Brews News #66
Brews News #66 - April 2006
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.
Second Annual Osaka Real Ale Festival
Saturday and Sunday, April 8 and 9, 2006
Featuring Real Ale from five participating breweries: Baird Beer, Ise-Kadoya Bakushu, Ya-Ho Brewing, Ikiiki Ji-Biiru, and Minoo AJI Beer
Place: Masamichi (a restaurant specializing in Japanese food and craft beer), Shinko Bldg. 1F, 1-1-15 Higashi-Obase, Higashinari-ku, Osaka (one minute on foot from the east exit of JR Tamatsukuri station or three minutes from Exit 4 of Tamatsukuri subway station, next to Higashi-Kobashi-Kita Park)
Tickets: Y3000 each (for admission and a pack of six tickets for food and beer worth Y500 each). Additional food items and half-pints of beer for Y500 each.
Web site: http://masamichi.main.jp/oraf-02001.html (in Japanese only)
(submitted by Glenn Scoggins)
Great Japan Beer Festival 2006
This is THE beer event in Japan each year, and should not be missed! The price of admission allows you unlimited 50 ml samples of some 120 kinds of draft beer. Please note that last call for beer is 30 minutes before closing time. There will also be a "real ale" corner offering over 12 kinds of cask-conditioned ale at an extra charge.
Tokyo: Ebisu Garden Place, the Garden Hall
Osaka: Umeda Sky Bldg, Tower West 10F, Umeda Aura Hall
Tickets will go on sale in April, and are available at 7-Eleven, Family Mart, Lawson and Sankus convenience stores. The event is organized by the Japan Craft Beer Association, 0798-70-0911, mail(at)beertaster.org / www.beertaster.org
An Evening of Slow Beer
By Phred Kaufman
Living in Sapporo, I usually miss out on Tokyo beer events since just getting there and back (Y50,000 round trip) is a little steep. But this time I was in luck. I received an e-mail informing me of Hiroyuki Fujiwara's fourth slow beer event, to be held when I'd already planned to be in Tokyo, on February 19th at 2 pm at Sotokoto LOHAS Kitchen & Bar, in the basement of the Maru Bldg. opposite the Marunouchi exit of Tokyo Station. I replied immediately, which was lucky because all thirty spots were soon taken. I arrived to see the place filled with a mix of people involved in the beer trade and beer geeks.
The proceedings started with a draft Pilsner from August Beer. I've never heard of this brewery, which was started by a former Kirin employee. The beer was a little sweet but well balanced, and was paired with dried veggie sticks, pretty bland but sturdy, and a good way to check for loose fillings.
The next beer was a Dunkel from Chateau Kamiya. It was quite good and had a sort of rum-prune chocolate cake aftertaste. (Chateau Kamiya is owned by Godo Shusei, a large liquor producer dealing mainly in cheap shouchu. They are most famous for Denki Bran, a liquor that, as its name may imply, is supposed to give a shock to your system, and its fragrance is unnervingly similar to the cheap aftershave my father used to use.) The Dunkel was paired with a pork shabu on a bed of mizuna salad and topped with a dunkel sesame dressing. As the attendees crowded around the counter kitchen Hiroyuki, adorned in an Anchor Steam apron, gave a demonstration of how it was made.
The third course was Duvel strong golden ale from Belgium, served with a satoimo (taro) and ground chicken gratin. The strong spicy flavor of the Duvel overwhelmed the gratin, but at this time I was getting quite a pleasant afternoon beer buzz and didn't really care.
The final beer was Hakuseikan Crystal Ale, weighing in at an impressive 12% alcohol, so I'd call it a blonde barley wine. This was paired with Yuzufumi-no kuzukiri. Yuzu is a type of citrus, and kuzukiri is from arrowroot starch, and is one of those bland Japanese desserts that usually have sweetened azuki beans dumped on them. The tartness of the yuzu just managed to peek out from the overwhelming taste of the Crystal Ale.
My pleasant buzz turned into a darn good one, and all in all I thought the event was well worth the Y5,000. The beer and food pairings were good, as was the company. Hiroyuki's steady patter during the event had a little of everything, so everyone from the beer 101 beginner to the hardened beer geek was never bored.
