Brews News #64
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Brews News #64 - December 2005 / January 2006
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.

Beer Here

Tokyo Real Ale Festival

February 26th (Sunday), 2006, from 2 to 6:30 pm (last call)

The fourth annual TRAF is going under the surprising name "4th be with you" and will be held this year at the Sumida Riverside Hall in Azumabashi, in the Sumida city office complex just across the river from Asakusa, and within the shadow of the famous flying golden whatchamacallit atop Asahi Beer headquarters. The 3,000 yen admission includes six 125 ml beer samples, with a special price of 2,800 yen offered on the TRAF Web site at www.TokyoRealAle.org. Tickets for additional beer will also be available, but the price has yet to be decided. Tickets will also be sold at certain pubs from around the end of December.

Complaints about insufficient serving capacity at TRAF 3 have been addressed with a beefed-up serving organization, which will employ the simple force of gravity instead of hand pumps for an even more traditional style. In addition, plans are afoot to increase the number of selections to more than the 21 offered at TRAF 3.

At present, beer will be supplied by the following breweries: Baird Brewing, Beer Club Popeye (special conditioning of beer from another brewery), Hakkaizan, Hakuseikikan, Harvest Moon, Hitachino Nest, Iki Iki, Isekadoya, Iwate Kura, Loco Beer, Minoo Beer, Sankt Gallen, Shiga Kogen, Shonan Beer, Swan Lake, TY Harbor, and Yoho Brewing (Yona Yona). Other breweries are expected to participate. Other event features will be food, live music and short seminars (in Japanese) on different aspects of beer.

Also, members of the Good Beer Club will be allowed in at 1 pm, an hour earlier than the doors open to the general public. Perhaps a good reason to join Japan's only consumer-oriented beer organization? See www.goodbeerclub.org for membership details, or send an e-mail to brew at goodbeerclub.org

Bar Beat

Cock O' the Walk in Roppongi

Andy Stark, proprietor of the Warrior Celt in the Ueno area, has recently opened up Cock O' the Walk in, of all places, Roppongi. This comfortable and cozy English-style pub fortunately has a more subdued mood, and is pleasant enough to warrant a special trip. As an extended opening special, the Cock (as Andy calls it) is offering all British beers for 700 yen a pint, quite a bit lower than the 1,000 yen other places fetch, until the end of this year.

What's more, there's a selection of English Ales in large 500 ml bottles, which are big enough to share with a friend, making it easier to sample through the remarkable variety on hand. From Badger Beers are the Original, Tanglefoot, Fursty Ferret and three other kinds. From Shepherd Neame are Spitfire and Bishop's Finger (which is also available on tap, and the two are indeed different tasting). Plus, the organic Whistable Bay and 1698 Celebration Ale. All of these large bottle ales are just 1,000 yen each.

Of course, there's a simple menu of pub meals, averaging around 1,000 yen, along with various snacks at lower prices. As of this writing, the Cock is serving lunch on weekdays.

Finally, one of the best features of the Cock is the service, in the hands of the personable and outgoing bar manager Niki from Israel, who not only keeps a sharp eye on things, but also greets each customer and responds quickly to requests.

For some reason, I sort of like the new Cock a bit better than the old Celt, and would encourage you to make a visit before the end of the year to take advantage of those good 700 yen pints. With this kind of weather, who could resist a rich, strong pint of Bishop's Finger?

Also note that Tim Leffman, who used to perform regularly at pubs in Tokyo before returning to England two years ago, is back for a short visit to play at the Celt and may be playing at the Cock on Wednesday, December 21st - call ahead for details.

Cock O' The Walk
7-15-25 Roppongi, 7th Bldg. 2F
Minato-ku, Tokyo
03-5410-5200
http://www.warriorcelt.com/cock_j.htm

Six Pick

Caught on Tap, Shonan Beers, Beers from the Big Four

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.

