Brews News #84
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Brews News #84 - March 2008
WE'RE BACK ...after being closed for renovations during January and February.
New from this issue is the separated Beer Here and Beer There sections; one for upcoming events, the other to report on past events. Also note that Six Pick will no longer feature "non-craft beer," specifically beers from the Big Four in Japan. Life is just too short... as they say. This (mostly) monthly edition will be published with more regularity than in the past, with fast-breaking news on events appearing in the "food news" section of Bento.com. The objective is to inform you of events as soon as possible, yet keep the regular features coming, as you are used to. As always, contributions are heartily encouraged, and please note that I edit only for readability, not for style, as I believe it is important to preserve the voice of the original writer as much as possible. I hope you will continue to enjoy Brews News each month, and thank you for your long years of support - Bryan Harrell
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.

Beer Here

Green Flash brews to debut in Japan at Sal's Cafe

Sunday, March 9 from 2 to 6 pm

Andrew Balmuth of Nagano Trading Company has concluded an import agreement for beers from the highly acclaimed Green Flash Brewing Co. of San Diego, an area already famous for some of the most distinctive beers in the world. What is a green flash? It's an unusual phenomena in a sunset, and details on it and the superb beers named after it can be found at www.greenflashbrew.com

To be served at the event from Green Flash are the Hop Head Red (6%), West Coast IPA (7%), Grand Cru Belgian-style Dark Ale (8.5%), Imperial IPA (9%) and Barleywine (10%). The cost is 3,000 yen (2,500 yen in advance), which includes five beer tickets. For reservations and more information, phone 044-870-5454 or send an e-mail to barsals -at- hotmail.co.jp.

www.salscafe.com

"Arrogant Bastard" Greg Koch in Person

Friday March 14 (evening) at Sal's Cafe in Saginuma, Kawasaki

Saturday March 15, 2 to 5 pm, Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku

"You're Not Worthy!" goes the tag line for Arrogant Bastard Ale from Stone Brewing, also of San Diego. Co-founder Greg Koch (no relation to that other Koch who runs Sam Adams) will be visiting Japan for a special beer promotion event by the American Brewers Association in March, and two events will take place during his visit.

On March 14, Greg will participate in an evening of Stone Debauchery at Sal's Cafe (044-870-5454) in Kawasaki, where the featured beers will be Stone IPA, Ruination IPA, Smoked Porter, Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale, and 2007 Imperial Russian Stout. For details, see www.salscafe.com .

On March 15, from 2 to 5 pm, Mr. Koch will appear at a presentation event at Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku, hosted by myself and Tatsuo Aoki, master of Popeye. Full Japanese-English interpretation will be provided, along with plentiful beer samples, with a 3,000 yen admission fee. Phone Popeye for reservations at 03-3633-2120. For details on Beer Club Popeye, see www.40beersontap.com

Beer There

The Beer Festival at Inishmore on January 27 was underwhelming, to say the least. I arrived a few hours late, only to be greeted by a largely empty venue with a few regulars who always seem to be there. I chalk it up to nearly non-existent publicity and an unenthusiastic staff. Of the five beers on offer, four were on handpump, with the Chocolate Porter from Aizu Brewing the most interesting of the bunch. Unfortunately, Aizu has just gone out of business, though the Aldgate in Shibuya will be selling remaining stocks until they run out. Thanks to John Schultz, who gave it his best shot all these years, and will be returning to the U.S.

The 6th Annual Tokyo Real Ale Festival on February 10 was another can of worms. It is safe to say that this event has pretty much outlived its usefulness. The inefficiencies of a huge volunteer staff (all outfitted in custom-printed T-shirts), the impracticality of hauling cask ale to the venue, and the closed nature of the supporting breweries (who apparently oppose the entry of new breweries to the event) has hog-tied TRAF into a relic of "habatsu shakai" (a society based on multiple groups which resist intermingling) that ultimately works against the popularization of new types of beer.

