July 2009


Five to go

Five to go

A visit to Tanakaya supplied an hour of street drinking before Frat boy Jonno left Tokyo. Surprisingly the Islander IPA was the best of the bunch – it’s pretty similar to Racer 5, but that’s no bad thing. The unearthly had the most interesting malt body but a little lacking in the hop flavour department.

From the 123bus.net bus stop to a little Izakaya I know that serves Ginga Kogen white beer on draft, then onto Frigo, Shinjuku. First time I’ve been there actually, but I used to frequent the sister bar Belgo in Shibuya a lot. I prefer Belgo – they have (or at least, they used to have) a good range of hard to find British ales, but I didn’t see anything British at Frigo.

Three to stay

Three to stay

Alvinne Gasper, Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel (draft), and Reinaert Tripel. Nice beer the Gasper – caramel sweet and no overpowering Belgian flavour from the yeast. The Reinaert was more traditionally Belgian – and the Dunkel, well, after tasting the other two, it didn’t leave a memorable impression. A quick Weltenburger Kloster Pils as a chaser (also draft) and it was home to try the Titan IPA and Yeti Imperial Stout.

Last time I had the Titan it was at an outdoor event and rather warm and underwhelming, but last night I quite enjoyed it. A touch of caramel with some nice hops to back it up – I’m glad I took the risk on a few bottles.

The Yeti, on the other hand, was disappointing. On draft it was quite nice, but in bottles it was rather rough – maybe there’s a hint of smoked grain in there, I don’t know. Perhaps it will grow on me – I hope so since I have 5 more bottles.

Today I’ll finish off the recipe for Axis of Evil IPA – hopefully I’ll get to brew it tomorrow if the gear all fits together smoothly.

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#1: Popeye

#1: Popeye

I just added a page on the bars I would recommend people hit if they’re visiting Tokyo for a short time or moving to Tokyo: Tokyo’s Best Bars. Unlike the lists you see in Metropolis or other sites, the criteria wasn’t whether the bar will pay to be listed or how much they will pay – it’s the places I think you can get the best range of international and Japanese craft beers.

Homebrewing wise, I got the final washer I need to put together my weldless kit so the plan for Saturday is still to connect together all my new gear and at least run water threw it to check it works. Hopefully the 2m of heat proof tubing I have will be enough. If things go really well, I might be making a new brew also: Axis of Evil IPA, another 100+ IBU hop monster.

…for a fridge full of beer?

One or two beers

One or two beers

Inside here you have bottle after bottle of newly delivered Stone Ruination IPA, Stone IPA, Speakeasy Big Daddy IPA, Great Divide Titan IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, Hercules Double IPA, Stone Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye IPA, Ballast Point Big Eye IPA, Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout – plus my first monthly delivery from Beer Festa: Umenishiki Beer’s Pilsner, Blanche, and Aromatic ale. And then in the back there’s the keg of Hops of Mass Destruction IPA, and on top some Echigo Beer, Aooni, Hitachino, and Anchor… with some other assorted bottles of my homebrew and other beers thrown in for good measure.

Is there anyone reading this that wouldn’t want this fridge in their house? Hahahahaha it’s all mine!

Had a bottle each of the Hop Rod Rye and Hercules so far – both were far better than when I had them on draft. Hop Rod Rye in particular was gloriously hoppy; Hercules a bit caramely but good amount of hops going on there.

Tokyo Ale at Fuji Rock

Tokyo Ale at Fuji Rock

Back from Fuji Rock and great to have working internet again. Actually, not just internet – a working phone, full stop. Softbank just couldn’t handle the capacity, and on the rare times I did get connected to the network, as soon as I tried to do something like actually use the phone, I’d immediately get disconnected again. Not only couldn’t I get mail or access the internet, but I couldn’t call people to meet them either. I don’t know what Apple were thinking when they partnered with Softbank.

Saturday and Sunday proved a little better in the beer department as I ventured towards the smaller “hippy” stages. I found Yona Yona, Asa Monogatari Hemp Seed Beer (surprisingly it wasn’t crap), and the elusive Tokyo Ale. Also available was Shinshi Sun-Sun Organic Beer and Tokyo Black.

