Monday, December 13, 2010

JapanBrew heads to Oregon, where the beer flows like wine ...

When the temperatures in Ise dip to those just-above-freezing levels, and a dry cool breeze moves in from the northwest, I know its time to get out of here, across the Pacific and to the Northwest.

Just two more days at work and I'll be on the road.

I was born in Eastern Oregon, down the interstate a few hours from Portland, a craft-brewing powerhouse that boasts a number of beer-related statistics, helpfully furnished by the city's tourism wing:

  • Portland has more breweries than any other city in the world. There are 30 craft breweries within the city limits; 38 in the Portland metro area.
  • According to the Oregon Brewers Guild, no matter where you are in Portland, you're never more than 15 minutes from a craft brewery.
  • Among "hopheads" (beer lovers), Portland's nicknames include "Beervana," "Brewtopia" and "Munich on the Willamette."
  • Portland is home to the nation's best-attended beer bash: the Oregon Brewers Festival. More than 50,000 people enjoy this annual riverfront event, which takes place the last full weekend of July.
  • Portland has a 3 percent market share of the more than 1,400 breweries and brewpubs in the United States. 
And while I cannot claim Portland as my real home town, I can claim Oregon and the Northwest in general. My first sip of beer came at age 17, on my birthday, in the form of a can of Natty Ice or something sinister like that (my older brother, on summer break from university, was the provider).

Through my days at Oregon State University in Corvallis, I developed a taste for craft beer, though I had my share of Pabst Blue Ribbon along the way.

Now, every trip home is a chance to try something new. So many places in Portland have craft beer on tap or in bottles, and even if you went in at noon for a sandwich, you'll find yourself tempted by the beer cooler.

My three-city tour (Portland, Pendleton and Corvallis) of Oregon will be, at least in part, beer-fueled. In Portland, where my older brother and his fiancee live, I have the on-the-ground reality of those aforementioned statistics. In Pendleton, where my mother lives, I can look forward to my first look at the newly opened Prodigal Son Brewery and Pub downtown. Even Corvallis, where my father and stepmother live, has something new, in the form of the Block 15 Brewery and Restaurant. (correction: Block 15 opened a few years back. The new brewpub in Corvallis is Flat Tail.)

All this beer talk, though exciting, does draw attention from the fact that the main reason for the visit is to see family, who put up with me living on the other side of the world. But I think the quality of our time together will be heightened thanks to the beer (and food) culture of our cities and towns.

As much as I can, I'll report on my trip from the road. To other winter travelers, have a safe, enjoyable holiday.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Meet the Shelton Brothers

A very interesting article goes deep with the Shelton Brothers, who import international beers for the U.S. market (in addition to brewing their own).

I was first struck when I saw the link on Twitter by the name, recalling that these are the guys who import Ise Kadoya and Baird.These brewers don't figure in to the article, but it is absolutely worth a read.

The gist, perhaps:

Will is one—along with Dan and Joel—of the three brothers who comprise the Shelton Brothers beer importing company, based in Belchertown. Since the mid-'90s, the company has imported beers from across the globe to drinkers across the United States. In 2006, Will took a hiatus from the import business to begin brewing a beer he'd been dreaming of. Working in Paper City Brewing's facility in Holyoke, he's created a line of distinctive beers that manage to buck the national trend toward gimmickry and record-setting while remaining faithful to traditional brewing styles.

For the whole story, well-told by a reporter who got to sample a few along the way, click here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lawmakers aim to protect domestic third-category beer-like drinks

An article from Mainichi tells of calls in Japanese lawmaking circles for increasing the tax on so-called "third-category beer" to protect domestic brewers from foreign competition.

The article says imported third-category drinks, mainly from South Korea, are selling in Japan for less than 100 yen, naturally causing trouble for the local boys. Some lawmakers, however, are said to oppose the plan on grounds that "ordinary people" should be able to enjoy the pleasures of these beer-like drinks.

Another, more hopeful note comes at the very end of the article:

At the same time, the DPJ has been aiming to introduce a tax that corresponds to alcohol content, and officials are expected to discuss such a system at future meetings of the government's Tax Commission. If such a tax were implemented, beer varieties containing around 5 percent alcohol would be taxed at the same rate. This could result in third-category beer fizzling out altogether.

Personally, I'd prefer to see a tax structure like this, which doesn't reward manufacturers of beer for producing low quality products. In the meantime, don't let your friends drink beer-like beverages!

In other Japan beer news, it looks like two new tie-ups between Japanese and Korean brewers will mean pints of Premium Malts or Sapporo beers on your next trip across the Sea of Japan. (Here and here).

