogen Classic (Iwate, 5% abv, barley, hops)
Dark golden color, thin head with a slightly lemony nose that oozes with clean maltiness. Full bodied and hoppy with just a touch of lemon dashing in and out of the taste buds. Finishing dry and mildly bitter. I thought this was pretty good for the style and would be a great summer beer.

!!! Rokko Island Porter (Rokko Island, Hyogo Pref., 5.3% abv, barley, hops)
Deep brown color, thin white head that dissipates too quickly for my liking. Chocolaty malts dominate the nose, with a faint hint of hops. The body is light and chocolatey... wait it is too light for me. The finish is mildly chocolaty and actually a bit warming which was surprising considering the strength of the beer. This beer is like if you gave a mad scientist a porter recipe and told him to work his magic this is what he would produce. Nothing fancy, just stick to the book porter.

!!!! Doppo Brewery Dunkel (Okayama City, 5% abv, barley, hops)
Dark brown color, with quickly dissipating light brown head. The nose has roasted malts, molasses and prunes, and a touch of fruitiness, which is pretty complex for the style, in my opinion. The body is unbelievably light, with some chocolate and molasses notes. The finish has some chocolate notes and a touch of fruitiness that blends well with a subtle alcohol twang. This is one of those beers you could drink night long and not think twice about.

!! Kirin Toretate Hops Ichiban Shibori (5.5% abv, malt, hops, rice, cornstarch)
The labeling proclaims "freshly picked hops and first wort," however the nose is surprisingly muted despite this claim. Mild notes of lemon and oranges and, surprisingly enough, the malt actually smells a bit like wort in the brewery! The hops are a bit more noticeable in the mouth, but I found the body a little light and slightly sour. The finish has hoppiness in it, but absolutely no bitterness, which was an odd effect, but moreover, it was just lame. This beer lacks depth and character and hops and malt, but not water.

!!!! Sapporo Organic (100% organic German malts and hops)
Big but loose head presides over sweet biscuity malt and tantalizing hops erupting from the nose. The nose came across somewhere between a Bohemian Pilsner and a Helles. The mouth starts with sweet malts and then the hops come jumping into to play at the back of the tongue. The finish starts out moderately bitter, but then a slow but aggressive bitterness bits at you when you least expect it. There is a significant amount of bittering hops in this beer or perhaps organic hops have more bite than regular hops. I love big, hoppy pilsners and this not only a fine example of the style, but also shows that organic beers can be great tasting and healthier for you at the same time.

Spouting Off

International World Beer Summit in Osaka:

Japan's best beer event?

By Tim Eustace

This year's International World Beer Summit (IWBS) in Osaka almost didn't happen. Typhoon #21 was headed right for the summit on its second day, Saturday, October 9th. This was particularly scary considering the event had been cancelled at 6pm on the first day due to rain and poor attendance. That night I prayed to the beer gods to let this festival take place and, as if they heard me, the typhoon changed directions and slammed into Tokyo (sorry about that!). The festival was back on, only two hours later than scheduled.

The first day had seen a moderate number of people take in the 100+ available beers, along with traditional Thai and Korean dancing, but the big hit had been the Taiko drumming, in which attendees were invited up on stage to give it a go. Needless to say, some of the attendees who had been there awhile were less than coordinated when they tired to beat the drums.

My focus for the day, and the festival, was on sampling the products of Japanese microbreweries, which included, amongst other things, three wonderful real ales from Yona Yona and several excellent beers from local Osaka brewery Minoh. I found the Swan Lake IPA an excellent accompaniment to a fiery curry on offer at one of the food stands. When I decided to venture over to the import side of things, I started first in Russia with Baltkia Stout and Wiessen, both of which went above and beyond my expectations. I then ended my overseas journey in Germany with an "off-brewery" self-guided tour of seven of Weltenburger's beers, with the Asam Bock and the Helles being the standouts.

To complement the beer and dancing, the numerous food stalls served up a couple of dozen tasty international dishes for reasonable prices. Because of the late start of the second day, the organizers decided to extend the festival by one hour to 11pm. Needless to say, that brought on applause from the loosened crowd. The evening ended with organizers selling bottled Japanese micros for 200 yen a piece; or, in my case, two 250ml bottles of barleywine that were apparently so small they went for only 100 yen each. Who am I to argue with the organizers?

