Brews News #68
Brews News #68 - June 2006
All articles by Bryan Harrell unless noted.
June 12 -- Something Delicious in Denmark
Cafe Daisy, a Danish restaurant in Nogizaka, will be holding a Belgian beer tasting party at 7 pm on Monday, June 12, followed by a wide-screen broadcast of Japan's first match in the World Cup at 10 pm. The beer tasting will introduce seven Belgian brews - Duvel, Leffe Blonde, Belle Vue Kriek, Orval, Duchesse de Bourgogne and Hoegaarden White and Forbidden Fruit - accompanied by a buffet of Scandinavian food. The price is only Y4,000 per person. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a place - seats are limited. Cafe Daisy is a short walk from Nogizaka and Roppongi stations at 7-3-22 Roppongi; 03-5411-0253. www.cafedaisy.com
June 14 - Belgian Beer Dinner at Bois Cereste
This monthly event features a light dinner with several courses, each paired with an interesting Belgian ale. The theme this month is delicious Belgian beers for summer, so presumably this means the lighter side of Belgian beer, which means normal strength stuff, sort of. Starts at 7 pm, cost is Y7,500 per person. Please reserve by June 12th. Bois Cereste, 2-13-21 Akasaka B1, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-3588-6292.
June 18 - Style Selection Festival at Popeye
The first Style Selection Festival will be held this month at Beer Club Popeye. This festival will highlight a single style of beer, with selections from ten different breweries. The event is coordinated by Popeye owner Mr. Aoki and Toshi Ishii, brewmaster of Yo-Ho Brewing (Yona Yona) with the intention of making it an annual event. This event's pale ales are from the following breweries:
Brewers from most of the breweries are expected to be on hand to answer your questions. The event starts at 3 pm and runs to 6 pm. Admission is 1,000 yen, which includes two 1/4 pint tasting tickets; additional tickets are 300 yen. Make your reservation ASAP (a small number of spaces have been set aside for Brews News readers). Phone or visit Beer Club Popeye and ask for Miyazaki-san or Aoki-san, and tell them Bryan Harrell sent you; 03-3633-2120. www.40beersontap.com (information submitted by Toshi Ishii)
Colorful Belgian Beer Spot in Ginza
Imagine a Belgian beer bar less than two minutes from the main Ginza intersection, with an intimate setting for less than 20 people, and operated by a pretty young woman who claims the owner is a cute poodle named Golgo who hangs around the place. If you can, you'd probably imagine that it would be one of Tokyo's most expensive Belgian beer bars. The prepare to be surprised when you go to Roy G. Biv, where you'll find a menu of some 25 Belgian ales, priced from Y800 and up.
There's also a menu of light beer snacks, which include owner Asako Hamasaki's delicious handmade "kuro-buta" gyoza. Not only is this lovely little spot less expensive than the more crowded Favori several large blocks away, it is also full-service, meaning you won't have to pull a beer out of the refrigerator yourself. The great location is reason enough to make it one of your regular beer spots.
Roy G. Biv
Ginza Bldg. 3F, 5-6-14 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Open from 5 pm to 2 am (to midnight on Saturdays); Closed Sundays and holidays
Ma-ru - an out-of-the-way oasis of great food and Belgian beer
Admittedly, for most readers, Ma-ru is really out of the way. The closest station is Kotake Mukaihara on the Yurakucho subway line, four stops outbound from Ikebukuro. Then it's a 12-minute walk from the station, with enough angled streets to make it easy to get lost. But just a few minutes into my first visit, I was certain that it was worth the long trip.
I'd heard that because of the location the beer prices were lower, but when encountering the Y500 "otoshi" (seat charge) I was a bit surprised. However, I was even more surprised to see what that Y500 brings: a mini-meal of four different appetizers, whipped up on a whim with the day's fresh ingredients by owner Mari Iwase, who obviously loves good food and takes a free approach with ingredients and food styles.
Nutty fresh takenoko (bamboo shoots) in a Caesar salad shot through with Parmesan cheese? Well, it certainly worked for me. Speaking of Parmesan, it's also a key ingredient in the tremendous Parmesan Cheese Risotto, Y860. I asked for more. Bread containing hijiki seaweed and baked with beer yeast? You'll ask for more, too.
