Saturday, August 8, 2015

Great Japan Beer Festival Osaka 2015

This year's Great Japan Beer Festival (aka Beer Fes) Osaka was held over three days in mid July.

The event venue was a new one this year, moving from the top of the Kyocera Dome to another "dome" -- My Dome, near Kitahama. No, not mine or even yours, but some corporate group's building, and it seemed like any generic conference site: gray-walled, gray-carpeted, and brightly fluorescent-lit.

The schedule was different this year, as well. In the past, an entrance ticket allowed for four hours or so of unlimited pours. This year, there were two sessions each day, and attendees had to choose between an early afternoon slot (11:30am-3pm) or a later one (4-7:30pm). The main effect of this change was to lessen the crowds at each session.

The number of breweries represented seemed somewhat fewer than in past years, but there were certainly enough of the more familiar Japanese standouts as well as several newer ones (Hyappa) and quite few smaller distant rural outfits (Tirol no Mori, Yoshii Kogen) we had never seen before.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

クラフトビアライブ2015 / Craft Beer Live 2015

Some annual beer festivals get bigger and better year by year, others just get bigger, and a few get too big (looking at you, Craft Beer Festa Kyoto). This year’s Craft Beer Live fest, held in the Minatomachi River Place area behind Namba Hatch in Osaka, was the biggest – and the best – they’ve ever produced.

Craft Beer Live, a two-day annual event, is limited to breweries operating in the six prefectures of the Kansai region of western Japan. Many of these are small operations located in remote areas, such as Kinosaki (Hyogo) and Soni Kougen Beer (Nara); others are attached to farm theme parks, such as Harvest no Oka (Osaka). These are breweries that rarely appear on bar menus, and thus this festival is a rare chance to sample their latest beers. This year, 21 breweries (an estimated 90% of all breweries in the region) brought around 100 different beers.

Newcomers to the festival included Marca Beer Factory (Osaka), Heiwa Craft (Wakayama), and Kyoto Brewing Company.

It was a bright day, but many large coverings were set to keep visitors out of the hot sun. In years past, we had been left to our own devices to escape the heat. One group of fellow craft beer enthusiasts (and home brewers) had staked out a cool shady picnic spot for friends and family under a nearby ivy-covered bridge, with cooler air wafting in from the river.

Live music and other entertainment acts performed on the wide stage at one end of the fest area. I saw at least two different hula dance troupes.  Thirteen bars and restaurants set up food stalls.

Beer tickets were available, either singly or in sheets of seven for ¥2,800. Specially designed event glasses were available in two sizes: 420ml-size for two beer tickets, and 210ml-size for one ticket. Plastic cups could be bought for ¥50.

 My two top brews of the festival were both from Kyoto Brewing Company, one of the newest outfits in Japan (full disclosure: I know the head brewer and have sampled many of his home brews over the years):

Kyoto Brewing Himitsu
A gose made in collaboration with Luc Bim LaFontaine. Nice wheaty nose, with some citrus tart aromas. Pale cloudy light apple juice color. Rounded fruity initial, wheat, slight sourness and saltiness in mid palate, and it levels out and blends in late mid and finish. Light body, with a very nice carbonation jumps in mid palate. A style that is rarely made in Japan, this "Secret" beer is very refreshing stuff.

Kyoto Brewing Tribute to Snow Monkey
Fresh, spicy, and (with the power of suggestion) minty nose. Cloudy medium straw color. Great initial burst of citrusy flavors. Good bittering emerges in mid palate. Light fruity peachy and citrus again in mid and final. Great stuff, with true saison character. These guys are making wonderful brews.

You can see many more photos at the Craft Beer Live Facebook page, HERE.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

地ビー ル祭京 都 2015 / Craft Beer Festa Kyoto 2015

"A madhouse..."

This year's Craft Beer Festa Kyoto, held in early May, was much like last year's ... only worse.

This annual event, organized primarily by Kyoto's Yamaoka Sakaten, has oh so definitely, completely, and absolutely outgrown its venue. Except for the inaugural event six years ago, which was comfortably ensconced in the courtyard Shimpukan shopping mall, it has always taken place in the Sanjo Association Shopping Arcade, an 800-meter-long (and very narrow) shotengai near the south side of Nijo Castle.

For the first couple of years, the festival had a fun and friendly sort of atmosphere, but since then each year has seen the number of visitors increase -- to the point where it is unpleasant, noisy, and even dangerous to try to navigate around to the beer booths.

The many food shops along the arcade like get in on the action, setting up tables outside their entrances. This brings a wide variety of food choices for hungry visitors, but it also makes the available walking space much smaller.

People on bicycles added to the crowd and slowed the pace of movement, trying to maneuver their way to their homes or to the supermarkets. Cars waited impatiently at side street intersections for a chance to cross the arcade lane, and apparently one visitor had his foot run over by a car.

