Last night I visited Cataratas in Shibuya – a tiny little bar that can sit maybe max of 16 people.

Inside tiny Cataratas

Inside tiny Cataratas

Hidden away not just in a basement, but a level 2 basement – I must have walked past this place a good few times. It’s dwarfed by the Kirin City just next to it, and the name Cataratas gives me more the impression of a Mexican restaurant than a Belgian/International beer bar so even if I’d noticed it, I’m not sure I’d have gone in.

There were six beers on tap last night – Fullers Organic Honey Dew, Kwak, Vedett Extra White, Speakeasy Double Daddy, Chapeau Banana, and either Duchesse de Bourgougne or Westmalle Dubbel (I can’t remember which – I’m referring to Boozelist for the one).

Just before I arrived Vedett had been there taking photos of people in the bar and giving them Vedett Extra White bottles with their photos on them – not sure if it was free or not, I missed it because I walked the hour from Roppongi to Shibuya for exercise – though given that I downed a Yokohama XPA and Yoho Aooni on the way, I’m not sure it was in any way beneficial.

One of the six beers on draft - Fuller's Organic Honey Dew

One of the six beers on draft - Fuller's Organic Honey Dew

In addition to the drafts, there’s also a fair selection of Belgian and international bottles. It’s no Bis Cafe, but then it’s less than half the size of Bis, and it has non Belgian beers like Brooklyn Lager.

Brooklyn Lager - I'm reading 'Beer School' at the moment so it was good to find this

Brooklyn Lager

By coincidence I’ve just started reading Beer School, which is about the Brooklyn Brewery, so it was nice to find this beer – and nicer still to find that instead of some generic Coors rubbish, it’s actually it’s a pretty good beer. Hoppy, malty – I’d drink it again. Notice the Sam Adams glass in the foreground with the huge head? That’s how the beer was poured for me – Japanese style. Needless to say that from then on, I didn’t let the bar staff pour my drinks. Incidentally, the girl behind the bar in the first picture is one of the owners; the other owner – her partner – works in the kitchen.

The strangest (non-spicy) spicy Thai spring rolls ever!

The strangest (non-spicy) spicy Thai spring rolls ever!

Food was reasonable for a bar – just don’t expect taste explosions. I thought the spicy Thai spring rolls were breadsticks at first. They were not spicy, but to my surprise the chili and chips was, especially for Japan, though the chips turned out to be tortilla chips rather than french fries (alas, only a Brit could have hoped for fries). Pizza base was biscuit-like – but at least it wasn’t a tortilla like you get in other places. Mexican chicken salad was OK, though the deep fried chicken a bit oily. The girls next to me had fish and chips which was actually potato wedges and fish nuggets, and more batter than fish.

I’m guessing most of the food was frozen (f&c) or canned (like the chili), but there were plenty of items on the menu I didn’t try – I couldn’t read half of it because it was in Japanese – and everything was freshly cooked. Certainly it was better than Nakameguro Taproom for food.

I'm thinking of turning my Wheat Porter into a Coconut Wheat Porter so I thought I'd give this a bash to see how coconut in beer should/shouldn't taste

Mongozo Fair Trade Coconut Beer

After the Fullers Organic Honey Dew – a little malty and some subtle honey flavour; nothing particularly special but also not offensive – and the Brooklyn Lager, I finished with a Mongozo Coconut Beer. I’m thinking to turn my Wheat Porter into a Coconut Wheat Porter so decided to give this a bash. Not bad at first, but half way through the bottle became a bit sickly. I’ll need to try to find Maui Coconut Porter sometime.

The outside - the bar is in basement 2

The outside - the bar is in basement 2

Cataratas has a real friendly buzz to it – the bar staff engage in conversation with the people sitting at the bar, and though their skills didn’t extend to English, I could see the others there were enjoying being there. Good selection of beers too, especially for somewhere so small – notice that NONE of the beers on tap are Asahi or Guinness or anything generic, which is impressive.

A little hot, maybe difficult to get a seat (full on a weeknight is a sign of a popular place) but wonderful friendly atmosphere, OK food, and a good chance of there being something I like on draft there (and if not, they have Belgian bottles) – I’ll definitely go back.

There’s a map on the Cataratas website and the place is pretty easy to find. Just be aware that Shibuya station has two bus terminals so make sure to look for Tokyu Plaza.

You might spot the "Glandy" hairdresser sign on the street

Cut glands - ouch!

Cataratas is next to the Kirin City, just past Key (music center). You might spot the sign for Glandy the hairdresser outside – Glandy… what a name.