For Japanese beer lovers, it is essentially a closed party which sells out about the time it is publicized, and the fact that the number of non-Japanese visitors seems to grow every year is largely related to the fact that I am the only person working to actively publicize the event, in English OR Japanese. With the venue maxed out at 800 attendance, the event can be expected to be fixed in amber for the foreseeable future, right down to the green mohawked bagpipe player. Only several major organizational changes can revitalize this event and allow it to grow and evolve in the future. In its place, I recommend several "real ale weeks" throughout the year, to be held at pubs that have experience serving REAL Real Ale. This would go far in popularizing Real Ale in your everyday local.

Bar Beat

Good Bars in Sapporo

By Glenn Scoggins, The Bar Hunter

Planning on going to Sapporo when the weather gets warmer? Maybe for the colorful Yosakoi Soran Festival (June 4-8, 2008)? Or maybe you just want to hang out and enjoy good food, friendly people, and the great outdoors. Hokkaido promises a chilly spring, but also a summer with no rainy season, smog, crowds, and hassles. No matter when you go, you'll be thirsty. Here are a few choice spots, new and old, to find a good beer and some amiable conversation.

Relatively new and full of good spirits is one of Sapporo's few craft beer specialty bars, Louis's (pronounced "Louise"). Smiling manager Takeuchi Hiroto and a motley assortment of good-natured ruffians occupy a cheerful ground-floor room near the Nijo fish market (just across the Sosei-gawa canal from Tanuki-koji covered arcade). Among their assortment of world beers are choice craft beers such as Baird (the regular line-up in bottles, plus a rotating draft selection) and Hitachino Nest (the only bar in Sappro serving either besides Phred Kaufman's iconic Mugishutei).

Regulars from Louis's also make their own beers at Canadian Brewery's Tezukuri Bakushu, Sapporo's only BOP outlet (see Brews News # 65) and, at my last visit, offered three varieties that they had bottled themselves. I also witnessed the filming of an amateur bilingual DIY video on home brewing by a resident American enthusiast, shaky camera and all. Louis's is a friendly neighborhood joint, with special discounts for every victory by local sports teams: Nippon Ham Fighters, Consadole Sapporo, or Rera Kamuy.

Bier Pub Louis's
Daito Bldg 1F, 9-8, Minami 2-jo, Higashi 2-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo 060-0052
Tel 011-303-7817
http://gnavi.co.jp/h209300/
Eight minutes on foot from Odori subway station or three minutes on foot from Bus Center subway station
Open 11:30 am until 5:00 am, Monday through Saturday
Open 11:30 am until 12:00 midnight, Sunday
(These generous daytime hours are curtailed in winter, though.)

Further out of town and well-established after eight years is Diversion. Located in the Kotoni neighborhood which produces the perennial champion dance teams for the Yosakoi Soran Matsuri, Diversion is as cool, quiet, and sophisticated as the dancers are hot, hyper-active, and frenetic.

Tuxedoed owner and sommelier Hoshi Tomofumi is a heartthrob for Diversion's mostly female clientele and can guide you expertly through the many pages of champagne, wine, cocktails, and whiskey in his menu. If it's beer you want, there's just one on tap: Yona Yona Pale Ale, personally introduced to Hokkaido by brewer Toshi Ishii for the 2005 Sapporo Beer and Food Festival. Hoshi-san has encyclopedic knowledge of the local bar scene, and Diversion makes a good first stop to collect recommendations for your next destination. (The Y300 charge per customer is waived before 8:00 pm.)

Bar Diversion
Tamada Bldg 2F, 3-5, Kotoni 2-jo, 1-chome, Nishi-ku, Sapporo 063-0812
Tel 011-612-0705
www.bar-diversion.com
Five minutes on foot from JR Kotoni train station (two stops from Sapporo) or ten minutes on foot from Kotoni subway station
Open 6:00 pm until 3:00am daily

Susukino is the heart of Sapporo's entertainment district, and at its core is a twenty-year veteran with a name that says it all: The Beer Bar. Manager Ryotsu Keiichi and his cohort of well-trained waiters run a smooth professional operation, with a long menu of familiar German and Belgian brands. They also serve several versions of their own imprint, The Beer Bar Beer, brewed under contract by Asahi at their local plant. I had the amber, which was unsurprisingly indistinguishable from Asahi's Kohaku-no-toki. Always reliable and conveniently located, The Beer Bar is a bar for beer.

