Brews News #89
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Brews News #89 - November/December 2008
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.

Beer Here

Popeye Strong Ale Festival

Sunday, November 23; 3 to 5 pm

While Beer Club Popeye has announced in an e-mailing that this event is sold out, I have heard that there are some places set aside for people that show up at the last minute without reservations. Over 20 varieties of strong ale (8% alcohol or over) will be offered in 1/4 pint servings; the 1,000 yen admission includes your first quarter-pinter. Tickets for food and extra beer pours will be available at the event. Beer Club Popeye is located a short walk from JR Ryogoku Station on the Sobu line, two stops from Akihabara. for maps and directions, or phone 3633-2120.

Beer Hoppers Festival in Machida

November 23-24 weekend, three sessions

Copa Craft Beer Bar and Trafalgar English Pub in Machida (intersection of Odakyu and Yokohama Lines) are teaming up once again for the Beer Hoppers Festival 2008. Sessions will be held on 1 to 5 pm and 6 to 10 pm on Sunday the 23rd, and on 1 to 7 pm on Monday the 24th, a national holiday. Those purchasing advance tickets will receive an original glass for the event.

The 3,200 yen tickets include twelve 100ml pours, and are being sold at both places (Copa 042-709-5361, and Trafalgar 042-723-33350, ) as well as at Liquor Port Kuraya nearby (042-793-2176). Various beers will be served throughout the event, including brews from Baeren, Baird Brewing, Bayern Meister, Chimay, Fujizakura Kogen, Hakusekikan, Hida Takayama, Hoegaarden, Isekadoya, Iwatekura, Minoh Beer, Sankt Gallen, Yona Yona and others.

Beer Lovers Club

Saturday, November 29 from 3 to 9pm

This quarterly event at Bois Cereste in Akasaka features popular Belgian Ales at deeply discounted prices. Admission is 3,500 yen for a book of ten tickets, two of which will get you a Belgian beer, with more expensive types requiring three tickets. Tickets may also be used for several food items. For venue details and directions, see the November 12th event listing above. The next BLC event will be held in late February.

Beer There

Yokohama Oktoberfest at Akarenga Soko

From Friday October 3 to Monday October 13 this redeveloped area of brick warehouses was home to one of the best Oktoberfest celebrations in Japan. A first for me this year was actually losing the 1,000 deposit on a glass I set on a counter, which somehow slipped off and broke into a zillion pieces, beer and all. Nevertheless, the good selection of craft beers from Fujizakura Kogen, Sankt Gallen and Yokohama Beer were a welcome change from the usual mass-produced German beers priced much higher. A good time was had by all - see you there next year.

Kobe Oktoberfest

By Tony Torbert

There was a friendly gathering at the Kobe Regatta and Athletic Club (KRAC) on October 19th. Usually it is Osaka that gets to hold all the ji-biiru events, but this time six Hyogo breweries set up in Kobe. Well attended by Japanese and non-Japanese alike, the fest began at 3 pm, and by 5 pm it was packed to the gills. People stuck around till the end at 8 pm. Hopefully the success will push the breweries to sponsor more such events in Kobe.

The owners/brewers were on hand to chat and were glad to have us ask specific questions about the brewing process. Many have limited distribution and rely on on-site brewery and bottle sales to get by, which makes it harder to sample the brews since they are spread out all over the prefecture. Having 19 brews on tap right for the party was a great opportunity to taste a good share of Hyogo's offerings. One glaring absence was the excellent beers of Minoh Brewery of course, but this was understandable as it is located in Osaka.

Just 2,000 yen got us enough tickets for two 360ml plastic cups or four 180ml taster-size cups and a plate of appetizers. However the Club also provided a few dozen 400ml glasses and 500ml mugs, and we were advised these could also be filled for a reasonable Y500 each. There was a decent selection of small food plates on offer, including sausages, pasta, French fries and some interesting cheeses.

Most of the selection was based on German beers (alts, pils, weizen etc), and given this was an Oktoberfest event the selection was decent. Still, a few bocks, doppelbocks or dunkles to add a little color to the lineup, would certainly have been welcome. That said, there were a few interesting ales such as an ESB from Kinosaki, a blueberry ale from Awaji that sold out quickly and a citrus brew from Shirayuki. The strongest beer on offer was a bit-too-sweet-for-me crystal amber (8%) from Rokko Brewery.

