Brews News #82
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Brews News #82 - November 2007
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.

Beer Here

Real Ale Month 2007 Continues in Osaka

Through November 11

Minoh Beer of Osaka has organized a Real Ale Month with participation by other breweries who do real ale, namely Yona Yona, Isekadoya, Sankt Gallen, Iwate Kura Beer, Hitachino Nest, Swan Lake, Harvest Moon and Shimane Beer. Beers will be served on a rotation basis at each location; call ahead to find out what is being poured or, better yet, just show up and be pleasantly surprised. The event started in mid-October and will finish November 11.

Until November 4 at Beer Belly
1F Osaka River Bldg., 1-1-30 Tosabori, Nishi-ku, Osaka
Five minutes east of Exit 3 of Higobashi station (Osaka subway Yotsubashi line), on a small street north of and parallel to Tosabori-dori, near Chikuzen-bashi
Tel/Fax 06-6441-0717 /

November 5 - 11 Beer Belly at Edobori
1F Famille Edobori, 2-1-21 Edobori, Nishi-ku, Osaka 550-0002
Eight minutes west of Higobashi station (Exit 2), just off Tosabori-dori: turn left at the Trajal College of Hospitality and Tourism
Tel 06-6445-6366 /

For a detailed roundup of Osaka's beer bar scene, see

Antwerp Central 2nd Anniversary Party

Friday, November 9, 6 to 10 pm

Celebrating two years of operation, Belgian beer cafe Antwerp Central is holding a party with a buffet and open bar. The cost is just 5,000 yen per person. For details and reservations, phone 03-5288-7370

Meet the Top Brewers

Vol. 1 - Satoshi Niwa of Hakusekikan
Eni-bru in Osaka
November 23, 5 to 8 pm

Hakusekikan is famous for the highly distinctive and often unusual beers created by Brewmaster Satoshi Niwa, who will be the guest at Craft Beer Dining Eni-bru's first Meet the Top Brewers event on November 23 from 5 pm. Admission is 5,000 yen, and limited to 20 people.

Mr. Niwa will give a talk on his beers, and three of them will be served in all-you-can-drink format, along with a buffet style meal. There will even be a drawing for bottles of Hakusekikan's remarkable Super Vintage ale and other beers. For details, see the Eni-bru site at, or phone Nishio-san at 072-255-8317 after 2 pm. For reservations, write to

Beer Hoppers Festival in Machida

November 23 - 25

Last year's Beer Hoppers Festival in Machida was such a resounding success that Copa craft beer bar and Trafalgar English Pub are doing it again this year, and adding an extra day for good measure. The 3,000 yen ticket price includes admission and 12 tickets for 100 ml samples. Beer from Baird Brewing, Sankt Gallen and Yona Yona will be served. On Friday the 23rd and Saturday the 24th there are two sessions each day, 1 to 5 pm and 6 to 10 pm, while there is just one session on Sunday the 25th, 1 pm to 7 pm. Admission closes an hour before each closing time. Tickets are now on sale at both bars, as well as Copa's Aobadai location.

Copa 042-709-5361
Trafalgar 042-723-3335

Horoyoi ("Crazy Drunk") Beer Party at Sugaya

November 23 - 25, 12:30 - 17:00
November 26, 11:00 - 16:00

This twice-yearly event is legendary among hard-core Japanese beer enthusiasts. A liquor store blessed with an astonishing beer selection but cursed by a remote location in suburban Kawasaki, Sugaya is run by perky and energetic Yukako Sugaya, a beer enthusiast herself with a taste for Belgian beers and US microbrew alike. Admission is 6,000 yen, but only 5,000 yen for first-time attendees.

This is for all-you-can-drink of about 70 kinds of beer, including four on tap, and light snacks. Beers are mostly Belgian, but some are from Austria, England, Germany, Ireland and the USA. You can bring your own favorite glass, or use one of the non-breakable plastic ones provided. All kinds of great beer flows on and on at this very casual and friendly event. Having attended last June with Glenn Scoggins, The Bar Hunter, I can certainly recommend it if you're looking to drink mass quantities of beer of virtually every description.

For more information, go to
To see a list of beers to be offered, go to For a map and directions, go to

Sugaya also has an amazing selection of beer that can be ordered for home delivery; go to .