The Beer Bar
Manager: Ryotsu Keiichi
Urban Sapporo Bldg B1F, Minami 3-jo, Nishi 4-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo 060-0063
Tel 011-232-7887
Five minutes on foot from Susukino subway station
Open 5:30 pm until 2:00 am daily

A few blocks away in Susukino stands a plain black cube, with an inconspicuous door and an almost invisible sign scrawled with four hiragana: Shimijimi. This is Sapporo's only downtown brewpub, a product of the post-1994 craft beer boom which has survived, making pilsner, maerzen, weizen, and stout (all but the last available in bottles) on a small scale. The counter seats six, and the rest of the restaurant's single floor is divided into cozy private rooms for parties of two to twelve. The "kaiseki" menu and atmosphere are that of a quiet, understated "ryotei"-which just happens to brew its own beer downstairs next to the ladies' toilet.

Shimijimi Sapporo and Susukino Ji-Bakushu (Craft Brewery)
1-5, Minami 6-jo, Nishi 4-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo 064-0806
Tel 011-563-1100
www.susukino-jibeer.com
Five minutes on foot from Susukino subway station
Open from 5:00 pm until 12:00 midnight daily

Just north of Sapporo station is The Jersey Cafe, the new branch of the veteran Jersey Bar in Tanuki-Koji. Why "Jersey"? Cows? The Channel Islands? No - it's a sports bar, duh! Long and narrow, with a bar counter in the front area by the entrance stairs and tables further back, its compartmentalized design would seem to inhibit conversation and camaraderie. Far from it-the outgoing bartenders encourage a relaxed cross-current of shared revelry, with friendly banter back and forth. The long beer list starts with Jersey Ale (perhaps a kind of milk stout?), which is brewed by the Jersey staff at Canadian Brewery uptown, and is surprisingly good. One hour stretched into the next, but I never felt compelled to work my way down the list. This is the place to meet after work for a beer and a bite and to catch up on sports results, from Formula One to rugby and cricket.

The Jersey Cafe
Chojuan Bldg 3F, Kita 7-jo, Nishi 5-chome, Kita-ku, Sapporo 060-0807
Tel 011-738-8550
Five minutes on foot from the north exit of JR Sapporo station
Open from 6:00 pm until 1:00 am on weeknights
Open from 6:00 pm until 2:00 am on weekends

Brothers Paul and Walter de Conninck introduced Belgian beer and gourmet chicken to Sapporo four years ago at their first location, Paul's Cafe, near Sapporo station (see Brews News # 52), and since then they have expanded twice. They've taken advantage of the explosive growth of the nearby Niseko ski resort with a Belgian bar (where, Paul reports, their most faithful customers are Aussies "who know how to drink but don't know to stop").

Paul has also opened Dos Reyes, a Spanish-style tapas bar towards the western end of Odori Park, where they have a steady crowd of salarymen from the surrounding office towers, both for lunch and after work, drawn by good food, low prices, and Belgian beer (and not least by the cute giggly waitresses). My lunch was almost (but not quite) sabotaged when they ran out of food at 1:15 - a testimony to their loyal client base.

Tapas Bar Dos Reyes
New Life Odori Koen Bldg 1F, Odori Nishi 15-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo 060-0042
Tel 615-1721
Open for lunch, 11:30 am until 2:30 pm, Monday through Saturday
Open for dinner, 5:00 pm until 1:00 am, Monday through Saturday
Five minutes from Nishi 18-chome subway station

Honest-to-God, stick-to-your-ribs food, an extensive list of bourbon and whiskey, a long counter bar below a high ceiling and an overhanging balcony, and decor that wouldn't be out of place in a Hollywood Western - if this is Sapporo, you must be in Buddy Buddy. If not for the view of the NHK tower out the window, you'd think you were in Tombstone, Arizona, waiting for John Wayne to saunter in through the swinging doors to teach some no-'count varmint a lesson.