After the event a group of us walked though the bowels of Tokyo station to the Bar Bar to sample some Rogue Mocha Porter, and finished off with Belgium beer and mussels at Antwerp Central across from Tokyo International Forum. A very pleasant Sunday in Tokyo. For info on the next slow beer event contact, Hiroyuki Fujiwara at fujiw(at)ra.fm
[Ed. Note: Hiroyuki Fujiwara is Chief Editor of a new magazine, The Beer & Pub, specializing in all aspects of beer. Published quarterly in Japanese, the magazine is a wonderful parade of interesting articles and stunning photography. Do look for it the next time you're in a bookstore. - Bryan Harrell]
Pangaea and Sputnik
By Glenn Scoggins and Robert Stern
The residential wards of southwest Tokyo are leafy and pleasant, with quiet neighborhoods dotted with a tiny park here, a quaint shrine there, and punctuated occasionally by a shotengai (shopping street) with housewives and grannies making their daily rounds. Senzoku is one such area, notable for its pond and little more - except that lurking just beneath the surface of this placid suburb is one of Tokyo's quirkiest pubs, a jewel called Pangaea. Named for the primordial landmass from which all continents drifted away, it attracts a clientele that reverses the geological process, bringing together lovers of real ale, sports, and cigars from around the world.
Kobatake Shoji ("Koba" to his friends, one of which you will be a few minutes after you stumble down the stairs to his door) went to England and discovered the pub lifestyle. It changed his life, and when he reluctantly returned to Japan, he determined to replicate his ideal. His bar is cozy (read cramped), full of character (read decrepit), and laid-back (read verrrry relaxed). In a word, a perfect place to kick back and chill out.
He'll show you anything you want to watch on the video monitors; he'll cook you up some wholesome, hearty grub; and he'll gladly talk with you all night about beer, especially real ales. His eclectic and ever-changing repertoire (see the website for the latest update) generally tends towards England, Scotland, Belgium, and Germany, including hard-to-find kegs of real ale from Tring Brewery and Bath Ales and bottles of Schlenkerla Rauchbier and such brain-benumbing Belgians as Achel 8, Rochefort 10, and Westmalle Tripel.
Recent guest beers have included Weihenstephaner and Poperings Hommelbier. Rogue's Brutal Bitter and Swan Lake IPA are available as well, and some of the most interesting beers are the anonymous home-brewed masterpieces that appear from time to time. Koba is understated but knowledgeable and will expound about each of these if asked. This is the place to end an evening, or to arrive early and spend the entire evening.
A contrast in decor but not in hospitality, Sputnik is a futuristic, fashionable cocktail lounge that would not be out of place in an architectural magazine. A long, high cherrywood counter wraps around the bar area, with white upholstered sofas clustered around low tables. A penguin motif accentuates the glacial simplicity of the interior design, as does a simple display of Soviet space-age technology on the way to the toilets.
A mysterious tower of wicker baskets seems oddly not out of place. Unobtrusive bossa nova plays in the background, while the subdued lighting and the austere quiet create a romantic atmosphere (which is totally spoiled by, or wasted on, two thirsty middle-aged gaijin). But attentive service thaws the arctic chill: ask for a Yona Yona Real Ale and it appears, complemented by a sherry glass full of yeast sediment! Baird Beer (the bartender is a fan) is represented by Rising Sun pale ale, Angry Boy brown ale, and (on a recent visit) Country Girl kabocha spiced ale. Prices are appropriately stratospheric; a Country Girl will cost you Y1600.
Sputnik's beer menu features the usual Who's Who of world beer. There's also an extensive cocktail list, a judicious selection of single-malt whiskeys, and a surprising number of rums - fourteen. The wine list is similarly pricy, with a bottle of Robert Mondavi commanding Y9000, but a glass of the house Chianti is a more reasonable Y500.
As will have become evident, this is not a beer bar, but there are any number of reasons for a beer lover to go: Want to impress your date with your savoir-faire? Thirsty for a well-made beer when your friends want wine, whiskey, or mixed drinks? Need a quiet place to land that big contract? Just passing through the neighborhood? (Naka-Meguro is convenient to lots of places.) You might not rush over to penetrate Sputnik's airlock tonight, but make a note for your next Christmas Eve or Valentine's Day.