Beer Lovers Club at Bois Cereste

Saturday, November 24, 5 to 10 pm

During this quarterly event, Bois Cereste owner Yamada-san offers a wide variety of Belgian Beers at low prices with a ticket system. A strip of 10 tickets is 3,500 yen, and most beers are only 2 or 3 tickets. Tickets can also be used for simple food items.

Bois Cereste is a few minutes from Akasaka Station on the Chiyoda subway line; phone 03-3588-6292. Map:

Bar Beat

Delirium Cafe Open in Tokyo

The folks at Belg Aube, two Belgian beer bars in Tokyo, have opened a new place in the beer-challenged Toranomon neighborhood. Delirium Cafe is named after the famous Belgian brand Delirium Tremens, brewed by Huyghe. On tap is a remarkable selection of Belgian Ales, including Delirium Tremens, Floris Kriek and Frambois, St. Idesbald Blonde, Delirium Cafe Lager, DT Nocturne, Celis White and La Mere Noel.

They plan to have 10 beers on tap all the time, selected from a rotating stock of some 40 beers. Plus, there is an impressive stock of bottled beers. The interior is quite beautiful and spacious, with large windows enhancing the effect. Certainly worth a visit. Unfortunately, the Website is only in Japanese:

Delirium Cafe
3-2-6 Kasumigaseki, Minato-ku
03-3501-3181 / Open from 11:00 to 23:30 daily, until 1:00 a.m. on Wed., Thurs., Fri. and days before a national holiday.

For the Failte of Heart...

From the operators of Belgo, Frigo and Favori comes Failte, a new Irish pub in Shibuya. Located in the new SEDE Bldg. (5F) behind the Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ Bank at the south exit of the station, Failte has beer directly imported from Ireland, as well as over 20 kinds of wine and "authentic cuisine offered by a French chef." Open from 5:30 pm to 1 am Monday to Saturday, and from 3 pm to 11 pm on Sundays and holidays.

Shibuya SEDE Bldg. 5F, 1-5-2 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Phone 03-3476-7776 / Open daily from 5:30 pm, from 3 p.m. Sundays & holidays

Cerveza Gym Cataratas

Also new in Shibuya and worth mentioning is a very cozy beer spot, quite close to the south exit, run by a couple with twin hobbies of beer and travel. Cateratas is a bit hard to spot, in the second basement of a small building. They have a good range of beers on tap, along with a selection of bottled "world beer." Several ethnic dishes from all over are on the menu. Good place for a date with someone with a mild interest in beer.

Cerveza Gym Cataratas
Dolce Shibuya B2, 16-14 Sakuragaoka-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
03-3461-6615 / Open daily from 5 pm

"Extreme Beer" at Thrash Zone in Yokohama

Photo by Jay Holmes

by Jay Holmes

Over the past few years, the Beer Gods have sought fit to smile on the city of Yokohama and have granted its beer-loving inhabitants a handful of quality establishments offering some fine brews. Where most of us had to endure an hour or more train ride to Tokyo to sample some interesting beers, now there are some real highlights in our own backyard. Amongst the bar owners of these local hideaways there seems to be a general sense of goodwill towards each other's establishments. In one bar, you may find flyers promoting another beer bar close by. Go to that said bar and there, the bartender will tell you his favorite bar around the corner, and so on. Following the trial of flyers and recommendations lead me to Yokohama station and through the dark back streets.

This is where I found my way to Thrash Zone.

The first thing one might notice about Thrash Zone is its quaint, homey atmosphere. Candlelight dances gently over the natural wood finish and the small room is bathed in a gentle natural glow. There are framed LP albums on the wall and stacks of magazines and books lining the shelves. The interior oozes a cozy ambiance while striking a nice balance between casual and classy. A friendly nod from Koichi-san, the bartender, welcomes you inside and the fellow patrons at the bar also extend a warm greeting. For a place that plays a steady rotation of thrash metal, a form of music once known for such anti-social standards, Thrash Zone seems a surprisingly comfortable place.

Taking a quick glance at the glistening taps at the bar, any beer geek should notice that this is a joint dedicated to promoting excellent Japanese craft beer in every way possible - and one that specializes in rare and hard to find selections, to boot! For starters, their house ale is Nagahama Ale, a complex, almost unclassifiable brew, brimming over with taste and personality. For the first timers, it can be a bit startling, but it's a rewarding beer that demands repeated tastings.

