Brews News #86
Brews News #86 - June/July 2008
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.
Japan's BEST Beer Fest
Sunday June 22 from 3 to 6 pm
Twenty different beers will be on tap at this event, along with a plate of food for each participant. These beers were chosen at this spring's Select 100 event as the Best 20. This time, it is "all you can drink" while supplies last. There are only 80 seats for this event, and reservations are a must, so call today.
Baird Beer / Rising Sun Pale Ale and Angry Boy Brown
Cheers Yokohama Presents Middle Eastern Food
June 14 and 15, 3 to 7 pm each day
Dede, the affable chef from Israel at Cheers, has brought back some interesting food ingredients from Israel, and will be offering special dishes along with Japanese craft beer for two days this month. Tickets are 3,500 yen in advance, 3,900 yen at the door. For details, see http://www.yokohama-cheers.com/index.html and click on INFORMATION.
Minoh Beer 11th Anniversary Celebration in Osaka
by Nevitt Reagan
Eleven successful years in the Japanese craft brewing business. Not an easy task, given the tough competition from the Big Four brewers and the difficulty of raising the profile and popularity of high-quality beer. In Minoh's case, it's an indisputable accomplishment. Indeed, the company's products are among the most widely available of all of Japan's approximately 250 microbrewers. Oddly enough, family-owned Minoh has also grown into one of the most ambitious and experimental brewers around.
Thus, it was a pleasant occasion when friends, business associates, and curious newcomers turned out over two warm spring days (May 17 - 18) to celebrate the founding of this leading microbrewer. And so Big Al and I headed out on the Hankyu line from Umeda and then onto the spur line to Makiochi Station, which sits right at the foot of the north Osaka mountains.
Several kegs were set up in the small parking area in front of the brewery. A semi-circle of food stalls provided tasty hamburgers, sausages, fried chicken, and paella. At one end, a play area was set up for children. Across the street, a large, shady, and somewhat unkempt park provided seating space for the overflow of beer-toting patrons.
The crowd was diverse, ranging from well-seasoned beer aficionados to the most casual of drinkers: Oda Ryouji, chair of the Japan Craft Beer Association, was there to meet and greet. We also had a lengthy discussion with an Osaka Gaidai Swahili major, who is writing his graduation thesis on African beer. A pleasant young woman nearby joined us and said that she was tasting her first-ever Minoh beer.
For a modest Y2,800 outlay, we were allowed an all-you-can-drink afternoon of many Minoh beers on tap from 12 to 5pm. The first 100 arrivals on each day were given a free bottled beer to take home or, as some saw fit, to consume right then and there. Typical of Minoh, this gift beer was not a safe, bland brew, but rather their creamy, chocolaty Imperial Stout.
On Saturday, the owner, Oshita, pere, his three daughters, and staff from both of Minoh's downtown-Osaka Beer Belly pubs dispensed an extensive lineup of their beer, including Pilsener, "Ho-wa-ito," Pale Ale, Pale Ale Real Ale, English Bitter Real Ale, Belgian Pale Ale, Double IPA, and Imperial Stout. On Sunday, the regular Stout and Cabernet Ale were added to the lineup.
Big Al is a multi-tasking drinker; unlike many of us, he not only thinks while he drinks, he also remembers and writes down what he thought. Here are some of his impressions of the day's offerings:
* Pilsener: medium body (more than traditional Pilseners) with a creamy mouth feel. Hints of hay and orange/citrus, with a moderately bitter finish
* "Ho-Wa-Ito" (a Belgian-style wit beer made with yuzu peel): strong coriander and clove notes, with a sharp citrus aftertaste
* Pale Ale Real Ale: contains Cascade hops (i.e., American-style rather than British) A rich, creamy mouth feel and a mild but persistent malt flavor with light cinnamon-like hopping. Very well balanced. The regular Pale Ale is more bitter and bit a rougher on the tongue than this smooth one
* Belgian Pale Ale: a slightly burnt coffee flavor with a dark espresso finish; it seems to be a confused beer, without a clear identity and perhaps little hope of finding one
* Double IPA: a savory, moderately sweet malt flavor, with hints of orange/citrus from the mid-palate through the finish. Not too hoppy but it has enough bitterness to give it structure; the bitterness gradually strengthens in the finish
* Imperial Stout: Medium body and, surprisingly, not overly sweet; a sort of "off-dry." Roasted coffee flavor, which grows more intense in the finish. Molasses notes from start to finish.
