Brews News #87
Brews News #87 - July/August 2008
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.
Chuwy's Great List
Don't leave home without checking it out!
Chris Chuwy has put together a totally great blog that tells you what beers are on tap each day at nearly FIFTY key pubs in the Tokyo/Yokohama area. How he finds time to update this site every day is a mystery to me, but it is certain to cut into his valuable drinking time. English-speaking beer lovers are certainly the ones who benefit from the tiny but crucial bit of information that is absolutely free.
But there's more... Mr. Chuwy has another blog that dispenses information on various Happy Hours and All-You-Can-Drink offers with good beer. So far, some eight pubs are on this list, which is certain to grow.
Give the gentleman a hand, and if you find the sites valuable, buy him a pint should you run into him at one of the many pubs listed in his blogs.
Getting STONEd in Japan
Arrogant Bastard Ale is just one of the many beers brewed by Stone Brewing Co. of San Diego USA, but the "you're not worthy" attitude is evident in all the beers they brew. These beers are powerful, distinctive and, well, "big." While they have not been officially exported to Japan, they have been available recently thanks to the efforts of Phred Kaufman of Ezo beer, which has brought kegs and bottles to Japan in "grey market" style, side-stepping convention (such as getting the brewery's permission) in order to bring Stone's superb beers into the mouths of thirsty beer fans in Japan, much to the understandable consternation of Stone's CEO Greg Koch.
Koch has apparently decided that drinkers in Japan are now "worthy" and has finally chosen an official importer, Nagano Trading, headed by Andrew Balmuth, a member of BEERS and familiar face on the Tokyo beer scene. Andrew has been bringing in a number of U.S. West Coast beers in the past year, most notably North Coast from Mendocino County, Speakeasy from San Francisco and Green Flash from San Diego. Fortunately, for us, he is still casting his net throughout the West Coast, and who knows what hoppy treasure he will pull in next.
According to Andrew, all the Stone varieties he imports are now being poured at Bulldog in Ginza, which is currently running a promotion of many of the beers imported by Nagano Trading. Get a stamp sheet listing 18 beers, drink at least 10 of them before the end of July, and receive either a free beer from the list OR a pint glass of one of the brands.
Stone Beers are also available at the following pubs: Bacchus (Yaesu, 3231-4666), Cararatas (Shibuya, 3461-6615) Cavern (Roppongi, 3470-0880), Center 4 Hamburgers (Hida Takayama, 0577-36-4527), Cervesa (Roppongi, 3478-0777), Dry Dock (Shimbashi, 5777-4755) ), Holic (Kichijoji, 0422-49-6638), Kitchen Bon (Kamikitazawa, 3306-7382), O'Connell (Nippori, 3807-9555) Popeye (Ryogoku, 3633-2120), Sal's (Saginuma Kawasaki, 044-870-5454), Thrash Zone (Yokohama, 045-514-9947), Tower's (Kyobashi, 3272-8488), Ushitora (Shimokitazawa, 3485-9090) and Vivo! (Ikebukuro, 3987-1588).
Retailers carrying Stone Beer include Beer House Ken (Fuchu Tokyo, 042-369-7710), Isetan (Kichijoji, ) Sazanami (Shiga Pref, ) Sugaya (Miyamae-ku Kawasaki, 044-877-3946) and Tanakaya (Mejiro, 3953-8888), and Yoshida (Toyama, 076-445-3118)
Kinki Craft Beer Festival 2008
August 9th 11:00 to 17:00
Beer fans throughout the Western Japan region (Kinki) must be looking forward to the craft beer event this summer in Minoh City. In addition to brews from Minoh Beer (naturally), the event will also feature beer from breweries such as Dotonbori Beer, Kuninocho Beer, Machiya Bakushu, Shuzan Kaido Beer, and Tsuyama Beer.
