Brews News #90
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Brews News #90 - February/March 2009
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.

Beer Here

Beer School at Fujimamas in Harajuku

Saturday, February 7 from 4 to 6 p.m.

Bryan Harrell will be leading a tasting through several types of beer, starting with Suntory Malt's as the "control" beer then moving through a few ales, leading up to a Chocolate Stout and finally to Stone Russian Imperial Stout, a thick dark monster with 10% alcohol. Certainly required drinking for those who think that the 4.2% alcohol Guinness Stout is the end-all of dark beers. The cost for this event, which includes all beers a light food at the end, is 3,000 yen per person. Reservations are required; phone Lauren or Jun at 03-5485-2283.

Belgian Beer Mariage

Sundays, February 8 and 22, 2-4:30pm Antwerp Central

Noted beer/food writer Hiroyuki Fujiwara hosts these events, which have become so popular that two dates were necessary in February after the event slated for the 8th soon filled up. Antwerp Central near Tokyo Station is the venue for these Sunday suppers in four courses, with each course matched with a Belgian ale.

The dishes are the creation of master chef Kenichi Sumitomo, and include Shrimp and Potato Gratin, Duck Gizzard and Mushroom Fricassee, Flanders Style Cod and Crab Stew, and Tart Tartin. Cost is 6,500 yen per person, which includes all food, beer and service charges. Call to check availability of seats; the 22nd is more likely to have openings. For information and reservations, phone 03-5288-7370. Details on Antwerp Central here.

BEERS Meeting at Griffon

Tuesday, February 10th from 8 pm

February's meeting of the Beer Enjoyment, Education & Research Society (BEERS) will be on February 10th (the 11th is a national holiday) at Griffon ( in Shibuya. The Griffon has the capacity to hold up to 30 micros on taps and they will be bringing in some rare beers on tap, plus some Japanese winter warmers. They have kindly brought in 7 or 8 beers for the group (including some rare seasonals such as Oh La Ho Porter, Kinshachi Imperial Chocolate Stout). However, in addition to these beers, from the 11th they will have a four-day beer festival, of which about 20 will be on tap for the 10th.

The theme for this month's meeting is "Japanese Craft Beer 1999 vs 2009 - Changes over the last ten years." The meeting is something of a history lesson on the Japanese craft beer industry and hopefully will provide some insight into where it is going in the future. Leader Tim Eustace will try to keep this as entertaining as possible, with some bizarre examples of Japanese beers (ie. whoever has had Wasabi beer will never forget that experience). Please sign up for this by Friday, February 6th by email to tokyobeers at

7th Tokyo Real Ale Festival

Sunday February 15, 1 to 5pm in Asakusa

Here we go again, the event that gave rise to the Good Beer Club, with both TRAF and the GBC becoming set in their ways only a few years after they were founded. This event requires more than one volunteer for every ten attendees, and by the time the t-shirts have been made for all the volunteers and other expenses meted out, there doesn't seem to be enough money left over for beer, which begins to run out around 3pm for popular varieties, and about an hour later for the rest. Years later, the organizers still haven't discovered a solution to this.

Still, for the hard-core enthusiasts, this is a yearly matsuri dedicated to (mostly) naturally carbonated brew and craft-beer-industry self-congratulation. Admission is 3,200 yen, which includes a tasting glass and tickets for ten 120 ml pours, with extra drink tickets available at the event. Entrance is by advance tickets only as no admission tickets will be available at the event. Admission tickets are available at many craft beer bars in Japan -- for a list, see

Whisky Live! Presents Scotland in a Glass

February 22nd in Ariake

The 9th annual Whisky Magazine Live! event is slated for February 22, 2008 at Big Site in Ariake, on Tokyo Bay. This yearly celebration of Scottish and other whiskies will feature a number of specialized sessions for the malt enthusiast, including presentations on noted Scottish distilleries Auchentoshan, Jura, and Springbank as well as Japanese distilleries Chichibu, Yamazaki and Yoichi. There will even be a session on Chocolate and Whisky. Six different sessions will be held in each of three time periods. General admission is 5,000 yen, or 12,000 yen for admission to three sessions and a lunchbox. For details see in English.

Beer Lovers Club

Saturday, February 28 from 5 to 10 p.m.

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. The next BLC event will be held in late May. For more information, phone (03) 3588-6292; for shop details, see Bois Cereste here.

Beer There

Oysters Galore

In the January Belgian Beer Dinner at Bois Cereste, the small number of guests were given a great mid-winter treat - six different kinds of raw oysters from six areas of Japan (Hokkaido, Miyagi, Ishikawa, Akishi, Hyogo and Nagasaki) replete with toothpicks bearing little flags indicating their origins. This was part of a dinner that included chicken liver with truffles and other delights. Don't miss these dinners, held on the second Wednesday of every month. In February, that day falls on a national holiday, so the dinner will be held on the 10th. For more information, phone 03-3588-6292; for shop details, see Bois Cereste here.