Overall, we both found the Pale Ale Real Ale (chilled a bit more than usual) the tastiest of the regular beers. Later in the afternoon, the higher gravity Double IPA (9%) and Imperial Stout (7.5%) frequently found their way into our cups. Eventually, these aggressive brews gave us a hard shove over the cliff, making it too difficult to go back to anything else.
In mid-afternoon, Minoh's principal brewers, Kaori and Mayuko Oshita, were kind enough to give us some time for a short interview.
Q: It's really something, the way you have progressed over the past eleven years.
Q: Do you find that interest in craft beer is increasing in Japan?
Q: Were you the first microbrewer in Osaka?
Q: Why did you establish the two Beer Belly pubs?
Q: Why do you make so many styles of beer (including several unusual ones, for example, your Cabernet Ale or your two hemp-flavored beers) when most Japanese craft brewers make only a few varieties?
Q: There are not so many foreigners here today (note: we counted a total of five, including the two of us, among a crowd of around 100).
Q: What is your objective for the future of Minoh Beer?
Note: the following web page has an ever-growing list of places where Minoh Beer is available: http://www.minoh-beer.jp/shops/index.html
Baird Nakameguro Taproom Opens
By Glenn Scoggins, The Bar Hunter
The most eagerly-anticipated restaurant opening in memory was an overwhelming success, as the Naka-Meguro Taproom brought the seaside atmosphere (and, more importantly, the premium beer) of Numazu's Fishmarket Taproom into the heart of the capital. Opening day on May 10 had all the excitement of a Hollywood premiere, missing only the red carpet, with flashbulbs popping and heads craning to catch a glimpse of the craft beer world's VIPs. Even unseasonably cold weather and a constant downpour could not dampen the enthusiasm of the SRO crowd that packed the second-floor restaurant. Repeated visits since then have not changed my initial impression: this is a first-class operation, with well-trained staff, an excellent kitchen, and a welcoming atmosphere. Of course, you already know how good the beer is.
No more the long trek down to Numazu (with its surprisingly early last train home) - just hop on the Hibiya line or the Toyoko line from anywhere in the Tokyo area, and you're there, right next to the station. The front wall is solid glass, with an unusual giant piece of driftwood serving as the handle (although it stumped a few visitors, who pondered a bit before ascertaining its function). Once inside, you are in a forest of attractive blonde wood, from the walls and floors to the purpose-built tables and chairs, from the bar counter to the thick wooden slabs for the menu. It all smells newly-cut, straight from the workshop of carpenter Nagakura Mitsuo, who is also responsible for the fruit used in the Baird seasonal Mikan Ale. On the walls are large, bold canvases displaying the label art of each of the Baird line-up, painted by artist Nishida Eiko. The color and dramatic imagery enhance the dynamic mood of the bar, even on an overcast day. The ample space includes six full-size tables and enough stools to accommodate about sixty guests (although the opening and second weekends saw twice or thrice that number).
What of the beer? Ironically, some citizens of Numazu will be journeying to Tokyo to taste styles available only here. Celebration Ale and Naka-Meguro Bitter can only be found at the Tokyo location. The first is a tangy IPA, while the Bitter is on hand pump, along with a smooth English Brown Ale. Both are session beers, low on fizz, and have the depth of character to stand up to repeated orders. Other seasonal beers familiar to Brews News readers are Four Sisters Spring Bock, Imperial Belgian Red Ale, Midnight Oil Foreign Export Stout, and Dai-dai Dark Wheat Ale. Of course, the year-round stalwarts are also present: Rising Sun Pale Ale, Red Rose Amber Ale, Shimaguni Stout, Kurofune Porter, Teikoku IPA, Angry Boy Brown Ale, and Wheat King Ale. Nide Beer, alos produced by Baird, is represented by Cream Ale and Cream Lager. In total, the Naka-Meguro Taproom dispenses no fewer than sixteen types of beer. At present there are no other craft beers, Japanese or otherwise, or any other guest beers (nor did I hear any demand for them during the opening weeks).
