Brews News #58
Brews News #58 - June 2005
Nippon Craft Beer Matsuri 2005
This year the JBA took a hint and is not holding their annual beer festival the same weekend as the huge Great Japan Beer Festival. This year, the festival will be held six weeks later, but in the same place as last year, the Tokyo Prince Hotel's outdoor garden. This year's event promises an extensive lineup of craft beer from throughout Japan. Plus, a plate of light snacks is included in the price of admission. Best of all, the brewers themselves will be at the tap stations of their respective breweries, giving you the chance to get answers to your questions about the beer. As of this writing, some 50 breweries from Hokkaido to Okinawa will be participating. A list (in Japanese) of these breweries, and the beers they plan to serve, is at http://www.beer.gr.jp/100/fan/050618/beerlist.php3
The Matsuri will be held in two sessions, early and late afternoon, with advance admission 3,000 yen per session, or 5,000 yen for both sessions. Note that these advance prices will be available only through this Friday, June 3rd. Admission at the door will be on a space-available basis at 3,500 yen per session.
Advance reservations must be made through the JBA's Web site, which is in Japanese only. Go to: http://www.beer.gr.jp/100/fan/050618/ One reservation may be made for a multiple number of people. After you reserve, you will be sent a reservation number by e-mail. At the event, give this number and your name along with your payment to receive admission tickets.
Nippon Craft Beer Matsuri 2005
Saturday, June 18, 2005
11 am to 2:30 pm & 4:30 to 8:00 pm
Tokyo Prince Hotel (near Tokyo Tower)
Sponsored by the Japan Brewers Association (JBA)
Y3000/session or Y5000 for both sessions
Note: Advance reservations close June 3
Tokyo Prince Hotel
3-3-1 Shiba Koen
Map in Japanese: http://www.princehotels.co.jp/tokyo/kotu.html
Japan Beer Festival ReportsTokyo: by Glenn Scoggins and Skip Taylor
Osaka: by Tim Eustace
By Glenn Scoggins
The Japan Craft Beer Association (JCBA, Nihon Ji-Biiru Kyokai) has sponsored this event in Ebisu for many years now, and it has become the prime venue in Tokyo for flavorful beer from local breweries throughout Japan. This year the Tokyo and Osaka versions of the Japan Beer Festival took place on the same weekend in May, the 7th and 8th, allegedly due to scheduling snafus (take your pick among the darker conspiracy theories). This was a shame, especially for smaller operations forced to choose between two worthwhile events. It appears that most chose the larger market of Tokyo, as amongst the 130 beers of offer were many from south-western Japan. Of course, we Tokyo drinkers missed out on Minoo AJI and other fine Kansai brews.
The annual quandary over whether to go on Saturday or Sunday resulted in massive crowds on Saturday escaping the foul weather outside, but Sunday was consequently quite comfortable, with many competent volunteers and brewery staff manning the servers, resulting in short lines and contented drinkers. This contrasted with the Real Ale Festival in its new location in Oimachi, where a shortage of beer servers meant that many participants spent the whole afternoon standing in line. In fact, the efficiency of serving on Sunday afternoon resembled that of the event many observers call the best in Tokyo so far: the World Craft Beer Festival (see Steve Lacey's article in Brews News Issue 55), where Aoki Tatsuo of Popeye had arranged scores of taps, the better to quench the thirst of multitudes. The smaller 100-ml glasses introduced last year may have looked a bit wimpy in comparison to the previous 250-ml size, but they assured a full glass and a consistent pour.
This year a real ale section was set up in the corner, with twelve varieties available from Yona Yona, Baird, Ise-Kadoya, Harvest Moon, and others. At the opposite corner, Kiuchi Shuzo (makers of Hitachino Nest) sponsored nine imported beers from Belgium, Germany, and Britain, including Schneider Weiss and Gale's Master Conquest. (I'm told that these ran out before the day was through, although the domestic brands appeared to last the distance.) Another import section featured ten bottled beers including Anchor Steam, Ayinger, and the Chimay tricoleur, with another foreign corner providing Hoegaarden, De Konninck, and Jever. Popeye had its own booth with Divine Vamp and Rogue's Brutal Bitter. The remainder of the hall was filled with 91 other beers from all over Japan (except for Kansai, with Hokkaido also being underrepresented). The opportunity to schmooze with the brewers themselves was as always a treat for beer geeks, both Japanese and foreign.
