Brews News #62
Brews News #62 - October 2005
Yokohama Cheers Opens
By Jonathan Lloyd-Owen
Hideki Horikawa realized that beer wasn't just for salarymen to get drunk on when he quaffed his first glass of Belgian brew a little over a year ago. Overwhelmed by the discovery, the 47-year-old has since quit his job in advertising and is opening his own beer bar 5 minutes' walk from Yokohama Station.
European Beer House "Yokohama Cheers" will pour its first pint on October 3. For the first three nights, all draft beers, which include Baird IPA, Bellevue Kriek, Edelpils and Marston's Pedigree, will be 500 yen. There is also an extensive lineup of bottled beers, many from Belgium, and what looks to be a fairly tasty food menu.
Opening hours: 17:00-1:00 Mon - Sat (from October 3)
Happy Hour: 17:00-19:00 daily. 200 yen off all draft and bottled beers
Shinko Building B1, Tsuruyacho 3-32-14 Tsuruyacho, Kanagawa-ku, Yokohama
Phone 045-311-7804 http://www.yokohama-cheers.com
To get to Cheers, take the Diamond underground shopping concourse from the West Exit of Yokohama Station. Walk till you reach Exit 12 (South), surface and you should see a branch of Jonathan's on the far side of the expressway from the Camelot hotel. Turn left at Jonathan's (no relation) and walk parallel with the expressway to your left. The Shinko Building is on the right, and Yokohama Cheers is located in the basement along with a Chinese restaurant and a jazz club.
Oktoberfest at the Gotemba Kogen Brewery
By John Chambers
This year there seemed to be a number Oktoberfest celebrations springing up in and around Tokyo, so I decided to get out of Tokyo and check out the Gotemba Kogen Oktoberfest being held over the long weekend of September 23rd - 25th. My friend and I attended on Friday the 23rd, which was a good choice as the weather was ideal, around 25 degrees and mostly sunny. We caught the 10:20am Odakyu Romance Car out of Shinjuku for the 90-minute ride to Gotemba. The train was completely packed, but luckily only a few fellow passengers were headed to the beer festival. At Gotemba station, after about a 10-minute wait, we caught the free shuttle bus that took us directly out to the Gotemba Kogen brewery, arriving at about 12:30.
The festival was being held in a picnic area/garden in the middle of the grounds of the brewery complex, right in front of the main restaurant. There was a temporary tent set up with long rows of tables anchoring the event area. Plenty of plastic tables and chairs as well as wooden picnic tables were set up close by. We staked out one of the tables in a nice shaded area. At one end of the main tent was a second tent housing the beer and food.
At the other end was a temporary stage, where various acts (from a traditional German band, to a magician, to a local University cheer squad) attempted to entertain the crowd over the course of the day. Although the Oktoberfest events were all concentrated in this area, you could come and go as you pleased and were free to wander the grounds or check out the various restaurants and shops.
Now, on to the beer. On offer in the beer tent were 26 different beers; six from the host brewery, about ten from various other Japanese local breweries, and about ten imports, mostly German, although they also had Hoegaarden White and Leffe Blond from Belgium. All beers were offered in two sizes of plain plastic cups, small (about 7 ounces) for 300 yen and large (about 14 ounces) for 600 yen.
My friend and I mostly opted for the small size so we could sample as many beers as possible. Although I lost count and did not take written notes, we probably tried around 15 of the 26, mostly the Japanese beers, before we decided to concentrate our drinking on what we liked. By far our favorite, and no real surprise, was the Baird Pale Ale. Other memorable brews were a Strong Ale from Kyoto (I forget the name) and another pale ale, I believe from Hokkaido. I thought the Bitter from Gotemba was the host brewery's most interesting offering (if my memory serves me correct) although still somewhat underpowered as are many Japanese attempts at more adventurous styles; the rest of their line-up was OK, but nothing stood out.
As for service, I never had to wait more than about 30 seconds for a beer, and maybe a minute or two for food. The selections available at the official food stand were generally tasty and reasonably priced; they had a number of staples such as various sausage platters, fried potatoes, and the like, as well as some more healthful fare such as fresh vegetable sticks and green salad.
They were also very relaxed about the whole thing. I saw many people who brought their own supplies, and you were free to wander over to the nearby shops and restaurants and bring stuff back to where you were sitting. The fresh-baked bread and cold mineral water we picked up at one store were a welcome supplement. If you preferred the local beer, you could even buy cold bottles or large takeout jugs at the nearby restaurant.