Also, a steady regular is Shinano Brewery's Dragon Ale, another "make it or break it" beer that reveals more flavor upon repeated servings. Its dark color and motor oil appearance may fool you to believe that it's a stout. But its mouthfeel will challenge you to believe otherwise. Then, the coffee aftertaste kicks in and you're left alone with your conflicting thoughts.

Barman Koichi pours a pint. Photo by Jay Holmes

Most of their tap selection changes frequently, with the exception of the house ale. On past visits, both Nagahama Ale and Shinano Dragon Ale were both available on tap, along with three selections from Minoh Ale (their Pale Ale, Stout, and their seasonal Cabernet Ale), as well as Inawashiro's Weizen, and the outstanding pale ale selection from Shimane Brewery. The food menu is small but unique, with a focus on smoked foods (cheese, bacon, egg, and even hanpen) whose flavors nicely complement Koichi-san's hand-picked beer choices.

While you're savoring the unique beers and food on hand, you can sit back and revel in the "glory daze" of heavy metal and hard rock by watching some old videos on the small screen behind the bar. On past occasions, classic speed metal/thrash bands like Anthrax, Exodus and Nuclear Assault have all gotten airplay, as well as hard rock acts such as Thin Lizzy, Kiss and Rush (and if you look closely up on the shelf amongst the Metallica and Slayer, you'll also spy some Puffy videos!). Even though Thrash Zone is small, there's plenty of room for air drumming and there's even an electric guitar and amp set up in the back corner if you're feeling daring enough to rock along!

Thrash Zone is a welcome addition to the Yokohama area for any beer enthusiast with a love for extreme beers and extreme music. It's the rare kind of place that has wide-ranging appeal with a small selection of great music, friendly atmosphere, good food, and amazing beers.

Oh, and that fool sitting on the end of the bar air-drumming? Well...that'd be me.

Thrash Zone
Directions: From the Northwest exit of Yokohama station, turn right and head for the MORE'S building. Passing MORE'S on your left, continue straight down the street, crossing a bridge and AM/PM on your right. You'll see a yakiniku place on the right hand corner. Turn right here and walk straight for about 10 seconds. THRASH ZONE is located on the right hand side on the second floor.
Paseri Bldg. 2F, 2-19-8 Tsuruya-cho, Kanagawa-ku, Yokohama
Phone 045-514-9947 / Open: 6 pm ~ 2 am (Closed Sundays)

Doll Dress in Osaka

By Tim Eustace

Prior to a recent visit to Osaka, a friend I was going to visit kept telling me about this Belgian beer bar with a Lolita Goth theme he had recently been frequenting. Not knowing him to be much of a goth fan, I only assumed he was going for the Belgian beers where he claimed was one of the cheapest places in Japan.

Lolita Goth ladies serve Belgian beer at Doll Dress.

Upon a visit to Osaka, Doll Dress became the number one thing on my to-do list. Lucky for me, my buddy was more than keen to take me there, because if he didn't there simply would be no easy way to find this place. The best directions would be from Osaka station it's a five minute walk to Nakazakicho station on the Tanimachi line (too difficult to explain - get a map). As you walk to Nakazakicho, stick right and walk past exit #3. As soon as you pass under the tracks turn right and follow beside the tracks straight for three dark, lonely blocks until you see a Stella Artois sign. If you think you are lost, you are probably on the right track.

What greeted me upon arrival was the antithesis of a clean suburban family restaurant. This is gothic fairytale meeting Belgian beer, and likely the most bizarre beer bar in Japan. A combination Lolita Goth shop attached to a Belgian Beer bar with an S&M club upstairs, located in a dark alley in the middle of nowhere, in central Osaka underneath train tracks. I am not making this up.

The Belgian beer bar feels like your parents' 70s basement. Dim lighting, a couple of old tables, where bookshelves line the wall with odd books and magazines and groceries on the floor against half opened cases of beer. The three fridges are stacked randomly with dozens Belgians. There can't be an inventory system here. We settled in and had Hoegaarden Special, Gouden Carolus Ambrio and Easter beer, Kizakura Blue Nile, etc. The beer kept flowing and I was served one of biggest plates of spaghetti in Japan.

The customers are a mix of Lolita Goth and Belgian beer lovers. The first night I was there a lovely Goth girl was passing out Harry Potter jellybeans to other customers. The second night there was a show upstairs that was just finishing. The Goths descended and were so amused by the site of straight-laced gaijin drinking in their bar, they took pictures of us. Somehow this all seemed appropriate.