Keep Back 200 Feet! And tales of drinking

The night began at the bus stop in front of Ise Kadoya's brewpub. I gave myself enough time t
o pop into the Biyagura shop, where I got to cans of Shinto beer for the wait and two copies of The Japan Beer Times.

This made for nice reading on the short train ride to Matsusaka, where we headed to a friend's pub for what has become a monthly drink-fest featuring an ever-changing roster of Japanese rice wine (nihonshu), Australian red wine, and the occasional wild card.

I flipped through my magazine and read a few things myself, but I couldn't help spreading The Good News to my friends, who took at least a passive glance before letting it come back to me. Most of them probably don't care that much about craft beer, in Japan or anywhere. Others, perhaps, can't be bothered to read on a train when there are friends to speak to (loudly).

We arrived at the pub in a convoy of taxis (OK so just two taxis) and began a marathon session. It began with two glasses of red wine, followed by a cascade of pours from the nihonshu selection. The course was rounded out with an Asahi-produced Belgian style ale, and my remaining drink ticket went toward another beer.

Oh, right. Also we ate food.

By the time we headed back to Ise, we were all pretty well laced. Which, naturally, led to karaoke. We had amassed, in two rooms, by nature of intersecting parties, one of the larger karaoke groups I've seen in recent memory.

And that's where things get fuzzy.

Here also, is this warning, which we heeded:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Beer in North Korea - Digging Deeper

The beer in North Korea post prompted a couple of replies via Twitter:

Says :

@ They took apart a British brewery and shipped it all over to the north. Ironic thing was the brewery wasnt very god to start with

And from

@ I've been to North Korea and had that beer. NK isn't featured in my Beer in Korea app tho :)

Chuwy's post references the story told in this article from The Wiltshire Times. It leads off with this:

The Ushers brewery in Trowbridge used to produce award-winning traditional British real ales. After an extraordinary journey, it is now being used to brew a beer dubbed the "Pride of Pyongyang" in North Korea.

The article goes on to tell the rather amazing tale of how the brewery was taken apart and shipped to North Korea, where it was reassembled and put to work churning out DPRK beer. The people involved in the sale, from the brewery's former owner to a German go-between, recount the details of the exchange.

For one more angle on this exciting story, can we find any details in the WikiLeaks trove?

Beer in (North) Korea?

A New York Times article, retelling a Western scholar's reports of conditions in North Korea amid the recent tensions, contains this tidbit:

A beer factory was operating, however, and the visitor pronounced the Taedong River beer, a local brand, “very drinkable.”

Turns out, a Google query leads to plenty of info about the brew. A Wikipedia page describes the brewery's beginnings. A BBC article from 2009 tells of a TV ad for the beer, which was marketed as "Pride of Pyongyang." There are YouTube videos and a host of other info I have yet to read or watch.

Has anyone out there sampled this stuff?

Meanwhile, here is the commercial -

Monday, November 29, 2010

A welcome back with a WiezenBock

I admit that it has been harder than I had imagined to make the time and muster the effort to keep this blog going at a serious level.

One of my problems has been that I don't get out much ... that is, out of Mie. Another angle for the blog I had tried out was scanning and summarizing Japan beer news from around the internet, but I didn't exactly find a grove there either.

That said, I do very fortunately live a one-minute walk away from Ise Kadoya's brewpub. I just made that one-minute trek and picked up what they call the "Weizen Bock." Clearly a seasonal, a shadow of Santa filling a stocking with a beer, in front of a Christmas tree, adorns the label.

It's taste is pleasing, reminding me of winter seasonals back home. That is, it goes down easy but doesn't exactly hook me for a long-term commitment.

For the beer reviewer types, this entry from 2007 seems about right for the 2010 batch.

Stand by, as another seasonal Ise Kadoya offering currently resides in my fridge.

As for the blog as a whole ... I cannot make any promises. When I find a new seasonal at Ise Kadoya, I'll be sure to give it a try. And when I travel, I'll be sure to take in material to post. Otherwise, I'm going to have to think about what direction to take the blog.

Regardless, happy drinking!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Korea in Brief

I did not drink any craft beer in Korea.

I did, however, drink plenty of the standard stuff over the short stay in Seoul. And while the beer fails to improve on Japanese standard offerings, it comes much cheaper over there, which was a welcome change.

Besides beer, there was plenty of other drinks to sample, including makgeolli and soju.