With a culinary career that spans the operation of a ramen cart and stints in Asian, French, Italian and Japanese restaurants, as well as a stint as a chef in a wine bar, Mari obviously loves her customers because she feeds them so well with a rainbow menu highlighting various European and Asian cuisines. Oh, and did I tell you that Belgian beer is cheaper here? Hoegaarden White on draft is always Y600, and Orval is just Y1,000, for starters. Ma-ru is a place for those who love good food, and for those who love Belgian beer. If you love both, Ma-ru shouldn't be missed.
2-14-8 Komone, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo
Open from 6 pm to midnight;
More details at http://machi.goo.ne.jp/03-5966-1086
Photos at http://machi.goo.ne.jp/gold/etc/pictroom.asp?ipid=289392
THE BAR HUNTER: Osaka Beer Bars
By Glenn Scoggins
Beyond question, Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku, Tokyo is the epicenter of the Japanese craft beer movement. No less an authority than Michael Jackson has christened this cozy Ryogoku pub (on a photo with owner Aoki-san) as "Popeye, the pub - that is, Popeye, THE pub." Makes you think, doesn't it? [Wasn't that 'makes you drink'? - ed.]
I love Popeye and, like hundreds of others, consider it my "local" even if it's a bit of hike - 70 minutes from my door to Aoki's door, which is easy compared to the dedicated regulars who come from Fukushima and Nagano for their weekly beer fix. But when one bar in Tokyo provides such a comprehensive array of flavorful beers, interesting special events, and leadership in the craft beer movement, what reason is there to look elsewhere? Where else in Tokyo or its environs can one find an alternative, should the mood arise?
Unlike the situation just a few years ago, we can now find good craft beer and esoteric Belgians at a number of atmospheric pubs: La Cachette, Ushi-Tora, Kura Kura, Pangaea, Holic, and Copa all spring to mind. But there's no place else in the greater Tokyo/Yokohama area to rival Popeye.
Osaka is a different story. A remarkable collection of interesting locations jostle for the attention of the serious beer drinker, similar only in their dedication to good beer. Before a recent trip west, I consulted the back issues of Fujiwara Hiroyuki's invaluable "The Beer & Pub" magazine for suggestions and then asked the encyclopedic Ishida Toshihiro of Popeye for leads.
Ishida-san was direct and to-the-point: "All the good places start with the letter B," he told me. "Stick with Beer Belly, Barley, Barrel, and Beer & Bear, and you can't go wrong. Oh, and Masamichi, too!" he added, rather ruining the pattern. [If one doesn't count the fact they specialize in Belgian beers -ed.] A mere weekend was not enough to visit them all (especially since most are closed on Sundays), but I scratched the surface, and I will leave it to the readers of Brews News to continue the quest and report on the rest.
Beer Belly has been one of the favorite hangouts of adventurous Kansai drinkers, foreign and Japanese alike. A cozy pub with space for eight at the bar and a few small back rooms, it was a welcome respite from a late-winter rainstorm. Bartender Yahata Yasunari was glad to show me around and tell me about the beers, a short but reputable list of the best names in the business, including Baird, Yona Yona and the local favorite, Minoo AJI.
The Oshita sisters run the brewery in suburban Minoo (tours available) founded by their father as an extension of the family liquor store. They also own Beer Belly where, amidst a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, they serve their regular Weizen, Pale Ale, Stout, Shin'yu Lager and malty Koi dark beer, along with the excellent Mild Stout Real Ale that you may have enjoyed at the 2006 Real Ale Festival.
Osaka is Japan's biggest small town, and everyone seems to know everyone else: if the paintings on the wall look familiar, that's because they're by illustrator and beer writer Fujiwara Hiroyuki who, incidentally, he used to be the art teacher at Yahata-san's school. It didn't take me long to understand why Beer Belly is so well-loved. Read Tim Eustace's Dec. 2004 report on Beer Belly at http://www.bento.com/brews54.html#barbeat .
Next up is Beer & Bear, which has to be seen to be believed: a ramshackle closet at the end of a tiny alley, crammed to the gills with stuffed bears. Oh, and they also have beer: Taiko Ale from Toyama, Minoo AJI and a good selection of small kegs of British ale, which arrive twice a week and tend to sell out quickly. Mr. and Mrs. Hata, who resemble a pair of absent-minded hobbits, run the bar like an extension of their home, with a pot of Thai, Vietnamese, or Okinawan food always simmering on the stove. For more impressions of this unique establishment, see my June 2004 report at http://www.bento.com/brews50.html#barbeat .