The two pleasant ladies that run the bar are non-goth Belgian beer lovers. Prices are the cheapest I have seen in Japan, which is a relief given that there is no menu. If you want a beer you just tell them what type and they will bring out suggestions. Or, feel free to browse the fridges, it's all fine. The low volume jazz is absolutely perfect.

Forgetting the Goth bit, for a beer bar Doll Dress gets it so right on so many levels. I like bars that make me feel like I am at home, yet I feel comfortable to approach customers if I feel like it. I want something cozy, not conforming. I like music, but I barely want to notice it (and it better not be crap!). I like service, but I only when I need or want it. I want good beers and reasonable prices and don't care if my 9% abv Belgian is two months past expiry date if it's rare and unique. Doll Dress does all of things and more. This is truly a must-visit if you ever find yourself thirsty in Osaka. Doll Dress definitely rates as one of my favorite beer joints on earth.

Note there is a Halloween Party on November 4th from 5 to 9 pm; bar open till 11 pm. 2,000 yen in advance, 2,500 yen at the door. For reservations, phone 06-4802-0155 or email to

Doll Dress
4-24 Yamazaki-cho, Kita-ku, Osaka
06-4802-0155 / Open from 1 pm to 11 pm
Scroll down to find directions and a map

Craft Beer in Hakodate

By Glenn Scoggins, the Bar Hunter

Hakodate is a charming harbor town in a glistening natural setting, at the southern tip of Japan's northern island. It was opened to foreign trade in 1859, along with Nagasaki and Yokohama, and it shares much of its cosmopolitan atmosphere with those other treaty ports through which Western culture penetrated the long-isolated country.

In Hakodate's case, much of that influence was Russian, as can still be seen in the graceful Orthodox church that dominates the exotic skyline, just above the new Russian consulate. A century ago, Hakodate's strategic importance at a time of Russo-Japanese tension was such that it was dubbed the Gibraltar of Asia; now it hosts a branch of Khabarovsk University. But this is Hokkaido, after all, and the tipple of choice is not vodka, but beer.

The roots of brewing are deep in Hokkaido, as demonstrated by the brewery founded in Sapporo in 1876. Beer was brewed in Hakodate in the 19th century as well, using local barley and hops, and Japan's oldest beer hall flourished in the Yachigashira hot springs area from 1898 to 1904. The ji-biiru boom of the 1990's inspired four local beers, of which three survive. The most impressive is Hakodate Beer, brewed and served in a Meiji-era red brick building near the waterfront (formerly a glass-blowing craft shop) and available throughout the city.

Hakodate Beer. Photo by Glenn Scoggins

Chief brewer Tanaka Kakuya was headhunted out of university in 1996 to open the brewpub, following apprenticeship to Ian Warden, an English brewer. Despite his English training, Tanaka began with only one ale style, thinking that German beers would suit Japanese palates better. He later sharpened his skills with an intensive training course in Tokyo overseen by German master brewers, resulting in a proudly displayed certificate from Diemens Teknikum in Munich.

Typical of his native Aomori, Tanaka is modest and self-effacing, doing double duty as waiter and sales clerk on days when he is not working amongst gleaming tanks in a well-appointed brewhouse visible to diners behind floor-to-ceiling glass. Along with one helper, he turns out 110 kiloliters per year, in five styles. All use spring water from beneath Mount Hakodate, are unfiltered, and can be shipped nationwide in cool conditions.

Tanaka's weizen beer, called Goryo no Hoshi (Five-Pointed Star, a reference to Hakodate's pentagonal castle of Dutch design), is excellent, with a tangy fruitiness and refreshing mouthfeel without a cloying aftertaste. He claims to use 50% wheat malt and 50% barley malt. The alt style, Meiji-kan, is a good session beer, without the excessive carbonation and overuse of hops that has ruined many such beers. By contrast, the Koelsch beer, called Kita no Yakei (Night View of the North), is confused, overhopped, and fizzy, and not worth a second try. (For a second opinion, read Bryan's "Six Pick" in the next issue.)