The venue is the Minoh City Culture Center (Osaka), near Hankyu Minoh Station. Tickets are 4,000 yen in advance, phone 072-724-5151 or e-mail email@example.com and state your name and telephone number to get an "attendance number." You will be given instructions on bank transfer payment in order to complete your application. For event details (in Japanese) see http://www.m-waiwai.com/ji-beer/
Japan Beer Festival in Yokohama
September 6th (14:30 to 18:30) and 7th (11:30 to 16:00)
3,600 yen in advance, 4,100 yen at the door
Only two months away, as of this writing, so it's certainly time to get your tickets to the Yokohama version of the Japan Beer Festival, sponsored by the Japan Craft Beer Association. Compared to similar JCBA events in Tokyo and Osaka held earlier this year, this one is my clear favorite, with a smaller crowd and a larger, more lovely venue, Ohsanbashi Hall on Yokohama Bay.
While you can order advance tickets on the website (in Japanese), I recommend you pick up tickets at one of the many craft beer pubs selling them, such as Beer Club Popeye, Beer Belly (both locations) Beer Cafe Barley, COPA (both locations), Jha Bar, Kura Kura, Pangaea, Trafalgar, Towers, Ushitora, Yokohama Cheers, and others.
For event details, and a complete list of places selling advance tickets, see http://www.beertaster.org/gjbf/ticket/08ticket.html
Great Japan Beer Festival - Osaka
May 31 - June 1 Kyocera Dome, 9th floor, Sky Hall
by Nevitt Reagan
Japan's premier showcase for microbrewers, the Great Japan Beer Festival, has been held since 1998. Starting out as an annual event in Tokyo, it expanded to Osaka in 2003, and added Yokohama in 2006. The festival runs for two days at each venue. Thus, craft beer fans across the nation have three chances each year to find out what their favorite brewers are up to and also discover new beers.
According to Oda Ryouji, chair of the Japan Beer Craft Association, these events have been attracting 30% more attendees in each succeeding year. Additionally, more brewers are finding their way to the festival, this year's newcomers being from the Chugoku region.
Unable to attend this year's Tokyo festival, held over the Golden Week holidays, my trusty beer companions, Big Al and Lefty, and I made sure not to miss the Osaka event at the Kyocera Dome. Home to the woeful Orix Buffaloes baseball team, the Kyocera Dome resembles a giant hunk of takoyaki, that fairly bland lump of octopus-infused dough which Osakans claim as a source of culinary pride.
Big Al said it looked more like a medieval Italian capitanesca hat. It is a round, squat building topped by a bulging snake-like ring. That ring, the Sky Hall, was our destination. We entered and started up a series of escalators to the 9th floor. At the top, a discouragingly long line of ticket holders slowly moved along a series of roped off turn-arounds. Definitely much more crowded than the annual Osaka International Beer Summit. The longest line, it seemed, was for the sole food stall, staffed by Osaka's Minoh Brewery.
Already fortified with a hefty lunch of Indian food, Big Al and I headed straight for the beer, and soon joined up with Lefty, who was wearing a suit and tie. He'd come directly from a wedding, where he'd attempted a speech elucidating the three forms of love in ancient Greek culture - a topic that seemed to have gone over the heads of the attendees. And so, he was definitely ready to drink.
For Y3,600 in advance (Y4,100 at the door), attendees received a small commemorative glass, with the 50ml mark clearly delineated, and the promise of all-you-can-sample afternoon. The offerings were grouped into four sections: First, breweries that had set up their own stalls with brewing staff in attendance. They got spots right near the entrance - and they had more beer. Second was bottled beer from various brewers, including many imports. Third down the line was the German beer corner.
The final section was for brewers who had sent kegs but no staff. Volunteers were working at these booths, and they tended to run out of beer rather quickly. The JCBA competition winners were identified by small gold, silver or bronze ribbons attached to the identifying signs.
Big Al, Lefty, and I sought out the most interesting-looking beers, sampled, shared, and passed on news about special ones we discovered. At the end of the afternoon, we agreed that the consistently good, or even wonderful, beers came from three veteran brewers.