Tokyo Ale has to be my choice for the best beer at Fuji Rock – a nice malty taste with good bittering, and dry rather than sweet. An Amber ale they called it, though I’d say it’s more of a red ale. Unfortunately being near the hippy area – and me being no hippy – I had to go out of my way to get it, but I reckon I downed about 10 glasses over the two days. I would buy this beer if they sold it in Lawson or 7/11 over Asahi and Kirin anyday, or maybe outside if I wanted something different from an IPA. I can still remember the lovely malty taste and bittering – mmmmm.

I talked to Kent, one of the guys behind Tokyo Ale. They’ve recently opened up a new shop selling their beer: “It’s take-away rather than a bar, but you can open up and drink there,” he told me, “We close a lot though so if you’re coming, mail me first – I’d hate for you to come and we’re closed.”  I’m sure he threw the word dude in there a couple of times also. Apart from Fuji Rock, I think their shop is the only place you can buy Tokyo Ale, though they may also have it at Super Deluxe (somewhere I’ve walked past many times but never gone int0).

Turns out the beer is currently made by Sankt Gallen, which has a bit of a reputation amongst homebrewers for the brewery being “a big shed with cobwebs everywhere” (direct quote from a friend of mine; I’ve not been there) and for being inconsistent and having dodgy beers. I like Sankt Gallen’s Yokohama XPA, though, even if others don’t.

When I mentioned the reputation to Kent, he said that they used a different brewery before and they are looking at a brewery in Saitama for making the next batch of beer (didn’t tell me which brewery though). He also said they’d had to change the recipe for Sankt Gallen – presumably to match with the ingredients on offer. They did well though – it was a nice beer.

Outside the hippy areas, I tried some John Smiths, and again tried the Nigata beer that I’d previously tried and thrown away – it wasn’t bad second time around, so either the keg was different or, as I suspect, pumping beer through the lines had cleaned them up a bit. Mostly I stuck with Echigo Pilsner though, because that was the most common craft beer available and I knew a place which always served it without off flavours – quite a few places the beer just seemed weird, like the beer servers were not well maintained.

Definitely not a festival to go to just to try craft beers, but it was good to see that there was at least some alternatives to Heineken on offer. I came back with a couple of cans of Nigata and Echigo beer from the convenience store which I’ll look forward to sitting down and drinking one night.

Mudfest at Fuji Rock

Mudfest at Fuji Rock

I survived the mud and the rain yesterday – and it got a lot worse than the photo above – to the end to see Oasis and find out Liam sings like a drunk guy at karaoke. Still, the actual music was superb, and I learnt to shield Liam out half way through the concert. Surprising star of the day was The Doves though.

Today is sunny and there’s nothing good on until Dinosaur Jr and Franz at 8ish, so I’ll venture out past the main stage to the smaller stage in search of craft beers. Yesterday was a rather nonplussing selection of Echigo Pilsner (in one bar this tasted excellent but in others tasted metallic; it actually has a mild white beer taste and I thought it was their Wiezen for a while), Nihonkai Sunset Pils (one bar only, tasted almost sour), Guinness (one bar only), Nigata beer (one bar only, tastes metalic and so bad that I threw it away) and Echigo Weizen (again, one bar only and some strange bug finished off the end of mine). In a lot of the places the beer tastes strange (as noted) but I have had variable quality of the same beer I think it is beer server condition rather than the beers themselves. Hotel beers were better, being my beer and Echigo Stout and Pilsner in cans. Nice stout that, Pilsner too is drinkable for Japanese Pils as long as you don’t need to drink it all day.

Let’s hope it stays sunny today!

Expect silence on the blog this weekend as tonight I’m hitting Fuji Rock. I’ll most likely get soaked as the weather isn’t looking good – but at least I’m staying in a hotel.

Last year the festival was awesome:

Festivals are very civilised in Japan compared to Britain - people even bring chairs!

Festivals are very civilised in Japan compared to Britain - people even bring chairs!