Caught On Tap

Seasonal beers from two of Japan's craft breweries

!!!!! Ise Kadoya Bakushu Yuzu No Kaori Ale (Mie pref.; all malt, hops, yuzu citrus) Deep gold, short-lived ivory head, striking fresh yuzu aroma backed by light, juicy malt aromas. Strong pale malt flavor with a kiss of spicy, floral yuzu. Very clean, crisp finish. Superb work on a specialty beer. Currently a seasonal, rumor has it that it will become a regular product. Tasted at Beer Club Popeye.

!!!! Country Girl Kabocha Ale (Shizuoka pref.; malt, kabocha, American Nugget, Perle and Vanguard hops; 5.7% abv.) Hazy reddish amber, short-lived ivory head, malty aroma with fruit highlights like dried persimmons. Sweet and rich malt body, almost like dessert but not as sweet, the pumpkin-like kabocha flavors unfold then fade, leaving nice lingering malt and minimal hop bitterness in the long finish. A wonderful seasonal tasted at Beer Club Popeye.

Shonan Beers from Chigasaki on the Shonan Coast

(Thanks to loyal Kanagawan Glenn Scoggins for these great beers)

!!!! Shonan Ruby Beer (100% malt, hops, Tanzawa aquafer well water; approx. 5% abv) Hazy deep amber, thick creamy light tan head, deep roasty and faintly smoky aroma similar to stout with fine floral hops layered over, rich malty flavor with good tangy bite yet surprisingly little sweetness, hops emerge boldly to give the beer a sharp clean almost-finish as hop bitterness lingers along with a tiny bit of malt flavor underneath. Quite a drinkable beer with rich, satisfying flavors.

!!!!! Shonan Bitter (100% malt, hops, Tanzawa aquafer well water; approx. 5% abv) Bright golden yellow with a gloriously thick white creamy "cotton candy" head. Prodigious malt aroma, with faint hop notes in the background. Upon drinking, there is a very forward malt flavor profile, with tinges of hop flavors fingering through the malt attack. The label gives no indication what style of beer this is supposed to be, only remarking that it is "a basic authentic beer." While it seems mainly German to me, there are rarely German-style beers with this much character. In fact, I don't know WHAT kind of beer this is supposed to be, bit it's certainly as interesting as it is delicious.

!!!!! Shonan Liebe (100% malt, hops, Tanzawa aquafer well water; approx. 5% abv) Totally black and opaque, with a sudsy tan head. Interesting roasty malt aroma with a tinge of sourness, and complex hop aromas in the background. The initial flavor is restrained sweetness and a complex malt profile, with faint tartness gently balancing the malt sweetness before the hops begin to kick in to temper the malt sweetness. This is truly an interesting beer with a distinct style. Since it won an award at the 1998 World Beer Cup in the "German-style dark beer" category, one can assume it's patterned after a dunkel, but there is more sweetness and complexity. My guess is somewhere between a double bock and a mild English stout. Very well balanced and drinkable, yet with great depth and complexity.

Big Four Beers

A selection of products by Japan's major brewers

!!!! Kirin Golden Hop (All malt, bottle conditioned, unfiltered, 5% abv). Faintly hazy deep yellow, thick whit ehead, subdued malt aroma with some hop notes coming up. Rich and forward malt flavor, joined quickly by nice hop bitterness. There is a good richness in this beer, but not really enough hop characteristics and complexity to be called Golden Hop. And, sadly, still no match for Kirin's superior Hojun, which sells for the same price.

!!! Asahi Super Yeast 2005-06 Koku Koku no Nama Beer (malt, rice, corn, starch, hops, 5.5% abv) I couldn't help but think this was some sort of premium beer, since it is one of those nicely packaged beers sent chilled to convenience stores, shelved aside Kirin's high-end brews. So imagine my surprise when, despite the deep gold color, thick off-white head and good malt aroma, it offered up a watery taste with very little aroma hop character. While it is slightly higher in gravity than, say, Super Dry, there is the same underlying fault: the hops seemed to have been used entirely for bittering, and all thrown in at the early stages of the boil. Add to that the use of three different adjuncts (rice, corn and starch) and you can understand why the beer doesn't improve as it warms, but rather becomes offensively sweet and cloying backed by only a fine line of metallic bitterness. At 213 yen it IS cheaper than Kirin's high-end products, but not nearly as good. So, in a fit of frustration, I marched out and bought Asahi's top-end Kiwami.

