Behind the usual assortment of fresh produce and their derivative goods at the UNU Farmers’ Market in Aoyama last weekend, Tokyo Beer Week 2017, which runs through June 11, was quietly kicking off by offering nearly four dozen taps of craft beer from in and outside of Japan. This year’s event spans venues in Tokyo and Kanagawa and is the biggest incarnation yet.
Early in the afternoon on its May 27 opening day, the crowd was a mix of Tokyo’s hard-core beer enthusiasts and curious shoppers who had wandered over from the main market.
Two tickets redeemable for a beer each can be purchased for ¥1,000 from any of the eight trucks selling draft craft from local breweries like Far Yeast and those further afield, like Heiwa Craft in Wakayama Prefecture and Brussels Beer Project from the Belgian capital, which just last month opened a taphouse in Shinjuku. Bigger names were also on the menu, as import company AQ Bevolution was pouring an assortment from San Diego-based Ballast Point, and Kirin’s craft venture, Spring Valley Brewing out of Daikanyama, had a half-dozen beers at its customized Airstream trailer, aptly dubbed the Beerstream.
As the afternoon drew on, the steady breeze and passing clouds were a welcome antidote to the growing heat. In an event hall in UNU, a sake and beer tasting was underway. Later there would be a seminar on the different varieties of hops and their cultivation. This speaks to Tokyo Beer Week’s wider purpose, according to festival organizer Shigeo Morishita: “For people who haven’t had beer much or who haven’t had any interest, we want to create an opportunity to get to know beer.”
I had a chance to catch up with Morishita at the kickoff’s twin venue, nearby Commune 2nd, where the atmosphere was more up-tempo, perhaps by virtue of the former Commune 246’s role as Tokyo’s premier open-air mixed-use space for the city’s trendsetters to gather and rub elbows.
A DJ set the tone as the decidedly international crowd lounged in the shade, beers in hand. Festivalgoers would occasionally get up to peruse the hundred or so bottles and cans of different craft beers that formed the focal point of Commune 2nd’s selection, a deliberate foil to the UNU venue’s focus on draft beer.
“We try to provide opportunities to learn about beer as a new way of enjoying beer,” Morishita says. This focus on education is what sets Tokyo Beer Week apart from other festivals — that and the fact that rather than being confined to a single space, the festival spans the entire city and beyond, with additional programming in Yokohama and Kamakura.
Venues sign up to host events, the buy-in being increased visibility for the given business and, through education, widening the city’s beer-drinking customer base. Everything from seminars, workshops, tastings and pairings to pub and brewery tours fill out the schedule of over 100 listings.
Operating annually since 2014, this year the festival’s title finally became a misnomer. “This year we decided to hold two weeks,” Morishita explains, “and by extending the time people can participate, we hope that it makes it easier for people to choose a date, and that more people will come.” Tokyo Beer Week operates an aggressive social media campaign to spread the word, and their website is searchable by type of event, date and neighborhood.
A good number of the events are ongoing over the course of the festival. Pub-hopping across participating bars happens for the whole two weeks, and participants can collect stamps on a rally card for discounts along the way. It’s a great way to learn more about the scene and try something new with minimal investment. Several other participating bars have special deals on beer and meals for the duration, so check the Tokyo Beer Week website for listings.
Many events are limited in capacity and require reservations, so the early bird gets the beer. With one week of the festival remaining, there are still plenty of chances to get out of your comfort zone and experience the world of beer in a new light.
For a wide range of Japanese craft beer, head to Ebisu Garden Place on June 4 for BeerFes Tokyo 2017. If you’re interested in food pairings, stop by Hitachino Brewing Lab next to Tokyo Station at 2 p.m. on the same day for a beer and cheese tasting, or Cafe Crescent Moon in Ningyocho at 7 p.m. on June 8 for a pairing of local vegetables and beer.
June 9, meanwhile, will be European Beer Night, put on by the Tokyo Beer Week organizing committee at Timeout Cafe & Diner. Belgian beer has been gaining a much firmer foothold in Japan recently, so this is bound to be a worthwhile event. There’s also a Japanese musical instrument performance at The Aldgate in Shibuya on June 11 at 7:30 p.m. The most die-hard beer enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a rare bottle share — all done by lottery — organized by the BeerGhost club at HOPS125 in Ebisu on the final day of the festival.
For more info, visit beerweek.jp/2017.