And... this year the lack of toilet facilities was again a serious problem. There is only one public toilet in the children’s park in the center of the arcade. A few porta-potties could be found, if you knew where to look. Many people, as before, casually traipsed through the Seiyu supermarket, beer glasses in hand, to the 2nd-floor restrooms

In the late afternoon, after spending over 20 minutes in a line, waiting to use the facilities at a Lawson convenience store at one end of the arcade, I finally decided I wasn't interested in plunging back into the crowd. And I left...

Due to the crowds, the noise, and the waiting time required to get a small sample of beer (for ¥400) a few of my beer-geek friends have said that they won't attend next year.

Thirty-four breweries were present and serving, one more than last year, There were several newcomers, including Mabi Chikurin Beer (Okayama), Brewery Songbird  (Chiba), Bell Beer / TokorozawaBrewery  (Saitama), and Kyoto Brewing Company  (Kyoto). Last year's pick for Rookie of the Year, Y Market Brewing from Nagoya, was a no-show.

Best of the Fest

Shiga Kogen 10th Anniversary IPA  7.5%
Ridiculous, amazing tropical fruit nose, rude and ripe citrus and some thick dates, maybe even tobacco. Hazy pale straw color. Thick deep fruity initial, then ripe peaches and sweet dates. Mild but persistent bitterness. So flavorful. Alcohol seems higher than 7.5% (I’d heard that this is an imperial....) Complex flavor changes throughout the palate. Love it. 

Kyoto Brewing Hajimemashite  6%
An American Pale Ale, the first offering from this new brewery. Nice blended hop nose (Cascade, Amarillo, and some Chinook, according to the brewer). Very hop-forward stuff, with a pleasant jump of bitterness between the initial and mid palates, with the malt breaking through later. The finish features medium-strength hop tracks. Very well-hopped as a pale ale. Delicious. "Pleased to meet you, too!"

Fujizakura Height Mandarina Bavaria  5% 
A massively fruity banana nose (the nose seems to have body and texture). A citrusy opening, quite wheaty, with light cloves, hisses up into a loud sweet fruitiness in mid palate. A small but persistent bittering through mid and final. Smooth all the way, great flavors, and excellent carbonation. A wonderful hefeweizen from Japan’s premier wheat beer brewer.  

Shonan Chocolate Porter  7%
A big, even severe, chocolatey nose. Chocolate and mild dark roast, fairly light and sweet through mid and final. Thin-medium body, but very creamy. Impressive aromas. Quite a porter, really stretching out towards the feel and flavor of a stout.

Monday, April 27, 2015

「ビールオンライン購入する」 - 改訂と更新 / "Buying Beer Online" -- Revised and Updated

Over the past few months, I spent time updating the "Buying Beer Online" section of The Tokyo Food Page.

This is a listing of places that sell Japanese and imported microbrews online, including several general-purpose shopping sites (such as Rakuten and Yahoo), specialty beer shops in Japan (e.g. Good Beer and World Beer Market), and the retail shopping sites of over one hundred Japanese breweries. It is probably mostly of use to beer fans who live in Japan, as the shipping fees would like make the costs prohibitive for anyone who wants to have Japanese beer shipped outside of the country.

I first created it in 2009, and it really does need periodic updating. So many sites go out of business, or change URLS, and many new ones spring up. It was well overdue, having last been revised in April 2012.

There are now nineteen General-Purpose shopping sites, many of them individual shops on Rakuten, tried-and-true breweries' shopping sites in the Twenty-five Great Japanese Micros section, and 136 other Japanese craft breweries' sites.

You can see the revised site HERE

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Minneapolis, Spring 2015, Part 3: Bauhaus Brew Labs

We visited Bauhaus Brew Labs on a very cold Saturday afternoon in February. It was a bit hard to find, since the building is actually inside the block, in a courtyard area rather than directly on Tyler St.

A spacious warehouse taproom and brewery with an industrial sort of feel: cinder block walls, iron beams, ventilation tubes, huge glass overhead garage doors. A small stage for music acts; when I was there, it was full of kids playing and running around. Brewery equipment was visible in the back of the building.

The place was half full when we arrived, but it got crowded and very noisy within an hour. The group I was with said that the place was "very Minneapolis." No food was available, but a food truck was parked outside, and the food truck staff was inside taking orders.

Bahaus focuses primarily on German styles. Seven beers were on tap: four regulars and three seasonals /specials, including a schwarzbier which was run through a Randall filled with coffee. Flights of the four regulars for $7; pints for $5; growlers for $16. Pours were not really the best. Beers were all good to very good -- and their pilsner is exceptional.

Bauhaus Brew Labs was selected as the 2014 RateBeer New Brewery of the Year for Minnesota. It is a definite must-visit when in Minneapolis.