As usual, the JCBA presented its awards for each style of beer. The Japan Beer Cup comes in gold, silver, and bronze colors, but only the gold medals are listed below:
By Skip Taylor
Well, the weather cleared up in time to enjoy a craft beer on the terrace of Ebisu Garden Hall at the Tokyo installment of the Great Japan Beer Festival, a yearly event sponsored by the Japan Craft Beer Association. This year once again featured a wild array of microbrew from all over Japan, as well as imported beer from as far away as Morocco. Due to a few delays, I arrived about 45 minutes after the start on Saturday, May 7th, the first day of the weekend event, and was told that the line of people stretched around the building before the 2:30 p.m. opening bell.
Even many who came early were unable to get one of the coveted commemorative glasses and had to make do with plastic cups, both of which were noticeably smaller this year. One could indulge in an unlimited number of samples but those small cups, which I heard at least one complaint about, meant that even the technical sample limit of 50 ml meant a pretty full cup. I later stumbled on a solution to that by simply buying a beer at the separate Belgian beer booth adjacent to the main hall, and keeping the glass. Those good folks who were in a generous mood could pour a nice healthy sample-but you didn't hear that from me. Speaking of the rules, there was also an increased security presence this year but they seemed to retreat later into the event.
And the beer? Well, as these events often go, differences in cultural expectations were as much a feature as the beer itself. I am referring to that 'unbearable lightness of being' that characterizes Japan's lager-dominated beer culture. For example, a Habanero pepper-based beer from Yokohama that, from the way it was billed, made me wonder if I should have memorized the emergency exits, but instead turned out to be more like an accidental nip from a baby crocodile. Real ginger ale, which similarly raised my expectations, also gave me that feeling that someone 'scooped out the mids' as they say in music circles. But a bit of searching also uncovered beer that drank you right back, such as Kiuchi Shuzo's Hitachino Nest Extra High, an 8% dark Belgian-inspired brew. Plus, there were some fine beers from Belgium available as a separate purchase in a separate booth next to the main area. Other standouts for me included Baird's IPA (I'm a big pale ale fan), and Hakusekikan Brown Ale from Gifu.
There was also good live music and some interesting events happening on the front stage, but all in Japanese (translators where are ya?). I also noticed books available which listed profiles and locations of the Japan-made beers available at the festival -- all in Japanese (translators where are ya?).
Other comments I got from patrons at the festival: "Nice variety of beer", "Price is high for what you get" (tickets were slightly more expensive in Tokyo this year for some reason), "Needs better variety of food", "Food should be included with the ticket price", "Should be an outdoor event", "Beer guide hard to follow, never sure what I'm drinking", "Blasted tape recorder" (er, wait that was me -- sorry), "too many weird ingredients" (gyoza beer?).
But everyone I spoke to said they would definitely come back again. In fact, if this event continues to gain a following the way it has been, a change of venue may be just the thing. As a Japanese volunteer I spoke to said, "We can meet many friends in this environment that we couldn't meet outside." A worthy sentiment indeed, and a good reason to come back next year.
By Tim Eustace
This year the Great Japan Beer Festival in Osaka was, fortunately or unfortunately, booked on the same weekend as the same beer festival in Tokyo. It was fortunate for attendees as the crowds were relatively thin compared to Tokyo, but the flip side of that is there was not as much revenue coming in as the Japan Craft Beer Association may have hoped for. In any case, I planned the first weekend in May around the beer festival, as an attendee on Saturday, and as a volunteer at the Real Ale section on Sunday.