The Beer Mile in Yoyogi Park

A cold Saturday in early January was the day for The Beer Mile event put on by Tokyo running group Nanban Rengo. This insane event involves consuming four cans of beer while running a mile in four 1/4 mile laps. There were two groups of runners, and a boozy good time was had by participants and spectators alike. For details on the Beer Mile and its rules, see

Bar Beat

Houblon Belgian Beer Bar in Ginza

by Steve "Pudgy" DeRose

I was in Tokyo in December last year, covering the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008, and had a day off one Friday afternoon. I happened to be in Ginza, and happened upon something I didn't expect: a "Belgian" beer bar called Houblon.

It was open. That is, part of it was open. Houblon is a four-story business. The basement is a shot bar open in the evenings (and past midnight). The fourth floor is a moderately priced restaurant open mostly for dinner. The first floor is the beer bar, which has the longest hours during the day. (The third floor was being remodeled at the time.)

I was slightly tired from all of this walking around, and since, for all the beer-worthy venues I had read about in Tokyo, had seen nothing about this place, I decided to enter and see what was on offer. The bar is in a "U" shape. The taps are at the closed part of the "U" nearest the entryway. There are seats for 22 people at the bar, and tables for another 10 people. There are 10 beers on draft. Houblon's Website informs us of the (currently) seven which it has a sufficient quantity to mention thereupon. Obviously, at least three taps are going to have a guest beer which will rotate on-and-off.

I was presented with an "encyclopedia" of the beers available. It is massive, encompassing both draft and bottled beer. Each beer has a loose-leaf page within. Granted, it was mostly in Japanese. But it had a hexagonal graph illustration of the taste profile of each beer. The first beer I had this afternoon was a guest tap. It was a Kriek beer from a Belgian brewery with the very short name of Bocq ( At a mere 3.1% ABV [Y980], it was very refreshing. The cherry flavor was noticeable, and tangy. The cherry aroma and taste lasted throughout.

I went up the scale of alcohol. Of course, each beer here was served in the proper glass for its style. I then had the Chapeau Lambic de Troch beer [3.5% ABV = Y980]. This is its foray at a Radler. It tasted more like lemon soda than beer. Then, Leffe Brown (now an Anheuser-Busch InBev brand) [6.5% ABV = Y950]. This was good. It was dark brown; nearly opaque, with a thick head. The deeply roasted malt taste lasted throughout. I had all of these in 250 ml glasses.

Finally, I had a strong winter beer, Barbar Winter Bock [8.0% ABV - 330 ml = Y1,000]. This was a reddish brown, medium head. It had a slight taste of honey at first. Did I detect some banana in it? Maybe my taste was off by now. Higher alcohols were stealthy. (I had had enough at this point, and moved on. I realized I had time, so I went over to Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku for its 'Oh Sama set' session, and moved on.)

Beers here will cost Y900-Y1,200 for a 250-330 ml serving. The names of these beers might have been temporarily adrift, but I can inform you distinctly about the bar. It is a quiet place. There are no televisions. The music playing in the background was a cassette or CD looping continuously. Even if your Japanese is spotty, the staff here will comprehend what you are requesting. A diverse food menu is available (on all the floors). Is it worth making a special trip to visit? That depends on you. But should you wind up in Ginza for another reason, it is worth a try.

The address is Ginza 3-2-11. Phone/fax 03-3564-1671. [Ginza station (Ginza, Marunouchi, Hibiya Lines) Exit C8. Face the avenue which the exit puts in front of you. Slide right to the intersection. Cross the avenue. It will be on your left.]

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.

It's Beginning To Look Like Chocolate

This is the year that chocolate beers are making their break into the big time. The first in Japan that I can remember is the chocolate-flavored version of Rogue's Shakespeare Stout over ten years ago, released by Ezo Beer as Choco Bear Beer. There are now two versions of it, Bitter and Sweet, sold in slightly different colored bottles. Next was the chocolate-flavored imperial stout from Sankt Gallen in Kanagawa prefecture. Last year there were more than a handful of new chocolate beer products, most notably from Baeren in Iwate.

This year, both Kirin and Sapporo have come out with dark beers that suggest chocolate, being made from a large percentage of chocolate malt in addition to the pale base malt. Which are any good? Well, your guess is as good as mine, but I can tell you not to serve them too cold, and that a scoop of fresh vanilla ice cream turns them into dessert treats. Enjoy!

!!!! Ezo Chocolate Bear Beer (bitter) 5.7% The grandfather of chocolate beers in Japan, made with Rogue Shakespeare Stout with the addition of real chocolate. The inherent bitterness is striking, giving it a cigar-like quality in combination with the chocolate.

!!!! Ezo Chocolate Bear Beer (sweet) 5.1% This is a later creation made with more delicate palates in mind. Just as good, but different.