My favorite was a "California common beer" from Kinosaki Beer, modeled on Anchor Steam from San Francisco. Nice color, malty but with some noticeble hop aroma.

The Brewery List:
ROKKO (Kobe)
AWAJI (Island off Kobe)
AKASHI (W. Kobe)
IZUSHI (N. Hyogo)

North Coast Keg-O-Rama

Bulldog in Ginza was the place to be on October 27th when beer importer Andrew Balmuth of Nagano Trading teamed up with bar manager Kuroda-san for a very well-organized and well-run beer event that turned out to be a sheer bargain thanks to the combination of a very well-stocked buffet table and keg after keg of beer from North Coast Brewing of Fort Bragg on the wild Northern California coast.

My favorite brews of the event were Red Seal Amber Ale (5.5%), Le Merle Belgian-style Saison (7.9%), Brother Thelonius Belgian-style Dubbel (9.4%) and Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (9%). The 4,000 yen admission included the generous buffet and 11 drink tickets, enough for anyone attempting to drink so much high-alcohol beer. Let's hope these guys team up for another similar event soon.

Bar Beat

The Barge Inn in Narita

Over ten years ago, my pal Roger Allen told me he was working with Richard Branson and others at Virgin Airlines to create, design and open an English-style pub in Narita City. Sadly, Roger passed away a few years ago, and on a pass-through in September on my way back from Europe, I realized I STILL had not been to the Barge Inn, apparently named because the Japanese pronunciation is virtually identical to how Virgin (as in Airlines) is pronounced.

On November 3rd, I took advantage of the national holiday to go out to Narita City (by Keisei Line, about 1,000 yen each way) and, er, barge into the Barge Inn. It was a short walk from the station on Narita's Omotesando, the road leading to the Narita Shrine. Immediately striking is the size of the place - it is bloody HUGE, certainly big enough to accommodate the flight crews (from all the airlines) said to take over the place most evenings.

There is an open terrace in the front, with a civilized ceiling to keep out the rain, several islands of seating areas, a large fireplace, billiard tables and other games on a level below, and a panoramic view afforded from its unique hilltop location. Best of all, there are free shuttle buses in the evenings that take (usually) tipsy patrons back to all the major hotels.

The beer offerings are very typically British in the modern sense - lots of international lagers with a smattering of mass-produced English ales. Even more British is the massive menu of all kinds of non-British food - pizza, pasta, Indian food - joining old favorites like fish and chips, beef and Guinness pie, roast chicken (whole, if you like) and more. The happy hour daily from 5 to 8 pm offers low-priced drinks such as beer, wine and cocktails for 400 yen. Check out their site for more details

Six Pick

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.

From Pils to Christmas and Beyond

!!!!! Harvest Moon Brown Ale (Chiba; all malt, 5.5% abv) Brilliant red bronze, tangy malt sweetness light and not cloying, hints of caramel and chocolate in the background. Subtle yet rich and complex. Another great brew from Brewmaster Mayumi Sonoda.

!!!! Sapporo Tezukuri Bakushu Pilsner (Hokkaido; malt, hops, barley; 5% abv) Deep gold, solid body, well-balanced, leaning toward the Czech style of pils.

!!!! Enghien Noel Triple Blonde (Belgium; malt, hops, candi sugar; 9$ abv) Hazy straw color, snow white head, spicy and yeasty aroma. Sweet and tangy flavor with lingering fruitiness, backed up with strong tartness, with hop bitterness only poking through in the finish. A big candy bomb for the holidays.

!!!! Pfungstadter St. Nikolaus (Germany, all malt, 7% abv) "Das Bockbier zum Fest" Certainly in doppelbock territory here. Deep reddish brown, tan head, rich malty caramel aroma, low carbonation and bitterness. Very flavorful, and idea for sipping in front of the fire or cheesy space heater, whatever your situation be. Initially sweet, but with a bitter finish. Priced at only 200 yen at Hanamasa; likely they are out of stock by now.

!!!!! Eggenberg Urbock (Austria; all malt with vitamin C as an anti-oxidant; 9.6% abv) Rich clear gold, off-white head, intense malte aroma with floral hop notes, strikingly strong malt flavor with alcohol present. Sweetness held in check by deep hopt bitterness, long extended finish that tapers slowly. Minutes later it still echoes in your mouth. Certainly in tripelbock territory here.