Since I was there for a wedding, the schedule was tight and exploring time was limited. When a free day came up, a few of us checked out the shopping district Insadong and a nearby covered market full of stalls selling ready-to-eat food or take-home fare.

I had the Beer in Korea iPhone app at the ready, but there wasn't enough time to put it to use.

Generally speaking, Korea was great. I loved the food, had a lot of fun meeting people and hanging out with friends from Japan, and had a few days away from reality, even if reality is the sometimes-surreal Japan.

There will be a next time. Friends and I are already discussing when we might get over there again, with a bit more time to explore on our own.

If I can I'll post some photos later on.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Beer in Korea

Two weeks ago, I downloaded an iPhone application for studying Hangul, the Korean writing system. Two hours ago, I downloaded Beer in Korea, the app for finding craft beer. The 10 minutes I spent browsing the beer app trumps the time spent on the Hangul app by roughly 9 minutes.

So maybe I won't be reading any Hangul, but if I can find the time, I might be trying an interesting beer.

My time in Korea will be so limited,, outside of perhaps one afternoon, that I have not been too worried about learning Korean. Multi-lingual signage, the help of friends and intuition should steer me just fine (I hope).

The trip revolves around a wedding ceremony for two friends who live in my little town in Mie. He is Japanese and runs a nice little bar in town (Premium Malts on tap; Corona, Sam Adams among bottled choices). She is Korean, and teaches her native tongue in a classroom adjacent to the bar.

They already tied the knot here in Japan, but in lieu of a formal ceremony, the bond was celebrated by a surprise party at the bar.

Now, the formal part comes in Korea. A few dozen friends of the couple from Japan are making the trip across the Sea of Japan (aka East Sea if you're Korean) to attend the wedding.

It marks my first trip to Korea, and aside from the wedding I am very much looking forward to limited exploring, eating and drinking.

And while my Hangul skills are certainly suspect, at least I have Beer in Korea to guide me as best it can.


Practically speaking, although my trip comes next week, I can already endorse the Beer in Korea app. Even the background information in the app served as a nice primer about what I might encounter, and the frank descriptions make clear what bars to hit and which to miss. Whether or not I'll get to any of the listed bars on this trip is yet to be determined. But either way, I'm glad to have the app in the books.

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Local" beer shipments increase this summer over last

Buried deep in a Kyodo News business round-up from a few days ago comes this promising stat: Compared with last year's June to August period, shipments of local beer grew by 8.1 percent this year. The tally includes figures from "45 leading local brewers," with shipments reaching 2,005 kiloliters. The Big Five, meanwhile, gained just .7 percent. Kyodo, referencing information form Tokyo Shoko Research, attributes the increase in craft beer shipments to marketing, such as being active in events through the especially hot summer (article accessed here).

While this is a fairly narrow window of data, I think it can be seen as positive. I am not sure where the numbers are on a larger scale (that would be interesting to see), but perhaps it means a few top brewers are finding their niche, in terms of both quality and marketing.

Dry Days ... Kansai Scene article ... Blog Comment followup

Ever since the second-to-last Ise Kadoya nomihoudai, I've been dry in terms of craft beer. This has not been on purpose, but funds have been tight and supply limited down here in Mie.

It has also been a busy season at my real job, thanks to speech contest season. The kids in my high school's English club have to practice daily to prepare for their contests. It's this time of year that it actually feels like a proper job. So I really cannot complain.

In other personal news, back in the summer I took a trip to Gifu and Nagano for a hike and visit to a traditional town. I posted back then about trying a Kisoji Beer at 11 a.m. A non-beer focused look at that trip is in the October issue of Kansai Scene magazine. Take a look here.

Money will continue to be tight in the coming weeks as I look ahead to a mid-month trip to Korea for the wedding of some friends. Of course, I'll seek out some craft beer over there and report back.

Thanks to the commenters (here and on Facebook) about the last couple posts. As for the non-alcoholic beer -- I do see the value in a decent non-alcoholic beer for someone who cannot consume alcohol but likes the taste of the drink without it. Though I guess if it were me as the designated driver, I'd probably vie for some other soft drink instead of some kind of mainline zero percenter. I would be curious to try a non-alcoholic craft beer though.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Beer News Round-Up

From CNNGo comes a light-hearted look at the "zero craze" in Japan, including swill like Suntory's All Free, which is free of calories, alcohol and meaning. The article contains this mysterious passage:

Never mind that it costs more to down a can of All Free (alcohol-free, calorie-free, sugar-free) beer-wannabe liquid than the real stuff, at ¥138 for a 350ml can. Real beer that can be bought for as little as ¥90.

