From Sendai in the east to Kobe in the west, HUB Co., Ltd., which runs the chain pubs HUB and 82 ALE HOUSE (hereafter referred to as “82”), has expanded its operations to 103 total bars (as of November 2017). On December 4th the company’s stock was promoted from the second tier (for mid-sized companies) to the first tier (reserved for larger companies) on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. To commemorate this event, each of their pubs put a select beer on sale for a ridiculously low ¥180/glass.
When you hear about such drastic cuts in price like this, the name Isao Nakauchi comes to mind. The founder of the Daiei supermarket chain was known for drastically slashing the prices of groceries in what came to be termed “price smashing”. Maybe it won’t surprise you to learn that Nakauchi was also the founder of the HUB chain.
Nakauchi was impressed with the pub culture that he experienced when visiting England and decided to spread it in Japan. In April of 1980 he opened the very first HUB in Sannomiya, Kobe (which incidentally closed in September of 1996). A prime example of the savvy frugality with which he operated, the store was cash on delivery.
Whether it’s people just kicking the night off at their first stop, or revelers on a bar crawl, the cash-on-delivery system makes it easy to sell them single pints. Since it’s paid up front, the cashier never has to deal with customers trying to figure out how to divide the final bill. This is similar to the concept of walking through the supermarket, putting exactly what you want in your cart, and then taking it to the check-out register, is it not? Not having to worry about a mandatory seating charge (usually in return for a small appetizer) is also a refreshing concept for patrons, though there are some in the industry that would argue that doing away with that common practice is bad for business.
For us beer lovers, the image that sticks in our mind after visiting HUB or 82 is that of original beers or guest beers from small breweries on offer. 82 opened its first pub in 2005 and from 2007 it was offering guest beers. Initially they offered four beers yearly (one per season), but that increased to one per month and then eventually three per month.
Speaking of which, from this December to February of 2018 they plan to sell an original monthly beer brewed by craft breweries Swan Lake, Hansharo, and Yamaguchi Beer, in that order.
Swan Lake first appeared on tap as a guest beer in 2010. In the time since, the managers of 82 have gone to the Swan Lake’s facility in Niigata for on-the-job-training in the brewhouse. In 2012 it was decided that Swan Lake would make an original beer for 82 and brewing that beer is part of the training for its pub managers. From that first year, the Swan Lake beer became a seasonal, hitting the taps every December. In 2012 and 2013 it was a Strong Pale Ale. From 2014 until the present, a Session IPA was released.
The Session IPA was brewed at the initial suggestion of Swan Lake. Prior to this, 82 also had had an original beer made for them by BrewDog. The company was keen on it, but due to extenuating circumstances the brewery was not able to continue supplying it. That beer was in the neighborhood of 4%ABV with a prominent hop bitterness and aroma–basically a Session IPA. When Swan Lake made the suggestion for brewing a similar beer, 82 was happy to agree.
The Session IPA from Swan Lake pours with an ample frothy head. It has a hazy, golden hue. The hops are Cascade and Amarillo giving it a nice grapefruit aroma with hints of other fruits joining the party. It has a moderate body and is smooth with no noticeable astringency. Almost as soon as you swallow, the aftertaste vanishes. I was happy that I ordered the pint instead of something smaller.
From the food menu, I tried pairing the beer with the shungiku (garland chrysanthemum) salad. The citrusy aroma of the IPA matched well with the dressing’s acidity, emphasizing the fruit flavors. The bitterness of the hops and the shungiku naturally highlight the umami of bacon in the salad. Altogether is was a complex marriage of food and drink.
I’m looking forward to trying the creations from Hansharo and Yamaguchi Beer in the coming months–and maybe having a few more pints of the Session IPA in the meantime!