My overall impression was this was a very nice event. It was certainly well organized and not too crowded. The attendees were mainly Japanese couples and families; and of the several hundred people in attendance I saw maybe a total of ten other Westerners. The venue was ideal, and the Brewery would even be worth a visit on a normal day if the weather was good and you were in the neighborhood. My friend and I left as the sun was going down, having thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing afternoon. However, the party was still going strong, seemingly newly energized by the Filipino cover band that had just hit the stage.
Zum Eichen Platz
All Tokyo needs is another German beer bar? Why, of course! This new one in Akasaka, near TBS, is a welcome addition. Specializing in Spaten, Franziskaner and Flensburger beers, it is certainly reminiscent the German Farm Grill and the three Franziskaner Cafe in Tokyo. Rumor even has it that the owner used to work for Zato Shokai that runs them. The food menu is also impressive; our "salad of the day" was a bed of greens topped by swordfish in basil sauce. Of course, there are all the sausage and potato dishes you could want. Recommended beers are the Flensburger Pilsener, the Franziskaner Weiss Dunkel (a dark wheat beer) and the potent Spaten Optimator Doppelbock.
Zum Eichen Platz
5-5-11 Akasaka 2F, Minato-ku
Go out exit 7 of Akasaka Station (Chiyoda subway line), turn right, and walk about two minutes. You'll see it on the right.
This wonderful little hole-in-the-wall, introduced in Brews News last fall by Jonathan Lloyd-Owen and Robbie Swinnerton, has been open for about a year now, and always seems to be packed by the time the sun goes down. It's a 'stand bar' meaning just that - no seats, just belly up to the bar and order from among their beers on tap. You have to love a place with beer on tap only, and good beers at that.
From the conventional Edel Pils lager to the popular Hoegaarden White all the way to the deliciously drinkable Yona Yona real ale and Baird Beer's beautiful creations, Towers is the quick stop for good beer. The food menu is minimal, but most people stay satisfied with the free beer snacks like peanuts and rice crackers in big jars on the bar - help yourself. It's near the Yaesu side of Tokyo Station, with Kyobashi station on the Ginza Line the closest.
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 big intersection (shortly after the Yaesu Book Center), then turn right down the side street at the Kinko's. Towers is on the right about 50 meters down. 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.
Billing itself as a 'Homemade Deli & Micro Brewery' bar, this little place is a welcome addition to the north end of Tokyo Station, in the Kurobei Yokocho complex of medium-sized restaurants and drinking places. Like Towers, it's a standing bar, but with lots of thick wood in the tables, there's a certain comfort factor. Despite the excessive hype of August-brand beer during the month of August, it was still a satisfactory pilsner that I'd give three stars. Less satisfactory was the two-star Red Sunset Barleywine from Nihonkai Yuhi Misaki beer of Niigata. For eats, I found the breadsticks and rolls (100 yen/piece) quite tasty.
Marunouchi 1-9-1, Kurobei Yokocho (B1F).
Open 11am-11pm daily.
On the walkway on the north side of Tokyo station that connects the Marunouchi and Yaesu sides, take the stairway down one floor when you are near the Shochu Authority, and you will be very close.
Touchdown Brewpub in Kiyosato
On the upper edge of Yamanashi prefecture, hard on the border with Nagano, is the little tourist mountain town of Kiyosato. While the look of the area around the station will make you wonder if this is the sister-city of Harajuku, a longish walk down the hill to the highway will take you to Rock Brewpub, where Yatsugatake Touchdown Frontier Beer is served. Although the brochure touts the talents of retired Kirin brewer Kazumi Yamada, his term as consultant may likely have expired some time ago because both varieties of beer we had there were hardly better than journeyman homebrewer stuff.
Nevertheless, the pub is very pleasant on the inside, and the food was good and fairly priced. The house-made sausage assortment was tasty and only 850 yen, while the peculiar "sauerkraut" was not very sour, but contained salad beans for an interesting touch. Worth a visit if you're in the area.
Rock Brewpub Restaurant
3545 Kiyosato, Takane-cho, Hokuto-shi, Yamanashi
Local Brews, plus the Asahi "Yeast Number" series
Koedo Brewery Dinkel (Kawagoe, Saitama; all malt, unpasteurized 5.5% abv) Rich golden orange, ivory short-lived head, striking malty aroma with fruity and herbal notes, with aroma continuing into rich and complex layers of flavor with a touch of malt sweetness that quickly subsides as hops emerge to balance the lingering malt flavors. This is a rich lager with a heavier than average body, yet sweetness is in check and alcohol is normal. With an overall big-yet-dry sensation, this is quite a satisfying brew. Not to be confused with "dunkel," Dinkel is German for spelt, an early type of wheat, which presumably makes up a portion of the malt. While the Koedo Brewery Web site claims that this is the only dinkel beer brewed in Japan, it gives no details on the ratio used in the beer.