I was very surprised to see over 100 people in line on Saturday to get into the festival when I arrived shortly before opening time. I thought the festival was going to be packed all day, but only a trickle of people entered the festival after that. I was expecting it to become very busy around 4-6 pm beer festivals in North America tend to do, but this never happened.
Served up at the festival were over 100 beers; about 70-80 in bottles and only about 20-30 on draft, including five real ales. I was pleasantly surprised to see half a dozen or so Belgian and German beers on tap, including Schneider Aventinus and La Chouffe from D'Achouffe. Although I have heard of people complaining about the 50 ml sample sizes in the past, most pours that weekend seemed to be to the top of the glass, which was about 70 ml, ample for sampling as far as I am concerned.
It would have been nice if there was an option of purchasing a half pint or pint glass and being able to sample more full servings, but I did not find think this was a major issue. I was also impressed to see a few beers that are not regular commercial offerings, such as the Good Beer Club's NE Brown Ale and Inoue beers. I talked to Mr. Inoue, who is a very active home brewer, and he said he would love to get a brewery going, but money was an issue for him.
After sampling his beers, I can safely say the Japan beer scene would definitely benefit if his beers were more widely available. The top three domestic standouts for me during the two days were the Good Beer Club's NE Brown Ale, Helios Porter (Okinawa) and Onuma English IPA (Hokkaido), which was a brilliant 8% IPA that was nothing like a modern day IPA from England, but rather a more accurate take on the historical style.
The festival location on the 10th floor of the Umeda Sky Building was not a bad, but given the fact that it was a nice day outside it would have been nice to have the festival outside like the International World Beer Summit (IWBS) in the fall. I also noticed that the atmosphere wasn't quite as jovial as the IWBS, perhaps because the festival is held inside an office building, in a space that could easily be used for an office or to host small events. It would have also been nice to see more draft beers, instead of the heavy emphasis on bottles. Overall it was a good time as expected and certainly worth checking out if you live in Kansai, or are in the area during the festival.
Special Report: The 100 Best Local Beers in Japan
Beer Club Popeye / April 23, 2005
By Glenn Scoggins
On Saturday, 23 April 2005, commemorating the 489th anniversary of the promulgation of the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot (which should be a national holiday in all right-thinking countries), Popeye opened its doors early to 60 curious drinkers. The draw was a celebration of the 100 Best Local Beers in Japan (Ji-Biiru Hyaku-sen), chosen by Aoki from the samples beer enthusiast Ishida-san has brought back from his travels around the archipelago. The final selection narrowed down the candidates to two beer styles each from fifty breweries.
We were divided into four groups and assigned to tables under the leadership of such local luminaries as the ubiquitous Fujiwara Hiroyuki, the enthusiastic Professor Nishimoto, and the mysterious Ms. Hoso'oka. Each table was served tiny samples of 50 of the 100 selected beers over the next two hours, with a short intermission midway through. Our job was to evaluate each beer on four criteria worth five points each: the label and bottle design, color and appearance, aroma, and taste. This was a bit tricky, given the breakneck pace of the afternoon (a new beer every two minutes) and the minuscule amount in each plastic cup, similar to a draught of mouthwash after finishing up at the dentist.
Even more problematic was the mixture of styles: a weizen had to be judged on its own terms, followed quickly by an IPA and then by a stout. The participants took their jobs seriously, diligently filling out ballots (a total of 3000 individual slips, which have, understandably, not yet been tallied by the tireless Ishida-san) and passing them to the table leaders. At the end a less scientific popularity poll was taken, with the results below. The beers were numbered from north to south, with #1 from Asahikawa (Taisetsu) and #100 from Okinawa (Helios). Indicative of the dominance of eastern Japan was the fact that the first Kansai beer was #71.
Following two hours of single-minded tasting, the mood turned more festive as all of the unfinished bottles were brought out for a free-for-all, with participants gravitating to their favorites or the ones they'd missed in the competition phase. Conversation turned to the best and worst of the day, with opinions predictably divided: although many found the Wasabi Dry from Iwate's Miyamori Beer (flavor, aroma, and color all redolent of horseradish) quite disgusting, there were some fans who enthusiastically bought up the remaining bottles.