Daisen G-Beer (Tottori) did not enter the JCBA competition but were big winners with us. Their well-hopped IPA (7.5%) was soft, solid-bodied, and full of dark cherry flavors and sweet caramel notes that emerged in mid-palate. One of the fruitiest beers we had all day. The Daisen Imperial Stout (8.5%) was deep and dark, with less bittering than most imperial stouts. The brewers claimed it had been aged for 11/2 years. Big Al commented that it had lost its baby fat. It was not overly sweet, and gave off port-like tones. Lefty said, "Strong, rich, smoky. Excellent."
Sankt Gallen Brewery (Kanagawa) had three beers that pleased us. Their Chocolate Imperial Stout won a silver medal in its category. Big Al noted that it was one of the very few that dared to show its name in roman letters. It was redolent of roasted barley, likely a blend of caramel and chocolate malts. Hop flavors emerged in mid-palate and supported the malt through the finish, making it rather balanced for the style. I found it a tad weak-bodied for an imperial, yet very tasty. However, Lefty glanced up from his glass, shook his head at me, and said simply, "Outstanding."
The Shonan Gold beer contains mikan, (perhaps extract in addition to the peel?), giving it strong citrus notes that came through in both aroma and flavor. It was an unusual, special beer, and by far the most interesting of the several fruit beers on offer. Finally, the Shonan Golden Ale was a pleasant return to normalcy. We agreed that all three were excellent.
We also felt that Sapporo Tezukuri Mugishu's IPA was rightly chosen as the gold medal winner in its category. It was full-bodied, with initial sweet tropical fruit and spice flavors turning into ripe citrus in mid-palate. Substantial hopping kept it from becoming cloyingly sweet. This was a lush, balanced, well-made beer. The brewery's Coriander Black was one of the day's most agreeable discoveries. Very dark and medium-bodied with moderate sweetness, its mild chocolate flavors were supported by understated hints of coriander. We went back for several more glasses of this one.
Many of the standout beers were bottled ones, which we gravitated to near the end of the afternoon. Hida Takayama Dark Ale won a gold medal in Classic English-style Pale Ale category. It had rich earthy aromas of cherry and caramel complemented a light-medium body, slightly sweet malt, and coffee and chocolate flavors with a chocolate finish. Moku Moku Ale was a very dry, smoked ale with a bitter finish. Lefty uttered, "Not a lot of smoke ...but enough". Indeed, it was not nearly as smoky as a German-style rauchbier, but had great balance. Additionally, all of the Anchor beers were available, and we reminded ourselves that Anchor's Old Foghorn barley wine is just about as full and sweet as they come.
There were certainly some problems with the venue. At drinking events such as this, it's imperative to have enough places for drinkers to relieve themselves. Here, however, only two very small toilets were available, and one was marked off for women only. Within an hour, the line for the men's toilet stretched to over 50 feet, requiring a 10-15 minute wait. A rather comical scene ensued, in which JCBA chair Oda moved down the line, asking Gaman dekinai hito (those who can't hold it any longer) to raise their hands and follow him to the other toilet. Mercifully, this second toilet was eventually opened to men.
Four hours is a long time to remain standing, and at the less crowded end of the hall small groups tried to get off their feet and sit against the walls. However, blue-shirted security guards briskly moved about, tapping offenders on the shoulders and motioning them to rise. And, of course, everyone did. In the middle of the busier booth area, this would have made sense; yet why not let people sit and relax in the more or less open spaces?
Finally, a substantial portion of the crowd was foreign, and yet there was no English on either the menu sheet or the placards posted for individual beers. Although reading most of the beer styles and names in katakana posed little problem, some Belgian and German ones took time to puzzle out. I stood for a long moment at one booth, mouthing various possibilities for pronouncing the beer in front of me, until the volunteer finally cried out, "Shubaatsu!" and I realized that it was a dark German-style Schwartz beer. I wonder what it was like for tipplers who were relatively new to Japan.