Let's ignore the mysterious grammatical issues and ask this question: What "real" beer costs 90 yen? Answer: None. Perhaps the author is referring to happoshu or third-category trash? Don't wanna know.

Kyodo News reports on the not-surprising decline of beer shipments in August compared with last year. Sadly, also this:

Shipments of less expensive, so-called third-category beer-like alcoholic drinks rose 8% to 13.08 million cases, an all-time high for August, mirroring the tendency of consumers to tighten their purse strings, with Kirin’s ‘‘Nodogoshi Nama’’ and Asahi’s ‘‘Clear Asahi,’’ being particularly popular.

So-called third-category beer-like alcoholic drinks
. Just the fact that it takes so many words and hyphens to describe the product is enough to cause concern. Then, if you actually taste the stuff ... spit it out. Buy a beer!

That does it for today ... if I can avoid blog-neglect, I'll aim to keep abreast of the latest Japan beer news.

For now, happy drinking, and see you on twitter.

Ise Kadoya "Biyagura" suspends its Beer Day special

The news came from Midori, a hard-drinking hair dresser who has been a frequent participant at Ise Kadoya's all-you-can-drink specials. September, she said, would be the last month featuring the special until Spring (or, perhaps the last one ever ... more below).

Every since I arrived in Ise, a little more than three years ago, this special has been running. Two Wednesday's a month, the brewpub would bring in about three guest beers from microbreweries all over Japan, complementing the slate of beers made in-house, including some interesting seasonal offerings. (The roster was always rounded out with a two mass-market offerings to appease stubborn drinkers who think they know what they like.)

The result was a colorful, half-sheet of paper, describing 10 beers available that night. For 60 minutes, you were free to drink as much as you could for only 1,000 yen (until a recent price jump -- more on that below). If you didn't get enough, a second hour comes for just 900 yen.

The offerings weren't always good. Let's face it -- raft beer among the prefectures is a hit-and-miss game. But with three guest beers each time, there's was almost always something to like. But in the event of a strikeout, you could always rely on Ise Kadoya's own fabulous staple brews: The Brown Ale, Stout, Pale Ale and Shinto Beer. In all, it was a great deal, guaranteed to provide you with good beer.

The first sign that something was amiss came two months ago, when the price went from 1,000 yen for the first hour to 1,500 yen. Although this price hike made sense to me, I feared the deeper meaning -- the special was losing money. Sure enough, a few weeks ago the Japanese website announced the special's "vacation."

What's to blame? Or who? An easy potential target can be found in the mirror. I would usually eat dinner at home and then head to the pub for the nomihoudai a bit later. A few other friends would do the same, so we didn't order food while we drank quite a lot of beer. Did customers like us hurt the bottom line? Seems like it could easily be a factor.

But what else? Has it recently, for whatever reason, become more expensive to purchase and order the guest beer for delivery? I truly have no idea on this one.

Perhaps, also, the special still IS making money ... but barely ... making it an easy target to get the ax.

Whatever the case, it appears that they're going to use the time after this week's final installment to ponder what can be done, if anything, to make the special workable. While the original announcement said the break would last until spring, a more recent post on the Japanese site says something along the lines of "this COULD be the last one ever!"

If they do, how could they make it work? I have some ideas of my own:

Jack the Price
The original 1,000-yen hour was pretty crazy. I wouldn't have flinched the first time if I had found a 2,000 yen price tag. And I won't flinch next spring if they bring back the special with a new price/time structure. How about 2,000 yen (or more?) for 90 minutes? Sometimes an hour feels rushed if it's busy at the bar. And sometimes two hours is a bit much. Maybe 3,000 90 minutes, plus 1,000 for an extra 60? Basically, crunch the numbers and try it out. It just might work.

Map to Mini-Stop
Instead of offering Suntory's The Premium Malts and an Ebisu, point the stubborn types to the convenience store, where they can drink as much Standard Swill as they'd like. An award-winning brewery is no place for beer you can get ANYWHERE ELSE. Practically, this would cut back on customers who just come for a cheap hour of Premium Malts. Idealistically, it would force weary friends of beer-lovers to actually try something new. Or am I way off here?

Well, my ideas have run out for the moment. But surely there are more.

Whatever the case, I hope the special comes back. Being in rural Mie means that I don't have easy access to a wide variety of Japanese craft beers. This event has let me, and others, try all kinds of stuff, be it Baird, Shiga Kogen, or any myriad small breweries all over Japan.