Koedo Brewery Satsumaimo Lager (Kawagoe, Saitama; happo-shu, 25% malt, with hops, unmalted barley, and sweet potatoes (satsumaimo), unpasteurized 7.0% abv. Deep amber brown, tan short-lived head, rich aroma much like an amber ale with those caramel and dark toffee notes. The flavor is straightforward; sweet, rich yet a bit starchy/grainy flavor with an unmistakable sweet/oily flavor of sweet potatoes, but with minimal malt tanginess and toffee notes common to brews this color. Despite the rather heavy body, this is pretty much of a simpleton of a beer, and has a decidedly "extract" flavor common to beginner home brews, yet manages to pack an impressive 7% of alcohol, possibly making it a hero brew to any soccer hooligans laying about. I truly disliked this beer when I first had it about seven or eight years ago, but now I am wondering if there are some beer fans out there who may like brews like this. Of course, the region where this beer is brewed is famous for sweet potatoes, which explains its reason for existence in the first place. Matches well with Cheetos.
Heaven's Door Strong Golden Ale from Hamanako Brewery in Shizuoka Pref. (barley malt, wheat malt, hops, sugars, yeast; unpasteurized, unfiltered, bottle conditioned, 9% abv.) Bright gold, short-lived thin white head. Astonishingly powerful aroma of juicy malt, hops in background, and alcohol apparent. Thick, rich texture with gobs of pale malt in full force. Carbonation is minimal, but sufficient. Reminds one of a heavier version of Westmalle Tripel, or actually, Bush Amber 12%. This is a massive beer, and the initial richness of the layers of pale malt flavors backed by intense hop bitterness induces salivation. In short, this is a golden ale with the volume turned up to 11. There is a long middle palate where the flavors turn a bit spicy and estery, blaring on like a full horn section in a big band, followed by a gentle tapering of an ever-lengthening finish. Not quite as complex as the Belgian ales compared above (which happen to be somewhat less expensive), but certainly a great work of beer with many admirable traits, and should definitely be tried by those who enjoy the finest Belgian tripel ales. Worth every bit of the 543 yen I paid at Tokyu Toyoko-ten Foodshow liquor shop, right underneath Hachiko in Shibuya.
Fujisakura Kogen Rauchbier, draft version I had the pleasure of tasting the draft version of this beer during Popeye's Octobeerfest and was surprised how different it was from the bottled version of this superb German-style smoked lager. The half-pint pulled by Aoki-san at Popeye had a big, dense and creamy off-white head, minimal aroma, and a very soft mouthfeel that was smoother than that of the bottled version. Tangy malt dominated the initial flavor, with minimal hopping to get in the way of the smoked malt flavors. The finish was lighter and cleaner, while the color was somehow lighter than I'd recalled for the bottled version. Overall, this version gets an extra half-star. While I normally don't subscribe to the theory that draft is always better than bottled, this beer serves as great evidence for those who believe so. (Tasted at Beer Club Popeye)
Workingman's Mild from Baird Beer (cask conditioned; unpasteurized and unfiltered, 3.2% abv) Dense tan creamy head, slightly hazy deep brown, pronounced hop aroma. Light body by rich, roasty taste with a slightly flinty mineral aftertaste. Very low carbonation is just enough to give sufficient body, but low enough for very easy drinking. Roasty malt flavors continue, with a hint of the darkest roast malt in the background. Very refreshing finish, but still offers a satisfying range of complexity. (Tasted at Towers)
Red Sunset Barleywine from Nihonkai Yuhi Misaki beer, Niigata Pref. (all malt, 6.7% alcohol) Not quite a barleywine, a bit unusual to be classified by style. Dark, dark brown, deep tan head, molasses aroma (uh oh, extract?) with a bit of tartness. Fat, sweet deep coffe/dark toffee flavors, molasses flavors quickly emerge with a mineral-like bitterness (blackstrap?). Heavy mouthfeel, low carbonation, low apparent bitterness. Liqueur-like finish hangs around like unwanted relatives after three days. (Tasted at barBar)
Asahi "Yeast Number" Series
Interesting that on 9/21 Asahi put on sale a limited production series of four beers, each made with a different Asahi proprietary yeast. While Asahi #920 is a top-fermenting ale yeast, the other three are lager yeasts. All four beers are pretty much the same, although there is no indication of the four beers sharing the same recipe and ingredients.
