Brews News #60
Brews News #60 - August 2005
Ise-Kadoya Bakushu: another reason for an Ise pilgrimage
By Glenn Scoggins
Which Japanese beer has the oldest historical roots? Many drinkers might guess Sapporo, brewed since 1876, or Kirin's progenitor, Spring Valley Beer, founded in 1872. Wrong, and wrong.
The right answer lies in the small coastal town of Ise, home of the Grand Shrine of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, ancestress of the imperial clan, and (surprise!) a beer whose heritage can be traced back to 1575 (third year of the Tensho era, for those who keep track of such things). A family enterprise now in its 21st generation, Niken-jaya-mochi Kadoya-honten produces an excellent beer in the shadow of the Shrine at the wellspring of Shinto tradition - and provides a modern reason to make a pilgrimage to Ise.
Throughout the centuries when Shinto exerted a spiritual tug akin to Islam today, and Ise was its Mecca, travelers from Kanto and Kansai made their way overland or by sea to worship the goddess at the apex of its polytheistic hierarchy. Many came by boat from Nagoya along the coast of Mie-ken, docking at the wharf on the Seta River just downstream from the shrine. To refresh them after their long journey, the Suzuki family prepared soft, munchy rice dumplings (mochi) covered with powdered sesame; next door another merchant sold them udon noodles. These two stores (Ni-ken) and their tea houses (chaya) gave their name to the neighborhood, which endures despite the disappearance of the noodlemaker. The Suzukis expanded into miso, soy sauce, and other condiments such as tamari (100% soy-based soy sauce, without any rice), and more recently a line of sausages and the latest craze, a vinegar health drink made of biwa fruit called Biwamin.
While the 20th head of the Suzuki clan looked after the traditional business, he gave his son Narihiro free rein to expand into craft beer. After graduating in biochemistry and traveling extensively, Suzuki founded Ise-Kadoya Bakushu in May 1997, purchasing top-of-the-line Canadian equipment and producing an initial line of stout, weizen, and an English-style pale ale hopped with Kent Goldings. However, Destiny intervened in the form of Michael Jackson: on a visit in 1999, he suggested that they switch to an American pale ale style with Cascade hops, and the result has been one of the most exciting and consistently drinkable pale ales in Japan, winner of numerous domestic and international competitions, including the 2002 Japan Beer Cup and 2003 Australian International Beer Awards. (The weizen, made with 50% wheat malt, and the stout are workmanlike as well and have won their share of prizes, but they do not set the imagination on fire as does the pale ale.) One of Ise-Kadoya's original enthusiasts and promoters has been Beer Club Popeye's Aoki Tatsuo, who for many years has encouraged adventurous drinkers to sip the pale ale
More recently, head brewer Nakanishi Masakazu (overseeing a staff of one) has branched out into a Scotch ale and, in honor of Beer Club Popeye's recent 20th anniversary, an English Dark Ale made with U.S. Goldings hops. An interesting experiment, Yuzu no Kaori Ale, is made with citrons from nearby Miyagawa-mura. This special brew is very refreshing on a hot summer afternoon.
Suzuki and Nakanishi have expanded further with an even hoppier version of the pale ale, made with Cascade hops and a local Ise-Shima heirloom variety of rice (kodaimai), called Shinto Bakushu (spelled "Sinto" on the antiquarian label). It is their first beer in 330 ml bottles (all the others are in tall, narrow half-liter bottles) and their first in cans, produced off-site. Introduced last autumn, it managed to snag a bronze medal in the same category in which its parent won the gold. A limited-edition "premium" version is also brewed to a whopping 9% alcohol.
Destiny rang the doorbell again last year when Real Ale Evangelist Toshi Ishii of Yona-Yona recommended that Suzuki and Nakanishi join his cask-conditioned bandwagon. The results, from equipment provided by Ishii, are on sale at Beer Club Popeye until stocks run out, but not at home in Ise, since all of their limited supply of casks are held captive in the capital like so many samurai!
