All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.
5th Annual Tokyo Real Ale Festival
February 11th 2007
1 to 5 pm / 2,800 yen
Japan's premier cask-conditioned ale event celebrates its 5th anniversary next month at the Sumida Riverside Hall, the same location as last year. The event schedule and has not been released yet, but things should be similar to last year, with entertainment and lots of speeches and talking. Tickets are 2,800 yen and include admission as well as a commemorative beer glass and tickets for eight 120 ml pours of ale.
As of this writing there will be beers from the following breweries: Baird, Hakkaisan Izumi, Hakusekikan, Harvest Moon, Hitachino Nest, Iki-iki, Ise Kadoya, Iwate Kura, Minoh Beer, Sankt Gallen, Swan Lake, and Yona Yona. The types of beers these breweries will be offering has not been announced.
Only 400 tickets will be available for this event, so those hoping to attend should get tickets as soon as possible. While they can be purchased from the Web site (www.tokyorealale.org), it's easier to buy them at cooperating pubs throughout Tokyo, including The Aldgate, Ale House, Beer Club Popeye, Beer House Ken, La Cachette, The Grafton, The Green Sheep, Inishmore, Kura Kura, McCann's, Trafalgar, Ushitora, Vivo!, and Yokohama Cheers. For details in English on these places, see their website
The Bar Hunter Finds Kawasaki
by Glenn Scoggins, the Bar Hunter
Kawasaki has an image problem, similar to the elephant encountered by the six blind men. To those who speed above its grimy docklands on the expressway, it's a post-Victorian industrial wasteland. If you alight at a station on the Den'en-toshi Line, pleasant suburbs (indistinguishable from those of western Yokohama or Tokyo) and verdant expanses of forested hills greet the eye. The station-front shopping malls of Shin-Yurigaoka could just as well be in Machida or Hachioji. A relaxing walk along the right bank of the Tama-gawa would be equally pleasant on the Tokyo side across the water. A bit of Kawasaki even extends halfway across Tokyo Bay, as the Aqua-Line tunnel to Chiba emerges at the bizarre island of Umi-hotaru. As Kawasaki snakes its way across Kanagawa, squeezed between Yokohama and Tokyo, its appearance and atmosphere change every few kilometers. Where is the real Kawasaki?
Nowhere has changed more dramatically than the area around JR Kawasaki Station, as the sprawling Toshiba and Meiji Chocolate factories met the wrecking ball, replaced by the impressive Muza concert hall and, opened last September, the enormous LaZona shopping center. Connected directly to the west exit of the station, only steps from the JR platforms, LaZona boasts five floors of shopping and dining, with hundreds of stores and 62 restaurants clustered around an attractive open plaza for concerts and events.
Of particular interest to Brews News readers is Kanagawa's first full-scale Belgian beer restaurant, Patrasche. A high ceiling and generous use of mirrors expand the already-spacious and well-lit interior, with a giant cask suspended from the ceiling. A long bar lines one side, with tables seating up to 127 guests filling the rest of the floor space.
The menu lists over seventy beers, with prices hovering around 1000 yen. (Hoegaarden, as usual, is the Hoe-bargain at 800 yen.) There's also a short food menu of predictable items, but I cannot vouch for their taste. Both of the beers I ordered were in good condition and highly drinkable, but poor staff organization and opening-week jitters resulted in unacceptable delays - fifteen minutes for my second beer. The waitstaff (numbering ten on a busy weekend afternoon, and still run off their feet) were pleasant but inexperienced and thoroughly ignorant about Belgian beer or even the contents of their own menu.
The one resident "expert" was better-informed but evidently figured that his responsibility ended with answering my questions, not actually taking my order! Despite these lapses, which will certainly be amended in time, the ambience was enjoyable, and I can recommend Patrasche to any beer lovers passing through Kawasaki. Special points should be awarded for the attempt (rare in Japan, and not entirely successful) to segregate the smoking and non-smoking sections of the dining area.
4F, LaZona Kawasaki Plaza
Open 11:00-23:00 daily (last order 22:30)
By Bryan Harrell and Glenn Scoggins
"Sal's Cafe proprietor Koji "Michael" Nomura (left) and customer Andrew Balmuth, Japan importer of North Coast beers."
Farther inland, along the strip of suburbs known as the Denen-toshi Line, is a surprising jewel of a beer bar at Saginuma, known variously as Sal's Bar and (from the name of their Web site) Sal's Cafe. The proprietor, Koji "Michael" Nomura, is Japanese with a surprisingly American countenance that stretches from mannerisms and appearance to his native-level English fluency attained when he lived in the U.S. during his youth.
Nomura is one of Japan's leading experts on Kentucky bourbon, and frequently writes about it in Japanese publications. In recent years he has applied the same level of passion to beer, and to his credit has one of the most eclectic selections of U.S. microbrews in Japan, the more exotic of which having been brought back from the U.S. in limited quantities, hence the surprising prices. But, if you just have to have a large bottle of Dogfish Head 120 min. IPA, the 3,400 yen price tag is unlikely to stop you from digging this 20% alcohol 120IBU brew. By the way, he was the one who wrote the article on bars in Portland in Beer and Pub magazine last year. He emulates Aoki-san of Beer Club Popeye, and his stated goal is to make Sal's "the Popeye of Kanagawa."
Generally, three beers are on tap or handpump, and as a special treat to enthusiasts, he hooks up a Randall to one of the taps every Friday night. For the uninitiated, a Randall is a container full of hops through which beer from a tap is piped through before being poured into a glass. The theory is that the alcohol in the beer strips more aromatic oils and essence from the hops to give the beer an extra burst of hop flavor. The reality is that beer run through the Randall tastes like it's been run over by a thundering army of hop flowers, with an astonishingly pungent hop aroma. As far as I know, Sal's is the only place in Japan with regular appearances by this arcane device. Look closely in the accompanying photo and you can see the Randall - a clear cylinder full of hop flowers, topped by a bright blue cap - in action.
