Monday, October 19, 2015

京都醸造株式会社試飲スペースオープンの日 / Kyoto Brewing Company Tasting Room Opens

Kyoto Brewing Company, one of the newest craft breweries in Japan, has been getting rave reviews since it began operation earlier in the year. Their first brews have been available at beer festivals and tap takeover events since spring, and they are increasingly appearing on bar taplists throughout the nation.

Their on-site tasting room opened for business on the weekend of October 10-11, finally making their brews available locally on a regular basis.


The room, clean and minimal in design, is a standing-only space with small wooden bar shelves along the walls. Wooden lattice work adorning one wall and part of the ceiling features the company's logo. A large window along two walls gives a view of the brewing area.

Six beers were on tap, including a new fresh-hop debut beer (Yosano no Chosen).

Outside, plastic crates were set up for seating. A small stand from Kyoto's Shinrin Shokudo offered tasty curries. 

Chris Hainge, the lead brewer, also gave brewery tours to interested patrons.

The taproom offers a limited amount of branded merchandise, including T-shirts, German-made glassware, and bottle openers.

Located about five blocks from Kintetsu Jujo Station, the tasting room is currently open on weekends from 1pm to 6pm. Check their Facebook page for updates on beer releases.

25-1 Takatomi-cho, Nishikujo,
Minami-ku, Kyoto 601-8446

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.