The Okinawa Goya Dry from Helios Craft Beer was not far from the bottom of the purists' list, but again it had its supporters, as did other exotic combinations such as Abashiri Konbu (Seaweed) Draft from Hokkaido and Doppo Muscat Pils from Okayama. A special bonus was Aka-miso Lager from Kinshachi Beer in Nagoya, brewed for the current Ai-Chikyu-haku Expo. The winners, however, were from well-known names in craft brewing. The runaway favorite was Hakusekikan Barleywine, followed by Baird Rising Sun Pale Ale, Hakusekikan Crystal Ale, Baird Shimaguni Stout, and Oh!La!Ho! Golden Ale.
Roti's House in Maihama, Chiba
|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.|
Harvest Moon Pilsner: A deep golden color with a malty nose and faint hint of cheap six-row barley malt in the nose. Subtle hops presence in the mouth and an unpleasant grainy finish. Like too many brewpub beers that are made with the primary purpose of satisfying the masses used to fizzy pale golden brews.
Belgian Wheat: A cloudy golden brew, with a soft, soapy, coriander nose. The body was very soft, full of oranges and coriander, very light and full of flowers, with a refreshing finish. Beautifully balanced. WOW this is a step up. One of the better examples of the style I have had.
Brown Ale: A deep mahogany color, light East Kent Goldings hops in the nose, with a touch of grapefruit. The moderately earthy body is hoppy for the style, but sexy with some vinous notes in the mouth and a mildly bitter finish. Much hoppier then expected, but you won't hear me complain.
Schwarz: A dark brown, almost black, colored brew which was unusually a bit dark for the style. The huge espresso nose had a touch of caramel. A big roasted malt flavor greets you, but with a low amount of hops (I wasn't sure what to expect after sampling the Brown Ale). Although it was a bit heavier than I expected, the roasted malty finish had some interesting chocolate notes. To me, this came across somewhere between a porter and a schwarzbier.
Pale Ale: A light amber colored ale with strawberries, oranges and toffee in the nose. Very light soft body with strawberries, oranges and toffee in the mouth, but with virtually no bitterness in the finish, which was a letdown. A straightforward pale ale that lacked creativity.
Red Grape Ale: A combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and beer, hence the name. The beer is deep pinkish orange color with a light pink head that is somewhat one-dimensional as I only got grape juice in the nose. The start was very much like grape juice, then the first sign of hops came in with some grapefruit flavor and a very spritzy mouthfeel. Well balanced between the wine, hops and malts, yet ending somewhat reminiscent of an unsweetened grape juice cooler. This beer may not be to everyone's liking, however they pulled this odd combination off fairly well and should be commended for that.
by Glenn Scoggins
The brief mention in Brews News of a Beer Safari to three microbreweries in the north Kanto area piqued my interest, as I envisioned pith helmets and native bearers escorting drunken Bwanas into an Oriental Serengeti plain, in search of antelope and India Pale Ale. (Sorry, Glenn, it was me who called it a "beer safari" since I couldn't think of any better way to describe it - Ed.)
The reality was more prosaic, as a JTB-chartered tour bus conveyed 41 Japanese beer enthusiasts and one foreign observer along the Tohoku Expressway. Still, it was an anthropological expedition exploring the cultural make-up of the modern drinker: my editor hypothesized that I might encounter a busload of "drunk old men with the occasional housewife in a frumpy dress," appalled at the prospect of being locked in a bus with "a hairy beerbarian" -- that would be me. (Glenn, I wanted to make sure you didn't get your hopes up too high - Ed.)
Yet during this event, I can report on a pleasant spring day, well spent with friendly young and mostly well-dressed urban drinkers who began as strangers but bonded through their interest in interesting beer.
This all-day journey was the second to have been sponsored by the Japan Beer Association (JBA, or Zen-koku Ji-Biiru Jozo-sha Kyogikai, not to be confused with the Japan Craft Beer Assocation, or JCBA) through the auspices of Ishikawa Tomoyasu of Japan Travel Bureau (JTB). The cost was 11,000 yen per person, which included transportation, beer and food.