The single English style, Kita no Ippo (First Step in the North) is an understated pale ale that would fit in fine in Portsmouth but not in Portland, a malty beer with a sweet aftertaste that eschews the jet-fuel hopping common in the Pacific Northwest. Tanaka's current best-seller is an English dark strong ale called Shacho no Yoku Nomu Beer ("the beer the boss drinks a lot"), weighing in at 10%, which implies that the boss doesn't get into the office first thing in the morning.

The huge brewhouse of Hakodate Beer is just behind the bar. Photo by Glenn Scoggins

The Hakodate Beer restaurant is well-appointed, with warm wood furnishings and a long counter along the brewhouse. Live music is scheduled every night. There is a full menu of casual Western and Japanese food, and the place is packed in the summer. Having spent many an enjoyable night there over the last ten years, I can recommend it!

Hakodate's "Bay Area" is dominated by two ambitious local tourism and dining enterprises, which have a healthy business rivalry and have snapped up every available patch of real estate. The parent company of Hakodate Beer is Hakodate Factory, a complex of shopping, restaurants, hotels, and cruising that grew out of a fisheries firm and now occupies some of the most atmospheric ivy-covered Meiji-era red brick buildings along the waterfront.

Facing it across the main tourist drag is Kanemori Soko, a similar group of restaurants and shops nestled in the 140-year-old warehouses founded in 1863 by pioneering businessman Watanabe Kumashiro. It was inevitable that Kanemori, originally a shipping and storage business, would open a beer hall as well, and theirs preceded Hakodate Beer by eight years, modeled on that Yachigashira ground-breaker a century before. The red brick interior, high ceilings, romantic chandeliers, and very welcome roaring fire accompany a full menu of Hokkaido cuisine.

Hakodate's Kanemori Beer is also situated in an old brick warehouse. Photo by Glenn Scoggins

While venison, lamb, crab, and salmon (both parent and child) are old favorites, a newer craze is "soup curry", which is exactly what it sounds like. One can't escape from the apotheosis of Hakodate, the omnipresent squid. Served in every form imaginable and at every mealtime, it symbolizes the city and has been adopted as the municipal invertebrate. Squid Street leads to Squid Square, giant statues of squid adorn public buildings, the fish market, and the JR station, and the highlight of the summer festival is the hilarious squid dance.

Washing down all that squid at the Kanemori Beer Hall are two varieties of Kanemori Beer, available only on draft and on premises. The Aka-Renga (Red Brick) is a red ale, sweet and unimpressive. Far better, with food or on its own, is the Kaitakushi (Pioneer) pilsner, which is well-balanced and thirst-quenching, much like Suntory Premium Malt's. The resemblance is ironic, since both of the Kanemori beers are brewed on contract at Sapporo Beer's main brewery in Eniwa, near Chitose Airport. The recipe is original to Kanemori, though, so it still qualifies as a craft beer.

Onuma Craft Brewery. Photo by Glenn Scoggins

The last in Hakodate's trinity is Onuma Beer, produced by the shores of Lake Onuma outside the city. A perennial at the Great Japan Beer Festivals, Onuma is proud of its ten-year string of gold and silver awards, although some may be due more to internal JCBA politics than to quality. The beer is unremarkable, and both the alt and the koelsch have virtually identical hop profiles. This disserves the alt, which is fizzy and overly hoppy, but it's better suited to the koelsch, which I found an excellent companion to a bento lunchbox (with squid, naturally).

Two years ago, in a fit of misguided enthusiasm, Onuma debuted a third style. This "Northwest-inspired" IPA is unbalanced sludge: at 7.5% abv, it was strong without substance, overhopped with no malt body to carry it, and I found it undrinkable. The fact that I poured half of it down the drain will shock those who know my unselective drinking habits and convince them of its lack of any redeeming virtues!

The Onuma brewpub is fairly dismal, with a small selection of uninspired food, empty even during the summer. But it's only a block from one of Japan's jewels, the three beautiful lakes that reflect Mount Komagatake's crooked peak and make up the national park, awash with golds, reds, and yellows at the peak of the autumn foliage. By all means visit the lake next summer: canoe, cycle, have a barbecue, and wash down your squid with some ice-cold Onuma Koelsch.

