Brews News #71
Brews News #71 - October/November 2006
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.
OctoberFests Here & There
OctoBeerFest at Beer Club Popeye
Continuing through the end of October at Tokyo's greatest craft beer bar, a short walk from Ryogoku Station on the JR and Oedo Lines. Craft beers from several of Japan's microbreweries will be featured, many of them limited edition or normally unavailable in Tokyo. Through October 12, beers from Echigo, Minoh and Fujizakura Kogen will be on tap, followed by beers from Hakusekikan and Shiga Kogen from 10/13-19. Then, from October 20, the best of the special beers, chosen by customers, will be featured, with drawings and prizes. For details on this event in Japanese, see http://www.lares.dti.ne.jp/~ppy/event/october%20fest.htm. For details on how to find Beer Club Popeye, go to www.40beersontap.com.
OctoberFest at The Vault in Kofu, Yamanashi Pref.
Continuing through the end of the FRICKIN' YEAR - you gotta love these guys! They will have Spaten Oktoberfestbier on tap until Dec 16th. Also, it seems they score "100" on the malt beverage scale, with 49 different beers and 51 different Scotches (that adds up to 100, right?) which include some rare single malts. Oh, then there are 30 bourbons... well, you get the idea. Owner Mark writes about a special event: "The Vault challenge is on again. Drink 48 of our beers during Oktoberfest and you get a t-shirt as well as lucky dips along the way. The first three finishers win prizes and everyone who completes the challenge gets their name framed on the wall." Mark also claims also to have "good cheap food in gaijin-size portions, some of it vegetarian." I guess I'll have to check that out. Kofu is 100 minutes from Shinjuku by express train, and about twice as long by regular train.
Great Japan Beer Festival in Yokohama 2006
October 28 (3 - 7:30 pm) and October 29 (11 am to 4:30 pm)
Bar Beat: The Bar Hunter Takes On Kichijoji
A Bar for the 'Holic in All of Us
By Glenn Scoggins
Kichijoji is one of the widest spots in the long steel road leading west from Shinjuku, the Chuo Line. A center of shopping, nightlife and business for the Tama region of western Tokyo, its most attractive drawing point is Inokashira Park, an emerald in the otherwise unremarkable expanse of suburbia. With convenient trains to Shibuya and Shinjuku and a host of university campuses, the station area is bustling. In contrast, the placid lake and surrounding greenery are a draw for musicians, artists, and lovers. Should beer drinkers feel left out? Not at all-for anyone with an obsessive love of brew, there's Holic.
Holic is an unpretentious basement bar with a lively corps of regulars, enthusiastic and knowledgeable bartenders, and a friendly welcome to any stranger who stumbles down the stairs. The bar counter is long, wide, and unadorned; the interior design is DIY wood paneling; and the BGM is provided only by a television in the corner with the match of the day.
What Holic lacks in elegance is more than made up for by the extensive list of beers and spirits, headlined by the full Baird line-up, Yona Yona, and Hitachino Nest White Ale. The latter two are on tap, alongside Guinness, but a perusal of the three-page menu shows close to sixty other beers, divided into categories based on the eternal question: "What do I feel like drinking tonight?" If you want a bitter, there they are, with Anchor's Liberty Ale and Namara Nigai from Ezo Beer keeping company with Rising Sun and Teikoku IPA. If you feel like a sweeter taste, take your pick from a horde of Belgians. Beer as a substitute for tea, beer instead of chocolate, beer instead of supper-they've each got a place on the menu, culminating with Just Plain Beer (Jever and Tecate lagers).
This is the sort of place where, if everyone doesn't know your name when you come in, it won't take too long. On a recent visit, I was adopted immediately by the college student to my left, the salaryman to my right, and the engaging bartender in front of me. I wanted to stay the night, and many do: it closes down at five in the morning. On the other hand, if I'd had to catch the last train, no problem: Holic is on a side street almost abutting the station. Easy to get home from, easy to return to - I'll be back.
On the other side of the station, Ullapool is everything that Holic is not. This schizophrenic English pub-cum-Scots Highlands eatery can't make up its mind if it's a purveyor of beer, Scotch, English cuisine, or a way of life. Decorated to the hilt with mail-order Victorian chintz and cut glass, hunting prints on the wall, and fake-antique advertisements for beer not on the menu - this is Olde Englande as a backdrop for an English conversation class.