The next day I had set up a meeting with Mr. Ota, the head of the Japan Craft Beer Association, through a coworker who is an acquaintance of his. However, times got mixed up and it was not to be (or so I thought!). The weather on the third day was very hot and sunny and the crowds reflected this, with a couple of thousand people having gathered shortly after the festival started at noon. The second day proceeded much like the first, but with longer lineups.

As my luck would have it, they were selling all Japanese micros once again for 200 yen at the end of the day, and so, agreeing upon a beer sampling in the near future, several friends and I split the cost of a couple dozen beers. The man who was selling these beers was very friendly and seemed to know a lot about Japanese microbreweries and beer in general; I was really impressed. Before I left, I asked what his name was...and wouldn't you know it, it was Mr. Ota himself! I quickly introduced myself to him and mentioned my coworkers' name, and told him I had tried to meet him earlier in the day.

All in all, I can say that my first IWBS was great. I met tons of people, as the festival seems to be just as much about meeting people as it is about beer. The jovial spirit that existed throughout the festival was inviting and warm. I think one of the reasons for the popularity of the festival is not only the spirit, but also the lack of an admission charge, allowing people to come and go as they like and drink as much as they want. Drink tickets were 100 yen each; one ticket got a small sample size of about 60 ml, while 3 tickets got you a full 200ml sample.

If I had one recommendation for the IWBS, it would be to change its name to International World Beer Gathering as it seems to be more of a friendly gathering of people then anything resembling a formal summit. One final note is that the festival is generally held on the long weekend in October, so as to ensure as many out-of-town visitors as possible; next year I am hoping to meet some more people from Tokyo attending the event. Only 11 more months and counting until the next Beer Summit, I can't wait!


Real Ale for Niigata Benefit

Sunday, December 5
Beer Club Popeye
2-18-7 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku
Phone 03-3633-2120
Event details in Japanese at
See article above for more details.

Belgian Christmas Beer Dinner

The Second Wednesday Meeting for December at Bois Cereste will feature this year's Belgian Christmas Beers, which will be arriving in Japan just in time for this event. These brews will be matched to a multi-course dinner of rich winter cuisine of Belgium. Cost per person will be 7,500 yen plus tax. Reservations are necessary to attend; call Yamada-san at 03-3588-6292.

Wednesday, December 8 from 7 p.m.
Bois Cereste
2-13-21 Akasaka, B1
Minato-ku, Tokyo

Baird West Coast Wheat Wine

November is the month for the annual release of a monster Baird Big Beer Seasonal brew - West Coast Wheat Wine. Stylistically, Barley Wine is the granddaddy of all beers in terms of gravity and alcohol strength. Wheat Wine, made primarily from wheat malt instead of barley malt, is a unique American West Coast interpretation of the British-born Barley Wine style.

Legend has it that the Wheat Wine style was conceived and first brewed commercially at the Rubicon Brewpub in Sacramento, California. We brew Baird West Coast Wheat Wine in homage to the irreverent creativity that forms the rock-solid foundation of craft brewing in the United States. West Coast Wheat Wine is a huge beer in terms of alcohol strength (approximately 10.5% abv). Some 60% of the fermentable extract is derived from malted wheat and this lends a quenching drinkability rare to beers of this strength. The hops are 100% American west coast types that are bold and citrusy in character.

In the glass, Baird West Coast Wheat Wine is a deep copper-gold color and sports a very tight, creamy-white head. The nose is piquantly complex - we detect notes of pears, plums and raisins and the ominous foreboding of alcohol. In the mouth, you will experience a panoply of sweetish honeyed-fruit flavors that are washed clean by a robust hop bitterness and a hot alcohol finish.

West Coast Wheat Wine is now being poured from The Taproom taps and is available only by the glass. You will feel the first one; you will be happily buzzed by the second, you will be crawling out of here by the third (so please don't even think about driving home!). For more details, go to


"After reading the announcement in Brews News, a few days later I tried the poutine at the Maple Leaf more as a joke than anything else. It is my sad duty to report that it was one of the most disgusting things I have ever tasted. Old gym socks soaked in axle grease and stewed in goat-liver bile would be more appetizing. And the thought of washing down said culinary delicacy with the truly revolting "beer" known as Labatt's Blue makes my entire gastro-intestinal tract quiver with dread, if such a thing is possible. Gimme a Bud and a corn dog any day!"

Amor de Cosmos

Special thanks to Tim Eustace, Toshi Ishii, and Glenn Scoggins for their contributions to this issue. We'd love your contribution, too. Please write for details.