If you missed the festivals in Tokyo and Osaka, you'll have another chance on September 6 and 7 in Yokohama. (For more information go to: http://www.beertaster.org) JCBA chair Oda says that the Yokohama venue is the biggest and most beautiful of the three. Go, drink, and be happy.
Israeli Food Meets Craft Beer
June 14th and 15th at Yokohama Cheers
One rarely links good beer with things Middle Eastern, but last month Dede, the Israeli chef at Yokohama Cheers blazed new territory in Japan's good beer scene with a two-day event featuring various Middle Eastern dishes and a good selection of craft beer, including Goldstar from Tempo Breweries in Israel. Billed as a "dark lager beer," Goldstar is surprisingly light-colored, yet with a rich, complex flavor, winning out over the more famous Macabee in popularity at the event. Quite a number of Japanese craft beers were also featured at the event.
The real star was the largely Israeli food, including great falafel, stacks of pita bread, grilled chicken and several salads and stews. The menu was heavy on vegetarian fare, but light and healthful, made from high-quality ingredients. The grilled eggplant with pine nuts and the tiny pearls of Israeli toasted pasta were my favorites. All I can say is "Encore!" to Dede, and hope he organizes another such meal soon - the food is ideally suited to both beer AND summer.
Popeye's 20 BEST Beer Fest
June 22 in Ryogoku
I arrived at the event a half hour after starting time, and was greeted by a huge crowd of over 100, certainly more than the 80-participant limit when the event was announced. Apparently, many people showed up without advance tickets, and owner Aoki-san didn't have the heart to turn them away. This made for a fairly rough 90 minutes at the onset, as many people snaked around in a huge line to get a small sample glass of beer. Most people got right back in line, and were ready for another beer by the time they got back up to the counter. However, service by Popeye staffers was brisk and after a while the situation gained some sense of normalcy.
From then on, it was a fun event, and I got to meet a number of beer friends and Popeye regulars, making it worth enduring the initial chaos. I guess. I hope next time there will be stricter enforcement of entrance rules, or perhaps a second opening time for those without reservations.
Oh, the beer? Having all-you-can-drink of the best 20 beers (as selected at the 100 Beer Selection event in April) was wonderful, smoothing even the most ruffled of feathers.
Craft Beer in and around Kobe: Part I
By Glenn Scoggins, The Bar Hunter
As a loyal chest-thumping citizen of Yokohama, I tend to be a bit of a snob about cities of lesser quality. Tokyo? Full of excitement, perhaps, but too noisy and too busy, and just plain too exhausting after a while. Osaka? The people are nice enough until they open their mouths. Kyoto? As a snob myself, I don't like the condescension of those even more snobbish. Nagoya? Don't get me started!
But there's one town that has every quality of Yokohama and none of its defects. Aaah, Kobe! Your hills are greener, your water bluer, your vistas more soaring, your water more delicious. Kobe has Yokohama's civic pride, with none of the insecurity that comes with proximity to a world mega-metropolis. Kobe is Yokohama's beautiful twin sister. But does it have good craft beer? The answer to that burning question was my mission on a trip to Kobe and environs in Hyogo prefecture.
One name that many lovers of beer and sake will know is Konishi Shuzo, one of the pioneer importers of Belgian beer. With its origins dating to 1550, the company's flagship Shirayuki ("Snow White") brand of sake has put its hometown of Itami, about 30 minutes east of Kobe, on the map as "Nada-Higashi", an eastern outpost of the Nada district of Kobe, sake production capital of Japan. Itami, on the border between Hyogo and Osaka prefectures and home to Osaka's domestic airport, is dominated by Konishi, from the enormous billboard in the train station to the imposing corporate headquarters.