-Any visitors to Ise-shi should certainly pop in to Biyagura, just a 20-minute walk or a 5-minute cab ride from Ise-she station. A 2-hour all-you-can-drink, for less than 2,000 yen, remains on the regular menu. Biyagura is closed Wednesdays, except for the soon-t0-be-suspended beer nights. Try the famous mochi across the street ... from the same company, it's history is much longer than the beer's.

-I will try to snag an interview with somebody at Ise Kadoya about the suspended beer nights. Stay tuned for that.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kisoji Beer and the Mountains

I travel because I like to travel. But as an added incentive, I know that as I explore more nooks and crannies of Japan, I'll find new, potentially interesting beer.

On a recent trip to the Kiso region in southern Nagano, in a tourist-infested post town on the old Nakasendou route from present-day Tokyo to Kyoto, I found Kisoji Beer, made in Nagiso-machi and available around the area.

The town, Magome (pictured above), is perched on a hillside, its main street lined soba restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. Also, packed with tourists. We walked half the distance of the town's main drag, and already I had seen loads of shops selling Yona Yona from Shinshu. At the top of the hill, a liquor shop had that plus something else that caught my eye: the blue can of Kisoji Beer.

It was 11 a.m., but I had to try one. Should have tried two. I went for the pale ale, which was bitter, sure, but there wasn't much to it. Or maybe the early hour meant my tasting system was not fully firing.

After a cold soba lunch, we walked through the town again and I went for a Shinshu blonde ale. This was pretty tasty: a good combination of bitter and smooth.

This was followed by a quick bus ride to Magome Pass, followed by a two hour hike along the Nakasendou trail to another little post town in the mountains, Tsumago. Tsumago has been fully restored to look like it did in the Edo period. There are still plenty of tourists, but not as many as in Magome. The restoration and lack of crowds makes for a very pleasant post-hike evening.

Sadly, at the evening taiko/drama/dance performance in the center of town, the only beer available was also traditional: Asahi Super Dry.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Japan Beer Times summer edition hits beer shelves everywhere

With summer comes the third issue of The Japan Beer Times, the bilingual (and free) quarterly magazine about craft beer in Japan.

I popped in to Ise Kadoya's Biyagura after work today to pick up a few copies. Ise Kadoya itself is featured in this issue, along with a brief eyes-on-the-ground report from myself on the Wednesday nomihoudai specials.

I just got done reading through the whole issue. It's great to see such a magazine exist, and it's also nice that content is presented in English and Japanese. Besides the Ise Kadoya feature, you'll find, among other things, a write-up on Helios of Okinawa.

The summer issue is not yet online, but perhaps your local craft brewpub has the hard copies in stock. Go for a drink, leave with a magazine.

Baird Brewing in The Huffington Post

Baird Brewing gets plenty of attention in the Japan craft beer universe, but once in a while the spotlight shines from afar. Today, The Huffington Post features an interview with Bryan Baird himself.

Among other things, Baird says that 10 years deep, "we seem to have gained real traction and
achieved that magical sort of critical mass. Our three gold medals in the 2010 World Beer Cup certainly didn't hurt things either."

So things are going well. Reading more of the interview, it's not hard to see the ingredients of success, like Baird's commitment to character, which he describes as "the interplay of balance and complexity." Too many craft beers in Japan, Baird says, have complexity, but lack balance (while the big brewery offerings have balance but ... you know the rest).

Another interesting comment from Baird was in response to a question about the "Japanese"-ness of Baird beer:

We enjoy lovely soft water in Numazu that really contributes a round and balanced house character to our beers. In the Japanese aesthetic, harmonious balance is greatly prized. I think Baird Beer is a liquid embodiment of that Japanese aesthetic value

Looking ahead, Baird sees good things for the craft beer market in Japan. He says he can picture the market share for craft beer in Japan jumping from less than 1 percent (today's figure) to something more akin to the numbers in the U.S. (4 percent by volume and 7 percent by dollar) within 10 to 20 years.

The full interview has a lot more interesting items to digest, so give it a read.

Which Ise Kadoya beer would you stock in your shop?

If you were running a wine shop in an Oregon college town, and you were in the process of expanding to craft/world beers, which of Ise Kadoya's export offerings would you add to your line-up?

This is the question faced by my stepmother and father. She runs the wine shop full time, while my father helps out when he's not occupied by his main job.

On his recent trip to Japan, I took my dad to Ise Kadoya's Biyagura and the Great Japan Beer Festival in Osaka. All of that drinking, we decided, was marketing research.


But really, my dad e-mailed this morning asking which Ise Kadoya beer they should stock. Not an easy question.