B1F Villa Senzoku
Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo 142-0062
5:30 pm to 1:30 am almost every day (check website for occasional holidays)
Located five minutes from Senzoku station (Tokyu Meguro Line), next to a post office
7F Green Plaza
Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0051
7:00 pm to 5:00 am every day
Located three minutes from Naka-Meguro station (Tokyu Toyoko Line)-turn left as you exit the station and walk until you see the Green Plaza building and the Sputnik sign
All-malt Mainstream Japanese Beers
Sapporo Hatake Ga Mieru ("The Field Can Be Seen") Beer (100% malt, unpasteurized, 5% abv). First a little background: This is a special Sapporo release made with hops and barley sourced from 118 farms in southern Germany, and is said to be brewed in the Helles style, a light lager. The beer itself has a very clear light gold color, sudsy snow white head, clean understated floral aroma with faint malt background. Very light body, with comparatively rich flavor with malt and hops in good balance. Very fine malt and hop flavors, but just not enough of them. This beer is too polite and too understated, so comes off as a bit flabby for one made with such high quality ingredients. If the gravity was upped, bringing the alcohol to about 7% this would be one amazing brew. Still, a better choice than most other mass-produced Japanese beers.
Suntory Malt's New Version (released March 2006; all malt, unpasteurized, 5% abv) Very bright medium yellow, dense sudsy white heat, very nice hop-dominant aroma. Good full-on malt flavor, and great balance between malt and hops. There is a nice creamy mouthfeel, and the malt flavors linger nicely without excessive sweetness. The finish is long, and marked by complex hop flavors. Suntory just keeps getting better at defining mainstream Japanese lager, and I believe has now completely taken over from Kirin who, some 25 years ago, produced the most distinctive and flavorful beers of this style. This new version of Malt's is, I believe, their best yet, and while it's unlikely the one I would choose in most situations, this is the style of beer that most people drink. While the Malt's Super Premium is a better beer, this new Malt's regular is closing the gap.
Suntory Malt's The Premium (all malt, unpasteurized, 5.5%) Virtually identical in appearance to regular Malt's. The main difference is in the aroma, which exhibits a better quality of hops (and more of them). A smaller difference seems to be in the quality of the malt, which has slightly more defined flavors. But the two Malt's are essentially the same beer with differing degrees of flavor definition. Of course, the small difference in price is worth it for the Premium, but that's not to say the regular Malt's isn't a good mainstream beer in its own right.
Asahi Super Malt (all malt, unpasteurized, 3.5% abv). Very bright pale yellow, thick sudsy white head, hops predominate over malt in the aroma (very unusual for Asahi). The beer itself has a decent body with some creaminess in the mouthfeel before the finish, with mostly hop flavors lingering. This is about as light as an all-malt beer gets, and is similar to many German lagers brewed for export. Nice concept, a low-alcohol, lower calorie all-malt beer. This is a decent product; too bad Asahi puts practically no marketing effort into this beer. I believe this was Asahi's only all-malt beer until the recent release of Mild Aroma.
Asahi Mild Aroma (all malt, unpasteurized, 5.5% abv). I've often complained about Asahi's signature hopping style, where it seems that all the hops are put in at the beginning of the boil, and none toward the end, so that while the beer has sufficient bitterness, it is sorely lacking in good hop aroma. So allow me the snide comment that this is about the best name for an Asahi Beer - Mild Aroma. However, this one does have more aroma than I've sensed in most other Asahi beers, yet is still not as nice as Suntory Malt's. Medium gold, dense sudsy white head, somewhat forward aroma dominated by malt, with hops close behind. Comparatively rich malt flavor initially, though the body is thin, and does not match, but the effect is soft and smooth. As the malt flavor fades, bitterness emerges and matches the malt flavors in a surprisingly long finish for a beer like this.
SPECIAL: The British Are Coming!
I don't know whether to call this a new trend or not, but there seems to be a wave of British beers washing up ashore in Japan. The three examples I've seen recently are the Badger Beers, Skinner's and Young's, and all are in larger 500 ml bottles.