What Ullapool lacks is any interest in or knowledge of beer. When asked about the range of beers, the hired help were both ignorant and indifferent. "Which brands of Baird do you serve?" (My reason for going there in the first place.) Blank look-what's a Baird? "Didn't you previously stock Yona Yona?" Another blank look - is that a kind of beer? "What's this Mt Fuji Lager on the menu?" Oh, that's just Asahi. Long sigh - I'll just have a Guinness.
Later I discovered, by accident, that the non-operational sign plugging the non-existent Shimaguni Stout disguised the fact that they did carry indeed Kurofune Porter - which no one had heard of. The atmosphere on a Friday night was dead, with a few couples squeezed into small tables, eating fish and chips with a furtive air.
But maybe this was just an off night. Rather than jumping to a hasty conclusion, I felt compelled by my journalistic duty to you, dear Brews News readers, to carry out further research. Bolstered with a similarly thirsty comrade, I returned to Ullapool the next night to find nothing changed, and the same indifference and lack of interest amongst the staff. (Needless to say, they did not know my name.) While the sign over the bar read Murphy's, all that meant was Bass on tap. We did have a passable haggis, though, and there aren't too many places in Tokyo where you can say that. Hungry and homesick Scots, beat a path to Ullapool to fill your bellies with haggis and whisky. Lovers of beer and good companionship: you're better off at Holic.
Keyaki Bldg. B1F
Open weekdays 7pm-5am; Sat, Sun, holidays 6pm-5am
Three minutes from the south exit (Koen-guchi) of Kichijoji station, on the JR Chuo Line and terminal of the Keio Inokashira Line
Forum Bldg. 1F
Open noon-2:30pm (Fri, Sat, Sun); 5pm-11pm Tue-Sat; 5pm-10pm Sun; closed Mondays
Ten minutes from the north exit (Kita-guchi) of Kichijoji station
Brews in the News
Baird Cold War Imperial Red Ale (Numazu, Shizuoka; Malt, rock sugar, hops and yeast; unpasteurized, approx. 7.4% abv) Hazy bronze, creamy ivory head, sweetish malt aroma. Deceptively light and refreshing, but the strong alcohol sneaks up on you. Beware, this is a stealth beer. But it's tasty and fun to drink, with a light body but a full array of malty flavors, backed by the perfect amount of hops.
Suntory Japonaise Gold (malt, hops, yeast; unpasteurized, 6% abv) Faintly hazy pale gold, thick dense snow-white head, extremely fine carbonation rushing up. Light yet rich and sweetish malt flavor, incredibly smooth texture. Both malt and hop boldness are understated, with texture the main draw here, resulting in a beer some would call watery, others would call elegant and well-defined.
Sapporo Hatake Kara 130-nen (malt, hops, yeast; unpasteurized, 5.5% abv) Faintly hazy gold, sudsy off-white head. Faint dry malt aroma. Rather heavy with malt sweetness apparent. The label says it is made with 1.5 times the amount of malt, so if one were to add about 180 ml of sparkling water to one regular can of this beer, you'd end up with "normal" Sapporo beer. But actually, it already tastes like normal Sapporo beer, just a fare measure heavier. Not quite a winter warmer, but certainly an "autumn warmer."
Sapporo Classic (malt, hops, yeast; unpasteurized, 5% abv) Clear bright yellow, white sudsy short-lived head, surprisingly little aroma for such rich flavor to follow. Good old-fashioned "square" Japanese flavor profile; i.e. a rich and bitter start, with good initial body, followed by a quick finish with a sort of "smoking gun" of hops effect faintly lingering. While the can proclaims "Only available in Hokkaido," it's pretty much a joke as this beer is available all over Tokyo this time every year.
Kirin Aki-aji (Malt, hops, rice, cornstarch, 6% abv) Ho-hum, more of the same, tastes just like last year. Bright clear golden color, sudsy off-white head, tastes a whole lot like Ichiban Shibori, but heavier. Said to have 1.3 times the malt. Every year this seems to come out earlier and earlier. This year it was on sale August 23rd, when it was hard to get excited about cool fall weather and hearty food when all around you is a steam bath. They need to start selling this on October 1st at the earliest. Still, it was a better effort than all the other "Aki" brews which were just low-malt happo-shu.
Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc (France; Barley malt, wheat malt, lemon juice, sugars, coriander; 5% abv) Hazy light yellow, not as cloudy as other witbiers, thin off-white head. Strong and pleasant citrus aroma with floral bouquet notes, overy fruity "lemon shandy" flavor puts this nearly in the alcopop category. While the jury known as my taste buds are still out on this one, initial impressions are not very favorable. Essentially, this is a French response to a Belgian Blanche (witbier), which to me seems too ham-handed and simplistic in flavor. Imagine a cross between Hoegaarden White and an alcopop for young adults. Still, and interesting brew, and liked very much by a few friends.