What about the other B's? Departing from my usual practice, I will pass on the recommendations of current and former Kansai residents for places that I haven't yet had the chance to check out.
Barrel focuses on Belgian beers, with the company operating it recently introducing Leffe Bruin on tap to the thirsty drinkers of Japan, and going as far as to open Antwerp Central in Marunouchi, Tokyo. Barrel was the first outpost on these shores of a worldwide network of Belgian bars, and those in need of the complete package will find mussels and frites galore.
Barley is technically not in Osaka at all, but in suburban Nishinomiya, only half an hour away by fast Hankyu train. Barley is a local favorite much praised by drinkers in the greater Kobe area. Yona Yona and Hoegaarden are always on tap, along with a third guest beer. Most of the bottled beers are Belgian, but there's also a good assortment of German and British brands, along with Baird and Hitachino Nest, not to mention the food menu notable for its three-digit prices.
Masamichi is the pick of many discerning lovers of good beer, for its elegant cuisine and warm atmosphere as much as for the variety of its liquid assets, which include Baird and Yona Yona ales along with top Japanese and world brands, and over 140 types of shochu. Host of the recent Osaka Real Ale Festival, Masamichi has taken the lead in organizing events for the Kansai region and seems to be Osaka's closest equivalent to Tokyo's Beer Club Popeye. Osaka's native Naniwakko are renowned for their passion for fine food - "Kuidaore" (Eat 'til you drop) is a way of life, not a medical advisory - and Masamichi satisfies human needs for good food, drink, and companionship. Tim Eustace's comprehensive review of Masamichi, from which I have shamelessly stolen much of the information contained herein, is at http://www.bento.com/kansai/rev/8173.html.
Loreley is yet another place recommended for beer and food of the German variety. This eccentric restaurant is operated by long-term Osaka resident Rolf Kuchman of Germany. A doppelganger for Colonel Sanders, Kuchman is well-known for his pub's hearty Teutonic food, German beers ranging from Dom Kolsch and Veltins Pilsner to smoky Schlenkerla Rauchbier, and hospitality -- within limits. Located in a business district, Loreley must have the shortest hours of any in the city. Once in a while it's nice to have an early night and get home early to the family, but in Loreley's case, Herr Kuchman will guarantee it.
The legendary joie de vivre of the "Manchester of the Orient" aside, Osaka has quite a number of bars and restaurants that are closed on Sunday, essentially cutting a weekend in half. An exception is Grand Dolphins, one of several related Osaka bars specializing in Belgian beer. A sophisticated atmosphere and tasteful decor complement the wide selection of styles and brands, all with appropriate glassware (and typically extravagant prices). The staff are knowledgeable and friendly, and there appears to be a cohort of dedicated regulars. The other Dolphins locations are also worth a visit, according to my informants, and one of them is also open on Sunday.
While many Brew News readers in Tokyo may be satisfied to stay close to home, there are plenty of drinking opportunities for those who stretch their legs. Osaka is an exciting city packed with friendly people with strong opinions about food and drink, resulting in a healthy variety of interesting bars. It's less than three hours away, so what are you waiting for?
1F Osaka River Building, 1-1-30 Tosa-bori, Nishi-ku, Osaka
Monday - Saturday, 5:00 pm to midnight
Nearest subway station: Higo-bashi
Beer & Bear
3-4-9 Hakuro-cho, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Monday - Friday, 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 5:30pm to midnight; Saturday, 4:00 pm to 11:00 pm, and Sunday, 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Nearest subway stations: Shinsai-bashi and Honmachi
1F Sumitomo No. 2 Building, 4-7-28 Kitahama, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Monday - Friday, 11:30 am to midnight; Saturday, 5:00 pm to midnight
Nearest subway station: Kitahama
2F Liberty II Building, 1-15 Nagata-cho, Nishinomiya-shi, Hyogo
Wednesday - Monday, 1:00 pm to midnight
Nearest train station: Hankyu Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi
1F Shinko Building, 1-1-15 Higashi-Obase, Higashinari-ku, Osaka
Monday - Saturday, 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm
Nearest JR station: Tamatsukuri
B1F Kintetsu Dojima Building, 2-2-2 Dojima, Kita-ku, Osaka
Monday - Friday, 6:00 pm to 10:30 pm; Saturday, 6:00 pm to 9:30 pm
Nearest JR station: Kita-Shinchi
1F Aube Nate Building, 1-8-1 Higashi-Shinsai-bashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Tuesday - Friday, 4:00 pm to 1:00 am; Saturday, 2:00 pm to 1:00 am; Sunday, 2:00 pm to midnight
Nearest subway station: Shinsai-bashi
Six Recently Arrived Belgians
The best of recently arrived Belgian beers at a tasting held this spring at Bois Cereste. Sorry for the abbreviated descriptions; it was hard work evaluating some 40 beers in the space of an hour. (No 'space' jokes, please.) These were my favorite six.