!!! Asahi Kiwami (malt, rice hops; 5.5% abv) This is Asahi's premium chilled-delivery product, and although it comes in a can, it's priced at 250 yen. Not that it's worth that, however. Despite the richer flavor and higher gravity, it still has a slightly watery taste, and the same one-dimensional hopping.

!!! Sapporo Classic (Brewed in Hokkaido; 100% malt, unpasteurized, 5% abv) Clear light yellow, thick yet sudsy white head, hops dominate the aroma, good crisp flavor with a touch more malt sweetness than other Sapporo lagers. Nice clean, dry finish. A good standard bearer as an all-malt lager, but lighter and more carbonated than Yebisu.

!!!! Sapporo "A Winter's Tale" 2005-2006 Limited Edition (100% malt, unpasteurized, 5.5% abv) Very clear light gold, thick sudsy off-white head. Forward malt aroma with some hops. Fairly rich malt flavor for a beer of this type. Seems better this year than in years previous. A nice change of pace when confronted with the typical selection at the convenience store.

!!!! Kirin Stout (Malt, rice, sugars, hops; 8% abv) Opaque off-black, dark tan head, subdued aroma of dark caramel, port wine and hints of sweet coffee with alcohol in the background. Very smooth, with complex layers of dark malts, with sort of a forward fruitiness that lends some sweetness in the finish, where the hops finally emerge and linger long after the malt flavors taper off. Tasted at room temperature (about 18 degrees C), which I recommend for best flavor. A fine beer to be savored slowly, and surprisingly reasonable at 250 yen per bottle. The bottle is returnable; nice touch. Do not confuse this with Kirin Black.

Beer Talk

Baird's Big Beers

By Steve Lacey & Tod McAvoy

[Editor's note: Steve and Tod sent me this article last March, after attending Baird Brewing's heavy-strong-rich winter beer event at the Taproom in Numazu. The descriptions were so compelling that I decided to save the article and run it this winter along with an announcement of Baird's big beer event this winter. Unfortunately, Bryan Baird is in the middle of starting up a much larger new brewing facility, and has decided not to hold the event this winter. However, Baird assured me that visitors to the Taproom will certainly be rewarded with a big beer or three on tap should they visit the Taproom during the colder months.]

Regular readers of the best monthly e-zine about beer to come out of Tokyo will know that 11-13 February '05 was the weekend that Brewmaster Baird was cracking open the barrels of his seasonal high gravity brews. We got ourselves organized, no mean feat, to hop a train and spend the Saturday night sampling Bryan's beer and then sleeping it off in Suihoen, a small local hotel with a resident population of motley cats.

Set on a street facing the harbor and fish markets, the Fishmarket Taproom is as appropriately named as it is incongruently located. In an otherwise austere streetscape, the Taproom sits up boldly daring to puff its chest like a canary in a row of sparrows. And while the exterior may make some concessions to the dowdy surroundings, the interior throws off all inhibitions to welcome the weary traveler with a warmth and coziness that only lashings of raw wood can provide. You could almost forgive yourself for thinking you'd stumbled into a bar room scene from Northern Exposure.

So settling in for the evening on the Saturday, we were faced with an array of decisions fit to cripple even the most sure-minded of souls. Should we start with the Hatsujozo 2005 Double IPA? The Dark Sky Imperial Stout? The West Coast Wheat Wine? Or the Ganko Oyaji Barley Wine? Or perhaps one of the regular line-up while we gather out thoughts? And for food, would the potato and clam chowder or the crusty sandwich of beer-marinated beef hit the spot? Or would the local aji be more to our liking? These and other decisions were confronted and dispatched in a long and enjoyable evening, exchanging banter and bonhomie with the local denizens of Numazu and fellow beer pilgrims alike.