Next door is Chojugura, a bustling restaurant featuring a repertoire of Japanese and Western dishes and a full range of Shirayuki sake and familiar brands of Belgian beer. With its high earthen walls, wooden pillars, and rough-hewn rafters, Chojugura evokes a rustic farmhouse, albeit with room for 200 farmers for dinner. A welcome surprise (at least to me) was the Belgian-style beer brewed on premises by Tsuji Iwao, a Konishi veteran who began the company's foray into brewing beer in June 1995 at the behest of the current Konishi president, a fervent Belgophile.
Tsuji acquired his training and equipment from the Sebastian company in Belgium, and every item from tank to tube, including yeast and technical advice, comes straight from the Low Countries. Tsuji is a one-man operation to this day, although he confided in me that staff from the Asahi Beer brewery in Nishinomiya come by to help out on their own time, fascinated by the chance to make small-scale, high-quality beer (instead of the reverse).
During my visit, the four available beers (in a tasting set, 100 ml each, for Y740) were Blanche (5% abv, with coriander and orange peel), Blond (5% abv, using pilsner malt), Koyuki (3%, a happoshu made with rice), and Tsuji's current favorite, a Dark beer (5%, with caramel malt). To my unpracticed eye and palate, the Blanche and Blond were indistinguishable from each other or the Koyuki, although strangely the prices of a pint varied by Y100 or more.
My lunch was value for money at less than Y1000 for a full meal, and the service was prompt, pleasant, and friendly despite an overflow noontime crowd and the presence of a local television crew filming in a side room, overseen by restaurant manager Tanaka Kakuei. The adjoining shop can send all of Konishi's sake and beer products anywhere in Japan in refrigerated containers. There is also a museum devoted to the science of brewing.
Shirayuki Brewery Village
Chojugura Restaurant and Shop
Itami-shi, Hyogo-ken 664-0851
Tel 072-773-1111 or 072-773-1323 or 072-773-0524
Ten minutes walk west of JR Itami station (JR Fukuchiyama or Takarazuka line from Amagasaki), or ten minutes walk east of Hankyu Itami station (Hankyu Itami branch line-change from the main Hankyu line at Tsukagoshi) Open daily from 11:30 am until 10:30 pm (except on the second Tuesday of each month)
An equal distance to the west of Kobe lies the seaside town of Akashi, known for its engineering marvel, the world's longest suspension bridge, connecting Honshu with Awaji island in the Inland Sea. Akashi also has a conveniently located "eki-mae" castle, just steps from the main train station, and an observatory directly on the 135th meridian of East longitude, thus establishing Japan Standard Time.
My goal was not to set my watch but to drink a beer I'd never heard of before, Akashi Beer. The well-established sake brewer, Nagasawa Shuzo, part of a network of sake enterprises in Akashi that had earned it the sobriquet "Nada-Nishi" (the western version of the Nada wellspring of Nihon-shu), branched out first into wine and then in 1998 into beer.
Brewer Nakanishi Aya, then a novice, trained alongside Harvest Moon's Sonoda Tomoko at Ikspiari Beer in Urayasu, Chiba, and at the Spring Valley brewpub run by Kirin on its Beer Village campus in Yokohama. She claims a strong Kirin influence on her products today-if so, it totally escaped my notice. More recently she has begun trading recipes with her namesake, Nakanishi Masakazu (no relation) at Ise-Kadoya Beer (see Brews News # 60, August 2005) in Mie prefecture.
Currently Nakanishi runs the brewery with one apprentice and produces four styles. Akashi Kaigan Pilsner tasted fine on a sunny spring day, but when the surfing crowd hits the sandy beaches visible just outside the restaurant, they'll want something with more aggressive hops-no bite, barely a nibble. Akashi no Kimi is a standard weizen. Akashi Roman calls itself a brown ale but is very hoppy and carbonated.
Nakanishi describes her most recent product, a dark lager with chocolate malt named Yukyu no Toki, as a result of her boss's vacation in Prague and subsequent infatuation with all things Czech (a love affair many of us share, though most of us can't express it in liquid terms). Nakanishi formerly produced Kobe Meriken Park beer (8% abv) on contract and let me sample some of what remained.
