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Real Ale in Japan

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Hokkaido

Osaka

Tokyo

Yokohama

Cask ale available from hand pumps in Japan.

We have some details already of the real ale scene in four cities and as soon as an imminent second visit to the country has taken place, we will let you have more details.

In the interim, any updates, photographs and news would be most welcome.

Hokkaido

Beer and Food Higurashi (website) 2 hand pumps

Osaka

Beer Belly (website) 3 hand pumps
Beer Belly Edabora (website) 2 hand pumps
Beer Belly Tenma (website) 4 hand pumps

BEER BELLY
A little hard to find (tip: if you come from the island side, it will be your first left after crossing the bridge and a minute down that street). Huge plus points for the atmosphere. This narrow bar has limited space, and you'll have to rub elbows with the patrons - a mix of knowledgeable locals and thirsty ex-pats. It felt like an immersion into everyday Japanese life, but with good beer instead of bad rice lager and happoshu.
Good selection of beers with a firm emphasis on the Minoh offerings (I think 5 or 6 were on tap). Three cask beers, of which one was Crouch Vale Brewer's Gold - a former Champion Beer of Britain and an unlikely find in such a remote place. The Minoh Stout On handpump was an excellent izakaya with character in spades. Midnight black and topped with a tan head that leaves patches of lace down the side of the glass. Cocoa, caramel and coffee waft upwards. Great roasted malt flavour, with the large cocoa and coffee flavours dialled back by a nice creamy taste. Nice touch of pine in the mildly bitter aftertaste. The body really benefits from being cask conditioned, and it has a wonderfully smooth and full flavour, while at the same time being light and drinkable. A top-notch stout.
Also on cask was Yona Yona Real Ale
Excellent service, with no wait times and even able to respond to my scatchy Japanese questions about brewers. Downside is the food - its pretty much crap, so eat elsewhere. Prices were more than I'm used to paying in Toronto, but not by much.
This is the original bar at 550-0001 Ribabiru Tosabori 1F 1-1-30, Nishi-ku, Osaka City, Osaka but the Minoh brewery website now lists three with similar names.
Beer Belly Edabora at 550-0001  Edobori 1F 2-1-21 Nishi-ku, Osaka Edobori Famil has two hand pumps and Beer Belly Tenma at 530-0033  7-4 Ikeda-cho, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi has four.

Tokyo

Beer Pub Bacchus (website) 2 hand pumps
Popeye (website) 3 hand pumps
Speyside Way (Jiyugaoka) (website) 1 or 2 hand pumps
Taproom (Harajuku) (website) 2 hand pumps
Taproom (Nakameguro) (website) 4 hand pumps
Taproom (Numazu Fishmarket) (website) 3 hand pumps
The Aldgate (website) 1 hand pump
Towers (website) 1 hand pump
Ushitora (website) 3 hand pumps
82 Ale House (website) 1 hand pump

POPEYE'S
Absolutely amazing bar, and the best place in Japan (and maybe even the world) that I have been to! Extremely friendly welcome from the entire bar staff, who yell out 'irrashimase' as soon as you enter. The service from then on is first class - always available as soon as you need anything, and extremely informative. In fact I'd go so far as to say this is the best service I have ever seen in a bar.
The selection of beer available is impressively large; Four casks were available - three on handpump and one on gravity. The variation and diversity of styles was very refreshing to see considering the mundane blandness of Japan's macro scene. Every beer was also in very good quality, including the casks.

Grabbed the Iwatekura IPA in the company of my lovely wife and good friend Takahiro. The beer arrives with a fairly classic IPA appearance - an amber liquid supporting a decent off-white head which laces well. The aroma is very subtle, containing floral hops and fruity notes (perhaps a hint of berry). The flavour is an excellent mix of floral and fruity, with the sweetness of the malts balanced by the bitterness of the hops. There's also some caramel in there and a faint touch of citrus. The flavour profile is quite simple, but satisfying.
A s this is a cask ale, the body is just as it should be - medium and rich textured with a satisfying feel. The casks at this bar seem to be very well maintained, and they seem to rotate at too quick a rate to go bad. An excellent cask IPA, and a fine brew to session over the course of an evening.

Yona Real Ale had a nice clear amber body with a creamy white head that leaves sheets of lace - a very nice appearance. Lots of fruit in the aroma - apple some beery, perhaps even some grapfruit, along with a pleasing caramel tone. The flavour is very soid and the lead contributors are the caramel and grapefruit aspects, although the general fruitiness observed in the aroma is still present in the background. The whole package is very well-balanced. The body is as good as you can hope for on cask. Nice and smooth, with minimal carbonation and a pleasing depth.
I could see this being a go to beer for me if I lived in Japan. I don't know how it compared to the canned version, but this was a very well crafted real ale and something the brewers should be very proud of.

Also on cask was Isekadoya Pale Ale: a light amber pour with a small off-white head that delivered some lacing. Nose is full on citrus hops with a faint hint of caramel. Lots of grapefruit and citrus in the flavour, but I feel its a little unbalanced, and what caramel malt there is remains firmly in the background. Good cask body and very low carbonation. Drinkable, but perhaps one-dimensional.

Teikoku IPA had an amber colour with a sparse off white head, which left some lacing regardless. Big west coast aroma - grapefruit, caramel and pine. Follows through in the flavour, but with a bit more malt forward sweetness than I expected. Mouthfeel is as smooth and full as you would expect from a cask. Very solid IPA.

Food was very good, although we only opted for the half plates that came with ordering certain marked beers during the happy hours period of 5pm to 8pm (a good strategy  considering that the beer is on the pricey side).
Awesome place and very highly recommended. I'll be back!

Yokohama

Beer Republic (website) 2 hand pumps?
Century Break (website) 2 hand pumps
Craft Beer Bar (website) 1 or 2 hand pumps?
Una Casa de GB GB El Nubichinom   (possibly cask beer)
Taproom (Basimichi) (website) 2 hand pumps
Thrashzone (website) 2 handpumps

Baird Brewing operates the small Taproom chain with a range of cask beers and bottle-conditioned beers.

Beer Festivals take place, too, including the Toko Real Ale Festival in February each year and the Great Japan Beer Festival held in three centres (June in Tokyo, July in Osaka and September in Yokohama)

Other web resources include a very good site at boozelist with details of lots of bars and an excellent one (bento) for browsing the Japanese beer scene an of course beerinJapan.

Part of the research for this page benefitted from a few leads provided in an excellent book, Drinking Japan, by Chris Bunting (Tuttle Publishing, ISBN 978-4-8053-1054-0). It includes useful details including directions to some of the venues listed here. If you intend to spend some time in Japan, pick up a copy.

 

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All rights reserved. Last Revised: December 26, 2012
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