No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow — and to help you shake the winter doldrums, we’ve compiled a list of upcoming beer festivals. Whether you prefer to drink outside under sunny skies or in rowdy tents while the plum rains fall, these should have you covered.
Nippon Craft Beer Festival
Cask-beer lovers were saddened to find out there would be no Real Ale Fest this February, but not to fear: The event was merely folded into the Nippon Craft Beer Festival on April 8 at Akiba Square in Akihabara, Tokyo. This amalgamated mashup promises 70-plus kegs and casks — about double the Real Ale Fest’s total. Heavyweight pedigree comes courtesy of organizer Tatsuo Aoki, owner of Popeye in Ryogoku, and sponsors Brewers Club and Good Beer Club. Expect good craft beer, and lots of it: 56 Japanese breweries, including big names such as Nide, Swan Lake, and Minoh.
There are plenty of smaller, up-and-coming brewers as well, ranging from the recently popular Aqula to Oni Densetsu, based in Hokkaido.
With triple the capacity of the former site in Sumida, Akiba Square will play host to an estimated 3,000 people. Be sure to book your ticket in advance, either at Popeye or online. Doors open at 11 a.m., with the first 1,000 guests receiving commemorative glasses, and the next 1,000 getting tasting glasses. The event ends at 6 p.m. — just in time to tipsily toddle off for some postbeer grub.
¥3,800 advance, ¥4,000 at the door; includes 10 100-ml pours. Additional drink tickets: ¥300. www.craftbeerfestival.org.
Midtown Beer Night
Bringing a bit of upscale glamour to the beer festival circuit are Midtown Night (April 20) and Grande Biere tasting event (April 21-22), both at Midtown in Tokyo’s Roppongi district. You should be in good hands at this one: It’s organized by the chairman of the Japan Craft Beer Association, Oda Ryoji, who has been running beer festivals for nearly 15 years.
With 80 craft beers from 30 breweries — Japanese and some international — there’s a lot on hand to sample. Furthermore, if you go on the first night, you’ll receive a 2012 commemorative glass; these are limited to the first 400 customers for each of the following days. Midtown Night runs from 6 p.m. to 8:15 p.m., with last calls 15 minutes prior to the end. Grande Biere is a comparatively leisurely four hours, 12:30-4:30 p.m.
And the food is worth mentioning, as well. In keeping with the event’s theme of savoring food and beer together, cuisine from Dean & Deluca will be available. Tickets can be bought at most convenience stores.
Midtown Night: ¥3,200 advance, ¥3,600 at the door. Grande Biere: ¥4,500 advance, ¥4,000 at the door, ¥6,300 for food and beer combo. www.beertaster.org.
Great Japan Beer Festival
The granddaddy of them all, the Great Japan Beer Festival (run by the Japan Craft Beer Association) allows aficionados around Japan to celebrate their love of beer, with events in Tokyo (June 2-3), Osaka (July 14-16), Nagoya (Aug. 4-5) and Yokohama (Sept. 15-17). It’s certainly the biggest beer festival in Japan, with an expected combined attendance of 33,000 and with 120 to 240 types of beer served, depending on the location. Nagoya looks like the best bet, as it’s cheaper and less crowded.
Though you get a 50 ml glass, you’re not limited to the amount of beer you can taste — it’s open season once you’re inside. Try samples from breweries all over Japan, with some international representation. Tickets can be bought at any convenience store.
Entry ¥3,900-4,700. www.craftbeerassociation.jp.
Yokohama Oktoberfest Spring
Yokohama has become something of a ji-bīru (microbrew) hot-spot lately, what with the recent openings of a Baird Taproom in Bashamichi and Bay Brewing Yokohama near Kannai Station. Yet perhaps the most well-known beer event in Yokohama is the annual Oktoberfest, usually the only one in the area held remotely close to the actual date. For the first time, however, it will also take place in spring, coinciding with Golden Week: April 27-May 6, at the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse complex.
The beer lineup isn’t posted yet, but authentic German brews such as Spaten, Franziskaner, Flensburger and Erdinger usually make an appearance, in addition to a few home-grown breweries like Sankt Gallen and Fujizakura Kogen. If your sozzled liver can’t take any more abuse, there are always bratwursts and pretzels to soak up the booze.
The lines get long for both beer and toilets, and the level of drunkenness tends to be quite high — possibly due to the Teutonic sizing, 500 ml and up — but there’s something extra-convivial in the air here. The event runs on April 27 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. April 28 through May 6.
¥200 at the door, beers from ¥1,000, plus a refundable glass deposit. www.yokohama-akarenga.jp/event.
Beer Rise Festival
Craft-beer bar La Cachette is creating a complete “beer village” within Yebisu Garden Place in Ebisu, Tokyo, for the second iteration of its Beer Rise Festival (May 26-27). To do this, it will bring in 20 breweries serving over 60 different taps. In the spirit of the event — raising the profile of lesser-known but quality brewers — the bar’s owner is negotiating to bring some new faces to the table as well. Last year saw stalwarts such as Harvest Moon and Shiga Kogen.
Unlike other events that match craft beers with artisanal cuisine, Beer Rise is going for the best kind of drunk food: B-kyu gurume (class-B gourmet), with cheap but delicious dishes such as tripe hot-pot and gyōza dumplings. Pair those savory snacks with six 180-ml tasters of your choice (¥500 per additional glass). On Saturday the festival starts at 1 p.m. and finishes at 5 p.m.; Sunday libations start pouring at noon and end at 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance at La Cachette, or any convenience store.
Craft Beer Festa Kyoto
There are many well-curated events in the Kansai region, including the Craft Beer Festa Kyoto, held May 13. New beer makers such as Bay Brewing Yokohama and Outsider Brewery will be in attendance, as well as four local ones from Kyoto. Overall, 20 breweries and 40 kinds of beer will be available for tasting. The first 500 people will get a limited-edition glass; last year saw about 4,000 people, so pick up your tickets at your local Kyoto beer bar and get there early.
¥3,500 advance (includes 10 200-ml glasses), ¥400 per 200-ml glass at the door. www.kyoto-jibeer.com.