One of the smaller stages

One of the smaller stages

Another stage - there are quite a few

Another stage - there are quite a few

Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine

Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine

Last year My Bloody Valentine were the stars, and there was some pretty good bands on. This year there’s no-one special apart from Oasis, though I did see that Crying Nut from Korea are doing Fuji Rock this year.

Surprisingly for a festival, there are a couple of non-generic beer options. Of course there’s Heineken too if I want a really tasty beer (yeah, right!) From last year’s photos:

Tsukiyono Craft Beer

Tsukiyono Craft Beer

Echigo Beer

Echigo Beer

Tokyo Ale

Tokyo Ale

Sharps Doom Bar

Sharps Doom Bar

Abbot Ale

Abbot Ale

Not that I can remember what most of those taste like – I didn’t even keep simple records, unlike the girl I met who was recording on her arm how many beers she was drinking.

Six beers by 3pm - lightweight!

Six beers by 3pm - lightweight!

I do remember having the best pizza I’ve ever had in Japan though – made with a wood burning oven. Hope they are back this year.

Lovely pizza

Lovely pizza

If I can get a signal on Softbank I may post some twitters or even a blog update – but Softbank being Softbank and beer being freely available, it most likely there will be silence for a few days.

Let’s hope it doesn’t rain!

Yip, I've packed a raincoat. Don't have any wellies though.

Yip, I've packed a raincoat. Don't have any wellies though.

For those of you who don’t want to read back through the history of this blog (can’t say I blame you), here’s a short write-up of how I got to where I am and what I’m planning for the future.

The story so far

After starting my first beer in March 2009 and realising how easy it was to make beer – but not having tasted the first beer yet – I exploded into homebrewing, buying several more primaries (buckets for fermenting beer). For a couple of months I was brewing beer after beer, often having four beers on the go at the same time. Few of them came out the way I wanted – the first beer tasted like sugar; my IPAs were not bitter enough; my Orange Wheat had too much orange. But luckily from my first 15 or so beers there were enough good ones to keep me motivated, and thanks to other homebrewers I knew it was possible to improve and become consistent.

So I resolved to become consistent. I’d already moved away from kit beers and liquid malt extract – that was the first thing I did which improved my beers. The second was to experiment and research. Through my IPAs not being bitter enough, I read extensively about hops and bitterness. I also learned not to trust a recipe for a “famed” beer until I’d tried it for real – and that’s what led me to drinking LOTS of commercial beers.

I soon realised that I couldn’t become consistent without controlled fermentation temperatures – yeast really doesn’t react well to extreme temperatures. Some homebrewers use aircon and chill the entire room (not a bad idea if you store bottles there too), some have built a “son of a fermentation chamber” – I built a fermentation chamber from a mini-fridge, some cool boxes cobbled together, and a thermostat. It’s crude, but it works and only needs to last me this summer. It also made a staggering difference to my beers.

But yet, they were (are) still not perfect. My simple setup wasn’t helping – it had worked OK for small batches or when I was diluting with water, but anything bigger or all grain just exhausted me. And at 2am, weary, faced with wort that I couldn’t get cool enough or a pot half filled with trub, I just wanted the thing finished. The fun had disappeared from making beer. I needed a better setup.

Which brings me to now. Over the last two months I’ve been gathering various bits and pieces. I now have everything (except for a single washer!) that I need to crush grain, mash, sparge, cool, boil, aerate, and, of course, ferment beer. Most of those bits came from other homebrewers selling off gear, group buys, people tracking down suppliers, and homebrewers carrying goods from overseas. I’m hoping that the new equipment will put the fun back into brewing and will give me the next leap forward in the quality of my beers.

Beers I have planned:

  • Axis of Evil IPA – another 100+ IBU IPA
  • Imperial Stout – a style I’ve recently discovered I love drinking
  • Pilsner – last one didn’t really taste like Pilsner but I liked it and want to make it again
  • another Coconut Porter – I liked the last one a lot
  • and maybe another Nest White Ale clone

In the future future I’m thinking about opening up my own brewery, possibly in Scotland. I could open one now – my beers aren’t great yet, but if I call it Dogbrew and spend a shit load on punk marketing, it could probably succeed.

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