All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.
Christmas in August
Thursday, August 24 at Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku
Y4,500 for all-you-can-drink plus buffet dinner
Owner Aoki-san will be pulling out the stops for an interesting selection of brews to deliver us from the sameness of summer lagers. While he won't say exactly what will be offered, Aoki-san whispers excitedly of rare and unusual winter beers he's stashed for this event, dropping hints of a Baird Christmas Ale from 2004 and gleanings from Phred Kaufman's beer warehouse in Sapporo. For reservations or more information, phone 03-3633-2120 or go to www.40beersontap.com
Beer Lovers Club
Saturday, August 26th / 3 to 9 pm at Bois Cereste in Akasaka
This event is held four times a year at Bois Cereste, one of Tokyo's classiest beer bars, and offers a great chance to drink good Belgian beer at surprisingly low 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.
Also check out the monthly Belgian Beer Dinner on Wednesday, September 13th from 7 pm. A light meal will be served with courses matched with quite a good quantity of various Belgian ales. Cost is Y7,500; please reserve by September 8th.
2-13-21 Akasaka B1
Ji-Beer Festival in Ichinokura (Iwate Pref.)
August 18-20, Ichinokura Bunka Center
Beer from 57 microbreweries throughout Japan will be available at this festival.
Beer in M-size glasses is Y300, and L-size glasses Y400. Or, you can buy books of tickets (M x 8 or L x 6) for just Y2,000. For details, phone the Ichinoseki Tourist Office at 0191-23-2350 or the Ichinoseki City Tourist Industry Dept. at 0191-21-8413.
Sanin Craft Beer Festa 2006
15 varieties of craft beer from five microbreweries, plus loads of food made from local Sanin region ingredients.
Kurayoshi City Hotel
Kurayoshi, Tottori Prefecture
September 8, 2006, 5:30 to 8 pm
For details and reservations, phone 0858-26-6111
Nippon Craft Beer Festival 2006 is SOLD OUT
September 17, noon to 5 pm
If you were lucky to have gotten tickets, chances are you are unlikely to regret it. Detailed information has finally begun coming through, and this promises to be a great event. If you missed getting tickets, please write to brewsnews (at) yahoo (dot) com and I'll see what I can do.
They Can't Make You Drink Maekju
By Glenn Scoggins
There are many reasons to visit Seoul. The Korean capital is dynamic and protean, alive with the surging energy of its 11,000,000 kimchi-charged residents. Its streets hum with an electricity that makes Tokyo seem calm and serene by comparison. Koreans are understandably proud of their nation's accomplishments, and there's a chest-thumping patriotism that is a bit exotic to those accustomed to the more diffident Japanese. The friendly but intense enthusiasm of the people will remind some of Osaka, as will the relentless traffic and plumes of tobacco smoke erupting from every clump of businessmen.
Walking along the street is a contact sport with only one winner (hint: not you), and it appears that Harley-Davidsons have the right-of-way over pedestrians on most sidewalks. In contrast, overdue but welcome attention to improving the urban environment has resulted in the demolition of a superfluous downtown expressway, reviving a 19th-century waterway below that is now a green oasis in the heart of the city. (Take note, Governor Ishihara!)
Yes, there are many reasons to visit Seoul. Sadly, beer is not one of them. Industrial megabrew, known as maekju, is easy to find, but intelligent, well-made, interesting craft beer is sorely lacking, a situation reminiscent of Japan in the 1980's. This should not be so, since the Korean government liberalized brewing laws in June 2002, just in time for the World Cup, and a spate of craft breweries sprang up then.
Some have closed since, while others have dumbed down. Even the newly-legalized brewpubs are prohibited from filling kegs or bottles, effectively restricting them to selling on premises and thus preventing growth, recognition, or a national market. This leaves the thirsty visitor to choose among a raft of major Korean labels: the venerable OB and its rivals Cass, Hite, and few other taste-alikes. Prima, marketed by Hite as a 100% malt beer, is barely distinguishable from the rest: watery and taste-free, without much malt taste or any hoppiness.