Beerlovers who also crave Tokyo's trademark summer heat and humidity can head straight to Beer Club Popeye and order an Ise-Kadoya pale ale, either in the "real ale" cask-conditioned version, or in (what should we call the alternative? analog?) modern-day CO2 draft version. However, those with a day or two to travel who prefer breezy rural scenery to the urban slog should wander south from Nagoya along the rocky coast of Ise Bay, stopping at the Grand Shrine to pay homage to the gods, or perhaps worshipping instead at the brewery, shop, and upstairs pub, Biyagura.
Built in a remodeled turn-of-the-century "kura" warehouse with the original rafters, the pub is a wonderful place to drink, eat, or talk with the friendly brewery staff and the pub manager, Matsuoka Yoshihiro. It features a large square counter area with seating on all sides, surrounded by several open eating areas and some private rooms, with dark wooden beams and Japanese-style stained-glass windows. The lunch buffet is a bargain, with a full menu at night spotlighting Ise's rich cuisine of seafood and Matsuzaka beef. If you plan a trip in October, watch the website for the annual Ise-Kadoya festival, with beer (and beer fans) from across Japan.
The neighborhood is also a thriving repository of living tradition: mochi are still made in the original shop (where current boss Suzuki Narihiro will point out the upstairs room where he was born), which is open for tours. Behind it is a small museum of Tokugawa-era tools and miso vats, doubling as a boathouse next to the wharf for excursions on the Seta river. Next to the brewery is another ancient building with exhibits of miso and tamari equipment (which you can smell before you see it). All of this, of course, is minutes away from the shrines that form Japan's spiritual heartland, and within an hour are the resort town of Toba, the seafood and pearl islands of Kashikojima, and theme parks devoted to Spain and to medieval Japan.
If you can't make a trip to Ise, you can always order by phone, fax, or internet. Gift sets are available of any combination of bottled beer, at Y900 per bottle (with discounts for multiple orders) or beer plus sausages, miso, or tamari soy sauce. Orders arrive the next day by refrigerated door-to-door package delivery service, with no charge for orders over Y4000.
For further information about Ise-Kadoya Bakushu beer, contact Suzuki Narihiro (in English or Japanese): firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel 0596-21-3108. And the next time you're at Beer Club Popeye, ask for a "Niken-jaya-mochi Kadoya-honten Ise-kadoya Bakushu Pale Ale" - you'll trade one mouthful for another.
Ise-Kadoya Bakushu and Restaurant Biyagura
Ise-shi, Mie-ken 516-0017
Free Dial 0120-20-2868
Ise-shi, Mie-ken 516-0017
Located ten minutes by bus or taxi from JR Ise-shi station (Kansai and Sangu lines from Nagoya) or Kintetsu Uji-Yamada station (all Kintetsu express trains from Nagoya, Osaka, and Kyoto stop there). See Web site for map and directions.
[Editor's note: Not only was Glenn nice enough to research and write this article for Brews News, he was also quite the gentleman to send me three bottles of Ise-Kadoya Bakushu for my appraisal.]
Ise-Kadoya Bakushu (all malt, 5% abv) While this is a Pale Ale, there are a few features that distinguish it from all others, most noticeably the gentle bottle carbonation and the rather light color. It pours deep gold, with a tight off-white head. The striking aroma is primarily akin to dried apricots and other dried fruit, with some hop notes poking up. The initial mouthfeel is very creamy and soft, followed by a thrilling balance of juicy malt flavors and easily identified Cascade hops that begin supplying bitterness as the malt sweetness quickly fades. The carbonation is very light, but not enough to make the beer seem flat or watery. It has a light body, yet flavors are full with a surprising amount of malt tang. This is definitely a great session beer if you are able to afford a night's worth. - Bryan Harrell
Baird 5th Anniversary Party
July 16-18, 2005
The thing about making the trek from Tokyo down to Numazu to Baird Brewing's Fishmarket Taproom is that there's not much to say, but plenty of reasons to go. Last month, my reason for going was the 5th Anniversary Party of the Taproom, which stretched through the three-day weekend from July 16 to 18. As always, it was the comfortable and relaxed atmosphere that I enjoyed straight off. The vibe is relaxed, but the service is prompt and attentive. For the event, a special buffet was prepared for 1,000 yen a person (with no time limit!) featuring a good variety of different types of dishes, including lots of fresh vegetables. Baird's finely crafted ales were also a great deal at 500 yen, but even the normal price of 700 yen a pint they're a bargain.
