Beer Roundup (Winter 2017)

The band plays at Kumazawa Shuzo’s Oktoberfest

We hope you spent the autumn season in good health and good spirits. After all the autumn beer festivals, your liver isn’t hanging on like the last leaf on a tree in winter is it? Please, drink responsibly. This could mean everyday, just not Oktoberfest amounts of it. That is our public service announcement. Now, for one self service announcement (just one)…

The Japanese version of “Craft Beer in Japan: the essential guide,” by professor Mark Meli, was released to much fanfare at the end of summer. It has sold very well through the fall at festivals and especially at bar events across Japan where the author and/or one of the translators hosts a talk. If you’re a bar interested in holding such an event and/or retailing the books, contact us. If you want to buy the book in person somewhere, our website lists the roughly two dozen bars that carry it (otherwise, you can order it from our website). This is a good excuse to get a good book and a good beer at the same time!

The essential guide is now available in Japanese!

About those autumn festivals… Kumazawa Shuzo (maker of Shonan Beer) holds one of the best small Oktoberfests in Japan at their beautiful, lush campus in Chigasaki, Kanagawa. What’s makes this one so special? First of all, they not only make great beer, but sake too, and both are served. Saketoberfest anyone? One company employee is also a talented guitarist who rocks it out with his band on a small stage. Beer brewer Tsutsui was serving some of his specialty beers, and pours run through a Randle (basically a tube stuffed with hops) were also on offer at the bash. Best of all, there’s nothing corporate about it. It’s a family-owned brewery running a small festival that attracts mostly locals. It feels like the real thing. It is the real thing!

The Bakuon Fest held in September in Ibaraki City (near Osaka) is another festival with community feel, though on a larger scale. Maybe the atmosphere is due to it being largely run by the community, including the local government. Look, we’re not anti-corporate; some of the large-scale ones run all over Japan at various times of the year are obviously fun for the hundreds of thousands that attend. But local communities should benefit the most when their public spaces play host to such events. Good for Ibaraki City to take such initiative.

Once again this year, brewers were forced to either split their time at both or choose between two major festivals held at the same time in Kanto: the autumn editions of Keyaki Hiroba Beer Fest (Saitama) and BeerFes Yokohama. We wonder if there were any festival fanatics that tried to hit one early, the other later in the evening, like those outdoor sports junkies that try to surf in the morning and ski or snowboard at night… (this is possible in many parts of Japan, by the way). Whatever the case, there are so many festivals these days that brewers basically have to make a decision almost every weekend. In the not-so-distant future, maybe we’ll see their proxy robots serving us. Utopia or dystopia? We guess that depends on the quality of beer…

That’s a fine Randall you have!

It seems the fall was the time for US brewery personnel to escape to Japan—weary from the US election insanity maybe? Dave Engbers (Co-founder and President) and Brian May (VP of International Sales) of Founders Brewing Company stopped by in October to celebrate their beer having hit the Japanese market in September. We interviewed them so we’re pretty sure they were not proxy robots–the article is on our website.

Modern Times (see feature in this issue) sent Matt Walsh (head brewer) and Phil MacNitt (“Beer Jesus”… yes, really) to these shores for a slew of bar visits at the end of October. Watering Hole (Tokyo), Antenna America (Yokohama), Hop Buds (Nagoya), Craft Beer Base, Dig Beer Bar and Beer Bar Garrett (all Osaka) hosted them for some festive evenings with eager fans. So many nights, so much stamina. Robots? Nope, just devoted brewery staff.

Modern Times visiting Craft Beer Base Bud

Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal spent a part of his November on pub crawls through Nagoya and Tokyo. He stopped in Tochigi for a collaboration brew with a group of Tochigi brewers at Ushitora–a sour ale using ume and yuzu that should be out around New Year’s. He also collaborated on a saison with Isekadoya using sake rice and yeast from wild azalea called Spring Fever. As we revealed in our feature on Isekadoya last issue, the brewery has been exploring the use of wild yeast from flowers in their brews. Though winter has just begun, we suppose it isn’t too early for a taste of spring.

Also in November, the Brewers Association (of the US) in conjunction with importers of American craft beer held the second American Craft Beer Experience at the New Pier Hall in Tokyo. Mark Snyder, Export Development Program Manager for the BA, was on hand to lead a round of cheers to everyone’s magnificent beers. A small contingency of U.S. brewers also made the trip. Representing Sound Brewing, Mark Hood and Alan Moum kept a blistering pace, doing multiple tap takeovers almost every day during visits to Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo. Mark McClung of Schooner Exact and Paul Kavulak of Nebraska Brewing were also slinging their beers, mingling with guests and running educational seminars. Considering the possibility of future export opportunity, Richard Miller (Hardywood Park) and Pierre Augustin (Lucky 888) also brought beer to share.

“Cheers, Cheers for American craft beer!”

Finally, in celebration of Stone Brewing Company’s 20th anniversary, co-founder Greg Koch visited Japan for a bash in Shibuya. Shigeharu Asagiri (Coedo), Brian Baird (Baird Brewing) and Koichi Katsuki (Thrashzone) all sat on a panel with Koch to talk about the US and Japanese markets. They then mingled with thirsty attendees who sought autographs and consumed an exquisitely large amount of Stone beer. The big hit of the evening was the limited edition Citracado IPA—a double IPA brewed with Citra hops and avocado flower honey. Only humans could conceive of something so weird.

Greg Koch says “Craft beer rocks!” Baird and Asagiri concur.

Stay safe during the cold season, readers. Stay warm with friends. You’ll find one at your local bar.

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This article was published in Japan Beer Times #29 (Winter 2017) and is among the limited content available online. Order your copy through our online shop or download the digital version from the iTunes store to access the full contents of this issue.