Back at home, I decided it was time to try out The Best Beer In The World: Carlsberg.

No, don’t be silly.

Westvleteren 8 and Westvleteren 12

Westvleteren 8 and Westvleteren 12

It was time to crack open the Westvleteren 8 and12. You might recall me mentioning a few blog posts ago that Westvleteren sells for 15,000 yen a bottle in  Bic, which is about $150 or close to 100 quid.

Coincidentelly, Jonny has a writeup of W12 on his blog today, comparing it with St. Bernardus ABT 12 – supposedly a very similar beer (St. Bernardus used to brew Westvleteren).

I started with the 8. The first thing that hit me was the suggary taste – not a sugar that lingers in your mouth and coats your teeth and feels heavy and dirty like coke, but a sugar that tingles in the mouth. For an 8% beer, it’s surprisingly light; there’s no syrup taste there. One might compare the overall taste to tingling brown sugar – a very simple drink, yet it creates flavours and feelings which are difficult to pin down.

The 12 is similar – it also has that suggary taste, but this time is backed up with something a bit darker. It’s not caramel and it’s not like drinking syrup – which is pretty astounding for a 12% 10.2% beer. It also doesn’t have a slap in the face alcohol kick, like many strong Belgians. I liked this better than the 8.

I’m not one for overly pretentious descriptions – of gloves, plumbs, grapes slapping the inside of my mouth and taking my tongue for a dance – but one thing I will say it this: both the 8 and 12 are very moreish. They seem simple, yet you keep wanting to drink more to try to define what you’re drinking. Sooner or later though, I think the sweetness would get to me. Maybe. I didn’t have enough bottles to get to that stage.

They also achieve a lot for their style and alcohol – they are not heavy or gloopy, but quite (too) easy to drink. I’m a big Belgian beer fan and undoubtedly, these are unusual, different beers. But is the 12 the best beer in the world? Not a chance.

I think a lot of the reason why people rate this beer so highly is because it is hyped as such a good beer and it is very hard to get:

Piety, not profit, is what these monks seek. The St. Sixtus monks break every rule in Business 101 except attention to quality. And therein may lie the secret of their success in brewing a beer that some rank among the world’s best and that is so hard to get there’s a black market for it.

It’s one of the 72 brewing days of the year, but the abbey is still quiet and peaceful. Brother Joris leads the way past aluminum tanks and the bottling room, where a team of five monks is at work.

During the next five to eight weeks, as the beer ages in tanks and then in bottles, potential customers will call the abbey’s “beer phone,” which has a recorded message that tells them when the beer will go on sale (36 times a year, for as long as stock lasts).

On the first day the beer goes on sale, cars start lining up at the abbey at 5:15 a.m., says Brother Joris. The gates open at 10 a.m., and buyers are limited to two cases per car. “Not to be resold” is stamped on the receipts, but customers regularly disregard the monks’ wish, and the coveted beer is exported, unlabeled and without permission, to America and elsewhere.

St. Sixtus brews just 60,000 cases of beer a year. The famous Westvleteren 12 sells for about $33 a case, the blond 6 is the cheapest at $23 for 24 bottles. That makes enough money to cover the costs of maintaining the abbey, where 28 monks work. There’s also a little extra to help the needy.

The brewery currently is running at maximum capacity. And the monks are not interested in raising prices or production, because that would require hiring more outside workers (they have three) and working with distributors.

Think about it: This beer is not on sale every day; if you are drinking W12, it’s because someone queued up from very early in the morning to buy it, and your beer was one of only a maximum of 48 they could buy. From the small amount that is bought, how much of it makes its way to America, Japan? It’s quite a rare thing.

People want to show off that they’ve tasted “the difficult to get, best beer in the world”. Same way that geeks will race to be the first ones to buy an iPhone on day 1 and then never say anything bad about it.

They were good beers – but they didn’t make me think “Wow, I should just die now because that taste is the ultimate”. Like Austin Power’s dream of having a threesome with Japanese twins – yeah, it’s a guy’s fantasy, yeah it would be enjoyable, but would it really be the best shag of your life? Erm, ok.. it might be. Bad simile.

I enjoyed them. I’d drink them again. And I’ll be hunting out the St. B to see whether it’s similar for a 1/3rd of the price.

And if you know any Japanese (female) twins, please do tell them to get in touch with me.

Almost forgot: Took a hydrometer reading of the Wheat Porter last night – 1.020. No bubbles from the airlock at any time and no raised lid, but it fermented – weird, but I’m not complaining!

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