Undaunted by initial disappointment, your intrepid beer explorer sought out Platinum, one of the pioneering brewpubs in Seoul, whose first brewmaster in 2002 was American Philip Kelm. Located in the upscale Apkujong neighborhood, the Omotesando of Seoul, surrounded by Cartier, Gucci, and Hermes, Platinum is a suitably stylish basement bar with silvery walls, unfinished concrete, and exposed pipes on its black ceiling. Gallery lighting and candles compete unsuccessfully with the gloom, and the fashionable clientele sink into their black leather couches as they watch a movie projected on one wall.
At the far end stands a row of three brewing tanks where current brewmaster Seo Chong-ho (who took over after Kelm left Korea in 2004) alternates his six varieties. A sampler of all six (120 cc each) goes for W9500 (Y1188, the yen was worth eight Korean won in 2006), while a small glass (360 cc) costs W5000 and a large glass (680 cc) starts at W8800 the first time and then W4400 for refills the rest of the night.
Ambitiously, Platinum tries to brew six contrasting styles of beer, representing different national brewing traditions (certainly a relic of World Cup multiculturalism). Their Bavarian Wheat Ale (4.7%) is passable, with recognizable fruitiness but no aftertaste: a weizen with amnesia. The Belgian-style Bier-blanche (5.1%) has a pleasant appearance but no finish. The English Brown Ale (5.5%) is noticeably sweet and a bit cloying, but with some character. The Pilsner (4.7%) is a standard interpretation of the world standard, but without the degree of refreshing bitterness found in, say, Heineken or Carlsberg. The Cream Stout (4.1%), representing Ireland, is too light to hold its own in this category. Finally, the eponymous Platinum Spiced Ale (4.5%) wastes some potentially interesting tastes such as coriander in a mushy and unconvincing mix. Each of these beers represents a reach that exceeds its grasp, and not one of them succeeds at its ambitious undertaking. It seems clear that by attempting to master six different beer styles, Platinum has mastered none of them.
Manager Kim Min-soo, nervous but professional, explained Platinum's brewing philosophy: give the customers what they think they want. Kelm introduced genuine foreign brewing styles, but Koreans found the tastes too exotic, so Seo moderated them, adding more caramel to the brown ale and carbonation to the pilsner, for example. He has also invented his own concoction, called Morphine (8.4%), which he probably intended as a strong Belgian but which just tastes like alcohol.
This has not deterred my fellow tipplers, who are pouring it down their throats with gay abandon. My companion/interpreter politely declined another free sample of Morphine with transparent disgust. Kim apologized on behalf of his compatriots' underdeveloped palates (and accepted my invitation to visit Popeye to taste some real ale).
The food at Platinum is equally multicultural (though pricy) and makes up for the beer, although I must warn anyone with a delicate palate that the famous Korean predilection for spices applies to all cuisines: my Cajun blackened chicken was evidently marinated in fiery kochujang. In Seoul, all food is Seoul food.
A large-scale alternative to Platinum is the vast emporium known unconvincingly as O'Kim's Brauhaus. While Koreans may be the Irish of the Orient, this moniker seems particularly inauthentic - especially when it turns out that O'Kim's specializes in German-style beer. However, its three varieties, Hefeweizen, Helles, and Dunkles, are actually quite tasty and represent respectable renditions of German traditions.
The standards were set in 2002 by the original German brewmaster, Joachim Kilian, and maintained by his successors, Austrians Konstanz Foerdner and Wolfgang Soessner. They have taken well-known German styles and refrained from experimenting with them or dumbing them down. By focusing on their core business, they have avoided the trap into which Platinum fell after Kelm's departure.
O'Kim's is a well-bankrolled operation with several locations in the booming areas south of the Han River. I visited the largest, an enormous barn in a sprawling trade and convention center which could easily seat 300. The bar counter stands alone in the middle of the restaurant, with seven separate kitchen and food service areas (one for each cuisine: German, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and so on) lining one wall. At the far end sit six brewing tanks behind glass (another ten are at a nearby Kangnam outlet).