But the beer is the real reason to go, and though it's been among the best in Japan for a while, this time it was better than ever. The Imperial Pilsner Baird brewed for Beer Club Popeye's anniversary earlier this year was on limited serving, one glass per customer. While the previously bottled version rated four stars in last month's Brews News, the draft version served in the Taproom that day easily took five stars. While I don't want to encourage the idea that Baird beer is always better at the Taproom, where it is brewed downstairs, I will have to admit that in some cases the beer has been better there. But I like to think that it's just the fresher air and the more relaxed atmosphere of the Taproom that creates a better frame of mind to enjoy the beer. For that reason alone, I highly recommend a visit (or a re-visit for the luckier among you) to the Taproom in Numazu sometime soon.
Numazu is easy to get to from most places in Tokyo. From the West side, you can take the less-expensive Odakyu line to Odawara, and then change to JR to complete the trip.
For details on the Fishmarket Taproom and Baird Brewing, go to: www.bairdbeer.com
Namamugi is a stop on the Keihin Kyuko line between Kawasaki and Yokohama, with a sleepy little shopping street that seems unchanged for 25 years. More importantly, it's where Kirin Beer has a large brewery complex out on the highway. A ten-minute walk gets you there, and once inside the gates you'll find the Kirin Spring Valley Brewpub to the right, where their original Spring Valley Lager and Dunkel Beer are served year-round, joined by other originally brewed seasonal beers. The food is good and fairly priced, and other Kirin products, most notably the hard-to-find Kirin Stout (8% abv) are available as well. Both regular beers, plus the Weizen (served through the middle of August) are reviewed in the Six Pick feature below. While more exotic brews can be found elsewhere, the beers at Spring Valley are straightforward and well-crafted, and certainly free of defects thanks to Kirin's impressive technical prowess.
Kirin Spring Valley Brewpub
For reservations and information, phone 045-506-3017
Their Web site is only in Japanese, but is easy to navigate.
After beers and food at the Spring Valley Brewpub, on the walk back I visited the King Pelican Pub on Namamugi's shopping street. I'd heard they were offering an original beer, and was curious to try it. Besides, how could I resist a place that bills itself as a 'fresh malt pub'? While it wasn't up to the quality of beer I'd had at the Spring Valley Brewpub, the atmosphere of King Pelican was very pleasant, and their collection of single malt whisky was quite impressive. They're also open until 2am daily except Sundays and national holidays. A review of King Pelican original beer in the Six Pick feature below.
King Pelican "Fresh Malt" Pub / Namamugi 045-503-1950
Original Beers and Bargain Brews
This month I'm highlighting several 'original beers' that pubs and restaurants are increasingly offering. Reviewed are beers from an the Aburiya Fudo Pub in Azabu Juban and from Kirin Beer Village and King Pelican Pub, reviewed above in Bar Beat. The second part of this feature, Bargain Brews, was to be put in next month's issue, but since I'd finished the reportage in an evening, I thought the information would be timely in this season of higher beer consumption and lower bank balances. Bargain Brews are ones that I consider good beers for the money; two are very well brewed lagers, the other one is a happoshu from Belgium made especially for the Japanese market, surprisingly good for its even more surprising price.
