Brews News #85
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Brews News #85 - April/May 2008
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.

Beer Here

Popeye "100 Craft Beers" Selection

Popeye Beer Club

Sunday April 20 - 1 pm / 4,000 yen

This yearly event is a wild and frantic tasting of 100 craft beers, done in groups 20 at a time, with the ultimate objective of choosing the Top 20. Computer tabulation of results is done in real time on the big screen, and beers are judged for flavor and appearance (of both beer and label). At this writing, there aren't enough participants, so consider joining in on the fun. After the hard work of "tasting" participants may drink the leftover beers at random. When the time is up, many people take home a bottle or two. Reservations are a must, so call today.

Beer Club Popeye
03-3633-2120
www.40beersontap.com

A Shining Jewel in Kamishakuji

Every now and then you run across a beer bar that surprises. Asaya's Bar is certainly one, tucked away in Kamishakuji on the Seibu Shinjuku Line, just 17 minutes from Shinjuku by express train. Tucked on the side of the Asaya Liquor Shop, the bar features a cozy curved ceiling and a relaxing atmosphere. This is made even more attractive by the remarkably low prices, which are between retail and bar prices.

Your host is Mitsuko Fukasawa, certified beer judge and veteran member of the Good Beer Club. She selects the beers served in the bar, which are also sold on the Asaya web site at http://www.ne.jp/asahi/asaya/e-shop/beer.htm for home delivery.

Pints of great draft are just 840 yen, and pouring on my visit were Asaya's Goddess (a highly hopped amber ale) and Smoked Scottish Ale from Hakusekikan. Pints of Bass Pale Ale are only 630 yen (close to half the Roppongi price) while bargains abound in good bottled beer; Hitachino Nest from 680 yen, Ikspiari Harvest Moon from 790 yen, Hakusekikan from 735 yen, Iwate Kura from 800 yen, Yona Yona from 525 yen, Rogue Ales from 680 yen and a whole raft of Belgians starting at 580 yen. Certainly worth the train fare to get here, if you are not lucky enough to live on the Seibu Shinjuku Line to begin with. But there is a seat charge - a minimal 200 yen, which gets you a small snack.

Joining the extensive beer menu is an impressive menu of single-malt scotch and American bourbon. Plus, a small menu of home-made food and other snacks at reasonable prices awaits.

From the south exit of the station, go right and walk for a block until the Kamishakuji Eki-nishi crossing, turn right, then continue for three blocks; Asaya's Bar is on your right.

Asaya's Bar
1-23-6 Kamishakuji, Nerima-ku, Tokyo
03-3920-9248
Open daily 7 pm to midnight (closed Tuesdays)
http://www.ne.jp/asahi/asaya/e-shop/news5.htm

Bulldog in Ginza

This "world beer" bar has, in the past year or two, really transformed itself in to a great craft beer bar with a superb location, just minutes from Yurakucho station and right above Ginza Station on the Marunouchi subway line.

Four taps of craft beer are rotated through several varieties, with major brand beers also available, representing a total of 10 draft beers.

Plus, there is an immense variety of bottled imports, with an emphasis on U.S. microbrews. Recent arrivals have been from the U.S. West Coast, such as North Coast, Speakeasy and Green Flash.

The food is great, too, with most items indicated in English on the menu. A new spring menu from March 15th offers many surprises.

Ginza Wing 1 2F
3-1 Ginza Nishi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
03-3564-0996
Lunch: 11:30am - 2:30pm (to 3:30pm weekends and holidays)
Dinner: 5:00-11:15pm

Baird Brewing Slated to Open Tokyo Taproom

The big news this season is the upcoming May opening of the Tokyo Taproom of Baird Brewing. Located on the 2F of GT Plaza next to Nakameguro Station on the Toyoko line and Hibiya subway line, the Taproom will be convenient to Shibuya, Yokohama, Roppongi and other major areas.