The staff are friendly and professional. English-speaking visitors will soon meet Jason Koehler, an affable and quietly confident veteran of craft beer. Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, via Dallas, Jason worked for John Schultz at Minami Aizu Brewery in Aizu-Wakamatsu until recently. The manager and head chef is Yokota Fumitake, and serving customers with a cheerful smile is his newlywed bride Kimiyo, whom he met while working at the Numazu Taproom. Takahashi Kunihide, assistant manager, will be familiar to many from his previous experience at Cheers in Yokohama. Matsumiya Kuniaki is also in the kitchen as assistant chef, and serving drinks at the bar is the amiable Ishiwara Ayumi. Molly Browning, associate brewer in Numazu, won't appear regularly at Naka-Meguro, but her presence will be evident: she has just finished her 1,000th batch, and she proudly takes credit for the well-balanced Naka-Meguro Bitter.
Other familiar faces during the opening weekend included home-brewing enthusiasts from the Kanto area, such as Aussie Steve Lacey and Chiba's Chris Poele. Eric Wong described the Imperial Red Belgian Ale as "sweet and funky, but it doesn't distract from the flavor. This is a nice beer which will go well with cheese." Simon Clippingdale said "Celebration Ale is a cracker! Naka-Meguro Bitter is growing on me, as I get used to the lack of carbonation." Mark Twyman was equally happy about the location: "This is a brilliant space, for a group, a couple, or on your own. It's near the station, and the beer is the best in the world!" Home-brewer John Chambers echoed the enthusiasm of Aoki Tatsuo of Beer Club Popeye about Nide Cream Ale; both praised it as the potential biggest hit of the summer drinking season. Need Beer, anyone?
Every beer and every bar needs a heart and soul, and at either Taproom they are Bryan and Sayuri Baird. Their presence is palpable at Naka-Meguro, even when they are in Numazu. While Bryan is the charismatic spokesman and eloquent proponent of the Baird philosophy, it would be a major error to assume that this is a one-man operation. There are two Bairds in Baird Beer, and Sayuri is the calm and wise bedrock on which they have built their success. The medieval Bavarian symbol for brewers depicted two triangles arranged like a Star of David: one pointed downwards representing water, the cool liquid where beer begins, while the other symbolized flame, rising upwards like the heat of fermentation. If Bryan's passion is the fire, Sayuri's wisdom is the water-not contradictory, but complementary. We fortunate fans of their beer now have the chance to enjoy the combination!
2F, Naka-Meguro GT Plaza, Building C
Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0051
Open daily from 11:30 am until 11:30 pm
Immediately outside the only exit of Naka-Meguro station (Tokyu Toyoko line and Hibiya subway line), one stop from Shibuya or Ebisu
From Bold to Bland
Dale's Pale Ale ("Rocky Mountain Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado USA - all malt, 6.5% abv) Great 1930s style artwork on can; Good balance, sweet rich malt, not quite Calera Pale Ale in the can from Oregon, but quite tasty and fine quality.
Speakeasy Prohibition Amber Ale (San Francisco - all malt, 6% abv) Rich, tangy and somewhat briny/salty with huge hop footprint, all the way to the end. Seek this out.
Speakeasy Untouchable Pale Ale (San Francisco - all malt, 5% abv) Very bright deep gold, aggressive hop and malt profile, clean but with character. Rich coherent flavor, good docking of distinctive hops and fine, fresh malt.
Harvest Moon Pilsener (Chiba - all malt, 5% abv) Bright gold, rich and malty, strong hopping reminiscent of Kirin Lager 30 years ago. Good, hearty flavors and body. Not outstanding, but close.
Akashi no Kimi (Hyogo Pref.) Very pale yellow, white head. Aroma of mass-produced beer. Mediocre execution of mass-produced beer, tastes like discount brew.
Shirayuki Blond (Hyogo Pref., non-pasteurized, all malt) Very non-descript cross between a Japanese lager and a weak Belgian common ale; both from supermarkets at an appealing price point.