!!!! Sankt-Gallen Kokutou (brown sugar) Sweet Stout 6.4% Not really a chocolate beer, but quite similar. Interesting tartness develops as it ages.

!!!! Sankt-Gallen Sweet Vanilla Stout 6.4% Sells very well each year, and is often unavailable after Valentine's Day. Rich and complex.

! Floris Chocolat 4.2% A curiousity within a line of lambic-based fruit beers made by Huyghe, containing chocolate plus wheat and barley malt.

!!!!! Cookie Beer 8% patterned after a very common and traditional cookie in Belgium. Malt, hops, yeast, candi sugar and spices. The flavor is spot-on the profile of the cookie, and well-liked by those who grew up on these cookies.

!!! Kirin Chocolat 5% From the Chilled Muroka (unfiltered) series. Essentially a normal lager boosted with a fair amount of chocolate malt, but still tastes pretty much like a mass-produced beer.

!!!!! Baeren Chocolate Stout 7% A well-balanced stout made with a large percentage of chocolate malt. Nice and worth looking for.

!!!!! (not shown) Chocolate Wheat from Fujizakura Kogen Now THIS is great, made mostly with wheat malt roasted to the "chocolate malt" degree. Nice sweetness, lightness and fruitiness really suggests chocolate, but no actual chocolate is used. Available on draft at Bulldog in Ginza.

Not tasted Sapporo Chocolate Brewery. Said to actually contain chocolate, this is a collaboration product with Hokkaido Chocolate maker Royce, and is currently available only in Hokkaido. However, it will go on sale February 7th at the Sapporo Beer Museum in Yebisu Garden Place.

Beer Talk

A Delicate Matter of Respect

A Delicate Matter of Respect, Part II

By Bryan Harrell

In 1995 I started Brews News, a 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.

Some 15 years and 25 kilograms later, I realized the connection between less cycling and more beer. I did all the calorie math and figured that it wasn't just the beer that made me gain weight, it was all the delectable, oily, salty, fatty, crispy foods that came with the grog. But I did make the decision to cut my drinking to 1/3rd of previous levels, and my eating to about half.

Meanwhile, I was noticing the behavior patterns in two different beer clubs I belonged to. Yes, quite a number of members (usually the same ones each time) would drink to excess, either passing out or not being able to remember what they had consumed, said or done the night before.

Drinking is a delectable right, but disastrous when abused. People will say or do things they otherwise would not. There is a certain point on the alcohol curve where the drinker doesn't get any more frank or honest, but rather becomes more obnoxious, with an option on violence, racism or sexism.

Which brings me to the question of how one should deal with friends who become over the barrel with alcohol. I am not alone - l likely most of us have at least a few friends who are unwittingly sabotaging their lives with too much drink.

As one who promotes an alcoholic beverage in my work, it is something I do not take lightly, and feel a measure of responsibility to my friends and readers.

Drunks who misbehave really seem to be crying out "I don't get no respect." We must find a way to give them some, while also helping them understand the nature of their problem.

All sorts of literature on alcoholism tells us the biggest stumbling block on the part of the person with a drinking problem is denial. We all have heard "I only had..." and "I don't drink every day..." Rather than make a point about the drinking, it may be better to inquire instead about the behavior. "Did you realize you were aggravating the person?" or "Did you really mean to say...?" or even "Did you think it was OK public?" are really more to the point.

I believe that alcohol abuse is only a symptom of a larger problem, and when that larger problem is dealt with, most people will alter their consumption of drink.

In any case, it is extremely difficult to point out a drinking problem to a friend. But if they are really a friend, it is something you have to do. I am sure we would all expect our friends to blow the whistle on us if we were making fools of ourselves in public.

It's the least you can do.

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 One appeared in the November-December 2008 edition of Brews News.


2009 JCBA Festival Round-Up

For details on these events, contact the Japan Craft Beer Association,
March 13-15 Grand Biere festival at Roppongi Mid-town
June 6 - 7 Japan Beer Festival in Ebisu Garden Place, Tokyo
July 18 - 20 Japan Beer Festival in Osaka
September 19 - 21 Japan Beer Festival in Yokohama

Bear Republic Invades Japan

One of my favorite breweries in Northern California is named after the flag of the short-lived California Republic, which existed in the three-month transition from Spanish (then Mexican) colony to a U.S. state. Located in the northern reaches of Sonoma's wine country, Bear Republic has a wonderful brewpub serving great food, and a dazzling selection of innovative beers, many of them available in supermarkets all over the West Coast.

Importer Andrew Balmuth of Nagano Trading has made Bear Republic one of his latest picks, with the first shipment arriving at the end of January. Already, an event has been planned at Thrash Zone in Yokohama for Saturday, January 31st. For details, see . However, you don't have to go all the way to Yokohama to have a first taste; another Bear Republic event will take place at Beer Club Popeye around the end of February; details to be announced when finalized.

Special thanks to Steve "Pudgy" DeRose 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, February 20th.