Brews News Issue 25 - March 2002
Home >> Eating & Drinking in Tokyo >> Brews News
In this issue
Beer Here: Not. But Tokyo's best craft sake event. Be there!
Bar Beat: World's Best Japanese Craft Beer Tap House
Brews in the News: New beers and beers for the season
The Brew Crew: Stouts for late winter
Spouting Off: Dublin finally gets an "Irish Pub."
Home Brew-haha:

Beer Here

Not. But Tokyo's best craft sake event. Be there!

Thursday, April 18th, 2002 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Akasaka Prince Hotel

"It's like going to sleep in 1965, and waking up at this year's Oregon Beer Festival" is how Fred Eckhardt, the dean of American beer writers, reacted at being taken to the Ginjoshu Kyokai sake tasting event a few years back during a visit to Japan. Eckhardt is no stranger to sake, being one of the first people to write about it in English, and currently an authority on the home brewing of sake.

Needless to say, the Ginjoshu Kyokai event, held twice yearly at the Akasaka Prince Hotel, should not be missed by anyone with even a passing interest in sake. It's set up like a trade fair, with what seems like 100 sake brewers set up with tables, each offering quite a number of their prize brews. The event highlights ginjoshu, the most aromatic and refined sake, brewed from highly polished rice.

Visitors should exercise caution, however, because there is no food at the event, and people are actively discouraged from bringing it in. Instead there is water, plenty of it, to keep the palate refreshed for the next sample. Of course, spit buckets are everywhere, so you don't have to swallow your samples and get drunk. Funny thing, though, some of the stuff is just so darn good you end up getting sort of a reverse gag reflex, and insist on swallowing it, with no amount of persuasion possible to get you to give it up.

Best of all, admission is only 4,000 yen for all you can drink. PLUS, when you leave, you surrender your entry badge for... guess what? ...a 750 ml bottle of very good ginjoshu, which is likely to be worth at least 4,000 yen anyway. You just have to love these people - it's a tremendous bargain, and a lot of fun, with hundreds of fellow sake lovers in attendance.

You need to reserve for this event in advance by calling the Ginjoshu Kyokai (in Japanese, please) at (03) 3378-1231, or faxing them at (03) 3378-1232.


Bar Beat

40 Beers, But No Mule.

"I yam wot I yam" is a quote I would just love to attribute to Aoki-san, owner of the recently remodeled Popeye "40 Beers On Tap" Beer Joint in Ryogoku, but he actually didn't say it. But if you drop in to Popeye these days, you'll know he certainly means it.

Despite the recent setbacks in the Japanese craft beer industry, with many closings and practically no openings, Aoki is betting on a brighter future for Japanese craft beer, and has backed up his hunch with the installation of a huge walk-in beer cooler and a 40-tap system - an utter rarity in Japan.

Most of the 40 taps are given over to ales from various Japanese craft breweries that continue to improve the quality of their product. On a recent visit, I was impressed with the selection, which included everything from light Weizens to intense Barleywines, and all stops in between.

Fans of U.S. microbeer are not to be disappointed, since Rogue Ales Brutal Bitter, Mocha Porter and Barleywine are on tap. Those hoping for something more exotic will enjoy the Hair Of The Dog Adam and Fred on tap. These beers are not easy to find in Oregon where they are brewed; the fact you can have them on tap in Japan is truly amazing. Thanks go to Phred Kaufman of Sapporo for importing them, and Aoki-san for putting them on five of his taps.

While prices aren't low, be assured that they are, on the average, lower nowhere else. Aoki-san is keeping them as low as possible. Keep in mind that the costs of producing good craft beer in Japan are staggering due to expensive materials, high taxes and the fact that everything but the water needs to be imported, and that often includes the brewmaster, since few Japanese brewmasters (at this point) are able to match the skills of their counterparts in North America and Europe. When you realize that, in Japan, home brewing of anything over 1% alcohol is still illegal, you'll understand that the army of Japanese homebrewers wanting to make a career of it could probably fit in a pint glass.

Popeye is a very short walk from Ryogoku Station on the JR Line and the Oedo subway line.

Bakushu Club Popeye
2-18-7 Ryogoku
Sumida-ku, Tokyo 130-0026
Phone: (03) 3633-2120 (in Japanese)


Brews in the News

New beers and beers for the season

! ! ! ! ! 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.

!!!! Castle Milk Stout (South Africa) - 6% abv (Malt, maize (corn), hops, lactose.) Virtually opaque dark, dark brown. Strikingly deep tan head which quickly fades. Toffee aroma with licorice notes. Big, sweet dark malty flavor with a surprising lack of fruitiness, and a comparatively thin body, leading to a dry finish in an almost lager-like fashion. The sweetness is all part of the toffee-licorice flavor profile, which is accompanied by spikes of spicy flavors that recall nutmeg or allspice. Not quite a world classic stout, but a very interesting and unique one. The lactose is added as a sweetener, and is a type of sugar which yeast does not ferment, so the sweetness stays as the beer conditions. Try this beer with chocolate truffles.

