Bar visits


Soon to be followed by Brewdog’s Hello My Name Is Vladimir at Extreme Bar Stone (Asagaya)

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Friday night: IBU event at Towers. A pint each of Green Flash West Coast IPA, Hop Rod Rye, and Ruination for 3000 yen. Who says you can’t sell Nagano Trading’s beers at 1000 yen a pop and make a profit – people were making special trips from Yokohama and beyond for these beers.

How many people can you squeeze in a Mini?

How many people can you squeeze in a Mini?

One, two, three, ...

One, two, three, ...

An impromptu table made from a parking meter!

An impromptu table made from a parking meter!

I loved the cool tabletop for the parking meter – what an idea!

Green Flash was a lot more bitter than I remembered it – was definitely better at Dry Dock before. Ruination was excellent as always – I still have some in my beer fridge actually; I’m savouring them.

From Thrash to Maltan for Shiga Kogen House IPA (but sold out!) and then to The Aldgate for Thistle IPA. I’ve been wanting to get to The Aldgate for ages with a decent camera – yet I completely failed to take any photos. Doh!

Saturday: Kichijoji

Thinking of Jonno in his home town, I pounced on some XXXX being sold a bargain basement prices at some “everything much go” shop near the park.

A wouldn't give a XXXX for anything else

A wouldn't give a XXXX for anything else

Joke and slag off XXXX as much as you want, but this XXXX Export Lager was actually pretty good. Nice refreshing malty crispness to it – I actually went back for a second can.

In the evening, Bicke – and I did succeed in scoring some Shiga Kogen IPA. Doesn’t it look gorgeous?

Japans best IPA - Shiga Kogen IPA

Japans best IPA - Shiga Kogen IPA

Sunday: Dieu du Ciel event at Ushi Tora. Interesting story this – after some Japanese breweries sent beers to Canada for a festival, the brewers at Dieu du Ciel decided that rather than send the kegs back empty, they’d fill them with their beers and send them back to Japan. The beers were given to Ushi Tora free – though obviously UT need to pay customs charges etc – which meant the beers ended up pretty cheap, and they were served by Luc from Dieu du Ciel himself.

Luc turning Japanese

Luc turning Japanese

Beers on tap were:

  • Rosée d’hibiscus (Pinkish Hibiscus) Hibiscus flower Wit 5%
  • Solstice d’été aux cerises (Cherry Summer solstice) Sour wheat beer with fruits 5.5%
  • Dernière Volonté (Last will) Abbey-style blond beer 6.5%
  • Corne du diable (Horn of the devil) American IPA 6.5%
  • Péché Mortel (Mortal Sin) Imperial coffee stout 9.5%
  • Charbonnière (Coalwoman) Rauchbier (Smoked ale) 5%
  • Ochamena Bi-Ru (Ochamena Bi-Ru) Buckwheat beer with Japanese tea 5%
  • Isseki nicho (Isseki nicho) Impérial dark saison 9%, made with Sato-san from Shiga Kogen

The Hibiscus I expected to hate and it was easily the best of the day; the IPA was a good effort – I’d like to try it out the bottle; and the Japanese tea beer tasted exactly like Haagen-dazs – and just like Haagen-dazs, at first I didn’t like it, but by the end I loved it.

For me the weakest of the two beers were the Coffee Stout which was too strong for me and the Rauch, but that’s only because I don’t like smoked beers – others loved it.

Luc was great to talk with and seemed really enthusiastic about the beer, the label designs – everything. Would love to get to Canada and check the place out.

I also got to talk with Sato-san from Shiga Kogen – it was fantastic to meet him given the amount of time I’ve spent chasing round Tokyo in search of his beers, both the standard IPA and the house IPA. You might recall that I didn’t like the house IPA much the last few times I tried it – Sato-san let me try one that Ushi Tora currently have on tap but were not selling (because of the event) and it was much better, so maybe I’ll try it again next time I see it on tap. The normal IPA rocks though.  Some good beers coming out of Shiga Kogen in the next few months – they’re in the middle of harvesting their own hops now – I’ll be looking forward to them.