The next day we visited the fish markets for a sublime set of sushi that would have been twice the price or half the quality if it were consumed in Tokyo. Later on the Sunday we were privileged enough to be enjoying a couple of beers for the road in the Taproom when Bryan Harrell arrived with Michael Jackson in tow, both looking a bit frazzled after the dash down from their dual effort at Popeye. What a rare treat it was to meet and share a few words with this world legend of beer writing. It was nice to meet Mr. Jackson as well. A gentler and more unassuming man of such influence you'll never find.

And the Baird winter beers? Oh yes, I knew I started writing this for a reason. Well, the rollicking atmosphere fuelled by such great beer actually made it untenable to go making studious notes, but here are some hazy recollections:

Hatsujozo 2005 Double IPA
Lacey: Big malt backbone, slightly sweet middle palate supported by robust bitterness and abundant fruity citrus late-kettle hop flavor. Despite a big flavor, no overwhelming sense of it being a high alcohol beer. Typical Baird balance.
McAvoy: The IPA is a jocular engaging beer. Some say it's too sweet -- well, at least one person said that. Sure, it's sweet. But the sweetness doesn't jostle the other flavors or aromas, and some people might just find it a pleasant surprise.

Dark Sky Imperial Stout
Lacey: Rich...dark...smooth...chocolatey...rich....raisins...did I mention rich?
McAvoy: The stout was truly stout, in all senses of the word. This one I returned to again and again. This beer has reach, and it is consistently rewarding.

West Coast Wheat Wine
Lacey: ooh...very smooth and initially innocuous little number. Creamy, honeyish with subtle notes of spice. Is that vanilla? Again, perfect balance veils the alcoholic sting in the tail.
McAvoy: Much lighter, the wheat wine had trouble leaving a strong impression next to the other three, but it seemed to have more breadth. I suspect that it would go down just as well in spring, and maybe even better.

Ganko Oyaji Barley Wine?
Lacey: Low carbonation allowing the beautifully smooth rich flavor of dark malts to offer up suggestions of treacle, prunes and smoke. Damn, Bryan, where's the fireplace?
McAvoy: The barley wine is the big standout. Given a fireside and cigars, I might be ready to forego summer for this one. This is a novel of a beer, one that you want to read again and again.

So there it is. If you hear of more Baird seasonal offerings, and you are feeling even half inclined towards a night out of town, you could do much worse than to poke on down to Numazu and see for yourself what is coming out of the taps and hand pumps in the Fishmarket Taproom.

New Year's Eve at the Taproom

A special countdown party will be held on Saturday evening, December 31. For event details, write to info@bairdbeer.com . The Taproom will be closed on Sunday, January 1 but will be open for business from noon on Monday and Tuesday (January 2-3). The Taproom will then close on Wednesday and Thursday (January 4-5) before resuming the normal business hours on Friday, January 6.

Montana Beer Report

By Skip Taylor

The microbrew revolution continues apace in the U.S., resulting in very interesting beer from unexpected corners of the country. Last summer I happened to be in Montana, and enjoyed two beers that I had originally thought were from the same brewery due to the similarity of the company names. However since they're from the same state we may as well profile both.

The first is from Big Sky Brewing Company (www.bigskybrew.com) based in Missoula, Montana. For those unfamiliar, that area of the U.S. is called "big sky" country as it's quite flat, making it easy to see the sky all the way to the horizon in every direction, quite an experience on summer nights.

The beers on this brewery's website are all ales - a plus in my book as I'm an ale fan. Big Sky's contribution is Scape Goat Pale Ale. It features a cream-white head and an autumn-like burnt orange color. The flavor spreads slowly across the palate, adding a hint of caramel to a base flavor of mixed fruits. It's got enough bite to make one beer meaningful but also has a clean finish and drinking several would not gum up one's palate. Those who prefer a complex, lingering character might be less enthusiastic but for a social outing or with food this is a good choice. Big Sky's distribution is limited to the western part of the northern U.S., California and Alaska.

The second brewery is Big Hole Brewing Company, which doesn't seem to have its own Web site, but shows up a lot on searches. It's easy to get them confused with Big Sky, but Big Hole is based in Belgrade, Montana. Their beers all have a Native American theme and feature T-shirt worthy graphics on the labels.

