|

Put the sake down, warm weather means craft beer

by Melinda Joe

Contributing Writer

For much of May, Tokyo has enjoyed blue skies, sunshine and summer-like temperatures. As the weather warms up, my mind increasingly turns from the sake and wine of winter to frothier forms of refreshment, and these days my interest lies squarely in Japanese craft beer.

Tokyo is awash with the stuff, and more and more venues are specializing in domestic brews. Several local producers, such as Ibaraki Prefecture’s Kiuchi Brewery (makers of Hitachino Nest Beer) and Nagano Prefecture’s Yo-Ho Brewing Company, which produces the brand Yona Yona, operate bars in the Japanese capital. Feeling thirsty last weekend, I popped into the latest addition to the Yona Yona Beer Works family, a surprisingly tourist-free haven in the chaotic Kabukicho area next to Seibu-Shinjuku Station.

The new location is smaller than its siblings but retains the same brushed-copper look — decorative kegs and amber-colored Edison bulbs dangle from the ceiling — and buzzy vibe. The menu is similarly consistent: 12 varieties on tap and a range of snacks, such as raclette and mozzarella sausages and French fries with dried seaweed.

I usually order the tasting flight, which includes three kinds of beer for ¥1,280 but this time I opted for a glass of the crisp and fragrant Boku Beer Kimi Beer Uraniwa Invader (¥830), an easy-drinking cream ale with hoppy aromas and a light texture. This summer, Yona Yona plans to open two beer gardens, one in Omotesando’s Tokyu Plaza Department store and one in the Roppongi Hills complex.

While Yona Yona is a reliable and convenient standby, I’m always looking to expand my craft beer horizons, so I turned to social media for recommendations from the global beer-loving community. Here are a few of the top picks:

Michael Harlan Turkell, author of the award-winning vinegar book “Acid Trip,” casts his vote for Ant ‘n Bee, a “subterranean” beer den in the Roppongi district: “As far as craft beer goes, you can’t beat that tap list,” he says.

It’s true. On a recent visit, the bar featured around 20 Japanese brews on tap, including Iwate Kura Japanese Ale Sansho, Sankt Gallen Shonan Gold and Kumazawa Brewing Company’s punchy Shonan IPA American Style. As expected, the menu also changes frequently.

Japanese subculture specialist and beer enthusiast Matt Alt is partial to Goodbeer Faucets in Shibuya Ward, which stocks 40 kinds of draft beer, a few real ales and several bottled varieties predominantly from Japan and America.

Sake expert Hitoshi Utsunomiya recommends standing bar Shinshu Osake Mura in Shinbashi, for its wide selection of brews from the beer-producing prefecture of Nagano — as well as its impressive sake list.

On his frequent visits to Tokyo, chef Michael Ryan of The Provenance in Beechworth, Australia, stops by Another 8, a stylish hideout improbably located on a quiet side street in the Meguro neighborhood. The bar has just enough hipster vibe to make it interesting (but not annoying), with a sleek, minimalist interior, a small menu of nicely prepared dishes and turntables beside the entrance. You will find a couple of choices from Kyoto Brewing Company among the eight rotating taps.

Former Japan Times editor Daniel Robson pointed me to Beer Brain, a cool and quirky stand in the Commune 2nd outdoor food court near Omotesando Station. The short but well-chosen list changes every few days but recent bottles included Fujizakura Heights 20th Anniversary Spring Lager and Minamishinshu Blueberry Hop, a ruby-colored brew with puckering acidity and malty notes.

Brazilian chef Mauricio Zillo is fond of Far Yeast, a taproom run by Tokyo-based producer Far Yeast Brewing Company. The space is small but airy, thanks to the wide-open windows, and the bar features around 12 of the brewery’s Kagua and Far Yeast labels, along with some limited-edition and seasonal beers.

The list goes on, but these places will keep me busy for a while — at least until rainy season hits in June.