Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Ushi Tora 2


[For your information, Ushi Tora 1 has now moved. Please check here for the new listing]

Perhaps common sense would have said that I should put both Ushi Tora bars together, but I think they are very different places so here is part one, which for some reason starts with bar 2. Ushi Tora 2 is the much smaller one room standing bar that you come to before you get to the main Ushi Tora. There's not much room here, but given that it is a standing bar, you are probably not meant to hang around for too long. Unfortunately, they do normally have a very good and interesting beer list though, which does encourage you to linger. They have around 15 taps, one of which is draught sake, and the rest tend to be interesting Japanese micros. However, they do have themed tap takeovers, so sometimes there may be a few imports from an interesting brewer. The big draw is that they do seem to get things here that other bars don't. On my last visit there were a few that I had never come across, and some one year aged versions too.
The place itself is cosy, unsurprisingly given the size. There are a lot of comic books, some Japanese kids toys, and some bewildered looking goldfish. They have an English translation of the menu available, and I think the staff are probably able to speak some English. If you are coming to Shimo Kitazawa to visit the main Ushi Tora, it is definitely worth saving some time for a couple in the smaller branch. Both branches have different opening times so it is worth checking both will be open before you come. Ushi Tora 2 is closed on Mondays, but open earlier than the main branch at weekends, and they sometimes extend opening hours on public holidays.
Possibly the one drawback is the prices, which are a little over the normal in Tokyo. But if you balance this with the interesting selection it balances out somewhat. Serving sizes are generally US pint and half pint sizes. Half pints range from ¥650-¥750 and pints from ¥1150-¥1300. The one import when I was there was the Schelde brewery's Hop Ruiter which was ¥850 a half and ¥1500 a pint. Draught sake was ¥900, but the serving was quite big.
So, definitely worth the trip out to Shimo Kitazawa. Just a shame that there is no other craft places in the area at the moment. And Shimo Kita is quite an interesting area to wander around with lots of interesting shops (lots of record shops particularly) and cafes and restaurants.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Chateau Kamiya
Shiga Kogen
Sankt Gallen
Gagery
Shimono Loco
Yo-ho
Iwatekura
Ise Kadoya

Opening Hours:
Closed Monday, Tuesday to Friday 15.00 - 23.30, Saturday and Sunday 11.30 - 23.30

Location/map
三久ビル2F, 北沢 2-9-3 Setagaya, Tokyo, 155-0031

Directions:
Firstly, you need to get to Shimo Kitazawa station. You can either take the Odakyu line that runs from Shinjuku, or the Keio Inokashira Line from Shibuya. On both lines, local and express trains stop at Shimo Kitazawa. From the station, exit via the South gate. Turn left immediately out of the gate, , and follow the road round. You'll soon see a supermarket ahead of you, and a level crossing on the left hand side. Turn right here and then the first left. Carry on to the next right turning, but do not turn the corner. If you look ahead of yourself now you should be able to see the view of the bar that is in the picture above. Both Ushi Tora bars are on the second floor of the white building immediately ahead of you. The stairs are on the right hand side and Ushi Tora 2 is right by the staircase on the second floor. 



Telephone:
03-3485-9090

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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Goodbeer Faucets