Badger Beers were served for at time Roppongi's Cock o'the Walk pub, being imported by owner Andy Stark. I'd had several different varieties, including Fursty Ferret and Tanglefoot, and they all tasted oddly similar, with none of them particularly memorable. This was surprising to me, since Badger is a brewery with over 200 years of history. Never mind, Andy no longer has them on the menu.
Skinner's beers are imported by James Bradford, who runs Avon Drinks in Fukuoka. Last December, James was kind enough to send me quite a number of them, along with a few other beers he is importing (like the wonderful Little Creatures Pale Ale from Australia). I served them at a beer tasting party I had just after the New Year, and most everyone remarked how similar they were. Oh, the names were clever, and the artwork cute, but the six varieties we shared were remarkably similar, a bit underhopped (like the Badger Beers) and (again) not very memorable. They weren't bad, mind you, but rather generic in flavor. With names like Keel Over, Cornish Knocker, and Betty Stogs Bitter on their cartooned labels, my friends and I wondered who these beers were intended for. (Interestingly, the labels of three of the six beers tasted indicated that contributions to a certain charities will be given from the sale of each beer.)
Young's beers have been imported into Japan for years, but have recently undergone a packaging change, and now are available in handsomely shaped 500 ml bottles. At a recent tasting, I found these to be quite remarkable, and certainly worth seeking out. No clever names, no cutesy pretense, these are honest beers with distinct flavors, and I had a hard time picking out my favorite - all were as good as they were distinctive. Fortunately, I found the Special to be quite stunning, with a glorious, assertive and well-defined hop profile, supported by a richly complex malt backbone. Also of note is the Double Chocolate Stout, which is so intoxicatingly sensuous it could possibly be classified as an aphrodisiac.
Cheap But Good
By Eric Wong
There is no problem buying cheap beer or beer-like drinks in Japan. Just go into any supermarket or convenience store and the range of happoshu and third-category beer-like drinks is simply amazing. Buying quality beer at low prices, on the other hand, has always been a lot harder. Everyone has their favourite import beer shops, but usually the prices are on the high side. However, there are some places that sell cheap imported beer of good quality. Here are some of my recommendations.
Costco has quite a modest selection of beers from around the world at very good prices. They sell many imported macro beers including Guinness, Budweiser, and even Australian favourites XXXX, Fosters and Victoria Bitter. Mexican Corona Extra is also on sale. The beer I recommend though is Cooper's Original Pale Ale and Best Extra Stout. You will have to buy a carton, which means 24 x 330ml bottles, but when you calculate the price per bottle it turns out to be around 180 yen. On rare occasions I've seen Cooper's Ales at a liquor shop in Tokyo for 285 yen. The thing to remember about Cooper's is that it is a real beer. It is simply much better than the other offerings at Costco and it can hold its own with many other fine beers.
However, there are two main drawbacks with Costco. First, you have to be a member. A Gold Star Membership is available for individuals at 4,200 yen. Costco membership entitles you to shop at any Costco worldwide. The second drawback is location. Basically, a car is essential as there are few Costcos in Japan and they are inevitably located a long way from where ever you live. However, the trip is well worth the effort considering the advantages of wholesale bulk shopping. It's not just the beer that is cheap, you know.
Other good places are Kawachiya and YaMaYa, both are mentioned on the Tokyo Food Page. Kawachiya is a liquor chain store that has branches all around the Kanto area, but the two shops that sell imported beers are located in Shibuya and Kasai. They boast a selection of around 200 imported beers at very reasonable prices. For example, you can get Chimay Red for 298 yen or St. Bernardus Abt 12 for 498 yen.
Not only do they have great prices, but also they have special hard-to-find beers from time to time. When stocks are available they have Trappist Westvleteren 12 (Yellow Cap), which was voted the world's number one beer on Beer Advocate and scored a 100% on Ratebeer. On occasion they also have Westmalle Extra, which is rumoured to be usually only available at Westmalle's monastery and even then only to their private guests. But at 999 yen a bottle I wouldn't call it cheap at all. In May they will also be getting in the very rare Chimay Black for 999 yen as well. As with the Westmalle Extra, this beer is usually only available at the monastery where it is brewed.