What about winter? In a twist on the usual ruse of disguising a pedestrian beer by serving it a tonsil-freezing temperature, Onuma's branch outlet at the Hakodate Asaichi fish market will serve you the alt beer heated up to 50 degrees, in deference to the wintry blasts of wind off the Tsugaru Strait. Even in October, something warm sounded like a good idea, so in the interests of science I made myself the guinea pig. It was somewhat similar to drinking mulled wine, which I detest, but actually more like the "onsen" bath water that is supposed to be good for you. It tasted not like beer at all but like acrid water, smelly with a bitter aftertaste. Next time I'll have a hot chocolate instead.

Hakodate Beer (brewery and restaurant)
5-22 Otemachi, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0064
Tel 0138-23-8000
Open daily from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm
Ten minutes on foot from JR Hakodate station, near Uoichiba-dori streetcar stop
The beer is available in cans by mail order-check the website.

Hakodate Beer Hall and Kanemori-tei Beer Restaurant
14-12 Suehiro-cho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0053
Tel 0138-27-1010
Open weekdays from 11:30 am to 10:30 pm, weekends from 11:00 am to 10:30 pm
Fifteen minutes on foot from JR Hakodate station; near Jujigai streetcar stop

Onuma Beer (brewery) and Brau Haus Onuma (restaurant)
208 Onuma-machi, Nanae-cho, Kameda-gun, Hokkaido 041-1354
Tel 0138-67-1611
Three minutes on foot from JR Onuma Koen station (Hakodate main line)
The beer is available in cans and bottles by mail order-check the website.

Six Pick

Five Japanese, One Dutch

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.

!!!! R.I.P. John Peel Amber Ale (had on tap at The Aldgate in Shibuya; from Aizu Beer, Fukushima) Bright bold orange bronze color, off-white head, rich body, good malt tang, restrained bitterness, nice lace down the side of the glass, not quite "amber" like others but a great glass of ale nonetheless, especially at 900 yen for a UK pint. I believe this is the same as Aizu's Akabeko Amber Ale, but the Aldgate has seen fit to re-name it, as it does several other craft beers. Myself and several others are rather annoyed with this practice, but we don't own the bar.

!!!! Strandgaper (Holland, Scheldebrouwerij; barley malt, caramel malt, munich malt, Hallertau and Saaz hops, candi sugar; 6.2% abv) Hazy light yellow, big white sudsy head, sweet aroma with a mineral-rich "sea air" fragrance, sweet initial flavor that gets a bit more dry as tartness (from yeast?) comes in. Brisk carbonation makes it more refreshing than can be expected from such a heavy beer. Overall, a bit one-dimensional for this line of beers, which means it still has impressive complexity. One of a series of nine beers from the Scheldebrouwerij microbrewery of Holland, . These are now being sold at Kawachi-ya in Shibuya, and imported into Japan by Ezo Beer in Hokkaido; for details, see

!!!! Minoh Belgian Ale (Osaka; all malt, 6% abv) Hazy deep gold, light tan head, good sweet and fruity yeasty aroma. Rather light body, no indication of style/type given. Good range of fruity flavors, with hints of peach, apricots and other stone fruits. Solid, but one wishes more Belgian-like complexity.

!!!! Minoh Shinyu Pilsener (Osaka; all malt, 5% abv) Faintly hazy light gold, thick off-white head, very light aroma, light fruity flavor, some bitterness comes in mid-way, good malty tang in finish. Clean and well-balanced.

!!!! Iwate Kura Pale Ale (Iwate; all malt; 4% abv) Hazy yellow gold, ivory head,. Soft carbonation, light body with a light and fruity flavor. Very low-key, with surprising low alcohol, but with some bitterness apparent in the aftertaste. Refreshing, but with good flavor. Quite an interesting pale ale.

!!! Iwate Kura Red Ale (Iwate; all malt; 5% abv) Hazy reddish brown, dense tan head, rich malty "dried fruit" aroma. Deep caramel flavor, but relatively light body. Could stand to be a bit more complex.

Thanks to Glenn Scoggins for the Iwate Kura beers. Glenn also sent me beer from Onuma and Hakodate, which will be reviewed next month.

Beer Talk

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Chris Poel Visits the Jolly Pumpkin

The road off the highway started out wide and straight, but within miles we found ourselves winding through the Michigan countryside with beautiful lakes, tall trees, classic farmhouses and freshly manured fields. Okay, so it wasn't all beautiful, but my kids and I were on a mission: a visit to the Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales brewery to check out the Belgian-inspired ales of brewer Ron Jeffries. The scenic - and odorific - 40-minute drive to Dexter (pop. 3,242) had me wondering why in hell a sane man would (a) start a craft brewery in such a back woods place in the first place, (b) endeavor to brew Belgian-style beers in such a back woods place, and (c) name his brewery Jolly Pumpkin.