!!!! Gotemba Kogen Pils (Shizuoka; all malt, 5.5% abv) Like most Big Four laters, this one is canned, but that's where the similarity ends. Faintly hazy, straw yellow, crisp and full-bodied, nicely bitter. No surprises, just solid, well-bodied and refreshing.

Beer Talk

A Delicate Matter of Respect

As an ancient philosopher-comedian once said, "I don't get no respect." That's how I usually feel when telling people my profession. I might as well say that I review child pornography.

Dear friends, I am a beer writer. Okay, I already hear you laughing.

Since I was a teenager, I always wanted to be a free-lance writer. In my heart, though, I always believed the common wisdom that writers are perpetually condemned to wretched poverty. Little did I know that "an alcohol problem" would eventually be added to that.

A strong love for Japanese cuisine brought me here after university. Having graduated at age 21, I thought I was too young for grad school, and sought the treasured "overseas experience" before going on to England, where I'd hoped to study labor economics at the graduate level.

Like most who come to Japan for "a year or two" I woke up one morning, over 30 years later, realizing that I'd better put that idea into a roaring fireplace. I have had a great three decades here, the past 27 of them working as a free-lance writer. Try as we must, some of our dreams actually come true.

Since 1980 I have been writing ad copy for Japanese clients (every beer writer MUST have a day job). But since around 1981 I realized that a career where one is usually asked to write catchy phrases such as Young Love Challenge Action Now for Amenity 21st Century will likely drive one to drink.

For mental survival, I knew I needed to throw some journalism in to the mix to keep my sanity. In 1982, I parlayed some of my university era experience as a music columnist into a column at The Japan Times, originally titled Pop Shots (I was asked to write about pop music) but later retitled Bop Shots (I lied, and wrote about jazz, instead, throwing ina lot of social banter to keep the readers interested.)

I recall once having a particularly pointed comment excised by my editor. I had claimed that the Tokyo Weekender was the best English-language publication in town because "at least it is not some Japanese businessman's idea about what foreigners want to read."

By 1990 I had gotten tired of writing about jazz, particularly since the 1989 opening of the Blue Note in Aoyama had caused about half of the really cool little jazz clubs in Roppongi to close up shop. All the little joints I used to frequent were subsequently razed, with large buildings put up in their place housing a new generation of Gentlemen's Clubs, so named because "Club for breast obsessed philanderers on expense accounts" was too long to fit on the sign.

Still grinding out tediously produced copy to please sponsors first, and potential customers last, I needed a new creative outlet. With a new daughter in the household, I wanted something to write about that could be experienced at home.

Over a beer one evening, it occurred to me that I could do a pretty good job writing about that. My first published piece was in a U.S. beer magazine in 1993, wherein I tried to explain why sweet, heavy, high alcohol Belgian beer was so popular in Tokyo (the resemblance to sake was my explanation). In 1995 I started this free newsletter about beer in English, patterned after (and replacing) a similar newsletter on bicycle touring I had started in 1983. I also poked around and sold stories on beer in the local English-language press.

A version of this story was originally written for the November 2008 edition of the Number 1 Shimbun, a publication of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. Part Two will appear in the next issue of Brews News.


No Date on Christmas Eve?

The Baird Nakameguro Taproom is waiting...

In recent years, with Christmas Eve in Japan becoming a cross between The High School Prom and a puberty rite, those clever folks at the Nakameguro Taproom have finally echoed the feelings of single men and women without dates and have begun yelling "Basta! Enough! Mohhh Iiii!" with a special Christmas Eve plan all their own. Those who show up alone get discount pints for 500 yen.

And, those who manage to show up having been stood up, or in possession of divorce papers dated that day, will receive everything for free. Uh, you better make sure they are serious there at the Nakameguro Taproom.

Note new hours: 2 pm to midnight weekdays, noon to midnight weekends and national holidays. Next to Nakameguro station on the Hibiya and Toyoko Lines. 03-5768-3025

Countdown Parties for December 31, 2008

Baird Nakameguro Taproom has already announced an event with all-you-can-drink Baird Beer, light food and plenty of company for just 5,000 yen per person from 7 pm. Featured will be their Hatsu-jozo Double IPA from midnight.

Beer Club Popeye always has a countdown party that gradually deconstructs until about 3 a.m. No tickets, no plan, just come in and have a drink or two. 03-3633-2120,

Special thanks to Tony Torbert for his contribution to this issue. We'd love your contribution, too, so send your story ideas (or story) to brewsnews "at" Deadline for the next issue is Friday, December 26th.