Ichtegem's Oud Bruin Lovely red ochre color, sweet and vinuous, wood tannins present but overpowered by malty sweetness. Retail Y390/250ml.
Malheur 12 Deep red, sweet bready aroma, deep rich malt flavors that suggest brandy-soaked fruitcake, but perhaps a bit more simple than it should be for this type of attempt. Retail Y470/250 ml.
Malheur Cuvee Royale Awesome. Bright yellow, sharp hop notes in the elegant and complex flavor, with hints of spice in the background. Retail Y2,800/750 ml.
Dupont Avec les Bons Voeux Cloudy yellow, good hop opening note, complex yet crisply dry with easy drinkability. Similar to other premium "Champagne look" high-end Belgian ales, but at a surprisingly low price, making it a good value. Retail Y1,070/750 ml.
Keyte Cloudy pale yellow, with strong hop backbone that is slightly edged out by sharp sweetness. Retail Y480/250 ml
Wittgoen Tripel Lovely amber color, and restrained sweetness to make this drinkable and, what?, a session Tripel? Retail Y480/330 ml.
Guess This Beer! This is a new Japanese beer from one of the Big Four. Bright pale yellow with a snow-white fluffy head. Faint aroma, good full hoppy flavor with some tartness present, which overwhelms the thin and light malt body. It's sort of a cross between Sapporo Edel Pils and Asahi Super Dry. Care to guess? Send your answer to brewsnews-at-yahoo-dot-com
Last month's "Guess This Beer" was ordinary Bass Pale Ale in the can. There was only one guess from a reader, who thought it was Guinness Bitter, which was an excellent guess since both are very similar in flavor and appearance.
Beer and Loathing at the Japan Beer Festival
Yebisu Garden Place / May 6, 2006
"Well, the most popular beer in America is Coors, isn't it?"
I was incredulous. Obviously, this guy knew nothing about the U.S. beer scene. But he was at the beer festival in Ebisu on a Saturday afternoon, and I felt obliged to correct him, explaining to him (in Japanese) that Budweiser had the largest share in the U.S. beer market, followed by Miller, and so on.
He drew a blank look, and his lady friend also had a blank look on her face when she mustered a reply: "Oh, your Japanese is good." After a few seconds, the guy started up again "But America doesn't have all these small craft breweries like Japan does. I mean, American beer is all watery and..."
What planet did this jerk come from? And why did he insist on talking about something he knew absolutely nothing about? I hated to admit it, but hell or high water or just plain facts were not going to get in the way of his single-minded desire to Practice English With A Foreigner. While I've often said that the best way for resident foreigners to get to know Japanese people is through a common interest, this jerkola was doing everything he could to make me rethink that idea.
I'd just arrived at the beer festival, an hour after doors opened (to avoid the initial rush) and, looking at the unbelievably long lines, realized that I was wasting precious time that needed to be wasted waiting in a 20-minute line for two gulps of beer. When the jerk started up again, I looked him square in the eye, and said "I don't think we have much to talk about," then turned and walked away.
I was just 15 minutes into the festival, and already in a bad mood, and yet another 15 minutes away from my first taste of beer. By the time that happened, the overcrowding had become intense. I encountered one friend who was heading for the exit saying he couldn't take it anymore. I encouraged him to complain loudly to the people in charge as he left.
Around four, the crowds seemed to ease, and it became less of an ordeal to get beer. At many taps, there wasn't any wait. And, yes, there was plenty of beer, but not all of it to my liking. Food? Ha! The same horrible waits as in years past encouraged me to show up after eating a full meal, so I was spared the trauma of too much beer on an empty stomach. But I did feel sorry for those who'd planned to enjoy sausages or whatnot with their beer, only to spend more time in line waiting to buy it.