The first, in March, took in Sagami Beer in Atsugi, Kanagawa; Fujizakura Kogen Bakushu at Lake Kawaguchi, Yamanashi; and Tama Beer in Hino, Tokyo. The spring version was a bit lengthier, leaving Tokyo Station at 7:30 am on Saturday, May 14, and returning twelve hours later. The itinerary covered Oze no Yuki-doke Beer in Tatebayashi, southwestern Gunma; Nasu Kogen Beer in Nasu Highlands, northern Tochigi; and Daigo Brewery's Yamizo Mori no Beer in Hitachi-Daigo, northern Ibaraki-all great destinations, but hours away from each other and from Tokyo.
The 42 passengers were generally young, mainly couples, with a sprinkling of female pairs and singles, and one or two personable beer wonks with notebooks and cameras. Perhaps not surprisingly, almost half were women, combining knowledgeable drinking with the travel and gourmet industries that would collapse without female patronage. Many had gone on the previous trip, and almost all had come to one or another of the recent Tokyo beer festivals. Those with less fluency in beer were all-eager to learn, asking intelligent questions at each stop. During the course of the day, every member of the tour made a point of approaching the foreign interloper for a friendly conversation (albeit always on the same topic!), demolishing the stereotype of the standoffish Japanese introvert.
At every brewery we were greeted warmly by the president and senior staff, and were given short but engaging tours of the brewing facilities. While the space was often cramped, the presentations were wide-ranging, especially by Daigo Beer's braumeister and resident stand-up comic, Mashiko-san, while the shy demeanor of Oze no Yuki-doke's Kurokawa Hiroyuki and Tabei Hideaki concealed their qualifications as professionals certified by the German National Beer Institute. One theme repeated at every stop was that beer taxes are too high, with the result that the government is in effect discouraging microbreweries and craft beer while encouraging the budget-conscious to drink cheap, tasteless beer.
The sampling conditions varied widely: at Oze no Yuki-doke, which has brewed sake since the 16th century, the shacho (Kezuki Yuki, who doubles as JBA president) threw open his 150-year-old house to us, spreading zabuton throughout three rooms. The garden was idyllic as well, with carp swimming in the ornamental pond under a stone bridge, as we enjoyed brown weizen, Belgian-style witbier, and the seasonal, a stout, all in plastic cups served by several overworked ladies.
Later at the Nasu Kogen resort, we were treated to a full-course lunch in a gorgeous woodland restaurant, with pilsner, English ale, and their prize-winning Scottish ale delivered in proper glasses by an endless stream of comely waitresses. The sun broke through after lunch and dappled through the leaves of the beech forest as some of us walked off our hearty lunch. The Daigo Beer brewpub, where we were served straight from the tanks, overlooked a bucolic vista of rice paddies, forests, and mountains in the distance-and no other sign of human impact to distract us from our pilsner, helles, or weizen. The total experience was one that could never be repeated in Tokyo.
The long bus ride back to Tokyo was quiet, as contented snores gently alternated with the clink of all those bottles from all those gift shops. There was one more bottle to come, as we each got a souvenir Weizen or Helles from Yamizo no Mori when we disembarked at Tokyo Station. Several of us then decamped to Popeye to report on the day, savoring the memory of a perfect spring outing. JBA and JTB are planning another such trip in September-destination undetermined, although Ishikawa-san hinted that it might be to the west. Does anyone know of a good brewpub in Shizuoka?
(Ummm, I think the Fishmarket Taproom in Numazu may qualify - Ed.)
For further information, contact the Japan Beer Association (JBA) website (in Japanese only) at www.beer.gr.jp.
Special thanks to Tim Eustace, Glenn Scoggins and Skip Taylor for their contributions to this issue. We'd love your contribution, too, so send your story ideas (or story) to brewsnews at yahoo dot com. Deadline for the next issue is June 20th.