YaMaYa is not only a liquor chain store; they also have a great selection of imported foods as well. With around 167 stores nationwide, there is bound to be a store close to you. Since I haven't been to all 167 stores, I can't say that there will be a good selection of imported beer in every store. Typically, YaMaYa does not have as big a selection as Kawachiya, but they do have some of the lowest prices around.
For example, they have Boddingtons Pub Ale 1 pint for 398 yen, Bass Pale Ale 330 ml bottle for 198 yen, Bass Pale Ale can for 169 yen, Paulaner Hefeweizen 330ml for 298 yen, and Diebels Alt 330ml for 298 yen. They also have Hoegaarden White, Grand Cru and Forbidden Fruit at very good prices. And for that extra special occasion, you can buy a 750 ml bottle of Chimay blue for 950 yen there as well.
So, there you have my best three for cheap but good imported beers. If anyone else knows of other places that have cheap imported beer then please let us know.
Here is a list of all the YaMaYa stores around Japan.
BEERS Hanami and Homebrew Party
Saturday April 1st from noon at Yoyogi Park (tentative)
Sponsored by the Beer Enjoyment, Education and Research Society (BEERS), an English-speaking beer club in Tokyo, this event will be a cherry-blossom viewing and drinking party (hanami) with a handful of homebrewers invited, who will bring some of their beer. In case of rain, the event will be postponed until the following Saturday, April 8th. For details, write to tokyobeers(at)yahoo.co.jp
Upcoming Good Beer Club events:
* Hanami Lamb BBQ party on April 8th from 11 am to 3 pm at the BBQ area in Musashino Park, a short bus ride from Musashi Koganei station on the JR Chuo Line. Members Y3,500, non-members Y4,000, children Y2,000. For details: tama(at)goodbeerclub.org . Park info (in Japanese): http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/kouen/park.cgi?id=65
* Spring Beer Hiking is now being planned by the Beer & Travel group, but the date and location are pending. If you're interested, please write to tishida(at)goodbeerclub.org
Belgian Beer Dinner - Wednesday, April 12 from 7 pm.
A light meal will be served with courses matched with quite a good quantity of various Belgian ales. April's theme will be golden strong ales. Cost is Y7,350; please reserve by April 8th.
Bois Cereste, 2-13-21 Akasaka B1, Minato-ku, Tokyo, phone 3588-6292. Also mark your calendars for the Beer Lovers Club event on Saturday, May 28 from 3 to 9 pm, when Belgian beer from their extensive menu will be offered at significant discounts.
Baird Releases Morning Coffee Stout 2006
This new brew is formulated to specs similar to a Foreign Export Stout but with one major twist - the addition of fresh coffee beans. A Mocha Blend Coffee with beans coming from Brazil, Ethiopia and Indonesia, was ground at the brewery and steeped in the whirlpool.
According to brewer Bryan Baird, Baird Morning Coffee Stout (abv approx. 6.5%) is coffee black, and sports a richly latticed creamy tan head from which emanates the roasty and sweetly acrid aromas of mocha coffee. The flavor is rich, robust and expressive in the mouth and yet provocatively stimulating in the finish. The rich sweetness of the mocha coffee is aided beautifully by a blend of highly roasted Chocolate and Black malts, while the stimulating acridity of the java beans is underscored by an ensemble of Nugget, Horizon and Mount Hood hops.
Baird Morning Coffee Stout is now on tap at the Fishmarket Taproom, and is available both in kegs and bottles from select Baird Beer retailers throughout Japan.
Ichiban Shibori Unfiltered
Kirin will be releasing an unfiltered version of its Ichiban Shibori beer on April 5th as a new entrant in its Chilled Beer series sold at convenience stores. For details see: www.kirin.co.jp/brands/index.html#chilled
Phred Kaufman is offering a special price to Brews News readers on beer he imports.
You must order at least two 24-bottle cases of beer. The beer is warehoused in two different locations, so please order at least two cases from either group A or B.
Shipping is free but 5% sales tax and a Y300 COD charge will be added.
To order, please contact Phred at phred(at)ezo-beer.com
Special thanks to Phred Kaufman, Glenn Scoggins, Robert Stern and Eric Wong for their contribution 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 (May) is April 23.