Recently I dropped in to check out the site, and was surprised to see it is even more spacious than the original Taproom in Numazu. Since I will be in the U.S. when the opening is scheduled, Brew News' own Bar Hunter, the irrepressible Glenn Scoggins, will be reporting on this development. For more details, see http://bairdbeer.com/html/2008-bulletin-archives_1.html

Beer There

Event Report: Celebrating the Goddess of Brewing on Sunday, April 6th

by Glenn Scoggins, the Bar Hunter

It's often said that excessive drinking destroys brain cells, but you don't need a very good memory to recall a time when keeping track of the craft beer events in Tokyo was simple. There was only one: the Great Japan Beer Festival (now swollen to elephantine proportions, having outgrown its location in Ebisu Garden Hall). Now we are spoiled for choice: Real Ale, Nippon Craft Beer, Oktoberfest (or German Fest), and many smaller events, not to mention those in Yokohama and other cities.

The latest entry into this crowded field has the ungainly title Celebrate the Goddess of Brewing, with publicity showing a vaguely Grecian deity coyly holding some barley. My cursory knowledge of Greek mythology was inadequate to determine if a radical sex-change operation had been performed on Dionysius, whom I dimly recalled as an aggressively masculine god of wine, so I decided (purely out of academic curiosity) to trundle off to Kinshicho and check it out.

It proved an interesting and enjoyable evening, with fewer than a hundred participants (predominantly women, mostly the usual festival crowd, and three other foreign faces besides mine) in a cavernous exhibition hall with plenty of room for milling about. Many of Japan's prominent craft brewers were there already as judges of the Japan Asia Beer Cup, yet another competition run by the Japan Craft Beer Association (JCBA), whose president, Oda Ryoji, was clearly in charge of the evening.

The judging had already finished in the afternoon, and the purpose of the event for us outsiders was to have fun drinking up all the rest of the beer so that the brewers wouldn't have to pay to ship it home. Killing two birds with one stone, this seemed a worthy cause, and the price of Y2500 for two hours (stretched to almost three until all the beer ran out) was quite reasonable as a donation to charity! Previous concerns about Oda-san's less than optimal treatment of volunteers were laid to rest when I realized there were none: it was all self-service. Wave of the future for beer festivals?

Keg beers on tap numbered 46 varieties from 24 breweries, with another 57 available in bottles. Forty breweries in all were represented. Many were familiar names, but it was a good chance to taste rarer beers from Oku-Noto (Ishikawa-ken), Ishikari-Ban'ya (Hokkaido), Moku Moku (Mie-ken), Shiroyama Brewery (Kagoshima), and even some glorified home brew from Sapporo Tezukuri (Hand-made) Bakushu.

Prizes were announced for the top two or three (for kegs and bottles separately) in each of eleven categories: Light ale, Dark ale, Koelsch and Alt, Pilsner, Dark lager, Weissbier, American ale, Flavored ale, Flavored lager, Belgian style, and "Special" beer. Some of the unusual ingredients were coriander and chocolate (in the same glass, not a great idea), buckwheat (called "Soba-rashii"), and fruits ranging from strawberry to raspberry to grape.

The majority were standard interpretations of established styles, however, and the winners were mostly the usual suspects who have maintained a reputation for quality over the decade. The improvement of Matsue's Beer Hearn (which picked up two prizes for American ale and Weissbier) was a welcome surprise, and some new entries in the awards column were Izumo-ji Beer (Shimane-ken), Jonohata Bakushu (Toyama), and the Hotel Okura's in-house brewpub in Fukuoka.

This event serves a useful purpose and will be repeated next year. Despite my initial qualms, it was value for money and time, and it provided an opportunity for relaxed conversations with brewing professionals and devotees that has been lost at the larger JCBA events (listed below). I'll be back in 2009.

Great Japan Beer Festival

The Japan Craft Beer Association (JCBA, Nihon Ji-Biiru Kyokai) organizes three large two-day festivals of craft beer, called the Great Japan Beer Festival. Dates and information follow:

Tokyo (since 1998), during Golden Week, at The Garden Hall, Ebisu Garden Place
Monday, May 5 (2:30pm - 7:00pm)
Tuesday, May 6 (11:30am - 4:30pm)
Tickets are Y4300 in advance or Y4800 at the door

Osaka (since 2003), at Sky Hall on the 9th floor of Osaka Kyocera Dome stadium
Saturday, May 31 (2:30pm - 7:00pm)
Sunday, June 1 (11:30am - 4:30pm)
Tickets are Y3600 in advance or Y4100 at the door

Yokohama (since 2006), in Osanbashi Hall at the International Ship Terminal
Saturday, September 6 (2:30pm - 7:00pm)
Sunday, September 7 (11:30am - 4:30pm)
Tickets are Y3600 in advance or Y4100 at the door

Tickets will go on sale at participating bars and restaurants or can be ordered on-line through the JCBA home page, www.beertaster.org until ten days before each festival. The same website also provides information (in Japanese) on how to buy tickets at Lawson, Family Mart, and Circle J-Sankus convenience stores.