I ended up staying until closing time and, as always, was faced with the decision of which group of friends to head off with. It was then I realized that I attend these events mostly to socialize. For Tokyo, it's the Good Beer Matsuri, and it was fun to see lots of Brews News readers, drink beer together, and talk about beer. What keeps me attending, year after year, are all my friends who share my taste for good beer.
In the weeks after the event, I asked people what they thought of the event and how it was managed. Most people were highly critical, and among those on the other side of the counters, the brewers, volunteers and other people in the craft beer biz, the variety of disappointing stories all seemed to lead to one place: Mr. Ryouji Oda, founder and organizer of these festivals, and two of the organizations he leads, the Japan Craft Beer Association and what is billed as a sister organization, the Beer Taster Non Profit Organization.
One representative of a brewing company told me that everything the organizer does and has done about this event are kept secret from the public, the volunteers and even the participating breweries. By his calculations, he believes that Mr. Oda pockets between five and six million yen after expenses. He also said he believes that attendance over the two days was about 4,000 people; 2,300 on Saturday and 1,700 on Sunday. However, by phone Mr. Oda told me attendance was about 5,000 people (2,800 on Saturday, 2,200 on Sunday) but said that exact figures would not be released. A news report accessed on the Internet had the figure at 6,000 people. While estimates vary wildly, Mr. Oda and his organization are not releasing the actual figures, which one would assume they know.
For your information, according to the Web site of the company that runs the Yebisu Garden Hall, the basic one-day rental fee for the hall is 1.26 million yen, not including options such as air conditioning and equipment. I phoned the company's offices and was told kindly and promptly that the hall's maximum capacity, according to fire department regulations, is 1,500 people. Whoops.
To Oda's credit, to be fair, brewers no longer have to pay for their booth space, a practice that was eliminated from the 2005 event. Before that, brewers had to pay for their space and give away free beer as well. Now, brewers are paid for their beer on a scale that ranges from 222 yen/liter (essentially the tax they have to pay on the beer they produce) to as much as 700 yen a liter - up to a point, and that point is 70 liters.
However, here's the rub. The brewer's representative I talked to said that the problem is that 70 liters is way too little for such a festival, and that his brewery has to have between 250 and 350 liters to avoid running out over the two days of the event. Thus, the majority of beer served is provided free of charge by the breweries who want to make sure attendees have a chance to try their beer. Moreover, my source tells me that 20,000 yen gift was secretly given to each participating brewing company, and suggests that perhaps this is intended as "hush" money to keep brewing companies from talking to the press.
Another beer industry professional who has long participated in these festivals tells me that Mr. Oda does not always honor promises to compensate brewers for beer supplied to the festival, but will often pay when pressed.
Yet another beer industry professional wrote me to say that his firm stopped participating in the festival "a couple years ago because it was so poorly managed - no place to sit, almost no food, tiny beer portions, lame music, crowds, hot, indoors, etc." He added, "Pretty much anything that the JCBA does seems to suck. As a frequent exhibitor in years past at this and other JCBA events I can tell you that it's always first and foremost about making money for the JCBA."
Obviously, there is much more to be uncovered about the operation of this event. Many beer industry people and enthusiasts alike are planning to boycott next year's festival. And, there are rumors that some industry people are planning a "better festival" from the viewpoint of the consumer, to be held some time in September. Look for details of this event in the next issue of Brews News.
-- Bryan Harrell
Here are solicited comments from a number of Brews News readers who attended the event.
### I only have a few points to make:
* The crowd on the Saturday was definitely too big by perhaps 15%. It wasn't that you always had to wait too long to be served (though in some cases that was true, particularly so for food), but basically the space was just overcrowded.
* I wonder if Sunday was as bad, and thus wonder if they should look at selling tickets separately for each of the two days with clear limits on the number to be sold per day.
* The number of foreigners attending the event is disproportionately large. The organizers really MUST make an effort to at least provide an English version of the program. Bilingual signs for the beers is probably too much to ask, but at least make a program available in English. I actually get by OK with the Japanese, but I do miss some things and am a bit slow at reading. There are many with worse Japanese skills than mine.
* The food was typically inadequate.
* Other than these points, the range of beer was again very good, the service mostly very efficient, and the standard of beers seems to have been a little better across the board (which has little to do with the organizers).
### Haha...people come to Tokyo and then bitch about crowds? :-) Yeah, there were a bunch of people, but not enough to ruin the fun. Mostly I just hung out in the back near the stronger beers and cask ales, and hit the Hakusekekikan Hurricane over and over to the ever-increasing frustration of the guy pouring it who gave me less and less every time.