Asahi 111 (all malt, hops, #111 yeast; unpasteurized, 5% abv) Bright light yellow, thick white sudsy head, faint aroma of good malt with hops in background. Strong carbonation, light malt flavor with a few juicy notes with faint hop bitterness in the background. A light beer with a standard German lager character. The can says that #111 yeast brings out the aroma of malt and creates a smooth taste.
Asahi 318 (all malt, hops, #318 yeast; unpasteurized, 5% abv) Bright light yellow, thin short-lived white sudsy head, moderate malt aroma with hops present. Strong carbonation, light malt flavor with a somewhat richer character than others in this series, backed by some hop bitterness. A slightly Germanic version of the typical Japanese lager. The can says that #318 yeast creates a good balance of rich flavor and a quick, quenching finish. Apparently, #318 is used in the immensely popular Asahi Super Dry.
Asahi 787 (all malt, hops, #787 yeast; unpasteurized, 5% abv) Bright light yellow, thick white creamy head, hop aromas dominate over fairly substantial (for this series) malt aroma. Strong carbonation, with hops dominating a rather rich malt flavor with a sturdy "squareness" that reminds me of the Kirin Lager of 25 years ago, but without the style of hopping that creates a good hop aroma and complexity. A good, medium-bodied lager with a satisfying richness. The can says that #787 creates a good solid body and brings out some rich aromas.
Asahi 920 (all malt, hops, #920 yeast; unpasteurized, 5% abv) Bright light yellow, thin white sudsy head, faintly sweet malt aroma, hops in decent balance. Strong carbonation, light malt flavor with a smooth mouthfeel with faint hop bitterness in the background. Perhaps the most lager-esque ale I have ever tasted. The can says that #920 yeast brings out a very lively aroma, but ensures a clean taste with a quick finish.
"It's All About Taste" - Huh?
Yep, that was the headline of an article in the Yomiuri Shimbun earlier in September. Well, not exactly; the headline in Japanese read "Aji Ga Kimete" which literally means 'Flavor is the deciding factor.' The story was on a survey taken by popular ISP goo, which polled some 1,084 adults on their preferences on the beer they drink at home.
They were asked to choose up to three beers from the major Japanese brewers (oddly, other beers were not included in the survey) in each of three taxation categories, beer, happoshu and (for want of a better word) Frankenbeer, known as "the third beer," and made without any barley malt at all.
The results are not so surprising, given the small sample of respondents and the narrow range of brewers. In Beer, Asahi Super Dry took 52%, followed by Kirin Ichiban Shibori (43%), Yebisu (18%), Kirin Lager (18%) and Suntory Malt's (15%). While it looks like Asahi is on top, Kirin's combined total is 61%.
Kirin also comes out on top in Happoshu with a combined total of 48%, while Sapporo cleans up in the Frankenbeer category with a combined total of 29%. While it is reassuring to note that 51% of respondents stated that they would not drink Frankenbeer at all, it must also be noted that flavor is less important than price for about half of beer drinkers. But to me, the real story is that beer is taxed too highly in Japan, and the current taxation system benefits those who produce and consume inferior-tasting beer, to the detriment of those who are doing their best to brew, and enjoy, better tasting beer.
It's sad that the current beer taxation system is working to popularize inferior brew. The concept of "price" must necessarily take into account value, and even though a good ale anywhere from Baird to Belgium may cost twice as much as Super Dry, it clearly offers me (and likely you, too) many more times the satisfaction. The next time you buy beer, cast your vote for those who care about making truly good beer, and support them for their efforts in contributing to, even in a small way, the quality of your life.
Baird Beer Announces Yabai-Yabai Scotch Ale
Bryan Baird writes: "Scotland long has been one of the important centers of beer brewing. The cold climate has favored cultivation of the hardy barley plant in Scotland, while the relative paucity of sunshine has proved problematic for the growth of hop plants. Accordingly, Scottish Ales tend to be richly malty rather than zestily hoppy.