"Special Beer" Hanami a Success

Somewhere between 50 and 90 people gathered for the BEERS event of the season, with some 120 liters of beer consumed by an increasingly animated group of Hanami (cherry blossom drinking fest) participants in Yoyogi Park on Saturday, April 5th. The Beer Enjoyment, Education and Research Society (BEERS) meets regularly each month. For more information, write to leader Tim Eustace at tokyobeers at yahoo.co.jp

Bar Beat

Bar Briefs - an update

By Glenn Scoggins, The Bar Hunter

The Full Monty has moved from its previous middle-of-nowhere spot to the center of Yokohama, just minutes from Kannai station. Publican Clive, a London native and flag-waver for the Best of (everything) British, remained jolly and upbeat despite a chaotic opening on February 22, with last-minute repairs and electrical re-wiring amusing the intrepid first-night patrons (including a contingent from the Kanagawa chapter of the Good Beer Club). By the next weekend, all had settled down, and Clive's establishment is well on its way to becoming a Yokohama landmark.

Nine taps dispense John Smith, Abbot Ale, Bass, and other English favorites (London Pride is on its way), as well as Paulaner, Guinness, Kilkenny, and Stella Artois, with a full range of whiskey and cocktails and a small food menu. The lay-out is spacious, taking advantage of the location of the former (and fondly remembered) Cape C.O.D. This legendary 1990's bar, aptly subtitled Drunkard's Wharf, had a three-hour Y1000 all-you-could-guzzle Heineken Happy Hour at the peak of the "bubble" economy fifteen years ago. No such bargains at The Full Monty in 2008, but good humor and good spirits abound. If the Yokohama BayStars, whose stadium is right across the street, start the baseball season with their usual disappointing form, there will be plenty of disconsolate fans drowning their sorrows!

The Full Monty
Tonan Building 2F
1-4-2 Tokiwa-cho
Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0014
Tel 045-212-2974
Three minutes on foot from JR Kannai station (south exit), past City Hall and next to the YMCA Building
www.fullmontyyokohama.com
Open Monday through Thursday, 5pm until 1am
Open Friday and Saturday, 5pm until 4am; Closed Sundays - for now (However, Clive plans to open on Sundays as well from April, once he hires more staff.)

Also convenient by JR is Maltan, which claims (accurately) to be ten seconds from Kanda station. Opened recently by Shizuoka native Nakamura-kun, this basement bar specializes in craft beer from Minoo AJI, Hitachino Nest, Sankt Gallen, Yona Yona, Swan Lake, and Phred Kaufman's Ezo Beer. Most are in bottles, but four taps produce Hitachino white ale, Sankt Gallen golden ale, and real ale from Yona Yona and Maltan's own stout recipe.

Nakamura cut his teeth at The Hub in Ikebukuro and aims to engender the same lively atmosphere for students and salarymen. A recent Saturday evening visit revealed the shambles from a wild Friday night, when a boisterous group of punters had ignored the putative 4:00 am closing time and stayed on well past daybreak. Nakamura is cheerful and enthusiastic, with a love for whiskey as well as beer - hence the eponymous reference to malt.

Maltan Craft Beer and Whiskey
Green Building B1F (it really is green)
3-13-10 Uchi-Kanda
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0047
Tel: 03-6659-5884
Right outside JR Kanda station (west exit)
http://maltan.ojaru.jp
Open Monday through Thursday, 5pm until 1am
Open Friday (and the day before holidays), 5pm until 4am (or later)
Open Saturday (and holidays), 5pm until 12 midnight; Closed Sundays

Another place to hang out if you miss the last train is Yokohama Beer Brewery Bar Blend Meister, to use its full, ungainly name. Thirty beers on tap and 200 bottled beers make it one of the most comprehensive selections in Japan. First mentioned in the October 2007 Brews News (http://www.bento.com/brews81.html#barbeat ), barmeister and "flair" bartender Sato Schuma has overcome opening jitters, leaky plumbing, and sluggish attendance.

