Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Craft Beer in Japan: The Essential Guide" by Mark Meli / 日本のクラフトビール:エッセンシャルガイド by マークメリ

A few years ago, I went to the large Kinokuniya bookstore in Umeda to see what sorts of books they had on Japanese beer. After some time searching among the many works on sake, whiskey, wine, shochu, and cocktails, I managed to find only one slim volume about beer.

There are now a number of books written about Japanese craft beer, but until recently none in English. That changed last month with the publication of Mark Meli's Craft Beer in Japan: The Essential Guide. Mark spent five years traveling the length of the archipelago, visiting breweries and pubs, talking with brewers and fellow beer geeks, and, yes, sampling all the brews that came his way. (Full disclosure: I've known Mark for several years and I'm proud to have joined him many a time in his arduous and bibulous research work.)

The book is packed with information on Japanese craft breweries, brewpubs, bars, bottle shops, and beer festivals. In addition, it has several essays on the development of beer culture in Japan. It's no exaggeration to say that he probably knows the craft beer scene in Japan better than anyone.

The book is now available in a Kindle version through Amazon.com. Paper editions are currently sold through the Japan Beer Times website.

Several book-signing parties are in the works. You'll be able to meet Mark and purchase the book on site. The first of these will take place at Tadg's in Kyoto on September 18. Tokyo and Yokohama (and possibly other locations) will likely follow soon.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Summer 2013 Part Four (Three More in OR)

Earlier in August I drove out to Hood River, hoping to get to two or even three breweries. However, the first place I stopped at was...

Double Mountain Brewery and Taproom
Set in a multi-room restaurant and bar, with seating for maybe 120 people at tables inside and a few outside. The ceiling is high, with large open-beam construction. It seemed a bit dark on this a sunny day. The brewery area was visible through large glass doors & windows. Rock and country rock from the 60s & 70s played low on the sound system. It was fairly crowded for an early Thursday mid-summer afternoon, with a wide variety of customers: young and old, and families with young kids playing around the tables. Overall, the atmosphere is very friendly and loose. Most of the beers are hop heavy west coast styles (which they do well), along with some more experimental brews (not as well). I had a tasty sandwich, though pizzas are really the main thing here. Taster trays had five beers with variable pricing (regulars for $1.75 per glass, and seasonals or specials from $2.75 to $3.50 per glass). A bit pricey. It's right across the street from Full Sail, which I intended to visit -- but then I decided that ten samplers at Double Mountain was good enough for one day
On the way into Bend from Portland, in the small town of Sisters, is...
Three Creeks Brewery
It's in a large log cabin style building, divided into a main sit-down restaurant area and a restaurant/bar area. This seems to be part of a larger resort, with many snazzy cabins scattered among the large pine trees. We sat in the restaurant/bar area, which had seating for maybe 60-70 people. It was rather noisy, with several sports TV channels going as well as loud country music on the sound system. The brew system and fermenters were visible at one end. The atmosphere was quite friendly and relaxed and the service good. Sampler sets of their six regular beers were $9 for six 4oz. glasses. Three seasonal beers were also available. Unfortunately, the food is probably better than the beer. All the brews are decent and competently made, yet somehow unexciting.
Finally, one more place we visited in Bend was...
Bend Brewing Company
This is in a fairly nondescript building along the river, with sort of staid, faux granite cinder block walls. It was not at all busy on an early Sunday afternoon. The crowd seemed decidedly older than at most other places in town. Three sports TVs on three different walls and "Dad Rock" (Aerosmith and Springsteen) on the sound system. Sampler sets: 10 5-0z. glasses for $18. The beers were mostly unexceptional -- fairly regular range of styles and none of them pushing too far. The service was good at first, but then the server kept coming back every 15 minutes to ask about our food order, even though we said we’d come only for the beer. As we got ready to leave she made a sotto voce rude comment. If you’re getting stamps in your Bend Ale Trail passport, then you need to visit this place. Otherwise, there are much better places to go in Bend.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

World Craft Beer Tasting 2013 / 世界のクラフトビールテイスティング2013

What if they held a beer festival and (almost) no one came?

Well, we (almost) found out at the second iteration of the World Craft Beer Tasting, which took place on a hot, sunny weekend (September 21 and 22). Perhaps the heat kept people home or maybe the three-day weekend allowed Osakans to escape the city, but it really was rather lightly attended. Anyway, the upside was that there were never any crowds at the taps, and it was a cinch to sample a wide range of beers.



Last year's event was much smaller in scale and was held in a little neighborhood park near Umeda. This year, the organizers, Craft Beer Base, moved it to the Minato Riverplace next to the Namba Hatch building and doubled or even tripled the number of offerings.

A whopping 19 U.S. breweries were represented, along with nine from Japan, five from Belgium, four from Germany, and two from the UK. But only about half (or less) of the total beer list was on tap. Due to the low turnout, most kegs were not emptied until quite late in the day, and it was not possible to sample some of the more intriguing brews on the list.

A certain amount of disorganization was evident for much of the day. Many of the event volunteers did not know much about the beer. One poor fellow accidently knocked the tap off a keg, and he froze while maybe half the beer spouted up to the top of the tent. Event souvenir glasses were available somewhere but I got three different answers about where they could be purchased -- and each turned out wrong. Finally, tickets had been available in advance only (and, strangely, in books of ¥400 and ¥100 tickets when nearly all beers cost ¥500) -- but every vendor was accepting cash. Growing pains, perhaps, and these were really minor inconveniences.

Anyway, the beers that were on provided a very considerable selection. Some highlights were the following:

Stone Levitation Ale
Subtle nose of rich buttery maltiness. Dark brown with good lace. Hoppy initial -- a sort of overripe citrus fruit / malt takes over, and a very slight metallic note appears. Light body. Sort of a light hop tea thing, very tasty and pleasant.

High Water Hop Riot IPA
Huge, stinky, near manure aroma, with caramel and peach. Big caramel in initial / the hops go into warp speed in mid / big grapefruity tones in finish. Truly West Coast stuff.

Lagunitas Maximus
A spectacular nose: deep citrus & dark pine, some fresh meat and umami notes, too. Near perfect blanace in initial / mid palate takes it up a notch, with a lovely mix of peach, orange, and tropical fruit / finish fills the mouth with hop bitterness. Mmmm!

Saison Dupont Cuvée Dry Hopping
Big fruity, tangerine aroma. Very pretty deep yellow color with a full white head. Strong lemony flavors, with back-end hop touches and a sourish edge. Quite dry. Not sure what the dry hopping added. Very good, though the regular Saison Dupont is better,

Baird Under the Blue Sky
This was a collaboration beer (w/ Tani Ai of Craft Beer Base) made by Baird Brewing for the WCBT event. Very light aroma with touches of grapefruit and peaches. Somewhat hop- happy initial, well-balanced in mid palate, and light hop tinges in final. Creamy and quite fruity. Light, tasty, and very drinkable