JUNE/JULY 2005 | REGIONAL |
The Beer Hunter Draws A Bead On Japan
By Bryan Harrell
|Author Michael Jackson,
Brewmaster Toshi Ishii and CBN writer Bryan Harrell in
Tokyo. Photo courtesy of the Yoho Brewing
I happened to be in California when e-mail arrived from Owen
Barstow, Michael Jackson’s assistant in London, asking
if I would assist the Beer Hunter himself in touring small
breweries near Tokyo for three days in February.
“Tell Michael I’ll meet him in Tokyo,”
I replied. For that, I would make a quick return to Japan.
After booking the flight, my head was swimming with the names
of places I wanted to take him to. But with only three days
and nights, we could handle at best three microbreweries (in
different directions out of Tokyo) plus a few beer spots in
On our first day together, Mr. Jackson was kind enough to
make time to give a talk to the Good Beer Club, held at Beer
Club Popeye, Japan’s craft-beer mecca with the country’s
largest selection of local brews. At this SRO event, Mr. Jackson
talked about various topics related to beer and beer organizations
while I interpreted his comments into Japanese. Half of the
event’s proceeds went to charities for the recent tsunami
disaster in Southeast Asia.
Finishing in mid-afternoon, we headed straight for Baird
Beer in the town of Numazu, a small fishing port
on the Pacific in Shizuoka prefecture. Quite a number of beer
enthusiasts in Japan, myself included, agree that Baird currently
brews the best beer in Japan. Fortunately, we arrived on Sunday,
February 13, the final day of Baird’s Winter Beer Festival.
Toshi Ishii of Yoho Brewing
crafts a mind-bogglingly good barley wine that Michael
Jackson is considering adding to his “beer of
the month” selection.
Mr. Jackson was given tasters of all of Baird’s regular
beers and specialties. What impressed me most about him was
the remarkable detail of his questions on each of the beers,
quizzing Baird on types of malt, mashing techniques, hopping
and a whole lot more. Mr. Jackson showed his remarkable journalistic
instincts, acquired over some 30 years of writing on beer.
What I thought would take 30 minutes continued nonstop for
nearly two hours as Bryan Baird searched his memory to remember
the smallest details about the batch of beer at hand. At close
to 10:00 p.m. we finally left, barely catching the last train
back to Tokyo.
Since I’d hoped to introduce Mr. Jackson to some of
Japan’s best craft-brewed saké, my choice for
the second day came easily. Kiuchi Shuzo is a saké
brewer of several centuries’ standing, and for nearly
10 years it has also brewed the Hitachino Nest beers, which
are now being exported to the U.S. Despite its long traditions,
Kiuchi Shuzo is a very enterprising company, also producing
wine and even distilled sho-chu spirits.
On Monday morning, we took the train from Tokyo north to Ibaraki
Prefecture to Kiuchi’s elegantly restored 18th-century
brewery compound. After a tour of the beer brewery, we were
given samples of all their brews. Again, Mr. Jackson inquired
into great detail about each, keeping copious notes for some
The choice for our third day was Yoho Brewing
of Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, where Brewmaster Toshi Ishii
(formerly of Stone Brewing in San Diego, Calif.) crafts the
remarkably good Yona Yona Pale Ale in the West Coast style,
but also a mind-bogglingly good wood-aged barley wine that
Michael Jackson is now considering adding to his “beer
of the month” selection. Mr. Ishii has put a great deal
of time and effort into popularizing cask-conditioned real
ale in Japan and has been of tremendous help in the last three
annual Real Ale Festivals held by the Good Beer Club, Japan’s
version of CAMRA.
Our first stop was a restaurant owned by the parent company
of the brewery, where Mr. Jackson tasted Yoho Brewing’s
line of beers and we were treated to a lunch of local cuisine.
Afterwards, we toured the brewery and were given a vertical
tasting of Mr. Ishii’s wood-aged barley wines. Brewery
staffers kindly drove us back to Tokyo, where we paid a visit
to Bois Cereste, Tokyo’s famous Belgian beer specialty
bar. Ahhh, too many good beer places, not enough time.
Everywhere Michael Jackson visits, he spreads not only the
message of high-quality traditional beer, but also a strong
sense of goodwill and camaraderie among the peoples of the
world. His recent Japan visit was no exception, and we hope
he will return again in the near future.
Bryan Harrell is a professional writer who
has lived in Tokyo since 1977. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.