He has now passed the final hurdle, obtaining his all-night liquor license, and as of March the bar will stay open until 5am on weekends. Drink late in Yokohama on Friday night, roll out in time to catch a morning train from Bashamichi to Shibuya, and show up at work on Saturday to perpetuate Japan's economic miracle!

A related note on Blend Meister's parent company, Yokohama Beer Brewery. Founding brewer Sakaki Kohta, a roly-poly raconteur, will retire in March, with fresh-faced apprentice Sasaki Shin'ya, just back from study in Prague, taking over alongside apprentice brewer Shirai Chiaki. You'll recognize both Sakaki and Sasaki from various Oktoberfesten even if you don't know their names.

Yokohama Beer Brewery Bar Blend Meister
Heiwa Plaza Hotel 1F
5-65 Ota-cho, Naka-ku
Yokohama 231-0011
Tel: 045-641-6560
One minute from Bashamichi station (Minato Mirai line, direct from Shibuya as the Tokyu Toyoko line)
http://yokohamabeer.com/bm/index.htm
Open Monday through Friday, 11:30am until 3pm for lunch
Open Monday through Thursday, 6pm until 2am
Open Friday and Saturday (and the night before a holiday), 6pm until 5am
Closed Sunday and holidays

Delirium Cafe Tokyo has been open in Kasumigaseki for less than six months (see the November 2007 issue at http://www.bento.com/brews82.html#barbeat), but it has already spawned a branch in Akasaka. Delirium Cafe Reserve opened on March 6 next to TBS television headquarters, with ten Belgian beers on tap.

The Brussels-based owners, who also operate Belg Aube, claim that the new branch will be the largest Belgian beer and restaurant in Japan, and that their main Brussels outlet is listed in the Book of World Records for serving 2,500 brands of beer (including Guinness, presumably).

Delirium Cafe Reserve
Akasaka Biz Tower 1F
5-3-1 Akasaka
Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0000
Tel: 03-5545-7730
Connected directly to Akasaka station (Chiyoda subway line)
Four minutes on foot from Tameike-Sanno station (Ginza and Nanboku subway lines)
Six minutes on foot from Akasaka-Mitsuke station (Ginza and Marunouchi subway lines)
http://reserve.deliriumcafe.jp
Open daily, 11am until 12 midnight

Antwerp Port - Belgian Beer Cafe. A short walk from the BIZ Complex, this fourth branch opened on March 25th, just weeks after Delirium Cafe Reserve a short walk away, turning Akasaka into a Belgian beer paradise, home also to the venerable Bois Cereste and Chez Mikawa (www.chez-mikawa.co.jp/), a French restaurant that highlights Belgian beer along with wine on their extensive menu.

Antwerp Port - Belgian Beer Cafe
Hitotsugi LIP 1F
4-3-6 Akasaka
Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0052
03-3584-3301
http://www.belgianbeercafe.jp/html/apopen.html

Six Pick

From Yuzu to Caramel

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.

!!!! Harvest Moon Yuzu Ale (Chiba; malt, hops, yuzu; 5.5% abv) Faintly hazy red amber, thick tan head. Rich malty tangy backbone, low hopping. Yuzu citrus flavor comes in at the last minute, subtle and nice.

!!!!! Harvest Moon Swartzbier (Chiba; all malt; 4.5% abv) Very dark brown, red highlights, light brown head, rich and chocolatey with minimal bitterness and fine, smooth carbonation. Brewer Sonoda-san has steadily improved her talents since the opening of this brewery in the Ikspiari shopping mall adjacent to Tokyo Disneyland, with her delicate yet complex flavor profiles proving that these brews are anything but Mickey Mouse.

!!!! Speakeasy Double Daddy Imperial IPA (San Francisco; all malt, 9.5% abv) solid gold, ghostly white head. Stiff floral hop aroma. Rich and solid malt flavor with sharp sweetness, soon followed by a sledgehammer blow of hop flavor and bitterness.

!!!!! Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA (San Francisco; all malt; 6.5% abv) Glorious floral hop aroma, with hops lingering. Hop heavy over malt, exciting finish.

