06 June 2009

The Great Japan Beer Festival

I think Japanese beers taste just fine (especially with Japanese food), but they all taste virtually identical -- light lagers. Since I came to Japan, I've been on the lookout for more interesting beers comparable to American craft or microbrews.

It helped a lot when I found Ushi Tora in Shomikitazawa, which always has 17 microbrews on tap, many of them Japanese product. It turns out that although craft brewing started late in Japan, it has given rise to quite a number of local breweries. Those breweries came to show off their product at The Great Japan Beer Festival.

The festival format is that you pay a fixed fee to get in, receive a small memorial glass, and are then free to sample as much beer as you like. The event lasts four hours, so if you get there early your stomach (or alcohol tolerance) will probably run out before the time does.

The Tokyo version was held in the Ebisu Garden Hall (ironically next to the Tokyo headquarters of one of the big three generic breweries) and it was packed -- in fact, the single worst thing about the event was that getting around the hall was brutally difficult. There was a place to buy food from Dean & Deluca up front, but other than that area the lines waiting for sample crossed all the way across the room. I ran into some people from Otaru and some people from Ushi-tora there, and generally had a pleasant couple hours before wandering back down the hill to home (fortunately the event is held ten minutes' walk from my house!).

I had quite a few tiny glasses of beer, but the best beers I tasted today were:
  • いわて蔵ビール / Iwate Zou Beer's IPA
  • From Gotenba Kogen Beer (御殿場高原ビール), both the IPA and the Aijiwai Ale
  • and the big winner,
  • 箕面ビール / Minoh Beer's W-IPA: this was a "real ale", a phrase used in Japan for hand-pumped beers. It was delish!

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