Azabu Juban White (low malt Happo-shu; 25% malt) High clarity light gold, short-lived white head. Thick honeyed malt aroma, cooked cream corn aroma, strong "malt extract" taste, minimal hops.
Azabu Juban Red (low malt Happo-shu; 25% malt) High clarity ruby red, short-lived light pink head, aroma of cheap grape soda, This is not a beer. Both Azabu Juban beers are 800 yen at Aburiya Fudo, a fantastic izakaya with great food and sake. Azabu Juban 1-8-6, phone 3568-6224. You can also purchase them retail at Iriyama, Azabu Juban 2-1-8, phone 3453-0561.
Kirin Weizen (wheat and barley malt, hops, yeast; 5.5% abv) Cloudy pale yellow, dense white hed, lovely floral and fruit aromas that carry into the flavors, which are standard for this style, and a notch above Ginga Kogen's offerings. Slightly undercarbonated, resulting in somewhat watery and 'weak malt' flavors yet with a very soft texture and easy 'session beer' drinkability. 420 yen for 360 ml at Spring Valley Brewpub.
Kirin Dunkel (barley malt, hops, yeast; 5% abv) Clear reddish brown, thick light tan head, faintly fruity, pronounced dark caramel flavors on the front end, lingering in mid-palate, but with a quick, dry finish. Mild carbonation for easy drinkability. 420 yen for 360 ml at Spring Valley Brewpub.
Kirin Spring Valley (barley malt, hops, yeast; 5.5% abv) Medium gold color, thick off-white head. Brisk, hoppy aroma, good solid malt flavors, some sweetness, with spikes of juicy malt flavors and tiny pinpoints of carbonation, full rich malt flavor that lingers, then stops for a quick finish. A very superb example of the Japanese lager style, and worth a trip to the Spring Valley Brewpub, where it's 470 yen for 400 ml.
King Pelican Pale Ale (barley malt, hops, yeast, abv N/A; brewed in an undisclosed Yokohama microbrewery for the King Pelican Pub) Pale amber, off-white sudsy head, odd 'wet-dog' aroma yet still drinkable. 600 yen for about 300 ml at King Pelican Pub in Namamugi.
For information on Kirin's Spring Valley Brewpub and King Pelican Pub, see the article above in Bar Beat.
Purchased at Maruman Store (above Yoyogi Koen station) at prices indicated.
Super Premium Reijou Beer from Echigo Beer (all malt, unpasteurized, 5% abv) Very pale light yellow, great aroma of malt and hops in good balance, tastes like a good German export lager, but with a lighter body. Hops are prevalent in the quick finish. This beer had a very attractive balance of flavors, and with its light body, should delight almost anyone. A bargain of a Japanese craft beer at 188 yen. www.echigo-beer.co.jp
Koedo Mittlebauer (all malt, unpasteurized, 5% abv) Deep yellow, tight and thick off-white head, malt aroma with minimal sweetness. Rich, solid malt flavors with a dry finish marked by long lingering hop bitterness. An excellent lager, especially considering it's only 210 yen, a bit less than Japanese mass-production beer. http://www.acity2001.co.jp/koedobrewery/f_shohin.html
Nomiccho Kiko Beer Pilsener Happoshu (25% malt, hops, wheat, barley, corn flour, corn syrup; 5.5% abv, brewed in Belgium). What a strange mongrel this brew is. Okay, the label says Beer in six languages, and underneath the word PILSENER you can barely make out the characters for happoshu. What gives? Then, the Belgian brewery Melchers is identified, along with the fact they won an International Award in Brussels in 1937 for something or other, though it couldn't have been happo-shu because it wasn't invented then. Finally there's the cheesy name which seems to infer drinking but, according to my Japanese friends, is pretty much nonsense. Well, enough ridicule, what's it like? Pale yellow, white short-lived head, minimal aroma. Rough texture, but rather bold hopping for a quenching effect. Overall, it's a slightly sub-par version of a mainstream Japanese beer. The price? Just 118 yen, making it a practical choice for an end-of-a-long-party beer. Quite possibly the cheapest Belgian beer ever imported into Japan.