Chris and Ron at Jolly Pumpkin.

After driving past the brewery twice - luckily in Dexter, going around the block only takes a few seconds - we parked and walked into the brewery. My first question to Ron was why Dexter. "Because it's cheap, and Ann Arbor [home of the University of Michigan] is nearby." Honesty - gotta love that! Why Belgian styles? "I like the art of it. Anyone can make a pale ale or porter or IPA, but Belgian-style beers take a certain artistic sense." And the name? "My wife and I planned this brewery for over a decade, and once it began to look like we might actually pull it off, we started jotting down names. We came up with a lot of names, but the one that always made us chuckle was Jolly Pumpkin. When we wrote our formal business plan, Jolly Pumpkin just seemed natural.

With that out of the way, we started walking around the brewery, starting with the brewhouse: "We fashioned the boil kettle and hot liquor tanks from old milk-production equipment. Nothing unusual there, lots of breweries have done that." We then moved on to the fermentation area, and here Jolly Pumpkin starts showing its unique character. Ron brews all of the beers in traditional open fermenters: "I wanted to brew in a more traditional way. We cover the fermenters with screens to keep the insects out, but other than that, they are open to the atmosphere." With most breweries being neurotically paranoid about airborne contaminants, this was fascinating to me.

After about a week, fermentation is finished and the beer is ready to be moved to wooden barrels. Jolly Pumpkin conditions and ages all their beers in wooden barrels that Ron has bought from a variety of places: other breweries, whisky producers, wine makers, and a few new ones. "We mature our beer in oak casks. Contact with the wood gives our beers unmatched depth of character and subtleness of flavor." One of the "problems" with barrel/cask aging is that each barrel gives the beer different flavors, so once the beer is ready to bottle (three to six months in the barrels), Ron and his staff (wife, son, and assistant) sit down and blend beers from different barrels until they find the perfect mixture. Fresh yeast is added to the blended beer, and it's bottle conditioned, mostly in large 750 ml corked bottles.

Ron's Jolly Pumpkin brewery produces truly hand-crafted beers with a definite artisan angle. If you ever have a chance to try one of Ron's Jolly Pumpkin ales, you'll be impressed with the delicate complexity of an excellent beer. And with Jolly Pumpkin beers being "distributed in more states than not," it's getting easier and easier to find them. If not, Dexter isn't really that far away ; ).

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, LLC
3115 Broad Street
Dexter, Michigan, 48130
Phone: (734) 426-4962
Year-Round Beers: Oro de Calabaza, La Roja, Bam Biere, Calabaza Blanca


GBC Tour to Echigo Beer Brewpub

November 4 (Sunday)
This event has been cancelled.

Michael Jackson Tribute

September 30th was the day that beer enthusiasts around the world held a tribute toast to Michael Jackson. Here is a short video of the one in San Francisco at the Toronado pub, officiated by Celebrator Beer News publisher Tom Dalldorf.

That was also the day of the Japan Craft Beer Festival, where Toshi Ishii, Ichiri Fujiura, Tatsuo Aoki and myself gave short speeches. After the festival, JCBF organizers donated 100,000 yen of the proceeds to the Japan Parkinsons Disease Association in Michael Jackson's honor.

New Brews

Kirin Ichiban Shibori "Toritate Hop" (fresh-picked hops) in the unfiltered "chilled beer" version (sold at convenience stores) will go on sale October 31, with a regular canned version to follow on November 7. Both are brewed with fresh hops from the Tono region of Iwate prefecture.

The Return of Yebisu in the Red Can - Kaoru Ebisu will once again be on sale from November 21st. Last year's review was: "Amber gold, tan head, fruity malt aroma, hops in background. Fruity ale-like initial flavor, followed by the quenching finish of a lager with excellent malt/hop balance. Very good quality hops (Saaz and Hallertauer?) used. I would have wanted just a bit darker color and a little heavier body, but this is quite a nice work. Sort of "Yebisu plus alpha." This is a limited edition version of Yebisu, but will likely be available until the spring.

Special thanks to Tim Eustace, Jay Holmes, Chris Poel 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 November issue is Monday, November 26.