!!!! Isle of Arran Premium Dark Ale - 4.3% abv. (Malt, hops.) Deep amber orange, short-lived light tan head. Slightly caramel-infused malt aroma. Smooth mouthfeel with rich malt flavors, not too dark-toasty tasting. Rather light body considering the rich flavor. The lack of heavy sweetness makes it an ideal session beer for late winter.

!!!! Isle of Arran Light Premium Ale - 3.8% abv. (Malt, hops.) Hazy orange amber, short-lived tan head, Hops predominant in the aroma (Goldings? They seem like Cascade hops in flavor, with a decided sharpness) backed by faint, juicy sweet malt. Smooth straightforward flavor like Bass, with light body and clean finish with hops lingering. Sort of like a light version of an India Pale Ale.

!!!! True Blue Buckwheat Brown Ale - 5% abv. (Malt, raw buckwheat, hops.) A cleaner, drier version of earlier prototypes. Hazy orange brown, ivory head, slightly sweet malty dusky aroma, full-on amber malt assault, but quickly fades to dry with apricot and dried fruit notes, along with a light kiss of hops. Complex flavor that reminds one of rye bread; spicy, hearty yet not too heavy. Not filtered or pasteurized, so make sure you get a fresh bottle that's been stored properly.

!!!! Wychwood Santa Claus Strong Festive Ale - 6% abv. (Malt, other grain, hops, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves.) Appealing reddish amber, small head, fruity malt and spice aroma, fairly standard spiced ale with few surprises, but solid malt and good balance and structure. Y1,350 at Belgo in Shibuya, where they still have some in stock. The importer representative says that there are about three cases still left in Japan, and that the Hobgoblin Pub in Akasaka is a good place to try to find it.

!!! Caffrey's Premium Beer - 4.8% abv. (Malt, hops, yeast - in a nitrogen-widget can.) Extremely dense 'pancake batter' ivory head is striking. Pale amber, faintly fruity malt aroma with hop overtones. Very smooth mouthfeel with virtually no sensation of carbonation. Malt flavor quickly erodes, with faint bitterness remaining. It is said that nitrogen gas masks the impact of sharp flavors, and this would be a good example to back up that assertion. The result is a quick finish, but not a sharp or dry one.

!! Sapporo Fuyu Monogatari "A Winter's Tale" - 5.5% abv. (Malt, hops.) Clear medium yellow, dense white head, faint malty aroma. Rich clean flavor with little complexity, brisk carbonation, well-balanced as a lager, with higher alcohol apparent. Suprisingly clean finish. Too bad the can no longer carries Shakespeare quotes, as in years past.

! Tsing Tao Premium - 4.5% abv. (Malt, rice, hops.) In a clear 296 ml bottle, which should be a dark brown to prevent light damage. Very clear light yellow, skunked hop aroma, likely due to the clear bottle and improper storage, Skunkyness carries over into the taste, but still has characteristic grany flavor and flowery hop taste. Disappointing, and one of the rare cases where the premium version is not as good as the regular standby.


Brew Crew

Stouts for late winter

This article on heavy beers for late winter turned out to be a stoutfest, thanks to Redhook importer Jeff Renshaw's tip about the recent arrival of Redhook Double Black Stout from Seattle, which turned out to be the centerpiece of this selection. I had already planned to include True Blue Maple Stout, and decided to round out the selection with Asahi Stout (8%, and hard to find) and the definitive standby, plain old Guinness Export Stout in the bottle. Fortunately, Guinness Foreign Export Stout (8%, and also rare in Tokyo) was also available, so I picked it up for comparison. The addition of Shakespeare Stout from Rogue Ales of Oregon and Lion Stout from Sri Lanka (both praised by Michael Jackson) completed this issue's selection. Taking up tasting duties were Rachel Molnar, Ake Nordgren (visiting from Sweden), Robb Satterwhite and Bryan Harrell. The beers are listed in the order they were tasted. All are available at Tanaka-ya in Mejiro.

!!! Guinness Export Stout - 5% abv. Burnt caramel flavor, a bit one-dimensional, unmistakable flavor of flaked unmalted barley. This is an old standby, the tap version of which has been jazzed up in recent years by the practice of dispensing with nitrogen gas, which gives it an astonishingly thick and creamy head. (No, the creaminess is not due to the Dublin water, which is not used anyway in the draft version in Japan which is brewed in England.)

!!!! Guinness Foreign Export Stout - 8% abv. Tasting the two Guinnesses together is quite revealing. Rich full flavor, redolent of dried fruit and rum-soaked fruitcake, with a more developed malt structure and a heavier body. This was originally brewed for export to hot countries without easily available refrigeration. The heavy body and 8% alcohol makes it practically bulletproof, and highly resistant to damage due to heat and extended storage.

!!! Asahi Stout - 8% abv. While it shares a heavy body and 8% alcohol with Guinness FSE, the similarity ends there. Asahi's version of stout is commendable, considering the other products they brew, yet is still too sweet, with a minerally burnt sugar flavor, low bitterness and an overall one-dimensional flavor. However, it's still not a bad beer.