I must say that what all these beers have in common is poor label design. All share a chaotic collection of mis-scaled fonts and weird, busy layouts. What they need is someone like Eiko Nishida, who designed all the fabulous labels in the Baird Beer lineup.
I Can't Believe It's Not Happoshu!
Just when you think the state of brewed malt beverages in Japan couldn't get any lower, there emerges a class of SUB-happoshu brews masquerading as beer. Taking advantage of an even lower loophole in Japan's alcohol tax regulations, these brews are made from a roster of ingredients virtually unrecognizable by those who appreciate good craft beer. Going under the sinister-sounding classification of "other miscellaneous alcoholic beverages, category 2", they retail for 131 yen a can. And while they do contain hops, they are somehow brewed without any barley malt at all! Apparently, soybean peptides and caramel coloring does the trick. At any rate, next month's Six Pick will feature these FrankenBeers with the standard description accorded to normal beer.
If you have any experience with these brews, or any related comments, I'd love to pair them with the reviews. Please send them to Brews News at Yahoo dot Com by August 31st.
Belgian Beer Dinner
This month's event will be a blind tasting featuring popular Belgian beers. Participants will be asked to guess the style, the region, the brewery and even the brand. No prizes are prepared for those who score highest, but blind tastings are always fun. In this case, this is where the rubber hits the road for Belgian beer posers and know-it-alls. I myself may forsake beer for a few days in advance to give my palate the edge it needs to compete with the seasoned regulars at Bois Cereste. For details and reservations, contact Mr. Yamada directly.
Magical Mystery Tour of Belgian Beer
Wednesday, August 10, 7 p.m.
7,350 yen (includes a light meal and at least three beer selections)
For details and reservations, contact Mr. Yamada directly.
Daytime (home) 03-3584-0859
Evening (bar) 03-3588-6292
Bois Cereste: 2-13-21-B1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
The Aldgate moves to a new location on August 11th. This British-style pub in Shibuya, which offers such good brews as Yona Yona Real Ale on traditional style handpump, said goodbye to their old location on August 2nd, and will be moving a few blocks away to a new location. The new Aldgate is on "Center-gai," a block past the McDonald's on the right side of the street, just before Recofan. The address is: Shiniwasaki Bldg. 3F, 30-4 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku; phone (03) 3462-2983. For details and a map, go to: http://www.the-aldgate.com/newweb/map_n.htm
It's not just Happy Hour, it's Happy Month! It will be "happy hour" the entire month of August at the Maple Leaf in Shibuya, with all drinks 100 yen off all the time until the end of August. For details on this lively Canadian sports bar, go to: www.maplesportsbar.com
Amusement, a funky late 1970s-feeling bar (actually opened in 1980) in Shibuya with a wide range of beers, will be undergoing a long-awaited remodeling from August 7 - 11, with the new remodeled version opening on August 12th. Notable is that they're open until 5 a.m. and serve food until the wee hours. For details on Amusement, go to: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/g094600/
Japanese Craft Beer at the Yokohama Curry Museum
The Yokohama Curry Museum in Kannai, Yokohama has opened a "Ji-beer Museum" featuring 100 Japanese craft beers, along with two from India. Apparently, you can select a brew to go well with your curry. The event will be held until September 20th, though the Website gives no information on prices. Among the many brews offered are a few I can readily recommend, such as the Fujisakura Kogen Rauch and Weizen beers, the Baren beers from Iwate, and the Sankt Gallen beers from Kanagawa. For a list of the beers, go to: http://www.currymuseum.com/news/index050504.html
Special thanks to Glenn Scoggins for his contribution 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 August 25th.