Here is the lineup available from their U.S. distributor, Shleton Brothers:

Triple Hop Ale
Presently on tap at Biyagura, this seasonal is very nice. Oregon craft beer types tend to go for the hoppy brews, and the "triple" label might attract curious consumers.

Brown Ale
As a regular tap at Biyagura, the Brown Ale has become one of my favorites from Ise Kadoya. It would serve as a fine representative of Ise Kadoya's quality, but does it lack a certain flash?

Genmai Ale
Another seasonal recently on tap at Biyagura, the Genmai Ale is a unique offering. Probably a good one to have on stock for a store boasting a huge beer selection, but not a must-have for a wine shop expanding to craft/world beer.

Oregonains love their IPA. And college students, be they hop-heads or not, like the higher alcohol content. Splash the 7 percent on promotional literature and perhaps some recently anointed legal drinkers will be drawn in. Plus, it's a tasty brew (although I have not had a sip for months upon months).

Pale Ale
This is another very nice regular offering from Ise Kadoya. I tend toward the Brown in a head-to-head but the Pale can be a very nice somewhat lighter experience.

Scotch Ale
Never tried this or seen it. Anyone?

Another regular offering, the Stout is pretty tasty. But there's no way it could gain a following in the land of Deschutes Black Butte Porter.

So after all that, I'm still torn between the IPA and the Brown Ale, with the Triple Hop in the mix for good measure. Where do you stand? Help stock the shelves with the right choice!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hunting for IPA at the Great Japan Beer Festival

At half passed four, we walked to the station in front of the Kyocera Dome along with dejected fans of the Orix Buffaloes, who had just taken a 9-2 beating courtesy of the Softbank Hawks.

We were in a decidedly better mood, having just descended from the Sky Hall, high in the Dome's upper quarters, where Day 2 of the Great Japan Beer Festival was winding down.

Besides the buzz from a day of sampling craft beers, we also could hold our heads high knowing that on Monday evening, we would take in a Hanshin Tigers game. The Tigers, in second place in the Central League just behind the powerhouse Giants, were in a much better position to come out ahead over the slumping Carp of Hiroshima.

Back upstairs, in the curving Sky Hall, beer enthusiasts of all stripes were finishing the day, some in better shape than others. Security staff in orange shirts kept the peace by making sure people did not sit -- or even squat -- on the floor. Tap operators in Official Orange Shirts were either lonely or busy, since at the late hour of the event most people had identified winners and losers and were heading for one last sip of their favorite.

Not that you could reasonably expect to have tried every beer available in one day. With well over 100 choices, we decided early to approach with caution and some level of discrimination. We tried some fruity stuff, but I quickly scanned for IPAs. Then we started finding brands we knew, including some from back home. Then, we found the Minoh taps. Until yesterday, I had only heard of Minoh, an Osaka-based brewery. The Minnoh menu included a Weizen, a Pale Ale, a Stout, a Real Ale Coffee Stout, a Real Ale Lucky 13 IPA, and a potato beer called "Spud Suds." All were pretty good, but of course I'm a sucker for IPA.

(since it is almost time to head toward Koshien for the Tigers game.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Drink the culture

My father's visit to Japan has already included a lot of drinking. Here's a rundown:

Monday: Beer, wine and nihonshu with a colleague
Tuesday: Beer (not craft beer) with friends
Wednesday: Ise Kadoya's nomihoudai

So today, Thursday, we're taking it easy. We've decided not to drink. But that plan might change, as I collected a few beers as birthday presents and they're right there in the fridge.

But I could let those fridge beers linger there a little longer and re-charge, since the Great Japan Beer Festival in Osaka is just around the corner. My father and I, along with a friend, are hitting up the festival on Sunday. If anyone out there is going to be around, leave a comment and perhaps our paths will cross amid the taps.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Price Check

I just called and confirmed our (large looking) group reservation for the Ise Kadoya nomihoudai next week, and learned that they've upped the one-hour price to 1,500 yen. Still a very good deal, and it also appears that a second hour is still only 900 yen. I'll try to confirm that next week when I slide into hour two with a hour-drunk-confidence that I'll be fine at work on Thursday.

So to be clear, it's 1,500 yen for one hour of unlimited drinking, choosing from Ise Kadoya's four main offerings, plus a rotating roster of guest beers from around Japan. Can't beat this deal.

Still here

As I write this I'm sipping on a Yona Yona Ale, one of the few micros widely distributed across Japan. Here in Ise, it's sold at a few grocery stores and even one convenience store.

