Brews News #67
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Brews News #67 - May 2006
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.

Beer Here

Great Japan Beer Festival 2006

Last year's Japan Beer Festival in Tokyo

This is Tokyo's premier beer event, where you can drink unlimited 50 ml samples of some 120 kinds of mostly Japanese craft beer.

Tokyo: Ebisu Garden Place, the Garden Hall
Saturday May 6, 2:30-7:00 pm
Sunday May 7, 11:30 am - 5 pm
Y3,500 in advance, Y4,000 at the door

Advance tickets for the Tokyo event are now only available through Friday at certain beer spots such as Popeye, Kura Kura, Ushi-Tora, Copa, Pangea, Aglio, and Franziskaner Cafe locations. For a complete list, go to http://cgi.beertaster.org/user-cgi-bin/gjbf/ticket06.htm You can also purchase tickets at the door.

Later this month a similar event will be held in Osaka:

Osaka: Umeda Sky Bldg, Tower West 10F, Umeda Aura Hall
Saturday May 27, 1-6 pm
Sunday May 28, noon-5 pm
Y3,000 in advance, Y3,500 at the door

For the Osaka event, advance tickets 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@beertaster.org / www.beertaster.org

Niigata Craft Beer Fair

Wednesday May 17 - Sunday May 21, 10:30 am to 6:30 pm
N'Espace in Omotesando

While I missed this event last year, I was able to attend in 2004 and found the selection pleasant, albeit small. Small samples of beer from all the craft breweries in Niigata prefecture are free, and bottled beers may be purchased to take home. Contributor Glenn Scoggins mentioned that the number of craft breweries in Niigata seems to decrease each year, while the quality of beer that remains seems to increase. Downstairs from the event is a small restaurant serving reasonably priced beer and small snack items during the event.

N'Espace is located at 4-11-7 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; phone 03-5771-7711. It's one minute from Exit A2 of Omotesando station, and just across a small street from the Omotesando Hills complex. For a map, go to: http://nespace.info/kannai/access.html

Swan Lake, one of Niigata's up-and-coming craft beers in terms of quality, has just opened Niigata-style pub restaurant location in Ginza. See the report by Glenn Scoggins below in Bar Beat.

Best Belgian Beers at Bargain Prices
Beer Lovers Club at Bois Cereste

Saturday May 27, 3 to 9 p.m.

Every few months, Bois Cereste holds this special event, offering most of its Belgian ales in a more casual format at far lower prices. Buy a book of tickets for Y3,500 and use them to purchase beers at roughly 30% less than normal prices. Tickets may also be used to purchase light foods off their menu at corresponding discounts. Bois Cereste has by far the largest selection of Belgian ales in Tokyo.

I attended the last event on February 26th with a friend, and here's what Y3,500 got us: Lindemans' Pecheresse, Blanche de Namur, Westmalle Double, Westmalle Tripel and Tripel Karmeleit. That's Y700 for each - not a whole lot more than regular retail, and far less than anyplace else in Tokyo. Plus you get a pleasant atmosphere, beers served in their official glasses, and access to owner Yamada-san's superb knowledge of Belgian beer. Don't miss the event on May 27.

Bois Cereste, 2-13-21 Akasaka B1, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Phone 3588-6292

Also check out the monthly Belgian Beer Dinner on Wednesday, May 10 from 7 pm. A light meal will be served with courses matched with quite a good quantity of various Belgian ales. May's theme will be Belgian White beers matching with seafood. Cost is Y7,500; please reserve by May 8th.

Bar Beat

Swan Lake Beer in Ginza

Swan Lake Beer, like other breweries based in the countryside of Niigata, boasts spacious premises and an expansive restaurant with a garden and a view. How to recreate this atmosphere in crowded Tokyo, where physical space is the ultimate luxury? In late January, Swan Lake opened a charming basement restaurant in this planet's Ground Zero for luxury - Ginza. Instead of windows looking out on thatched-roof farmhouses and mountains in the distance, they have aimed for an interior design reminiscent of the 19th-century architecture of their original brewpub. The result is Kura-rin Ginza Lounge, subtitled "Niigata Japanesque."