At lunch, O'Kim's is half-filled with conventioneers taking advantage of quick cafeteria-style service and hefty portions of food. (An overflowing plate of weisswurst, potatoes, and salad set me back W8500, while my companion's heaping kebab plate was W7500.) After 6:00 pm, the cafeteria style gives way to waitress service, but the menu remains the same (with 10% tax added but no tips expected). An extra advantage to O'Kim's convention center location is that the menu and all the signs are in English.
All three beers are quite drinkable, in distinctive glassware with authentic color and aroma. The Hefeweizen could easily keep me happy the whole afternoon, with the right balance of fruity and bitter tastes. The crisp Helles does not stand out as much but is a fine accompaniment to the variety of foods on the menu, including the more demanding Korean cuisine. The Dunkles is the brewmaster's favorite, full of body with a lovely appearance and satisfying mouthfeel. It is also a bit more expensive, with Dunkles prices in parentheses: 400 ml for W4800 (W5600), 620 ml for W7400 (W8500), 700 ml for W8300 (W9500), and massive two-liter pitchers for W22,000 (W26,000) and 4000 cc (that's four liters in one jug+ACE-) for W44,000 (W52,000). The prices look astronomical, but divide by eight and they are not too different from Japan.
What O'Kim's may lose in intimacy, it has more than made up for in professionalism and concentration on a limited objective: make three German styles well without trying to conquer the world. The convention-goers who grab a bite between sessions may not realize how lucky they are, though, as most of Seoul remains resolutely absent of craft beer.
One reason must be the price disadvantage inherent to craft beer. Even a pitcher at O'Kim's cannot compete with the bargain-basement price of a liter bottle of Cass or Hite: W3000 at a convenience store (or W4800 for a truly astounding 1600 ml bottle that could double as a murder weapon). For a college student or a struggling young salaryman, there's no competition, so they will learn to drink OB megabrew and think they like it. The shaky experiments at Platinum or the smoothly-run taps at O'Kim's will go unnoticed until a real chi-maekju (ji-biiru) boom hits Korea.
B1F Jesun Bldg.
Kangnam-ku, Seoul 135-896
Open from 5:00 pm daily
Nearest subway station: Apkujong (+ACM-336, Line 3)
Ten minute walk, near Dosan Park
1F, COEX Convention and Exhibition Center
Kangnam-ku, Seoul 135-975
Open from 11:30 am to 12:00 midnight daily
Nearest subway station: Samsong (+ACM-219, Line 2)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
This month's selection features some very good beers from Baird Brewing, one bad (by comparison) beer from Asahi, and one truly ugly beer from (surprise! surprise!) Belgium.
Cool Breeze Pils (Baird Brewing, Shizuoka+ADs- malt, barley, hops, yeast, 4.5 - 6.5%abv) Faintly hazy gold, thick off-white head, faint hop aroma. Surprisingly solid dry flavor with an appealing crispness, great balance, leading to a nice long finish, with an emphasis on hops. A very good job done here on a lager, which is usually difficult for small brewers.
American Dream Strong Pale Ale (Baird Brewing, Shizuoka; malt, barley, hops, yeast, 4.5 - 6.5% abv) Golden amber, short-lived ivory head, tangy malt aroma, fairly dry flavor, huge hop presence for a deep bitterness which is somewhat lacking in definition. Long bitter finish. Not as great and complex as other Baird beers.
My Wee Scottish Light Ale (Baird Brewing, Shizuoka; malt, barley, hops, yeast, 2.5 - 4.5% abv) Deep gold, light haze, short-lived ivory head. Malty aroma with cereal notes, light body but fine rich flavor with a slightly vinuous character. Carbonation is low, and while more carbonation would be in order for a summer seasonal, this is actually a great session beer for year-round enjoyment. In any case, it's hard to rank, and Baird gets kudos for pushing the flavor edge on low-alcohol beers.
Wheat King Ale (Baird Brewing, Shizuoka, all malt, wheat and barley, 4.2% abv) Hazy flat tan color, ivory head, simple flavor compared to other Baird offerings. While this beer is recommendable, this style to me is about as exciting as a cold piece of plain dry toast, so it's hard to rave about. While Baird's version is as good as it gets, I doubt many beer enthusiasts would drink this with any regularity. That said, the beer does make a good canvas with which to paint a specialty fruit beer or spiced ale, and since Baird makes those quite frequently, perhaps why this has been released as a year-round product, the 7th in his line of otherwise fascinating beers. Consumed on tap at at both the Fishmarket Taproom and Beer Club Popeye.