I've neglected this blog for a few weeks, during which I did not really try anything new in the beer world, even from the Big Five. I saw some chatter about a decent offering from Sapporo, but several scans of area store shelves turned up nothing. Perhaps it didn't make as far as Mie.

But my vacation from Good Beer should be coming to an end soon. First of all, the Ise Kadoya nomihoudai night should be going next Wednesday, meaning an hour or two of all-access taps including a line-up of guest beers.

Then, I'm hoping to hit up the Great Japan Beer Festival in Osaka, which takes place over the three-day weekend this month.

Along for the ride will be my dad, who gets into Japan on Monday for a short visit. Besides sampling quality beer, we hope to take in a Hanshin Tigers game and perhaps visit some touristy spots around the Kansai area.

Now that things are picking up again, I'll try to be on the blog and on Twitter with any relevant updates.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ise Kadoya's nomihoudai night

If it seems like I write about Ise Kadoya a lot -- more than any other topic so far -- that's because their brewpub is a one minute walk from my front door.

This company represents my first contact with Japanese craft beer. And thankfully, twice a month, they bring in guest beers that share space on a special all-you-can-drink menu.

First, to appease wary locals afraid to try new things, the menu always features Suntory's The Premium Malts and an Ebisu. Other staples are Ise Kadoya's four main brews: Shinto Beer, Brown Ale, Stout, and Pale Ale. Occasionally, as with last night, one spot is given to an Ise Kadoya seasonal. This month it has been their Imperial Wheat Ale, which is a bit too light and sweet for my taste.

That leaves three slots for guest beers.

I usually start with a glass of the most suspicious entry. Last night this was a Grapefruit Ale from Chiba's Harvest Moon. Nothing to sing about here. The tasting notes point out that it is "easy to drink," code for "beer for people who don't like beer." Let's move along.

Next, from what the sheet lists as a company called Preston Ale, came a very nice pale ale. While good, it didn't stand up to a side-by-side battle with Ise Kadoya's new pale ale, which had a fuller flavor and more bitterness.

The third guest beer did not disappoint. We were able to gleam that it came from Nagano, but we couldn't read the kanji listing the company name. I asked at the bar, and upon hearing Shiga Kogen I was excited. The entry was their Wheat Ale, which we decided was smooth and bitter. Listed as an American style ale, it brought back feelings of nostalgia for the taps back in Portland.

And with that, the special beer menu is complete. With any remaining nomihoudai time, you can head back to the bar to grab a glass or two of your favorites. I had a Shiga Kogen Wheat Ale and an Ise Kadoya (new) Pale Ale to round out the evening.

A month will pass before the next round of Ise Kadoya events. If you ever find yourself in Ise on the second or third Wednesday of any given month, hit me up -- or simply show up at Biyagura -- and let's have a few drinks.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

ESPN's Page 2 offers The World Cup of Beer

In a group by group breakdown,'s Page 2 has created a World Cup of Beer, going so far as to "advance" two countries' beer entries after offering some quick(and dirty) analysis.

What is especially interesting, not surprisingly, is the unknown, such as the beer entries for countries that don't exactly resonate as beer destinations. (Like the entry for Group E's Cameroon, pictured at right.)

Also not surprisingly, Japan is represented by Kirin. The photo shows an Ichiban Shibori -- not a bad rep for the Big Five -- but the write-up references the company's special World Cup edition, which is nothing more than Tanrei happoshu in a different suit.

It seems clear that Page 2 did not attempt to find good beer from the World Cup countries. Rather, they selected a beer that best represents each country according to conventional wisdom.

Fair enough. But I bet we all agree a comprehensive look at the best beer from World Cup countries would be far more interesting (and tasty).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hub celebrates 52nd location

The Independent takes a glance at Hub, the chain of Bitish-style pubs which has been steadily expanding despite the economic woes of late. I won't bother with a summary here but it was an interesting read: click.

What do people think of the Hub Ale?

But honey, I'll only spend it on good beer!

In other Beer News From Last Week items, Bloomberg's Business Week reports that salary men are spending less on beer thanks to the poor economy and a drop in wages.

Says the article:

Salarymen go out drinking on average 2.9 times a month, spending about 4,190 yen ($46) each time, a 19 percent decline from a year earlier, according to a Shinsei Financial Co. online survey. That buys five pints of Sapporo Draft at Coopers, a British pub, in central Tokyo.

The article goes on to say that a few restaurant operators are planning to open new low-cost chains, while other eateries will offer "one-coin" lunches.