Apart from the draft beers, there is a menu of regular imported beers, with quite a few Belgians, along with a special menu of unusual beers such as the one mentioned above. Also on the menu at Sal's is an interesting assortment of American style foods, from hot dogs to smoked chicken to fish & chips to weenies and pork 'n' beans.
While quite far from the center of Tokyo, the Denen-toshi line express trains shorten the travel time to about 20 minutes from Shibuya. The Hanzomon subway line turns into the Denen-toshi line at Shibuya, making the trip to Saginuma station even easier (via a single train) from anyplace in central Tokyo.
Open daily 7 pm to 1:30 am, usually closed Sundays but subject to change, so call first.
Brews in the News
Coedo Ruri (Kyodo Shoji Koedo Brewery, Saitama; all malt, unpastuerized, 5% abv) Faintly hazy light yellow, snow white short-lived head, good but faint malt aroma. Unfortunately, the beer sort of stops there and is just like most any mass-brewed beer from the Big Four. Said to be a "premium Pilsener beer" on the can, it really doesn't live up to its name. This is a new line of beer from Koedo, apparently replacing the Mittelbauer line. Details at www.coedobrewery.com.
Shinagawa-ken Bakushu (Brewed by Tazawa-ko Beer, Akita; all malt, unpasteurized, 5% abv) Very clear reddish amber, dried fruit aroma with a faint whiff of herbal hops in the background. Brisk hoppy flavor with the dried fruity flavors sidelined but still present, fine tapering long finish. Created by the Shinagawa-ken Beer Research Group as a reproduction of a beer brewed in the Shinagawa area in the 2nd year of Meiji, 1869, at what is considered Japan's first brewery. Tasted at Pangea in Senzoku, Shinagawa-ku. Also see the Bar Hunter's report.
Echigo Organic Premium Beer (Echigo Brewing, Niigata; all malt, unpasteurized, 5% abv) Medium light yellow, brisk carbonation, sudsy off-white head. Hop dominated aroma with dry malt notes in back. Solid malt flavor with more sweetness than aroma, bitterness is full and lingers long for a quenching effect. This is a pilsner type brew, and one of the best I've ever had made from entirely organically grown ingredients. www.echigo-beer.jp.
Baltika #6 Porter (Russia, all malt, 7% abv) Opaque deep, deep brown, sudsy camel-colored head, good roast malt aroma, a touch sweet, with brisk hops far in background. Good balance of flavors, sweet enough to give full definition to all the various dark malt flavors, yet dry enough to be refreshing. The balance is so good, in fact, you may not notice the high 7% alcohol, so enjoy with caution. Bought at Nissin Supermarket in Azabu.
Kirin Taisho-era Lager re-creation (malt, rice, hops; 5% abv) No surprise here; looks much like modern Kirin Lager, but the body is somewhat lighter, hopping is a bit sharper, and the finish is quick. There is no "nama" indication on the can, so likely this is pasteurized, as was the practice for Kirin Lager up until the mid-1990s.
Kirin Meiji-era Lager re-creation (all malt, 5% abv). Slightly darker than the Taisho lager, with a much richer malt and hop flavor. Both of these beers were produced to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Kirin Beer as a company. These are limited edition beers, so those interested should try them right away.
Happy New Beers
by Bryan Harrell
Last year was the start of the second decade of craft beer in Japan. I think of the first decade as the ramping up period, and as the second decade unfolds there is some truly great beer being brewed, poured and savored here in Japan. Quite a number of small breweries are at last hitting their stride, producing consistently good product - something that was rare here just ten years ago.
Let's not take this good fortune for granted as we start another year of increasingly better beer. The brewers in Japan that matter most to you should be the ones you spend your money on. Most offer their beer by home-delivery sale, and can often be found at retailers, who also deserve your support. But no matter where you buy good beer, make sure you have a good stock at home.
I know it's tempting to hit the convenience store on the way home, and make do with an "okay" beer from an industrial brewery. Usually it's cheaper anyway, and while that is some sort of justification, remember that the industrial breweries spend a great deal of money on advertising and promotion, money they could be using on higher-quality ingredients. And if you think craft beer is too expensive, maybe it wouldn't hurt you to drink a little less of a lot more flavor.
The answer is to plan ahead, and buy as much of the beer you drink as possible from the brewers with true integrity - those who care deeply about their product and, in turn, the people who consume it. Hey, that's you. As hard as these people work, they are not getting rich by a long shot. Do what you can to support them even further, and to make their difficult choice to become a brewer just a little bit easier.
Support your local brewer, your local beer, and the retailers and bars that support them.
January 17th, Wednesday, 7 pm - Belgian Beer Dinner at Bois Cereste. This month's dinner will pair various Belgian spiced ales with several courses of food. The cost is 7,500 yen which includes a multi-course meal and lots of beer. Bois Cereste is a short walk from Akasaka Station on the Chiyoda Line; see details and map.
Reservations must be made by Monday, January 15th; phone Yamada-san at 03-3588-6292.
January 23rd, Tuesday, 8 pm - BEERS meets in Tokyo. To reserve for this event, please send an e-mail to "tokyobeers at yahoo dot co dot jp". 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.
February 11th, Sunday, 1 to 5 pm - 5th Tokyo Real Ale Festival. See details above.
Glenn Scoggins for his 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 February issue is Friday, January 26th.