Prime Time (Asahi Beer; malt, hops, nitrogen?, 5.5% abv) Yep, the label says "nitrogen" in the ingredients, the first time I've seen this listed on a Japanese beer, or any beer for that matter. Perhaps they've pumped a little nitro gas into it in hopes of making it creamy and "premium" but they should have started with the recipe first. Medium yellow, generous and dense sudsy off-white head (from the nitro, likely), pronounced malt and hop aroma in good balance, good malt flavor initially, but a tad thin and quickly becomes a bit watery - not good for a premium beer. Ends up more like Super Dry than anything else.
Mongozo Coconut Beer (malt, hops, quinoa, wheat, coconut, sugar; 3.5% abv.) Brewed by Huyghe Brewery for Mongozo B.V. This one pinned the Weird Meter when I saw it, so I had to buy a bottle, a decision I would later regret immensely. Very hazy pale yellow, so hazy it's opaque, dense white head. Huge coconut candy aroma, overpowering all other ingredients. Intensely sweet coconut flavor, with little other elements. As the flavor subsides, alcohol becomes apparent. Long finish of coconut, cotton candy, and heavy sweetness. Give this a miss. The first Belgian beer to score this low on Brews News.
Entering the Lucy Dimension
By Molly Browning
Apprentice Brewer, Baird Brewing Company
"The lauter's almost finished."
Words never struck such fear in a girl's heart. Probably not on the same level as a bad hair cut or Louis Vuitton ceasing to make handbags anymore, but decidedly scary all the same.
I have a love-hate relationship with the mash/lauter tun on our 250-L brewing system, specifically when it is time to clean the spent grains from the mash tun. This seemingly simple task is actually compounded with the physical difficulty of positioning one's body in such a way as to reach through the less than shoulder-width opening to grab at the tiny pieces of spent grain that have so evilly stuck themselves in the farthest corner. Although I have spent many years rock climbing and practising yoga, it was only until quite recently that I was able to properly align my body, clean the grain out, rinse the mash tun, and put the lauter plates back in before the 'final bell' signalling the time to add the first hop. Needless to say, it took me a while before I got it right.
The second time, I frantically struggled with the lauter plates, managing to fit them in with seconds to spare before the hops needed to be added. With some acrobatic manoeuvres that involved running frantically from the freezer, hops in hand, gracefully hurdling over a hose and then performing a balletic jete over to the kettle, I threw in the green mystical humulus lupulus just as the clock ticked time. Undoubtedly, it was more a comedic gracefulness, rather than Mikhail Baryshnikov performing at the Royal Ballet.
In fact, there are many days when I find myself impersonating Lucille Ball rather than behaving as an apprentice brewer should. Besides jumping into an open fermenter and crushing natsu mikan a la foot; tripping over shoes, hoses, getting water in my size large gloves, and falling off ladders usually are daily occurrences.
So far, the crowning moment was the day I failed to check the pressure on a closed tank that required rinsing. Let's just say that if the brewery was not clean enough, it was certainly immaculate after its yeasty beer bath was mopped up. On those days where it appears Lucille Ball has taken over the controlled apprentice, I tend remind myself to recall the rules of what I learned in kindergarten, particularly the one that reads, 'And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK'
Working in a brewery is not just about looking, it is about relearning all the senses and how they can meld together to create a beautiful product. The smell of malt, hops, and yeast; the taste of beer through the stages of fermentation, conditioning, and packaging; listening to the sounds of the cleaning pump, the hot liquor tank; touching the heat exchanger, the freshly cleaned kegs, all the different mechanical parts; they all are essential qualities that I am finding no book can teach you.
Revisiting old kindergarten themes is compounded with reviewing percentages and general mathematics, along with university biology and physics. It is the educational experience, and with the supreme pleasure of being able to drink a fine beer at the end of the day, which makes working in at the Baird Brewing Company all the more fascinating and never intellectually tiring. How can one be bored when there are such Baird-inspired creations as Strawberry Milk Stout and Biwa Wheat Ale to make and even more satisfyingly to drink?