What makes a good beer festival?
By Bryan Harrell
What makes a good beer festival? Obviously, the beer has something to do with it, but there's more to a great time than great beer. No matter how good the brew is, if you have to wait in line for over 15 minutes for it, it will certainly be a sour experience. Is it great music? Well, one person's traditional Scottish melodies can very well be another person's idea of annoying screeching. Is it great food? Well, hardly likely outside a decent kitchen, and beer festival venues are notorious for their lack of the kind of amenities chefs need to turn out special dishes.
But to me, one thing is certain - one shouldn't expect too much. A festival is not a restaurant, with pleasant decor, beer served perfectly, and superb food, backed by one's favorite music, A festival is where people celebrate, and in the case of craft beer in Japan, a lot of people have a lot to say, so I can forgive too much time on the podium, mic in hand, going on and on. While drinking people have notoriously short and limited attention spans, live music is at best problematic. Still, for some, a festival ain't a festival without tunes. Accordingly, make sure there are enough different kinds of music so the majority of the attendees are not thoroughly annoyed.
Most importantly, festival venues are extremely difficult environments in which to serve beer properly. At this year's Real Ale Festival in February, and at the Nippon Craft Beer Festival in September, I felt the quality of the pours were generally rather inferior to what I am accustomed to from Aoki-san at Beer Club Popeye. Too many site limitations, I suppose, so it is unrealistic to expect the best beer at a festival venue.
So what makes a good beer festival? Obviously, it's the crowd. A place to meet distant friends you can't normally manage to see often enough. Amidst the noise, compromised food, endless blathering from the stage, and music that quite often has the high-pitched drone of a four-alarm hangover, hoist a pint and hail, hail, the gang's all here.
If you attended either or both of the above-mentioned events at the Sumida Hall this year, I'm seeking YOUR opinions and impressions, both good and bad. And I promise to feed them back to the proper authorities. Write me at "brewsnews at yahoo dot com"
Tuesday, October 17th 8 pm - BEERS meets at Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku to take part in their OctoBeerFest. Special beer selections Hakusekikan and Shiga Kogen will be available. To reserve for this event, please send an e-mail to "tokyobeers at yahoo dot co dot jp" by October 15th. BEERS (Beer Enjoyment, Education and Research Society) is an English-speaking beer club that meets in Tokyo on the third Tuesday of each month. Meetings are open to everyone, and to be notified of the next meeting place, write to the address above.
The latest issue of Beer & Pub Magazine, Vol. 6 Autumn 2006, is now on sale. Featured articles include reports on the Great British Beer Festival and the London ale and pub scene, pub crawling in Ikebukuro, Takadanobaba, Yokohama and Osaka, and more. This Japanese-language magazine sells for Y1,300 at bookstores, many popular beer pubs, or online.
Rumors have it that Baird Beer is planning a NovemberFest on the 3rd - 5th holiday weekend. No official announcement yet, but keep an eye on www.bairdbeer.com for details.
Hiroyuki Fujiwara, publisher of Beer & Pub Magazine, also turns a mean skillet in the kitchen at the Sotokoto LOHAS Kitchen & Bar in the basement of the Maru Bldg. in front of Tokyo Station. He has produced many successful food-beer matching events, with upcoming events open to all. The Saturday November 25 from 2 to 4 pm event's theme is Beer and Game Meats, pairing Roast Duck in Orange Sauce with Hoegaarden White, Seasonal Fish Terrine with Shiga Kogen IPA, and Stewed Hokkaido Venison with Anchor Porter, and Mont Blanc dessert with Rochefort ale. To reserve, go to http://www.sotokoto.net/lohas_kitchen_and_bar/event01.html.
Very Early Christmas is the theme on Saturday December 16 from 2 to 4 pm, pairing Shime-Saba (mackerel) in raspberry vinegar with Belle Vue Framboise, Lobster in Salad with Minoh Stout, Roast Chicken with Saison Regal and Chocolate Fruitcake with Fujiwara's own Espresso Porter brewed by Hitachino Nest. To reserve, go to http://www.sotokoto.net/lohas_kitchen_and_bar/event02.html.
Special thanks to Glenn Scoggins for his contribution 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 November/December issue is October 27.