The atmosphere is as downhome and folksy as the food, though, and by my second visit the enthusiastic staff knew my name, my poison of choice (Anchor Steam), and my favorite '70's band (The Grateful Dead, if you were wondering). Their French Quarter-style sister restaurant uptown, Famous Door, serves New Orleans gumbo, po' boys, and muffaletta sandwiches, and may have the only Creole iron grille work fence in the world that's covered with snow five months of the year.

Downhome Food and Bar Buddy Buddy
Paradise Bldg 1F, Kita 2-jo, Higashi 1-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo 060-0032
Tel 011-271-8882
Five minutes on foot from Odori or Bus Center subway stations
Open for lunch, 11:30 am until 2:30 pm Monday through Friday
Open at night, 5:00 pm until 1:00 am Monday through Saturday

Six Pick

Dark Winter Brews

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.

!!!! Baeren Scottish Ale (Iwate; all malt, 5.5% abv) Hazy chocolate brown, lush tan head, strong carbonation, beautiful floral hop aroma with roasty caramel and coffee notes in background. Rich dark malt flavors with a fair measure of tartness, some hop bitterness apparent in the finish. The tartness is almost to the point to being dstracting, so the best remedy is to drink this right at room temperature. At that point, the malty sweetness comes to the fore to blanket the acidic tartness, creating a smooth balance. www.baerenbier.com/index-2.html

!!!! Iwate Kura Stout (Iwate, 75% malt, 6% abv) Opaque, near-black with short-lived tan head. Roasty sweet aroma with hops far in the background. Great rich flavor with layers of dark roast coffee, dark caramel and fruitcake with alcohol apparent. Extremely soft mouthfeel, with lingering flavor like "tomitsu" dark sugar syrup or dark brown sugar. Very little bitterness or bitter coffee-type flavors. Very smooth and easy drinking - a superb session stout. www.sekinoichi.co.jp

!!!!! Raftman (Quebec, Canada; malt, peated scotch malt, hops, sugars, bitter orange peel, coriander; 5.5% abv) You just have to love Unibroue, the Belgian-influenced French Canadian brewery, possibly one of the most distinctive in North America. Raftman is a joy as it intersects Scotch whisky and Belgian ale. Color of scotch whisky but hazy, with a dense off-white head, aged port/whisky aroma with wood notes combine with the yeasty aroma of Belgian ale with spices. How's it taste? Well, it does taste a bit like one of my grandfather's boilermakers (beer with a shot of whisky in it) served during weekend-long poker games, but a boilermaker of a Very High Quality.

!!!!! Oesterstout (Holland; Munich, caramel and dark roasted malts, Challenger and Goldings hops, filtered over raw oysters, 8.5% abv). Very dark hazy brown, dense tan head. Aroma of espresso-like malt with a distinctive ocean-esque briny scent. Very soft mouthfeel of creamy texture. Rich, booze-soaked fruitcake flavors with hints of sweetness, along with a sort of salty, iodine flavor in the background. Spiky effect from very fine carbonation and high alpha-acid hop bitterness. Taste continues long into the finish. A good match with rice crackers with rich soy-sauce coating.

!!!!! Old Rasputin X Imperial Stout, 10th Anniversary Edition. Very dark brown, tan head, bourbon-esque (bourbonic?) aroma, smooth malt flavors emulating dark chococolate, espresso coffee, and heavy fudge, all run through the bourbon-flavor filter. Breathtakingly complex and superb.

!!!!! Old Rasputin Imperial Stout (Fort Bragg, California; all malt, 9% abv). Opaque near-black dense and creamy liquid with tan head. Fruitcake aroma with hops in background. Velvety mouthfeel, rich dark malt flavors coming in sheet-like layers of dark chocolate, espresso coffee, and rich butter toffee, with a curious hint of hashish flavor in the aftertaste. Interesting that both versions were on par with each other in terms of point ratings. www.naganotrading.com

Beer Talk

Winter in Australia

By Tim Eustace

Or is that summer? I recently spent Christmas down under and while there, took the pleasure of exploring the beery side of the country. Australian is fairly renowned for its beer-drinking culture, yet that perhaps is more of a focus on quantity than quality. Although I have had Little Creatures Pale Ale, I knew the country must offer much more.