Ukraine Beer Scene
By Skip Taylor
During Golden Week I was fortunate to spend a week in Odessa, Ukraine as a participant in an international sports event. The fantastic welcome extended by our hosts included the services of a translator, and since we had beer together at evening meals I mentioned the B.E.E.R.S. group in Tokyo, and took advantage to get the scoop on the beer scene in Ukraine.
Odessa is a city of about one million in the southern part of the country, close to the Black Sea. One of the first things one notices upon hitting the city is that snack stands include a double door cooler with an impressive selection of beer. Beer is considered a soft drink in Odessa-which starts to make perfect sense after a session or two with vodka-and walking down the street with beer in hand is not a problem. While walking near the train station I bought a can at random, started drinking it and thought, MAN this is good. Later that evening our translator happened to point out the same beer and said that it was unfiltered and thus very fresh. Unfiltered beer in a can-yeah!
As for bottles, they are larger than standard size at about half a liter, and a major bargain at about a dollar each. Our translator said that there are over a dozen brands of beer made locally. I sampled as wide a variety as possible and couldn't find a dud among them. No (cough) watery lagers (cough cough). Alcohol content among those that I saw seemed standardized at 5%. A look at supermarkets revealed a lot of Czech beer on the shelves, but national brands were well represented. The beers I tried were moderate on the carbonation, I didn't find any I would describe as zingy. Fans of zinginess would perhaps find Ukraine beer a bit on the flat side. But everything I tried was full-bodied and flavorful. Our translator said that most of the heavier, denser beers were produced in the north of the country.
One of the more popular beers is Slavutich. It's even cheaper than average and popular with the college crowd. In fact, that is how I found out about it, at a party down the hall from my room. We were also able to try a beer from an old brewery that had gone out of business but was now back, on a limited production basis. Best yet, Odessa has a brewpub, a German style ale house which makes not only a delicious Red Ale in wheat and barley versions, but features full liter size mugs (!) and also makes their own bread and sausage.
Odessa is a place that confounds expectations, a city with lots of trees and parks, friendly people, a college town feel and a sense of style too, people dress up when they're on the town. That and an intriguing beer environment make a visit highly worthwhile.
Second Annual GBC Craft Beer Campaign
June 18, July 16 and August 20 at Selected Pubs
The Good Beer Club is again holding their Craft Beer Campaign, held on the third Wednesday of the summer months of June, July and August at selected pubs in the Tokyo-Yokohama area.
For each craft beer you order, fill out an entry card and turn it into the pub. A drawing will be held each month, and you might win some thirst quenching prizes, such as a free set of beer from participating brewers, or free drink tickets valid at participating pubs.
Participating Pubs : The Aldgate, Baird Nakameguro Taproom, Beer Club Popeye, Bulldog, La Cachette, Copa Aobadai, Copa Machida, Ushitora, Vivo!, Woodhouse Cafe
Participating Brewers : Baird Beer, Echigo, Fujizakura Kogen, Hakusekikan, Isekadoya, Iwate Kura, Shiga Kogen, Swan Lake, Yona Yona
Tanabata Beer Festa in Toyama
On July 5th - 6th some 12 brewers from around Japan will participate in this event. An all-you-can-drink ticket is 5,500 yen, available only by advance reservation. Alternately, a set of 11 drink and food tickets are 3,000 yen.
Contact by e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org
Japan Beer Festival Yokohama
Saturday, September 6 (2:30 pm - 7:00 pm)
This is one of the nicest JCBA festivals, with fewer crowds and a picturesque bay front venue. 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-Sunkus convenience stores.
Japan Craft Beer Festival
Sunday, September 14 at Sumida Riverside Hall
Oktoberfest-style events in Japan
Yokohama Oktoberfest at Akarenga Soko
Friday October 3 to Monday October 13
Beer Discounts by Home Delivery
Ezo Beer is offering significant discounts on Belgian beers that have passed their "best-buy" dates, but are appreciated by fans of aged beer. For a list and purchasing instructions, write to Phred Kaufman at email@example.com
Special thanks to Nevitt Reagan, Glenn Scoggins and Skip Taylor for their contributions to this issue. We'd love your contribution, too, so send your story ideas (or story) to brewsnews "at" yahoo.com Deadline for the July issue is Friday, June 27th.