!!!! Lion Stout - 4.5% abv. Rich, complex, great aroma, nice tartness to balance the sweetness, yet with a comparatively light body and a quick, dry finish. This is really what Guinness ought to be, and perhaps was 100 years ago when this brewery was just getting started.

!!!!! Redhook Double Black Stout - 7% abv. Complex, less fruity, toffee flavors with big complex hops (Cascade and Northern Brewer?) along with real coffee and a touch of honey make this exciting, in-your-face Pacific Northwest style stout a real delight.

!!!!! Rogue Shakespeare Stout - 6.1% abv. Broad flavor spectrum, fruity yet with a dry finish, well-hopped, and all flavors in good balance. Creamy texture achieved through the use of a little oatmeal. A wonderful creation, and among the world's best in this style. Also sold as Ezo Brown Bear Beer.

!!!! True Blue Maple Stout - 7% abv. The Redhook and Rogue stouts proved to be tough acts to follow for this craft beer made in Fukushima by John Schultz. Still, this rich, deep beer is smooth and easy drinking, not too sweet, with good tartness to counter the malts. However, the malt flavors didn't seem powerful enough to fully carry to maple syrup to its full potential. Still, it adds a nice "tree sap" counterpoint to the flinty, roasty flavors that linger on the roof of your mouth.


Spouting Off

The Luck of the Irish

This issue I was planning to honor St. Patrick's day with a rant about the phony "Irish Pub" institution with a review of a few of the so-called "Irish Pubs" in Tokyo.

Fortunately, I was saved the trouble since a good friend of mine from Yorkshire sent me a clipping of "Last Orders down at MacFoney's" - an article in the New Statesman by Patrick West, which clearly, cleverly and concisely summed up what had been bugging me all along about Irish Pubs, but I'd never quite had the urge to verbalize. Fortunately, you can find this article on the Internet at

But please allow me to quote Mr. West liberally, because it is such good reading. He writes:

"The pubs with their accordians, road signs to Galway and whiskey mirrors - all mass-produced in a factory in Atlanta, Georgia -were not, they moaned, like real Irish bars, but were kitsch, commodified representations.

The bad news for fans of authenticity is that reality has caught up with the fantasists. The fake Irish pub, having conquered the world, is now making a belated appearance in, er, Dublin.

In its most outlandish manifestation, the Irish theme pub in Britain features loud, relentlessly piped "fiddle-dy-dee" music, bags of grain, overenthusiastic bar staff, "traditional" food, pints of Guinness with shamrocks etched into the heads, and walls plastered with posters of Dublin's Georgian house fronts, Oscar Wilde and cottages in the barren, scenic west.

Pubs in Ireland bear scant resemblance to their British imitations, having had no need to proclaim their Irishness. Instead, they are rather sedate and modest, with minimal decor - normally cream-yellow walls and red-cushioned chairs or black, wooden stools. The only synthetic noise will come from a television. During the day, you will be treated not to raucous merry-making, but more likely to the abject silence of solo drinkers. Only at night will a pub come to life, though bar staff or landlords will never, never, get up and dance a jig for you."

In the U.S., St. Pat's Day has become all but a kitchfest, with Budweiser dyed green and green foil shamrocks pasted everywhere. With the proliferation of so-called "Irish Pubs" in Japan, the same is already happening, if the bar ads in Tokyo Notice Board, Tokyo Metropolis and other English-language giveaways are any indication.

Nonetheless, this year I plan to actually make the rounds on the 17th, and check out the festivities and see what people are drinking. Guinness or Murphy's, one hopes. The fact that these beers cannot be dyed green with food coloring is somewhat reassuring. But be assured there will be plenty of young dudes horking down on a bottle of Corona (comically misspelled "Coroner" in one Gas Panic ad last year) and finding confidence that the requisite "touch o'green" is the little lime wedge shoved down the neck to take the edge off the skunkiness caused by putting beer in clear bottles and exposing them to light.

As Mr. West points out, Irish pubs have no need to proclaim their Irishness. To me, the bogus institution of the created Irish Pub not only trivializes and caricaturizes Irish culture, it is also part of the creeping theme-parkification of any aspect of a foreign culture, with the assumption that something can only be understood through the lens of previous impressions.


Home Brew-haha

Homebrew gear for sale start now for a happier summer

Interested? Please e-mail me for a list of what's for sale.

There's too much free stuff to list, so come over and check it out.

Hop Pellets, 13 varieties from Cascade to Willamette, with alpha acid ratings. 100 yen for 30 grams, plus shipping. Contact Chris at



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Our Next Issue

Beer Here - Not. But Tokyo's best craft sake event. Don't miss it!
Bar Beat - Belgian Beer Paradise at Bois Cereste in Akasaka
The Brew Crew - High-gravity beers over 8% alcohol
Brews in the News - New beers and beers for the season


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