### I was planning to go to the beer festival but was too exhausted after the party on Saturday. I guess it's a good thing I didn't. I'm curious to hear what happened. That thing has always struck me (in years past) is that it is more in the interest of the organizers and not really for the brewers who seem to really have to pay through the nose to participate. It's too bad they don't have a real nonprofit industry organization to represent and promote them.
### This year's GJBF in Tokyo was perhaps the busiest ever. On Saturday May 6, an amazing 2300 people packed into the Garden Hall to sample what was advertised as 100 beers. The line-up to get in was insane and organizers need to figure out a way to discourage people from lining up so early. By the time we arrived at 1:45pm (a full 45 minutes before the festival started), there were well over 500 people in front of us. The guy at the front of the line arrived at 10:30am, a full four hours prior to opening. Organizers at least had the sense to open the doors early at 2 pm, probably due to the ridiculous length of the line (at that time likely about 750 people). Inside the festival it was sheer madness with the large number of people and it was difficult to move. Lines to get beers were up to 5 minutes long, however, given the large number of people it wasn't too bad.
I was disappointed however that some beers ran out within two hours of opening. Moreover, I don't know why Nagu Kogen brings its Nine Tailed Fox to the festival as quantities only last for a couple of minutes after opening. Someone also had the myopic idea to only serve Sankt Gallen's Imperial Chocolate Stout from 5pm. The highly regarded beer (and rightly so) caused a massive line-up, where I waited 40 minutes to get a sample, only to have the beer run out before my turn (On Sunday it was served from the beginning of the day with little fanfare).
Other oddities included many beers being sold on draft and in bottles in two different booths. This gave the impression there were more beers than in reality. This might be why no beer list was available on the JCBA website as it may have shown there were actually less than 100 beers being served at the festival.
Other disappointing aspects were a lack of support materials from breweries. Unless the breweries had representatives at the festival, no pamphlets were available. I watched at least two people ask for more information about Onuma brewery after trying its IPA and volunteers couldn't do anything. How is this promoting craft beer?
Given the size of the crowd however, things generally seemed to run fairly well. And this year tables were available on which to put your drink down, which was nice. Some of the surprises for me included the high quality of Ozeno Yukidoke beers, especially barley wine called Heavy Heavy (though amusingly enough called 'Heary Heary' on the beer list). I was also really impressed with Sankt Gallen's cask conditioned Pale Ale, which was probably the best cask conditioned beer I have ever tried in Japan, and hope more casks from Sankt Gallen will appear in the future. I sampled it side-by-side with its regular Pale Ale, which isn't too bad, and there was no comparison.
On Sunday the festival was a bit less hectic, but oddly the atmosphere seemed more subdued and not quite as fun as Saturday. Overall the festival was a good time and I would recommend it to anyone not afraid of crowds. However, I would like to see things more organized and I would like to see some more interesting beers as it seems to be the same beers year after year.
My take on the festival that is that it was OK, and the cost was reasonable. However, it is, year after year, the most poorly organized beer event in Japan from the consumer perspective, by far. Beyond the fact that there were indeed too many people, there were numerous other shortcomings. The biggest problem was that the serving booths were poorly labeled. More than once I got in a line for a specific beer, based on the signs on the wall, only to reach the front and be told that it was being poured 2 lines down.
Also, they don't seem to have learned anything from years past. The single food line is always a joke, there are not enough places to sit down your beer glass, let alone yourself, and the small sample glasses are pretty useless once you find a beer or two you like and want to actually drink some. They have also obviously outgrown the current venue and need to consider a larger space, preferably outdoors. Not sure I would go next year without any changes taking place.
### This year's GJBF was roughly similar to previous years in the quantity and quality of the beers available. I was lucky enough to go on Sunday, and everyone I met who'd been there the previous day reminded me just how lucky I was, as Saturday seems to have been hellishly crowded, with long lines and no chance to enjoy the day. Toshi Ishii of Yona Yona said there were 2300 people on Saturday (not quite the 10,000 mentioned by Metropolis), but the Sunday crowd was far more manageable. Having been there on a similarly crowded day two years ago, I can imagine how unpleasant it must have been.