Bauhaus Brew Labs Wonderstuff Neü Bohemian Pilsner  (Czech Pilsner – 5.4%)     4 out of 5.0
Sweetish pale malt nose with a lot of grassiness and moderate pleasant hops. Clear bright straw color. Clean and very smooth grassy initial; the hoping enters and intensifies slightly through mid palate and final. Thin-medium. Mild and very flavorful stuff. As clean as they come; one of the better pils made in the US.

Bauhaus Brew Labs Stargrazer Schwarzbier  (Schwarzbier – 5%)     3.3
Delicate roast malt nose, a touch of sweet chocolate. Thin translucent brown. Mild sweet roast initial, light brown sugar, some cola notes. Thin-medium body. Okay. Very mild-mannered stuff.11

Bauhaus Brew Labs Sky-Five Midwest Cöast IPA  (India Pale Ale – 6.7%)     3.6
Good caramel aroma, with light nose-tingling hops. Copper/amber color. Chewy malt, bittersweet notes in mid, smooth hopping. Very good balance. Medium body. Pleasant and not over-the-top.

Bauhaus Brew Labs Über Düber Hoppy Bock  (Heller Bock – 7%)     3.5
Fairly malty nose, with some farty yeast and hopping and cola. Copper amber, filmy head. Solid malty initial, good roast notes, and some yeast bite. Medium body. Nice and smooth. Very rich malt. Tasty, but they need to dial down the yeastiness.

Bauhaus Brew Labs Jingle Fever  (Baltic Porter – 8%)     3.7
Toasty malt nose, marshmallow and some spiciness. Dark brown color. A creamy thick tan head, which fell and formed changing star constellation shapes. Rich dark caramel maltiness, dark sugar, lactic notes, some soy sauce (umami), and very sweet dark fruit. Medium-heavy body. Very rich.

Bauhaus Brew Labs Coffee Stargrazer Schwarzbier  (Schwarzbier – 5%)     3.5
This is the regular Stargrazer run through a Randall filled with coffee from Spyhouse Coffee (located just around the corner). Very rich sweet coffee aroma, streamed with hops. Dark brown color, good tan lace. Light roast malt, dark sugar initial. The coffee slips in smoothly. Nice rounded malt/coffee finish. Medium body. Very interesting little variant. The coffee notes give it more body and a better mouthfeel than the regular Stargrazer.

1315 Tyler St NE
Minneapolis, Minnesota United States 55413
612 387 1407

Wed - Fri 3:00-11:00pm
Sat: 12:00-11:00pm

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Minneapolis, Spring 2015, Part 2: Surly Brewing Company

The new Surly Beer Hall is quite a different experience.

The old one, a reappointed former abrasives factory, was outside of the city, at the end of a dusty road. The taproom was fairly small, with low ceilings, painted cinder block walls, and a linoleum floor. It had all the appeal of a high school cafeteria. There were not really enough tables or places to sit, and many people lined up along the walls, which had narrow metal shelf-like counters.

The new location, which opened late last year in Prospect Park, near the University of Minnesota football stadium, is a large open space, with a modern clean industrial chic look. The big brewing area is visible at one end of the building, behind massive floor to ceiling windows.

I visited on a Friday at lunch time, and it was starting to fill up quickly and was already quite noisy. I was seated at a long table with a group that was finishing up.

14 taps were on. Most brews are priced at $3 for 8oz. and $5 for 16oz. glasses. No sampler sets available. Beers are all Surly house brews, regulars and seasonals (some available only here) and, of course, all good to very good.

Service was great, but the food menu is a bit overpriced. I had the Surly Burger and was not disappointed.

I recommend visiting during the daytime on weekdays, and most definitely avoiding week nights and week nights. I’ve heard that there is often a one- or even two-hour wait in the evenings. But it certainly is a must-stop for all beer geeks when in MSP.

Surly Doomtree  (Premium Bitter/ESB - 5.7%)     3.8 out of 5.0
Heavy caramel and roasty nose, resin, something moldy or overripe, and somehow it all balances well. Bright, dark copper color, thick off-white head, clumpy lace. Very chewy maltiness, nice mix of bittering hops, some dark fruit, and piney tracks in finish. Medium body. Very tasty. Bittering creeps in slowly in increments and doesn’t take over.

Surly Devil’s Work  (Porter – 6.7%)     3.6
Dark roast nose, with burnt pine, anise, and some molasses. Near black, thick tan head, sticky lace. Sweetish strained dark fruit, some spiciness, with a good, slightly heavy finish. Medium body. Fruit and spice emerge well but do not really develop much beyond that. Kind of a clean porter with a bit of good spice.