The brewery and its organic restaurant are part of a larger complex, including a dusty museum of 19th century brewing equipment reminiscent of your grandpa's attic (if Gramps made sake). While it's a healthy walk from the nearest train station, the effort is rewarded by the view looking out on Akashi Strait and across to Awaji island: spectacular, even more so in the summer when the beach is packed with sunbathers. A hearty lunch clocked in at under Y1000, soaking up the free samples that Nakanishi graciously provided. Altogether, a spring afternoon well spent!
Akashi Eigashima Shukan Nagasawa
1194 Okubo-cho Nishijima
Akashi-shi, Hyogo-ken 674-0065
A brisk fifteen-minute walk south-west of Eigashima station on the private San'yo Dentetsu train line between Kobe and Himeji-head towards the beach and yacht marina. Open year-round from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm on weekdays and from 11:00 am until 9:00 pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays
The only small craft brewery within the city limits of Kobe takes its name from the mountain range that forms its dramatic backdrop and makes the "million dollar night view" possible. Rokko Beer is a small family-run operation, the dream of Nakajima Ikuo, who threw off his salaryman chains in 1995 to study brewing in the U.S. Returning after 18 months, he opened a microbrewery in the northern mountains of Kobe, along with a small brewpub downtown.
Ikuo's effervescent sister Yuka welcomes all to the brewpub with a warm smile and infectious laughter. The tasting set is a great bargain: while the five brands each cost Y500 alone, the sampler costs Y1000 for half-servings of the whole repertoire: Pilsner, India Pale Ale, Porter, Guinness Bock (see below), and the pick of the litter, Crystal Amber, for which I would gladly return.
Yuka's enthusiasm for beer outpaces her technical knowledge, as she readily admits: "There are two kinds of hops in the IPA, but I can't remember their names," she says disarmingly. "No, I don't think we use any hops in the pilsner at all-should we?" (For the record, there ARE hops in the pilsner.) When asked if it wasn't odd that the IPA is listed at only 5% abv, she brightly remarks "But it tastes so good that you wouldn't want it too strong, now, would you? This way you can drink more of it." No argument there.
I was having so much fun that I decided not to pursue the issue of why Rokko's darkest beer is called a "Guinness Bock," risking general confusion as well as a lawsuit. Yuka also volunteers that all of the beers are made at the same temperature, halfway between ale and lager, since they are still working out a few kinks at the brewery. Had I known all of this before entering the brewpub, I might not have gone - and missed a thoroughly entertaining evening with people who just love beer.
351-1 Arino-cho Arino
Kita-ku, Kobe-shi 651-1312
Ten minutes walk from Gosha station on the private Kobe Dentetsu train line in the Rokko mountains north of Kobe
Rokko Beer Brewpub
1F, 4-9-9 Kano-cho
Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi 650-0001
This small brewpub is conveniently located at the foot of Kitanozaka slope in downtown Kobe, five minutes walk from Sannomiya station (JR, Hanshin, Hankyu, and Kobe subway). Open weekdays from 4:00 pm until midnight and weekends and holidays from 2:00 pm until midnight
North of Kobe and the Rokko mountains is the town of Sanda, which ought to be a household name-it's where the world-famous but misnamed "Kobe beef" actually comes from. The Sandaya chain of steakhouses throughout the Kobe-Osaka area also features a craft beer, of sorts. While in Kobe, I squeezed in a visit to the Sandaya restaurant at Harborland, a waterside development reminiscent of Yokohama's Minato Mirai.
In the Mosaic shopping mall, I found the steakhouse (almost devoid of customers) and a chilly reception. "No, you can't just drink a beer here. You have to order a full course meal (starting at Y5000)." My entreaties finally yielded a compromise: I could sneak around to the back of the restaurant, where croquettes are sold out of a window directly from the kitchen. There I could get a beer in a plastic cup.