Imagine yourself in a warm rustic roadhouse, sheltered from a blizzard raging outside, surrounded by unfinished wooden and plaster walls in a uniform maroon (echoed in the leather seat cushions), with shoji dividing the space into intimate eating areas. Interior windows of bamboo and indigo-dyed cotton coasters are among the design elements, along with a menu bound in washi paper. The subtle lamps and wall hangings are redolent of Meiji tastes, updated with Heisei highlights to the accompaniment of pleasant (and just barely noticeable) jazz. All of these accentuate urbane sophistication with a classically Japanese sensibility, perfect for the Ginza location. The entire effect is Japanoiserie presented as an exotic foreign culture - as indeed the rural 19th century must seem to a citizen of the 21st century.

Kura-rin is a feast for the eyes and the palate, with simple hearty food and a full range of Swan Lake beers. Golden Ale, Porter, and Amber Swan Ale are on tap for Y580 (a 380-ml glass) or Y300 (an 80-ml thimble). Bottles of White Swan Weizen and Koshi-no-mai Koshihikari Shikomi (brewed with the eponymous top-rung table rice, also the staple of the menu) run Y750 for 380 ml. Real ale is yours for Y600 per glass. Lunch specials range from Y980 to Y1260. The dinner menu is more elaborate, with entrees generally between Y1200 and Y1900, and full-course dinners starting at Y4200. Ishiyaki meals are the winter specialty, cooked on a red-hot stone. The waitstaff are friendly, attentive, and helpful, if not particularly knowledgeable about beer. If you find yourself in Ginza with a thirst and an hour to spend in pleasant surroundings, stop by Kura-rin - it's the next best option to a vacation in Snow Country.

Kura-rin Ginza Lounge: Niigata Japanesque
B1F Kumo Bldg., 7-16-21 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Phone 03-5148-2333
http://www.swanlake.co.jp/ main/ kura_rin_ginza_info.htm
Map: http://www.swanlake.co.jp/ main/ kura/ ginza/ kura_rin_ginza_map.jpg
Open 11:30 am to 2:00 pm, and 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm; Closed Sundays and Holidays
Three blocks south of Kabuki-za theater and Higashi-Ginza subway station (Hibiya Line), Kura-rin is located on Kobiki-cho dori, two blocks east of Showa-dori, across from a post office.

Ushitora in Shimo-kitazawa

Open March 3rd, this new specialty beer bar, with 20 beers on tap, was anticipated to give a lot of competition to the existing Kura Kura ji-beer house, but actually both places seem to be doing quite well as it turns out. Robb Satterwhite writes in the Tokyo Food Page: "This comfortable, friendly specialty bar serves twenty beers on tap, including some very good microbrews from Japan and the US, and even a few hand-pumped real ales. The bar food is generally good and inexpensive, with a few exceptions (call us crazy, but we prefer our Shepherd's pie without big globs of mayonnaise)." See the Tokyo Food Page listing for location data and map.

Six Pick

Craft Beers

This month we have one US craft beer, three Japanese craft beers, and Kirin's new unfiltered, 100% malt version of Ichiban Shibori, which may be as close as mainstream Japanese beer gets to craft beer. The sixth is a mystery beer: can you guess what it is?

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.

!!!!! World Burp Beer 2006 - Ezo Beer, produced by Rogue Ales of Oregon USA. All malt, unpasteurized, 6.5% abv. This is a revival of Phred Kaufman's controversial 2002 version, but this time the hilarious bottle contains Rogue's Dead Guy Ale, patterned after a Marzen beer. Hazy orange amber, dense light tan head, wild fruity malty aroma with strong hop presence. Full-on West Coast style rich flavor, with ample malt body balanced by lots and lots of hops. All of this creates a deep, rich and extended finish - ironically, sort of the opposite of the kind of beer I would imagine sports fans like. While the name and bottle (which tells you how to say "burp" in 10 languages) are gimmicky, the upshot is that the beer inside is the real deal. Delicious.