!!!! Bayern Meister Bier Prinz (Shizuoka; all malt; 5.5% abv) Pale yellow, soft mouthfeel, subtle flavors in good balance.

!!!! Iwate Kura Caramel Ale (Iwate; malt, hops, vanilla beans; 5% abv) Very clear reddish amber, dense tan head, aroma of freshly made caramel but with the addition of minimal hops. Hey, it needs a hint of salt. A very fun beer.

Whoops!

An easy kiss of death for brewers releasing seasonal products is to name the beer after a certain holiday, such as Valentine's Day. Nippon Beer, the parent company behind the Black Lion pub in Meguro, produced such a gaffe in the form of their recently released St. Valentine Biere, which is now being served across the bar for just 500 yen. It's actually a fairly decent chocolate stout which should be tasty through Thanksgiving, at least. Too bad nobody seems interested because we've already passed White Day on March 14. Try some at the Black Lion near Meguro Station, which is a great place to go for any number of different kinds of beer. www.blacklion.jp

Beer Talk

The Home Brew Blues

Japan is the only advanced industrial country where brewing beer at home is against the law. The same goes for wine and sake and any kind of alcohol, for that matter. While anything under 1% alcohol is allowed, anything stronger (such as a good, ripe yogurt which can contain as much as 2% abv) could get you in trouble.

Nevertheless, a number of stalwart home brewers persist in Japan, with supplies provided by a shrinking number of mail-order shops. The most recent to go was one of he first - the Beer Club of Japan in Kobe (http://www.bento.com/brews79.html#beertalk ) went out of business at the end of March.

There is even a national homebrew competition, the WanCup, organized by a founding member of the Good Beer Club (http://www.goodbeerclub.org/ ). The GBC is a self-styled "Japanese CAMRA" organization founded as Japan's first "consumer-oriented beer club" in 2003 by 16 Japanese and one American (me!). It grew out of the Real Ale Club, originally started by current GBC chairman Ichiri Fujiura, who was once named "Homebrewer of the Year" in the U.S. for his innovative Coconut Porter.

There is a small yet rapidly growing group of non-Japanese homebrewers, as evidenced by the Special Beer Hanami party reported upon elsewhere in this issue. Many of them are also active in BEERS, a Tokyo-based English-speaking beer club which is drawing huge numbers of people of all nationalities at their monthly meetings.

So is there a movement afoot in Japan to promote the legalization of homebrewing? In word, NO, from what I can tell. Maybe it is time for the GBC to earn its comparison to CAMRA by forming a group to lobby for the repeal of laws against home brewing. And while they are at it, get those beer taxes reduced!

News

Minami Shinshu Brewery Tour - Sunday, April 20th

A bus tour from Tokyo to the Minami Shinshu Brewery is being offered by Ales & Cigar Pub Pangaea, located near Senzoku Station on the Tokyu Meguro Line. The bus leaves Senzoku station at 8am, arriving at the brewery at noon. After a tour of the brewery, a meal will be served in the restaurant (with all the beer you can drink), followed by a 3pm departure with return scheduled for 7pm. The total charge is 8,700 yen. Seats are limited, so inquire now about reservations at 03-3782-7699.

Brewery: www.ms-beer.co.jp
Pangaea: http://www1.cts.ne.jp/~pangaea/

Echigo Beer Brewery Tour - Sunday, May 11

Sponsored by the Good Beer Club, this tour visits Japan's first microbrewery (opened December 1994) in Niigata prefecture. The group meets at Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku at 7:15am, with a 7:30departure, arriving at Echigo at noon. Following a tour of the brewery, lunch will be served in the brewpub. If there is time, participants can also go to the Iwamuro Hot Springs nearby. The return is scheduled for around 9pm, with dropoffs in Shinjuku and Ryogoku. The cost is 11,000 yen for GBC members, and 12,000 yen for everyone else. Please contact (in Japanese) userkamisama at yahoo.co.jp

US Craft Beer!

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

Special thanks to Glenn Scoggins for his contributions to this issue, as well as the two six-packs of beer he sent me during his recent visit to Hyogo prefecture. We'd love your contribution, too, so send your story ideas (or story) to brewsnews at yahoo.com Deadline for the May issue is Friday, April 25.