I learned on my first day in Australia that it and Japan have some similarities regarding their beer scene. Both countries' craft beer scenes are relatively unknown outside of their own borders, both countries have no barriers to obtaining beer (ie. Individuals can order directly from breweries), and unfortunately beer prices in both countries are fairly high due to taxes (325-475 yen/bottle). However, I had the feeling that as much as Japan is behind the dynamic beer scene in the US, Australia is behind Japan.

The more time I spent in the country the more I felt this, after having one nondescript pale ale after the other. Import beers generally seemed to be focused on beers made by globally renowned brands. However, unlike Japan the numbers of breweries is growing (Japan in the late 90s?). Quality may not quit be there yet, but there were certainly some notable breweries and beer places.

My travels were limited to Sydney up to the Hunter Valley (two hours north) and Bawral (1.5 hours west), so this is only a small snapshot of the scene. I heard Western Australia (where Little Creatures is from) has a more dynamic scene.

Red Oak - Located in the heart of the CBD (Central Business District) and a stone's throw from many offices of financial firms, it is not surprising that this quasi-brewpub (beer is made off premise) caters to the upmarket (someone at my table said yuppies) crowd.

Located in a very old premise, it has a somewhat historical feel about it and the day I arrived on the 22nd at 3:30pm it was surprisingly busy. It had a jaw-dropping 25 beers on tap, of which the quality went from OK to fabulous, of particular note was the Baltic Porter, Pale Ale and Christmas Ale. Prices were unsurprisingly on the high side. I was impressed by the service, particularly from Janet (the brewer's sister and driving force of the operation) who made her way around the room talking to people for a few minutes and even gave us a glass each of the Christmas Ale. This type of service is rarely seen anywhere, but is definitely appreciated. This place is a must visit on any trip to Sydney.

The Australian Hotel Pub - This was my favorite beer place on the trip. Despite being located on the border of the Rocks district, which is the oldest part of Sydney and the heart of the tourist area, it escapes the faux feeling that so many tourist pubs globally suffer. Partially perhaps because it to cater to a cross section people and it really hasn't tried to (or at least it seems) renovate despite being over 100 years old. It has a very laid back feeling, which I like.

On offer are eight taps, which included Little Creatures, and several macros, however, the bottle selection is where this place really shines with well over 50 micros from all over Australia. As with all good beer bars, this place manages to cater to plenty of people who aren't into good beer, but just like the feeling of the place. The selection is a bit of hit and miss, but some research before hand (or going with a savvy local), will go a long way to narrow your choices.

The pizza is outstanding (apparently) and prices reflect the location. This is an absolute must visit in Sydney, but be warned this place can get insanely packed, especially Fridays after work. There is a bottle shop attached to the Hotel as well that doesn't have quite as good of selection of beers as in the pub, but is still one of the best places to buy beer in Sydney.

Paddy's - Located at the Sydney Market (about 30 min. by train from the CBD), which is apparently not the desirable place to go (so I was told by several people). I was playing golf near the Market and it was easy enough to stop over for the 19th hole. Located in a hotel with an extremely bland atmosphere and tons of slot machines ("pokies" as they are known locally), this place is the antithesis of what I like in beer bar. However, once you get past the atmosphere and sit down and try the beers it's clear this is a good beer place.

There are about eight beers on tap ranging from average to very good. The ESB was well balanced and I thought a very good example of the style. Hats off to Alan the brewer/bartender for this great beer (he also managed to make a Lychee beer taste OK, which is a huge feat in itself in my opinion). Prices match the location and are about half of what places in the CBD charge.

Hunter's Brewery - Located in the Hunter Valley, the atmosphere inside this brewpub is similar to Paddy's, but luckily it has outdoor seating that is pleasant enough to sit back and enjoy the ten or so beers on offering. Nothing here really stood out and the Lager and Bock were average, but the best of the bunch. I didn't do the brewery tour, but I heard it is great and the brewer is very friendly.

Overall the Australian beer scene is moving in the right direction, but like Japan knowledge about good beer seems to be fairly low and unlike small wineries, microbreweries don't get tax breaks, which makes it hard for them to compete with the big boys on price. Beer quality is also an issue, though breweries like Red Oak and Murray's (My favorite Australian micro) are leading the way towards better beer.