!!!!! Ozeno Yukidoke Brown Weizen, Ginjo Kura Brewery, Tatebayashi City, Gunma pref. (Wheat malt, dark barley malt, hops; unfiltered, unpasteurized; 5% abv) Hazy dark amber, tight creamy light tan head, faint yet complex nutty tart aroma. Very smooth light body but rich amber malt flavor, making it quite drinkable yet very satisfying. Distinct layers of malt flavors, with pleasing tang, followed by a surprisingly clean, sharp finish, with faint malt and hops lingering in superb balance. A good bit of yeast sediment remains in the bottle. I'd had this beer about five years ago, and it was not very good. Neither were its companion products with the same label design, so I pretty much wrote this brewery off. I recently came across this beer again, and it has improved astonishingly. What a pleasant surprise. Monde Selection Gold Medal Winner 3 years running.

!!!! Taiken Kobo Tezukuri Bakushu Stout, Sapporo (barley malt, hops, wheat, sugars; 5-5.5% abv) Deep brown, close to black, thick creamy tan head, interesting "dark bread" aroma with minimal sweetness. Surprisingly light initial taste, almost quenching at first, then the dark flavors soon kick in. There is good balance with restrained hopping, leading to a clean, dry finish that's very pleasing. Website: www.2002cd.co.jp This small brewery was reviewed in the Feb-March 2006 edition of Brews News.

!!!! Kirin Ichiban Shibori Muroka (unfiltered) chilled beer, from Kirin (100% malt; 5.5% abv). Bright yellow with a hint of haze (sure this is really unfiltered?), rich off-white head, good distinct aromas of dry malt and hops in balance. Rich flavor with tiny sweet malt notes. The malt flavors slowly fade, and some hop bitterness remains. Since this is all malt, it is really not the same beer as normal Ichiban Shibori. However, the flavor, though superior, is not all that different. The beer is shipped chilled, and has a 60-day shelf life, with both production and best-by dates clearly indicated. 250 yen at Lawson and 7-Eleven convenience stores.

!!! Kobushi-Hana Club Belgium White, Hanyu Brewery, Hanyu City, Saitama (barley malt, wheat malt, coriander seeds, orange peel; 5% abv, happo-shu classification) Dull hazy deep gold, loose short-lived white head, strong Belgian witbier aroma, heavy on the orange peel, giving the resulting flavor some strident astringency which clashes somewhat with the excessive (for this style) hopping. Although the beer is bold and distinctive, the malt flavors are too heavy and tangy for a wit.

!!!! Guess This Beer! It's imported, but readily available all over Japan. Lively bright fire orange color, dense light ivory head, floral hop aroma surrounded by subdued malt flavors, for an overall understated impression. Rich, soft malty flavor on the dry side, quite understated bitterness, smooth body with great malt notes, but nothing really exciting, though some rich fruit notes reminiscent of light-colored raisins and ripe pears peek through. Care to guess: send your answer to brewsnews@yahoo.com

Beer Talk

Support Your Local Beer Club

By Glenn Scoggins

Readers of Brews News are doubtless aware of the Good Beer Club, now in its third year as a consumer-based organization dedicated to promoting the appreciation and spread of interesting and flavorful beer, in all its varieties. Its highest-profile activity is the annual Tokyo Real Ale Festival, whose fourth manifestation appeared on the banks of the Sumida in February. However, that's not all there is to the GBC. It has a number of regional chapters as well as those centered on particular interest groups, whose members are united only in their love of beer and hospitality to those with a similar infatuation.

As an odd-looking foreign resident, I have felt far more welcomed at GBC events than by any other group in this somewhat cliquish island nation. Beer is an interest that transcends nationality and language, and the simple act of hoisting a tankard automatically carries one past the threshold into the inner sanctum. The outsider becomes an insider, and the secret password is "Kampai!"