Suitably chastised, I made my way as directed and was presented with a choice: the two available beers were Pilsner and Half-and-Half. I asked the obvious question: what's the other half of the Half-and-Half? "Oh, it's something dark, but nobody likes it, so we took it off the menu." I ordered the pilsner. It wasn't actually the most memorable pilsner I've ever drunk (to be honest, I can't remember anything about it!), but for Y300 with a drop-dead-gorgeous view of Kobe harbor, Meriken Park, Port Tower, the Okura hotel, and the Rokko mountain range, it ranks up there with my most impressive drinking experiences.
In the Kobe Harborland development area, on the 3rd floor of Mosaic Mall
Five minutes walk from JR Kobe station or Harborland station (Kobe subway)
(Craft Beer in and around Kobe: Part II, where The Beer Hunter drinks in Downtown Kobe and beyond, will appear in the August/September issue of Brews News.)
Japanese and West Coast Brews
Hideji Smoking Mole Pale Ale (Miyazaki; all malt, 5% abv) Brilliant amber gold, off-white head, subdued aroma. Pleasantly tangy rich malt flavor with plummy fruit notes. Session style with subdued hops, yet rich like an ESB.
Hanyu Kobishi Hana Marzen (Saitama; all malt, 5.8% abv) Clear orange amber, good malty aroma with hops way back. Pleasant dry malt flavors with crisp, minerally hop notes. Good understated carbonation, a well-made example of this style with high-quality ingredients.
Harvest Moon Pale Ale (Chiba; all malt, 5% abv) Very bright pale orange amber, thick and sudsy off-white head. Clean malt sweetness fades quickly. Not so bitter, but very well balanced and drinkable. Like most beers from Harvest Moon, flavors are subtle yet remarkably complex.
OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale (USA; all malt, aged with American oak chips, 7.2% abv) Deep reddish brown, dense tan head, complex aroma of hops, rich malt, wood and, um, leather! A good cigar beer? Very smooth heavy body with a complex array of flavors, with oak pushing out in front. Thing is, drinking this brew on a humid June evening gives the heavy dark malt an almost oppressive sensation. This beer pines for a cool, dry night in late November. But back to the beer - huge juicy caramel flavors, strident hops, and all that wood in a long finish that resonates on and on. A very special beer.
Stone Ruination India Pale Ale (USA; all malt, 7.5% abv) This one is bitter - the label boasts over 100 IBU, which means "International Bittering Units," but may be as meaningful as Spinal Tap's amps which "go up to 11" since some researchers assume that the threshold of taste sensation for hop bitterness starts developing feedback at 70, and after that nobody can sense any more bitterness. Still, this is certainly a beer worth a try because it is so well-liked by most who try it. Now to the beer - hazy gold, thick white head, rich and funky hop aroma. Sharp slap of hop bitterness at first sip, backed by a small amount of pale malt which still cannot even get a foothold in the overwhelming herbal hop bitterness. Of course it is hop skewed, but that's the point. It is thoroughly tasty and one of the best examples of the hoppy US West Coast style in the first decade of the 2000s that many have come to crave. Quite a treat on draft, now at several Tokyo pubs.
Green Flash Hop Head Red (USA; all malt, 6% abv) Deep reddish hazy amber, tan head, and typical (these days, anyway) West Coast aroma heavy on hops in front of dried fruit-like maltiness. The hop bomb explodes in the initial taste, however, with a strong sensation of creaminess and vanilla notes that suggest oak barrel aging, though this is not indicated on the label.
Yes, we can!
Here are a couple of great beers in cans, plus a couple of not-so-greats. Coming soon are the cans of great beer from Oskar Blues in Colorado, which will be reviewed once they are released in Japan.