Surly Fiery Hell  (Dortmunder/Helles – 4.5%)     3.7
“Cask conditioned Helles Lager aged on Hickory wood and Puya Chilies.” Clean malty nose, rich, with some good pushes of fruitiness. Brilliant dark straw color, thin filmy head. Sweet light tropical fruit, and the peppery heat jumps in after a second or two. Fruit reemerges, and then there are long peppery tracks. Thin-medium body. Nicely fruity, and the heat is just right. On the edge of too hot. Interesting, how the chiles wait politely for the fruit to show off first.

Surly Witch’s Tower  (Brown Ale – 4.5%)     3.2
Roasty nose, herbal and medicinal. Very dark brown, thin tan head, good lace. Smooth dark roast initial, thinly spiced up with the cardamom, touches of dark fruits, including raisins, prunes. Thin, with a tiny astringency. Okay. Kind of understated, possibly intentionally.

Surly Mild  (Mild Ale – 4%)     3.4
Light chocolate nose. Dark translucent brown color, thin tan head, great lacing. Light chocolate initial, very pleasant, toasty sweetness. Basically just thin chocolate throughout the palate, without much development. Okay. Smooth and moderate all the way. "Mild" is an understatement.

Surly / Amager Todd - The Axe Man (Surly Version)  (India Pale Ale – 7.2%)    3.7
“…a one-off keg of the Amager/Surly Todd - The Axe Man, brewed at the Surly brewery…” Shots of citrus in the nose, dank with the Mosaic hopping, tropical fruit. Hazy straw color, finely-beaded 2cm. white head, good lace. Thin fruity initial, pale malts, nice blend of hops, a bit of alcohol warmth, and a good, balanced finish. Medium body, and very smooth. Nice development of the fruit flavors, a touch rude in spots. Very good -- but Surly’s regular IPA, Furious, is better.

520 Malcolm Avenue SE
Minneapolis, Minnesota United States 55414
763 535 3330

Sun-Thu: 11am-11pm
Fri- Sat: 11am-12am

Minneapolis, Spring 2015, Part 1: Fair State Brewing Cooperative

Since (or perhaps even before) opening in September last year, Fair State Brewing Cooperative has been getting a lot of buzz from Minneapolis beer geeks. Certainly, the progressive co-op model is somewhat rare among breweries and offers some cachet, but it’s the beer made here that has locals crowing.

We visited just around opening time on a Friday afternoon. A long narrow room, with high ceilings that give it an open feel, and a sort of a clean, bare bones, and understated décor of scrubbed bricks and an old wooden floor. A large section of one wall is filled with large photos of the many co-op owners (who will get a hand in the brewing process); on the other side, there is a space for darts and also a selection of board games. There are bar seats for around 15 people; tables and long benches for maybe 40-50.

A very cool set of three electronic tap list menu boards sit above the bar, offering rotating descriptions of the beers on tap, as well as upcoming events and even Twitter feeds. 

Weirdly, there was classic rock, soul, and disco on the sound system; this seemed out of character for the place. Ten taps going, and a good variety of styles were represented. Half-pints for $3; pints for $5. No sampler sets available, unfortunately.

To be honest, I find the coop/crowd source brewing plan a bit worrisome. I’m not sure if it really means that all members will be able to influence the brewing, but it does not seem like the way you want to have your beer made -- the brewing design and production should probably be left to the experts.  However, I recently read an interview with the head brewer, in which he said that it would be limited to one brew twice a year or perhaps quarterly.

Fair State India Pale Ale (IPA - 6.4%)     3.4 out of 5.0
Mildly dank hop nose, citrus/pine mix. Light medium straw color, some lace. Chewy malt initial, good hop blend emerges, and it goes to balance slowly, with some good hop tracks in the finish. Medium-heavy body. A clean, flavorful, and fairly well-mannered IPA.

Fair State LÄCTOBÄC: One (Sour/Wild Ale - 5.9%)     3.3
A sourish floral aroma, crushed weeds, cat piss, and some nutty notes. Hazy light straw color with good lace. Very small sour initial flavor, apples, yogurt. Thin body, with a tiny bit of astringency. Not too bad, but rather thin and understated.

Fair State The Winkelman (Imperial/Double IPA - 8.4%)     3.4
A decent grapefruit nose, in front of the caramel base. Light hazy peachy straw color. Tangy initial, moderate bittering, rough ripe dates. Lightly vegetal in mid palate. Moderate hop tracks in the finish. Medium body. Nice enough. Doesn’t really bomb off in any one direction. It seems less of an imperial than a simple regular IPA.

Fair State Vienna  (Amber Lager/Vienna 5.2%)     3.5
Creamy malt nose, light roast, and some mild grassiness. Clear copper/straw color. Solid malty initial, rich caramel, a bit fizzy. Medium body. Well-balanced and well-constructed Vienna.

2506A Central Ave NE
Minneapolis, Minnesota United States 55418
612 444 3209

M/W/Th: 4-11pm
Fri: 4-Midnight
Sat: Noon-Midnight
Sun: Noon-9pm