Dispatch from Toshi Ishii at the Great British Beer Festival
August 2, 2006: I'm in London to participate in the Great British Beer Festival. Of course, Yoho Brewing (Yona Yona Ale) is the first Japanese brewery to participate, according to a CAMRA official. Check out their Web site http://www.b-s-f.org.uk
This year, the GBBF will be held at the huge Earls Court hall. Also, they'll have a 35th anniversary party. I'm very honored to join the GBBF and it should be a lot of fun to promote our cask ales. Last night, two of our Firkin-casks (YonaYona and Tokyo Black) are all gone; Tokyo Black was actually emptied at the trade-session before general session -- It's crazy! Also, the same thing happened for Yona Yona for 30 minutes just after the general session started.
Mark Dover (The White Horse) loves the Porter very much and John Keeling (Brewmaster of Fullers) loves Yona Yona. John and I have met before when I visited the UK to learn how to make cask-ales in 2002. He says Yona Yona is the best Cascade-hop ale he's ever tried before, better than Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Though I understand he's likely just giving me a little lip-service, I'm very surprised and delighted that everybody loves my cask ales. So now I don't have any casks to serve to guests, and will just visit breweries and hang around at the festival. Michael Jackson and his assistant Owen Barstow were nice enough to make some arrangements for me to meet brewers at Fullers, Meantime and Youngs over the next three days.
BEERS stands for the Beer Enjoyment, Education and Research Society, and is Tokyo's English-speaking beer club, which normally meets at 8 pm on the 3rd Tuesday of each month, but in August the meeting will be held on August 22nd. The destination has yet to be decided, but if you're interested in going, and want to get on the event e-mailing list, write to: tokyobeers-at-yahoo-dot-co-dot-jp
Beer in Japan exhibit in Yokohama
A comprehensive exhibit on the origins and development of beer in Japan, from its 19th-century roots through the post-World War II period, is currently showing at the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History in Yokohama. Sponsored by the four major breweries, the exhibit includes rare artifacts and photographs from their archives and collections, including the picturesque, ivy-covered Sapporo Beer Museum that many Brews News readers may have visited.
As an additional treat, the museum's coffee shop is also serving a selection of beer, including a recreation of now-extinct Kabuto Beer from Nagoya. The exhibit runs through Sunday, 10 September. The museum is open every day but Monday from 9:30 to 5:00, and admission is Y800. The century-old building itself is worth a visit, having originally housed Japan's first foreign-exchange bank. Remarkably, it survived both the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the U.S. aerial fire-bombing in 1945.
Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History (Kanagawa Kenritsu Rekishi Hakubutsukan)
Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0006
Located near Bashamichi shopping street, immediately above Bashamichi subway station on the Minato-Mirai Line (from Shibuya) or an eight-minute walk from JR Sakuragi-cho station. (contributed by Glenn Scoggins)
Beers of the Month Club
Ezo Beer continues to offer its Beers of the Month club. For August, selections are BridgePort ESB, Alaskan Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Rogue Chipotle Ale, all in regular 355 ml bottles. For September: Alaskan Amber, Rogue Juniper Pale Ale, and Rogue FestivAle in large 650 ml bottles. For details on prices and shipping, write: phred-at-ezo-beer-dot-com or call 011-614-0191.
Japan Beer Sales Down
An article in the Friday, August 11 edition of the Nikkei proclaimed that sales of beer/happoshu/beer-like alcoholic beverages in July were the lowest since 1992, when statistics were first compiled, "falling 5.7% year-on-year to 47.50 million cases due to a long rainy spell which cooled demand." Perhaps this is also due, in some tiny part, to the increased consumption of craft beers and imported premium beers, we can only hope.
(article submitted by Mark Schreiber)
Classiest Beer Promotion Yet
Gregg from Connecticut forwarded this to me, a link to a promotion short from Peroni, the Italian beer. If you're old enough to have been a Fellini fan, you'll like this for the nostalgia factor alone.
to Molly Browning, Toshi Ishii, Mark Schreiber 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-dot-com. Deadline for the next issue (September) is August 31st.