Ao-oni India Pale Ale (IPA) (Nagano, all malt, 7% abv This new product from Yona Yona has an unusual look accompanying its unusual name (which means "blue devil" in Japanese), and is perhaps as close to an "extreme" beer that anything from Yona Yona will get, which means that drinkability has not been sacrificed to get attention, an accusation I can make to some of the U.S. West Coast beers. Ao-oni is deep gold, with a white head, and a full hop aroma that is just a bit blunt. The fruity-hoppy flavor is big and bold, yet solid and integrated for smooth drinkability.
Karuizawa Kogen Extra Special Bitter (ESB) Seasonal 2008 (Nagano, all malt, 6% abv) Bright reddish amber, tan head, right fruity aroma. Clean and smooth malt flavor, with hops in the background. Overall the effect is rather standard, with an emphasis on drinkability, but certainly a whole lot more exciting than most of the mass-produced English ales like Bass and Kilkenny.
Ginga Kogen Pale Ale (Iwate, all malt, 5% abv) Wow, this was a disappointment. There is a very distinct weird flavor in this beer that is rather disagreeable. Stick to Ginga Kogen's wheat beers, which are of much higher quality.
Reijo Pilsener DOWNHILL ALERT (Niigata, all malt, 5% abv) When I first found this curious beer in my neighborhood Maruman supermarket (apparently it is only available from Maruman chain stores) I was surprised at the price; just 188 yen at the time, quite low for an all-malt pilsener, and astonishingly low for a product from Echigo Beer, Japan's first microbrewery. The flavor was rich and crisp. Unfortunately, the latest batch is rather lackluster compared to earlier versions, offering a flabbiness and lack of flavor focus more like second-rate beer from the major brewers.
Really Putting the FU in "furyoh-gaijin"
The word "gaijin" is easily the first word of Japanese nearly all foreigners learn after arriving in Japan, but to learn the common expression "furyoh-gaijin," meaning "ill-mannered foreigner," takes only a little while longer since, unfortunately, examples abound, particularly when alcohol is involved.
At two different beer events earlier this year, both held at the same bar, the owners were faced with one gaijin who called one of the owners an obscenity (the one that rhymes with witch) for not allowing entry despite the event being full. At another event a few weeks later, another gaijin showed up holding a can of beer purchased at the nearby convenience store. If that wasn't rude enough (particularly since this individual was a bar owner himself), he later demanded the featured beers of the event be served in full pints in complete disregard for the bar's plan for serving several varieties of beer in smaller, more sensible sizes.
Most of have been in the uncomfortable situation where we encounter a truly ill-mannered, rude and sometimes absolutely obnoxious gaijin as part of our group or party. But how many of us have gone to the trouble of calling the offending individual aside and requesting a simple "cool it" to avoid their impact on the Japanese person receiving the abuse, or simply to avoid embarrassing ourselves in public by association with them? When the perp is drunk and bigger than us (invariably so in my case), we do run the risk of flared tempers and violent behavior.
Years ago a friend of a friend of mine was unbelievably rude in public. Loud, obnoxious and in many cases a man who would skip a check without a second thought, this guy "really put the FU in furyoh-gaijin." Since his buddy, a good friend of mine, took a benign attitude toward the perp's behavior, I learned to simply LEAVE whenever he showed up and joined the group. I am fairly forgiving of "talking loud" and other common "gaijin" behavior, but do draw the line at bad behavior specifically directed at others, particularly the overwhelming majority of Japanese people who I have found to be unusually civil in public.
Still, the question remains, and it is one we are frequently called to acknowledge (if not answer) more often than we would like. So allow me to ask you three questions, then.
1. What should be done about gaijin who make nuisances of themselves?
2. If you were a bar owner, what would you do about an abusive gaijin?
3. How do you think the bar owners mentioned above reacted?
Send your answers to me at "brewsnews - at - yahoo - dot - com".
Thanks in advance for your participation. In the next issue I will publish your responses, then tell you the second half of the story.
Second Annual GBC Craft Beer Campaign
July 16 and August 20
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 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
Special thanks to Nevitt Reagan 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.com Deadline for the August/September issue is Friday, July 25th.