Isseki nicho

Isseki nicho

A great weekend of beer drinking. It’s only a shame it had to end…

As well having hop fever, I seem to have lens fever right now. Last night I bought a Tokina 10-17mm and went out in search of hops.

First stop O’Connell in Nippori for a special edition Yokohama XPA – with 4 times as many hops as usual.

Nice place O’Connell – just across the road from the East entrance of Nippori station, two buildings along from the McDonald’s.

Through the McFisheye - McDonalds, Girlie bar, and O'Connell

Through the McFisheye - McDonalds, Girlie bar, and O'Connell

You can just see O’Connell to the right of NaNa Girlie bar. Inside – O’Connell, not the girlie bar – it’s a fairly typical Irish theme pub.

The bar at O'Connell

The bar at O'Connell

O'Connell taken from the rear

O'Connell taken from the rear

The stools at the tables seemed to have been designed for midgets – and that’s not the only thing designed for midgets. Check out how small this “pint” glass is:

Midget pint glass of Yokohama XPA

Midget pint glass of Yokohama XPA

It claims to be a US pint, but I’m not convinced. It was only 1000 yen though. And very tasty. I had three.

Drafts at O’Connell are fairly standard Irish fare, but they do have Hoegaarden on tap and a range of bottles from Baird, Hitachino Nest, and Shiha Kogen (house IPA was sold out though).

A lovely pair for the ladies

A lovely pair for the ladies

From Nippori to Shinbashi for the last day of Dry Dock’s Golden Nights event – basically a bunch of pilsners and lagers at cheapish prices.

I’ve never been able to take a decent photo inside Dry Dock before because it’s so tiny.

Inside Dry Dock

Inside Dry Dock

That’s the whole of downstairs – space for about 10 standing, though they always seem to squeeze in more. Upstairs there are a couple of table. Last night the beer drinking spilled to outside the bar.

I had a Loco Brewery Kolsch which I though was good until I tried the Fujizakura Heights Pilsner and Hideji Pilsner. Hideji was awesome, Fujizakura Heights pretty good too – I’ll need to try to get them on bottles sometimes. Going back to the Kolsch after those, I really missed the bitterness.

From Dry Dock, a quick bolt to Kanda for Maltan.

The outside of Maltan

The outside of Maltan

In a street full of dodgy sex places – you can even see a geezer hanging outside and a “7000 yen” sign in the photo – Maltan is one of a number of craft beer bars in Kanda. It’s definitely my favourite – nice laidback atmosphere inside and decent prices at about 1000 yen a pop. Last night they had Shiga Kogen IPA on draft:

Shiga Kogen IPA at Maltan

Shiga Kogen IPA at Maltan

Lovely drop that Shiga Kogen IPA – one of the best Japanese IPAs I reckon.

Shiga Kogen finished and no signal on the iPhone to check my last train, I made a reluctant retreat from Maltan around 11:30 and returned home.

A nice night of drinking like a fish with good beers, nice company, and a lovely new lens.

I have to admit I was never a huge Pilsner fan, but I do love Pislner Urquell. Here’s one – two actually, because there’s a little one for the lady at the back – from Cataratas a few days ago:

Pilsner Urquell at Cataratas

Pilsner Urquell at Cataratas

Gorgeous on draft it was.

I think one reason I wasn’t a big fan of Pils before is that Japanese Pils put me off the genre – they always come out way too sweet. I have to be honest though, I like my Pilsner really bitter and even non-Japanese pils like Jever don’t cut it for me.

So you get the idea – I’m picky about my Pils. Yet after making my own and loving it – though it had a bit too much dry hopping to really be a Pils – I keep trying new Pils whenever I see them, Japanese or non-Japanese.

Well finally I’ve found a Japanese Pilsner that I like – nay, love. It came as part of last months delivery from the Japanese beer fan club Beer Festa:

Umenishiki Pilsner, Aromatic Ale, and Blanche

Umenishiki Pilsner, Aromatic Ale, and Blanche

What a lovely Pilsner that was – dry and gorgeously bitter. The Blanche was good too – Japanese breweries tend to make weizen; this was more of a White Ale like Hitachino’s Nest, though with more of an orange tang. The Aromatic Ale… I’m still not sure about that. It seemed to be like a malty red ale but had some kind of tang to it – it’s the kind of beer you drink thinking “Do I like this or not?” and never quite answer the question before the end.