Another point in the article: It is usually wives who handle household finances, so the salarymen are getting shut down when they ask for more spending money.

I propose a deal with the wives, which goes something like this. They hand over a few extra thousand if the husbands agree to stick to craft beer.

WSJ: Big Five hope for a World Cup sales boost

The Wall Street Journal's Japan Real Time blog had a post a few days back outlining hopes among the Big Five for a boost in sales as fans watch the World Cup and cheer for Japan (who managed a win over Cameroon last night).

Especially, team sponsor Kirin is hoping to cash in with a special World Cup beer being sold across Japan. The article says that Kirin did see a sales increase during the last World Cup in Germany, where Japan failed to make it past the first round.

Things are not looking good for the Big Five overall:

The scale of that challenge was captured by data released today by the five major breweries, which showed an 8.4% on-year drop in sales of cases of beer in May to a record low for the month

What explains the recent, steady drop in beer sales in Japan? A number of factors are often mentioned. This article pointed to the aging population and the bad economy. But are there other things at work? Is beer losing its place as the standard drink among young people? Are the same young people unwilling to spend as much to party as older generations were? Or is the "beer" market, now over-populated with happoshu and other swill, too diffuse to attract new customers?

I don't have the answer, but it is an interesting questions. Another interesting one: Is that special World Cup beer from Kirin any good? Is it even a new kind of beer or just a new label? I ... will check.

Cloudy Recollection

Rainy season has begun, announced here in Mie by a steady cloud cover since Sunday and then confirmed by the official, seemingly unnecessary, declaration by the government weather bureau.

I'm sure some brewers have already thought of the idea of a "Rainy Season Ale" or something along those lines, but regardless of names, the muggy, wet weeks to come will certainly be aided by a few good beers.

On Wednesday, at Ise Kadoya's nomihoudai night, I sampled a few beers from around Japan. Unfortunately I sampled a few too many and left without the menu which has details about the guest beers. But I do recall that there was a decent brown ale from Tochigi on the guest list.

The event returns this week, but I am not sure now if I will make it. If I do I will shoot for a more documentary approach (in contrast to last week's marathon two-hour get-fuzzy-based approach).

Meanwhile, the next several weeks will see trips to Kyoto/Osaka and perhaps even Tokyo. I hope to include some beer stops while traveling around and will include any findings here. Recommendations are welcome, but I'll also surely tap the Beer in Japan iPhone app.

In the last several months, I have hit the bars a bit too much and I have been feeling it in the wallet. I am officially going on a bar hiatus, with and important exception: bars serving craft beer are acceptable. It's a mixed blessing that such bars are hard to come by down here in rural Mie. But hopefully with some savings recouped from taking it easy on the regular stuff, I can travel and try out some good stuff.

More to come, hopefully this weekend, as I aim for my first trip out of Mie since April.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fighting for the good stuff

The 20-something bar-family daughter was driving us to a mutual friend's house for a party when the subject of craft beer came up.

She had picked me up in the parking lot of Ise Kadoya's brewpub, Biyagura, where I had just bought two bottles of their limited release Common Beer to take to the party.

After hearing what I had bought, she immediately asked if I had ever tried locally-made beer.

"Well, yes, every time we go for the all-you-can-drink at Biyagura, it's local beer made by Ise Kadoya and other brewers."

Local beer, she surmised, is "mazui," Japanese for gross or bad-tasting.

Disturbed, I tried to explain that among the many kinds of beers made by hundreds of local breweries all over Japan, of course there were hits and misses. Most of Ise Kadoya's stuff, I said, was actually pretty good. And there is good stuff all over the country.

It didn't register. She likes Asahi Super Dry. That's beer. The local stuff, ji-beer, doesn't rate.

Her feelings on craft beer are frighteningly common here in Japan. And it's that prevailing thought-process that has inspired me to start this blog.

Further inspiration goes to the guys from Good Beer and Country Boys. When I found that blog upon arriving in Japan, I started to get excited about local beer and made it my mission to scout for the good stuff whenever I was traveling. I am not trying to copy what they were/are doing (now from back in the states), but the underlying theme is the same.

That is: I want to find and highlight good beer here in Japan, telling the stories of those who make it, enjoy it and promote it. Meanwhile, I want to celebrate the culture and lifestyle of good beer here and around the world.

I face certain limitations, be it imperfect Japanese and a paltry travel budget. But when I do get out and about, I will be on the hunt for ji-beer. Meanwhile, from home here in Mie, I will do what I can ... like converting skeptical locals who think the good stuff is bad.