Tim Eustace and the BEERS crowd staked out a table in the lobby area, and I enjoyed hanging out there with like-minded drunkards in between forays back into the hall for more beer. Koba-san of Pangaea set up shop in the lobby as well, with some interesting English ales. The volunteers were dedicated as usual (special kudos to Matsuo-san and her coterie of French maids), but evidently they received little but thanks, not even a bento lunch for a ten-hour day, which hardly seems fair.
The cavalier attitude of the suits that run the JCBA is so mercenary that Aoki-san of Popeye plans to organize his own festival in September in disgust. One more note: While I don't smoke, I think it's nonsense to require those who do to walk five minutes away at Ebisu Garden Place for a cigarette break. Why not just let them use the balcony area? All in all, it was worth my Y3500, thanks to going on the slower of the two days.
### My comments on the festival
1) The first two hours or so were perceptibly more crowded than last year. Although I don't think I spent any more time lining up for beer than I did in 2005, I found the hall overcrowded. It was physically uncomfortable and also difficult to move around.
2) There was less space actually in use this year than there was last year. The two significant spaces that went unused this year were a) the large outdoor terrace off the lobby, and b) the upstairs space overlooking the lobby, which last year was used as a smokers' retreat. So even given the same level of attendance, all those people were packed into less space.
Schoolboy physics has something to say here about pressure, energy and heat. The only recourse for people who found even the lobby to be crowded (and there were long lines for food early on) was to go downstairs and outside. In 2005 the smokers upstairs created enough of a ceiling haze in the main hall that the organizers might have made a good decision to discard the smoking section this year, but not a good decision to shut off that space entirely. And I can't think of any good reason not to use the terrace, which last year did a great job of accommodating overflow.
BEERS stands for the Beer Enjoyment, Education and Research Society, and it is Tokyo's English-speaking beer club, which meets at 8 pm on the 3rd Tuesday of each month. The next meeting will be held a week earlier on June 13th, near Tokyo Station at YLS, a language school run by James Gibbs, who has generously offered the room to the BEERS group that evening. Bring in your favorite beer to share. Occasional weekend/holiday beer safaris are also planned. To get on the event e-mailing list, write to: tokyobeers-at-yahoo-dot-co-dot-jp
New Baird Taproom Hours
As of June 1, the Taproom of Baird Brewing in Numazu, Shizuoka, will be open on Mondays. Weekday operating hours will be expanded as well, with the Taproom opening an hour earlier at 5pm and closing at midnight. On weekends and holidays, hours are noon to midnight. The Taproom is closed on Tuesdays. By the way, I visited the Taproom on June 3 and was totally bowled over by how good Baird's Natsu-mikan ale is this year. The citrus notes lie behind the malt in the background, with the acidity blending perfectly with the hop bitterness to balance the slightly sweet malt body. By the time you read this it may all be gone, but call ahead to check if you're going. www.bairdbeer.com
Beers of the Month Club
Ezo Beer is now going full speed ahead with their "Beers of the Month" club. Over the next few months, many interesting selections will be offered.
June: BridgePort IPA, Sierra Nevada Summerfest, Alaskan Summer Ale, Rogue Dead Guy Ale (a Marzen) in the World Geppu Bottle. Regular 355 ml bottles.
July: Rogue Uberfest Pilsner, Rogue Half-e-Weizen, Rogue Dad's Little Helper. Large 650 ml bottles.
August: BridgePort ESB, Alaskan Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Rogue Chipotle Ale. Regular 355 ml bottles.
September: Alaskan Amber, Rogue Juniper Pale Ale, Rogue FestivAle. Large 650 ml bottles.
More of Phred's Beer Blowouts
Again this month, Phred is also offering Brews News readers special prices on close-out beers, all with an expiration date of the end of June. From Scotland: Kelpie Seaweed Ale (organic malt), Fraoch Heather Ale, Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale. For descriptions of these unusual beers, see http://www.ezo-beer.com/eng/scotland.html .
From Oregon USA: Buckwheat Ale.
All beers are marked down from Y380 to Y250 per bottle, and sold 24 to a case, mix and match OK. Free shipping of purchases of 2 cases (48 bottles, Y12,000), plus Y300 for COD and 5% sales tax. To order, write: phred-at-ezo-beer-dot-com
Special thanks to Toshi Ishii, Glenn Scoggins and the many respondents on JBF for their contributions to this issue. We'd love your contribution, too, so send your story ideas (or story) to brewsnews-at-yahoo-dot-com. Deadline for the next issue (July) is June 27.