Unfortunately I only had two of each bottle – and now there’s only one of each. Sitting here typing this now I want to open the fridge and savour all of them – but it’s only noon!

Just checking the Umenishiki website now for the first time, I see that in the Japan Asian Beer Cup this year, the Pilsner won Bronze in the Pilsner category and the Blanche won Gold in the Bergian (sic) category. They also seem to export to Singapore, New York, Hong Kong – though whether that’s just the sake, I don’t know.

Unknown to me until now, Umenishiki now ranks as one of the Japanese brewers I’ll be watching out for – adding to the small list of breweries that are really outstanding here: Hakusekikan (nice dark strong beers), Shiga Kogen (House IPA), Hitachino (White Ale), Yokohama Brewery (Green Fresh IPA), Harvestmoon (Barley wine).

Sadly I can’t include either Bekken or Awa Uzushio in that list since they’ve both stopped making beer now. Bekken made a Pilsner that also fell into the curious category – being both sweet and dry at the same time. Awa Uzushio made an outstanding Kolsch – a fantastic beer by Japanese standards; I have a few cans left and I’m really savouring them.

I shouldn’t post about beer this early in the day – it makes me want to drink. Good job I’m going to a BBQ this afternoon!

Fish and Chips - small size

Fish and Chips - small size

I’ve had some pretty weird Fish and Chips in Japan, but looks-wise, the “fish sausage” I was served at Hazelburn Shinjuku last night has to take the award. It tasted good though – freshly made batter, flaky fish inside – it just looked strange. Maybe the large size actually looks like a fish.

Specials last night at Hazelburn were Chiswick Bitter and Fuller’s ESB. I had both – ESB is definitely the star of the two. Chiswick Bitter was limited to a 30 keg import to Japan though.

Fuller's ESB at Hazelburn

Fuller's ESB at Hazelburn

Had to return the first pint for having too much head – a common problem in Japan. Hilariously, they thought I was complaining because there was too little head, something which Japanese apparently do complain about (which explains why Japanese places often serve British and American beers with huge head) so I had to sent it back again. This time they understood and they were happy to de-head it. Every beer after that was perfect.

Hazelburn gets some stick from hopheads for not having that great a range of beer – but actually, they have a fair range there. Hazelburn is the only place I know of in Japan that has both Belhaven Best and Belhaven St Andrews continuously on tap, as well as other standards like Old Speckled Hen and Strongbow. They also have bottles which include Young’s, Boddingtons, Brewdog, Newcastle Brown, Harviestoun Ola Dubh, Discovery Blonde Beer, and White Shield IPA. White Shield is nothing special but Discovery Blonde Beer is actually pretty hoppy – it’s not a bad beer.

There are no decent IPAs though, no radical beers like the Americans have. When I asked the English speaking bar manager “Why don’t you have hoppy American IPAs then?” he replied: “Because we’re a British bar.”

When I asked “Why don’t you have more British IPAs then” he replied: “Because we can’t get them in Japan.” Two months ago they had Thistle IPA – but beers like that don’t come regularly to Japan.

While I feel “Damn you! British beers are back in the stone age, get some American beers in then!” I have to admire that they are at least staying true to the aim of serving UK beers.

Traquair Jacobite Ale and Young's Special London Ale

Traquair Jacobite Ale and Young's Special London Ale

What’s sad is that I know that when I visit Scotland later this year, there are going to be many times when I’ll be wishing for a selection like Hazelburn’s. I’ll have choices of Tennants and Carling and Stella – if I’m lucky there may be a white beer or Guinness.

I asked the bar manager at Hazelburn (should have got his name – doh!): “Which of your beers do you like the best?” He recommended Traquair Jacobite Ale and Young’s Special London Ale – and both were excellent. When I’m back in the Scotland I’ll be lucky if I get anything close.

It may not have the best range in Tokyo for hopheads but Hazelburn is better than most of the pubs in Scotland, and it has the benefit of not being overrun by foreigners like Dubliners and Hobgoblin and the home of flat beer, Hub. And despite not having been there for two months, they still remembered me – the staff in Cataratas in Shibuya don’t even acknowledge my existence even though I go there about twice a month.