I tried their Wisdom Amber Ale, with a picture of an Indian chief on the label. It has a copper brown color, quite dark for an amber ale. The flavor impression suggests apricot but there is a woody, smoky subtext, almost like barbecue. The flavor leaves a bit more of a lingering impression and dissolves, rather than vanishing. This beer also makes for easy drinking and would be a great summer brew with a cookout or picnic. Big Hole has a mailing address and I believe their labels are actually available as T-shirts. Hopefully their home page will be back up soon. If you happen to spot either of these beers in your travels I recommend giving them a try.

News

Baird Holiday Joy Spiced Ale

Brewing festively spiced ales in celebration of the Christmas - New Year holiday season is a special and long-standing tradition in the beer world. Baird Brewing is honoring this wonderful custom with the annual release of Baird Holiday Joy Spiced Ale. Released on December 9th, the 2005 version is a robust, red-hued winter ale with a pleasant alcoholic warmth (approx. 6% abv).

Three popular Christmas-season spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and clove) are added to Holiday Joy at the end of wort boiling, lending a magnificently festive aroma and pleasantly sweet spice flavor to the beer. It's equally good as an aperitif or as a nightcap (or, for that matter, anywhere in between). It is enjoyed most fully, though, when imbibed in the company of friends and family.

In Tokyo, Baird Holiday Joy Spiced Ale is now on tap at Beer Club Popeye (www.40beersontap.com). For more information on Baird Beer go to: www.bairdbeer.com

Special Year-end Prices on Rogue Ales from Phred Kaufman at Ezo Beer

Phred writes: These beers are stocked in two different locations so please order at least two cases from group A or B. Note that there are 24 bottles in a case.

Group A: Marked down to 200 yen from 370 yen (4,800 yen per case). Best-by date is the end of November but the beer is fine. 1. Noboribetsu Valley of Hell Smoked Beer, an award winning Rauch beer. 2. Fubuki, a strong winter ale.

Group B: Marked down to 300 yen from 370 yen (7,200 yen per case). Best-by date is end of April, but the beer should be fine until next fall. 1. Oregon Golden Ale (White Crane). 2. Brutal Bitter (Namara Nigai). 3. Chocolate Milk Stout (no milk, this is a lactose stout).

Shipping is free but tax and a 300 yen COD charge will be added. To place an order write to: phred at ezo-beer.com

BEERS Report

The newly formed BEERS, an English-speaking beer club, is steaming ahead with a number of successful meetings to its credit. On December 10th, the group made a secret beer safari to what turned out to be Harvest Moon brewery restaurant in Maihama, Chiba. This was followed by a Winter Beer Seminar by group founder Tim Eustace at Beer Club Popeye, on December 13th. The group meets on the third Tuesday evening of the month, with Saturday outings held on most months. To join the group, send an e-mail to tokyobeers at yahoo.co.jp .

Scottish Evening

The Tama Community of the Good Beer Club will be holding a "Burns Night" on January 29 (Sunday) 2006 at Bar & Brasserie Cromdale in Nakano Sakaue. Featured will be the Scottish dish haggis and other food, along with a selection of Scottish beers and a new craft whisky made in Chichibu. The event is limited to 20 people and admission is 4,500 yen (4,000 yen for GBC members). For more information, contact: tama at goodbeerclub.org

For other Good Beer Club events, go to www.goodbeerclub.org

Check Czech

It seems that nobody is able to write about Czech beer without making the "check" pun. No exception is Pstros, an interesting new online Czech beer retailer in Tokyo. Their flyer reads "Czech Check" and offers interesting facts about the Czech Republic. Their site currently offers Strapromen and Bernard beers for sale, along with lots of information (all in Japanese, though) about the Czech Republic. See for yourself at www.b-info.jp/Pstros

Special thanks to Steve Lacey, Tod McAvoy, Glenn Scoggins (free beer!) 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.com. Deadline for the next issue is January 22nd.