A sunny afternoon last winter provided a good example of cross-cultural friendship amongst beer buddies. The "Travel and Good Beer" chapter of the GBC sponsored a trip to Hakone combining two quintessential pastimes for the middle-aged hedonist: taking off all your clothes and soaking in hot water, followed by eating and drinking too much. Twelve enthusiasts (nine men, three women, ranging from mid-20's to senior citizens, most of them strangers to each other) met at Hakone-Yumoto station around noon, proceeding directly to Tenzan, an onsen resort hotel nestled in the mountains just off the old Tokaido road.

After splitting by gender, we men joined about a hundred other naked bathers in a series of outdoor and indoor baths with a full range of size and heat - a veritable theme park of steam and innocent flesh. There's no better ice-breaker to get to know your new friends than a desultory conversation neck-deep in hot water, and there's no pretense or hypocrisy when the emperor has no clothes, an expanding waistline, and a receding hairline.

Following a relaxing two hours, we dried off and moved on to Hakone Beer-kura, home of Hakone Beer and part of a complex of restaurants run by the Suzumoto corporation, a hallowed name in the esoteric world of kamaboko fish paste. This versatile delicacy, a local treat in Odawara and Hakone, featured prominently on the menu, but alternative foods abounded as well.

Our two-hour all-you-can-eat/drink arrangement provided for a continuous barrage of food and pitchers of the three types of Hakone beer: a refreshing but unremarkable pilsner, a tasty "ale" which seemed to fall between pale and brown, and an 8% stout which proved barely drinkable. The attraction, of course, was not the beer (otherwise we'd have stayed on the train until Numazu) but the companionship, full of news and gossip and recommendations of beers and bars throughout the archipelago.

The mastermind of this trip was Ishida Toshihiro, whom visitors to Popeye will recognize as the bespectacled whirlwind of efficiency who keeps the table customers supplied with their nectar and ambrosia. He has been the workhorse behind a lot of the special events there, including the Strong Ale Festivals and the Top One Hundred Craft Beers (see Brews News Issue # 58, June 2005).

Generally serious to a fault at work, Ishida-san lightens up considerably on the road, especially when asked about his twin hobbies of trains and beer (blissfully combined when he visits breweries by train). His dedication to the former is shown by his amazing record of having traveled on every rail line (public and private, above and below ground) to every station in Japan, a multi-year (and ongoing) obsession. He organized the "Travel and Good Beer" special-interest chapter within the GBC to share his passions. Even those who are content to stay within the Kanto area can tag along to enjoy fine weather, nice scenery, relaxed companionship, and occasionally mediocre beer.

For more information about the Good Beer Club and its various chapters, go to the GBC website: www.goodbeerclub.org. From there you can follow the links to the regional chapters in Tokyo (including the Jonan and Tama areas), Kanagawa (mysteriously called "A Drop of Good Beer"), Shizuoka, Tochigi, and Sapporo.

Thus far there are three special-interest groups: in addition to Ishida's Travel and Good Beer (Ryoko Bunka-kai), the other two are a Belgian beer chapter and an recently formed English-speaking chapter, which is simply the GBC incarnation of BEERS, the group Tim Eustace formed in Tokyo last October, for which Bryan Harrell currently serves as the representative to the GBC until a willing volunteer can be found. The list is not exhaustive, and the GBC is actively seeking organizers for groups in Kansai and Kyushu, as well as enthusiasts of overseas beers and bars. Why not form a chapter of your own?

The most recent upcoming event, sponsored by Ishida-san's Travel & Good Beer chapter, is a one-day bus tour to breweries in Yamanashi and Nagano prefectures. Details on the tour are in the NEWS section below.