Shinjuku still needs a decent hoppy bar, but for me, Hazelburn is one of only two good bars in the area – the other one being Frigo. I’m glad I found it. My advice to hopheads: See Hazelburn for what it is – a bar with decent British beer. That might not be what you want, but it doesn’t mean others wont like it.

Mmmm, I really did enjoy the Young’s Special London Ale – seeing it in the photo above now makes me long for another one…

A damn good thrashing (click photo for video)

A damn good thrashing (click photo for video)

Sunday I finally made it to Thrash Zone when it wasn’t closed!

Damn difficult place to find is Thrash Zone – hidden five minutes walk from Yokohama station North West exit on the second floor of this building:

There's a bar in here??

There's a bar in here??

Not a single indication on the building that Thrash exists, even though there’s plenty of space for a small sign:

Ample space for a sign

Ample space for a sign

When the bar is open, there is a blackboard outside though. Beware – Thrash is closed on Sundays (as I found out after making a special trip there one Sunday – doh!), and one Saturday I went there it was unexpectedly closed with no explanation (turns out Katsuki-san was ill). In fact I had so little luck getting into Thrash that for a long time I wondered whether the bar even existed – instead being advertised as a cunning way to lure gaijins into the girlie bar “Parsley” next door. I noticed on Sunday that Parsley was closed – could it be that Thrash and Parsley are actually alter-egos of the same bar?

Inside Thrash is tiny. For the anticipated rush of beer lovers for the 3rd Anniversary Bash on Sunday it was standing only, but I think there are stools along the bar at other times. Here’s a shot of the inside, five minutes before the bar officially opened:

Inside Thrash Zone, Yokohama

Inside Thrash Zone, Yokohama

Star of the menu for the event was a beer Katsuki-san, the owner (wearing the hat in the photo above), had made a beer at a small Japanese brewery: Simcoe Bloody Simcoe. Three versions of the beer were available – the original on CO2, dry hopped with extra simcoe on hand pump, and dry hopped with amarillo on hand pump. Best of the bunch for me was the amarillo dry hopped version, followed by the  CO2 original – the simcoe dry hopped was just a little too bitter.

Simcoe Bloody Simcoe - Normal, Crossover, SBS - Amarillo dry hopped

Simcoe Bloody Simcoe - Normal, Crossover, SBS - Amarillo dry hopped

Also on tap was Crossover – the beer that Katsuki-san made last year. The first glass poured was filled with yeast…

I've never seen so much yeast in a beer

I've never seen so much yeast in a beer

…but after a few pints out it cleared and was actually pretty good.

When it’s not the special event, Thrash can have around 10 beers on tap – taps which pop out the side of fridges!

Me thinks Katsuki-san installed these taps himself

Me thinks Katsuki-san installed these taps himself

In amongst all the Simcoe Bloody Simcoe drinking, I managed to persuade Katsuki-san to pour me a pint of Double Bastard 2006 – extremely hard to get in Japan. I’d heard good things about it and was glad to try it, but didn’t think it anything special actually. Simcoe Bloody Simcoe was much better… but it was also lethal. I was wrecked by the time I got home at 8:30pm, and by 9pm I was asleep in bed. Woke up at 2:30am and couldn’t sleep again for another 2-3 hours. Promised myself I’d never drink again, etc etc.

I was glad I finally made it down to Thrash though – excellent people there, good beers, and you have to admire Katsuki-san for making his own beers, and heavily heavily hopped ones at that. 200g of Simcoe dryhopping per keg I think he said – awesome – and 105 IBUs. Some bars complain about the price of import beers in Japan – I wish instead of complaining they’d take the risk and make some decently hopped beers themselves from time to time. Not only would it draw hop lovers like the crowd at Thrash but it would support the Japanese breweries and show the breweries that heavily hopped beers sell.

Thrash Zone’s website is here – it includes a map and a list of the current beers on draft and bottle. Although it’s a Thrash Metal bar, thankfully the music was kept so low that I barely noticed it (I hate metal). Definitely my favourite bar in Yokohama so far.

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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