AUG/SEP 2006 | REGIONAL | INTERNATIONAL
Beer And Loathing At The Japan Beer Festival In Tokyo
By Bryan Harrell
Craft-beer popularity continues its strong and steady growth
in Japan, but it seems that the organizers of Japan’s
largest beer event, the Japan Beer Festival, a weekend event
held in Tokyo, are finding it increasingly difficult to manage
the crowds. This year’s event was the most crowded ever,
and for the first half of the first day, uncomfortably so.
Blame can be placed first on the over-selling of tickets,
which were good for either day, making it difficult to balance
the numbers on Saturday and Sunday. This year’s event
was held May 6–7, which happened to be at the end of
Japan’s “Golden Week” of successive holidays.
As such, the majority of beer enthusiasts chose to attend
Saturday, with several hundred lining up in front of the Yebisu
Garden Place venue hours before the 2 p.m. opening.
Although there was apparent efficiency in the serving systems,
which were manned by well-trained volunteer servers, they
were overwhelmed by the number of visitors. There were long
lines in front of most of the popular selections, with people
waiting as long as 20 minutes for a 2-ounce sample of beer.
The food lines were worse, with some people waiting as long
as an hour.
Japanese craft beer has really come of
age in the last three years, as quality has improved markedly.
I arrived an hour after opening time on Saturday, and though
a few of my friends left in disgust (I encouraged them to
lodge complaints upon leaving), I stuck it out, and by around
4:30 p.m. the serving lines were bearable, with some stations
having no lines at all. This was little consolation in light
of the 6 p.m. “last call” after having paid the
equivalent of $32 for an advance ticket.
After the festival, Ryouji Oda, representative of the JCBA,
organizer of the event, told me by phone that attendance for
the two days was 5,000 people: 2,800 on Saturday and 2,200
on Sunday. A phone call to the office of the venue revealed
that the hall’s standing capacity is 1,500, according
to fire department regulations. As you can imagine, sparks
were flying after the event.
In response, a number of small breweries, together with Tatsuo
Aoki and Toshiyuki Ishii of Beer Club Popeye in Tokyo, have
created a new organization, Brewers Club, which will hold
the Nippon Craft Beer Festival 2006 on September 17. Only
700 tickets will be sold for the event, which is billed as
“the festival that brewers are bestowing on beer fans.”
BEER IN JAPAN
Even if you won’t be in Japan for the upcoming Nippon
Craft Beer Festival 2006, there are a number of great places
in Tokyo and Osaka to grab a great pint. Here are some of
my recommendations. Be sure to call first to confirm operating
hours. Also, if a hotel concierge is at your disposal, get
directions and a map.
Beer Club Popeye: This is simply
the best place in the universe for Japanese craft beer, which
has really come of age in the last three years, as quality
has improved markedly. There are 40 taps, three hand-pumps
and an array of bottled beer. Thanks to the efforts of Phred
Kaufman, Beer Club Popeye also proudly serves Hair of the
Dog and Rogue beers. Near Ryogoku Station in Tokyo; phone
The Aldgate: This English-style
pub added microbrew early last year and now has some 15 taps
and counting. Located in the lively “Center Gai”
area of the Shibuya district; phone 03-3462-2983; the-aldgate.com.
Bois Cereste: Another “best,”
this is easily the best Belgian beer spot in Japan, if not
Asia. Owner Masaharu Yamada is a jazz pianist who once lived
in Brussels, and upon returning to Japan, he had to open a
place featuring Belgium’s best. Classy and cozy, this
place is a jewel. Near Akasaka Station in Tokyo at 2-13-21
Akasaka B1; phone 03-3588-6292.
Antwerp Central: Adjacent to
Tokyo Station, it seems as though this large (for Japan) beer
café was airlifted directly from Belgium. Most cities
in the U.S. don’t have anything like this. Adjacent
to Tokyo Station at Tokyo Building, Tokia B1; phone 03-5288-7370;
Beer Belly: Most of Japan’s
best microbrews are served here. Near Higo-bashi subway station
at 1-1-30 Tosa-bori; phone 06-6441-0717.
Beer & Bear: Funky and ramshackle,
this place has an interesting mix of Asian food and all manner
of ales. Near Shinsai-bashi and Honmachi subway stations at
3-4-9 Hakuro-cho; phone 06-6241-0409.
Grand Dolphins: Impressive selection
of Belgian beers. Near Shinsai-bashi subway station at 1-8-1
Higashi Shinsai-bashi; phone 06-6244-0168.
Masamichi: The destination for
Osaka’s hard-core Belgian beer fans. Near JR Tamatsukuri
Station at 1-1-15 Higashi-Obase, Higashinari-ku, Osaka; phone
Bryan Harrell is a professional writer from
California who has lived in Tokyo since 1977. He spends his
summers in San Francisco, satisfying his thirst for good West
Coast craft beer. He can be contacted at email@example.com.