Moreover, relatively cool ale fermentation temperatures result in brews that are not highly attenuated - i.e. they remain rich in residual sugars and thus round and full-bodied in flavor. Baird Yabai-Yabai Strong Scotch Ale (7.2% abv) is, in a word, rich! It is liquid opulence that verges on decadence. Its deep mahogany color and creamy tan head immediately conjure images of northern country fall foliage. The warming effect begins in the nose, with the wafting of soft fruit esters and warm fusel alcohols. As the aroma dovetails into the flavor, notes of molasses, caramel apples, rum cake and maple syrup perform a fall festival on the palate.
Just as a chewy malt sweetness blankets the mouth; however, it is peeled back by the ethereal pull of a vinous character reminiscent of port or sherry. One fulsome pint is enough to take the bite out of the evening autumn chill. Two pints will leave you toastily, and blissfully, warm. Three pints and - YABAI! Very limited supplies of Yabai-Yabai Strong Scotch Ale exist, so come quickly to the Fishmarket Taproom for a pint or two of this autumnal joy!"
Belgian Beer Dinner - Magical Mystery Tour - Part Two
This month's theme will be "malty" (read 'even heavier') Belgian beers. The accompanying dinner will feature the Belgian specialty Fricadelles (a type of meatball) and Iberian-style raw cured ham.
Bois Cereste in Akasaka
Wednesday, October 12, 7 p.m.
7,350 yen (includes a light meal and several beer selections)
Please make your reservations by October 6th by contacting Mr. Yamada of Bois Cereste directly.
Daytime (home) 03-3584-0859; Evening (bar) 03-3588-6292
E-mail: cereste at m2.pbc.ne dot jp
2-13-21-B1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
British Pub Sutherland in Mitsukoshi
October 11-16 at Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Dept. Store
October 18-24 at Ikebukuro Mitsukoshi Dept. Store
(To be held during store hours)
This "British" promotional event will feature a special Best Bitter brewed especially for the event by Toshi Ishii of Yona Yona Ale fame, and various unusual Scottish beers imported by Ezo Beer. Also featured will be British eats (fish & ships, sausage, etc.) and single-malt whisky (Ben Nevis, Laphroig, Longmorn).
Octobeer-fest at Beer Club Popeye finishes October 30th
Just a month left on one of Tokyo's best Octoberfest celebrations for craft beer fans. Customers may ask for Octobeerfest point cards, and will receive one point for each half-pint ordered, and two points for each pint ordered. For each 10 points earned, you get a coupon for a half-pint of beer, and for each 20 points earned, you get a coupon for 1,000 yen worth of food. The best feature of this event, though, is that a total of 45 beers will be served throughout the weeks of the event. Every Thursday, a new set of beers will be released.
Now through October 5th are six beers from Baird Brewing (pale ale, amber ale, IPA, brown ale, porter and stout). From 10/6-12 are six beers from Echigo Brewing (pale ale, pilsner, Koshihikari rice ale, wizen, amber ale and stout). From 10/13-19 are five beers from Yoho (Yona Yona) Brewing (pale ale, barleywine, Abbey ale, Tokyo black ale, and stout) plus five beers from Swan Lake Brewing (golden ale, amber ale, weizen, Koshihikari rice lager, and porter). Finally, from October 20th - 30th, beers from the most popular brewery of the event will be offered on tap. This is a fantastic opportunity to taste most of the best craft beers currently brewed in Japan. For more information on Beer Club Popeye, go to: http://www.40beersontap.com/
Announcing BEERS, the English-speaking Beer Club
Beer Enjoyment, Education & Research Society (BEERS) was the name chosen on the September 20th meeting called by beer enthusiast and Brews News contributor Tim Eustace, and attended by four interested Brews News readers. The group will meet every 3rd Tuesday at a different pub in Tokyo. For more information on the group, e-mail to tokyobeers at yahoo dot co.jp
Next meeting: Tuesday, October 18 7:30 pm at Kura Kura in Shimokitazawa
YLS Craft Beer Tasting
The October 7th event has been postponed, and a new date has yet to be announced. For more information, go to http://www.kokusaika.org/index_e.html. http://www.kokusaika.org/english/beer.html
Good Beer Club events
See www.goodbeerclub.org for club information
November 20th (Sunday) 3 to 5:30 pm November Beer Party - this is the party after the 2006 General Meeting of the Good Beer Club. Cost is 4,000 yen and includes a great deal of beer, along with some food. It will be held at the Shinagawa-ku Chusho Kigyo Center near JR Oi Station and Tokyu Oi Station (south of Shinagawa). For reservations, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to John Chambers, Jonathan Lloyd-Owen and Robb Satterwhite 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 October 28th.