Event Report: 2nd Annual 100 Craft Beer Selection at Beer Club Popeye

by Tim Eustace

April 23rd is apparently considered 'Beer Day' at Popeye, though it seems few places elsewhere seem to celebrate this. This is the day the 2nd annual 100 Craft Beer Selection was held. Admission was 4,000 yen, which not only included small samples of 45 different beers but also, more importantly, a free-for-all drink down of a huge quantity of remaining beer, making it theoretically possible to sample all 100 (107 actually, but who's counting?) beers included in the event.

In this unique event, a total of 65 people were put into four groups, and each group sampled 25 beers from different regions of Japan (hence the 100 beers). Samples were about half of a 30 ml plastic cup, which is about as small a sample size as possible. Each participant had a slip of paper on which they were to judge the beer based on its label, look, smell, taste and overall impression. A perfect score came to 50 points. After each beer, the slips were collected and passed to a stealth group of volunteers who tabulated real time scores and assessed the best beers from each group. How cool is it to get real time rankings?

Unlike last year, the pace of this year's event was less frenzied, which allowed for small talk with others at the table, and a more relaxed atmosphere. My table involved beers from Tohoku and Hokkaido, which was great as I am unfamiliar with many breweries in these areas. Standouts for me were Onuma IPA, Aqula Q Bock and Iwate Kura Oyster Stout.

After all beers were tasted a Top 20 list was created and then to further prove the worthiness of these beers, each table then sampled 10 of the Top 20 which they had not sampled before. Based on those scores, the final assessment had Sankt Gallen's Imperial Chocolate Stout at #1 and (not surprisingly) Miyamori Wasabi beer in last. After the results were announced, unfinished beer was put out for participants to sample at random.

All in all, it was a fun time and despite only drinking a small amount of beer during the actual sampling, there was plenty of beer at the end to enjoy, with leftover bottles offered for participants to take home. Plans are to hold the event year, so watch Brews News for details.

News

Beer Tour #4 Sponsored by the Travel & Good Beer Chapter

May 14th / Touchdown Brewery, OH!LA!HO! Beer and more...

The Good Beer & Travel chapter is now planning its fourth trip for May 14th. The group will visit Touchdown Brewery in the town of Kiyosato, near Yatsugatake, followed by a visit to OH!LA!HO! Beer in Nagano Prefecture. Other exciting diversions on this day are now being planned. To make an advance reservation, or for an update on the itinerary, please e-mail to Mr. Ishida at VZG05000-at-nifty.com

BEERS Meeting

BEERS stands for the Beer Enjoyment, Education and Research Society, and is Tokyo's English-speaking beer club, which meets at 8 pm on the 3rd Tuesday of each month. The next meeting is May 16th. Occasional weekend/holiday beer safaris are also planned. To get on the event e-mailing list, write to: tokyobeers-at-yahoo.co.jp

Phred's Golden Week Beer Sale

Once again, Phred Kaufman of Ezo Beer is offering Brews News readers special prices on close-out beers, all with an expiration date of the end of June.

From Scotland are Faroch Heather Ale, Kelpie Seaweed Ale and Ebulum Edelberry Ale. From Oregon is Ezo Buckwheat Ale. All marked down from Y380 to Y250 per bottle. Last month's sale sold out quickly, so first come first served.

Free shipping of purchases of 2 cases (48 bottles, Y12,000), plus Y300 for COD and 5% sales tax. To order, write: phred-at-ezo-beer.com

Beers of the Month Club

Starting in late May or early June, Ezo Beer will offer a Beers of the Month club. The price will be Y5,800 (including tax and shipping) for a 12-bottle assortment. The first selection will consist of three bottles each of BridgePort IPA, Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager, Alaskan Summer Ale and Dead Guy Ale in the 2006 World Burp Bottle (all 12 oz/355 ml bottles). Only 100 sets will be available. A double assortment (6 each set of 24) is also available for Y10,600. To reserve your set now, write: phred-at-ezo-beer.com

Special thanks to Tim Eustace and Glenn Scoggins for their contributions to this issue. We'd love your contribution, too, so send your story ideas (or story) to brewsnews-at-yahoo.com by May 23 for the June issue.