Eric Wong and son, Tim Eustace and Steve Lacy.

I would like to travel to Western Australia sometime and check out the beer scene there. This is where some of the top breweries are located, though many don't distribute to Sydney due to distance. I think everyone can find something they will like in Australia, but you just might have to look a little harder than usual to get that beer.

News

Happy Hoppy Spring

Saturday March 15, 5 pm to midnight

Pub Bacchus near Tokyo Station

Green Flash IPA and Hop Head Red, Shiga Kogen Draft Pale Ale, Minoh Double IPA and more great beers are planned to be served on this special one-day event. Special foods include Spare Ribs with Fruit Sauce, Chile Con Carne, California-style Salad, Beef Cutlet with Pale Ale Sauce and more. Take advantage of the smaller crowds on "Ghost Town Saturday" in the Yaesu Kita side of Tokyo Station. Phone 03-3231-4666; www.bacchus-yaesu.com

Meat at Minoh - Special Event

Sunday March 16, 1 to 4 pm

Minoh Brewery in Osaka

Special "A5 grade" meat (your choice of beef, chicken, pork) plus all the Minoh Beer you can drink for 5,000 yen per person. Such a deal? Only for the first 50 people to reserve. For details, phone Beer Belly (06-6441-0717) or the Minoh Brewery (072-725-7234)

Celebrate the Goddess of Beer Brewing

April 6th from 6:30 to 8:30 pm / 2,500 yen/person

Sumida Sangyo Kaikan 8F A Hall

Marui Bldg at JR Kinshicho Station

This event is related to the Japan Beer Cup judging, with tickets available only at selected bars in the Tokyo/Yokohama area.

La Cachette Iidabashi 03-3513-0823 http://la-cachette.jp/
Berg Shinjuku 03-3226-1288 http://www.berg.jp/
Popeye Ryogoku 03-3633-2120 http://www.40beersontap.com/
Ale House Ikebukuro 03-3980-4845 http://alehouse.hp.infoseek.co.jp/
Ushitora 03-3485-9090 http://ushitora.jp/
Copa Aobadai 045-985-0037 http://www.beercopa.com/
Copa Machida 042-709-5361 http://www.beercopa.com/machida.html
Ales & Cigar Pub Pangea  03-3782-7699  http://www1.cts.ne.jp/~pangaea/
Kura Kura 03-5433-2323 http://j-beer.com/kurakura/
Yokohama Cheers  045-311-7804  http://www.yokohama-cheers.com/
Beer Cafe Gambrinus 042-325-0484  http://gambrinus.jp/
Kuraya Machida 042-793-2176 http://www.kura-ya.com/
Craft Beer Bar Yokohama 045-651-0440  http://craftbeerbar.seesaa.net/
Dining Bar Keel Yokohama 045-242-9007 http://r.gnavi.co.jp/a150700/

2008 Great Japan Beer Festivals

Tokyo (Ebisu) May 5-6
Osaka (Kyocera Dome) May 31 - June 1
Yokohama (Osanbashi Hall) September 6-7
For details, see www.beertaster.org/gjbf/date.htm

US Craft Beer!

New shipments are always arriving at Sugaya, with mail order available. www.sugaya-beer.com or phone 044-877-3946.

New Ginga Kogen Releases

The folks famous for wheat beers and weizens released a new pale ale on December 1st, but a recent taste at Beer Club Popeye made me relegate this beer to the "not really worth a try" category. Recently announced was another attempt, a "bitter black beer" but I have yet to find it for sale anywhere.

Shochu Authority Drops Craft Beer

The small but interesting selection of craft beers at the Shochu Authority store in Tokyo Station has disappeared. I noticed this development in December, and since then several readers have written to me about it. Well, there is still Tanakaya in Mejiro, with its good selection of Japanese craft beer. (Note that Baird Beer is in the main reefer case on the far end, and not together with the open cooler of other Japanese craft beers.

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 dot com" Deadline for the April issue is Thursday, March 27th.