GBF has been open now around a year but given the recent explosion of new places in Tokyo it already feels like a well-established veteran. As with most Japanese Craft Beer places, beer on tap is the focus here. They have 40 taps and 3 handpumps, split fairly evenly between Japanese micros and imports. The Japanese micros come from a variety of brewers, but with quite a few from Baird and Nide, and there always seems to be a decent mix of styles. The imports lean towards the US, but Brewdog also makes an appearance, I have seen Nogne O, and they normally have one or two Belgians on. As a Belgian beer snob, I would probably say that the Belgian taps normally tend to be the syrupy fruity stuff that seems to be the norm for Belgian taps in Tokyo bars. However, they occasionally do have good stuff on. I recently spotted XX Bitter which is pretty good by me.
The decor is modern and minimalist looking, with a large central island bar with a long counter round it. There is more counter-style seating by the large window, which gives you a nice place to drink and stare at the passing crowds if you are so inclined. There are a few tables too if you are in a group.
The big draw of Faucets for me is their Happy Hour. From 16.00 - 20.00 Monday to Thursday, and from 15.00 - 20.00 on Sunday, all pints are ¥200 off. This can make drinking here very economical. The normal prices are pretty standard for Tokyo, pints (473ml) range from ¥900-¥1100 for Japanese micros and ¥1100-¥1300 for imports. Glasses (236ml) are from around ¥500-750 for Japanese micros and ¥750-¥850 for imports. However, I should also mention their house beer Endless Brown Ale, made for them by Brimmer, which is pretty nice, and is only ¥700 a pint, so becomes an ultra-affordable ¥500 during happy hour. They have bottles too, some Belgians, Germans and a few others, in the ¥1200-¥1300 range, but personally I don't think they are as interesting as the tap selections.
All in all, a really good part of the Tokyo scene. A nice bar with a good selection and decent prices. The staff are helpful and there is always someone there who can speak English. They are open late (till 3am) on Fridays too, which is nice if you end up in Shibuya at that time needing a decent beer. GBF is definitely on the must-visit list for any beer lover in Tokyo, whether you are interested in imports or Japanese micros.

Japanese breweries that appear on tap:
Baird
Nide
Chateau Kamiya
Baeren
Aqula
Hidatakayama
Swan Lake
Shonan
Kisoji
Nihonkai Club
Minamishinshu
Oh La Ho
North Island

Opening Hours:
Monday-Thursday, 16.00-24.00
Friday, 16.00-03.00
Saturday, 15.00-24.00
Sunday, 15.00-23.00

Location/map
松濤1-29-1, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0046 

Directions:
From Shibuya station, leave via the Hachiko crossing gate and proceed to the famous scramble crossing. From here if you look across the road you should see a silver tower at a fork just down the road with 109 on it. Head down the road on the right of the fork, past the adidas shop on the right-hand side and then a bit further down electronic superstore LABI on your left. At the next junction (where the Tokyu department store and Bunkamura are) head left. At the next set of traffic lights you will see a Family Mart on the right-hand side and Faucets is above it. If in doubt, ask for Bunkamura and then walk all the way round keeping your eyes on second floor premises at traffic lights. 



Telephone:
03-3770-5544

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Monday, 15 October 2012

Koenji Bakushu Kobo

Hidden away in a back street in Koenji is Bakushu Kobo, a brewpub open for just a couple of years. They brew on site so the beer is lovely and fresh. Recent visits have seen the number of choices increasing; last Saturday they were 5 different beers of their own, Amber (two versions), Cream Ale, Blond, Strong Ale (2 versions, one with fresh hops) and the intriguing Hot Ale, which to be honest I haven't tried yet. Maybe in the winter. Have also seen Red Ale and a Belgian White on recent visits, so there is some rotation. [Update: visited this evening and they had swelled to nine of their own beers, including some beers in very different styles to their usual ones]. The different versions are a sign that the beers are still a work in progress, recipes being tweaked each time. Saying that, they are pretty nice already as far as I am concerned. Along with their own beers they also have a few macros, but let's be honest, we're not interested in those.
Beers come in two sizes, a 360ml cup (which is plastic) or a 400ml joki, (glass mug). As there is not much difference in size, I think it's always better to go for the joki and drink out of a glass. Prices for the jokis range from a bargain ¥390 for the Blond to a still reasonable ¥790 for the fresh hop Strong Ale. They also have a decent food selection, and some stuff that is suitable for vegetarians. The highlight is probably the bacon/ham that you get 4 big chunks of, and your own mini grill for you to cook it at your table to your taste.
Bakushu Kobo is very much in a residential area and this might explain the strange opening hours. It is also quite popular with locals, so sometimes it can be difficult to get in. Probably best to book or come around opening time. Along with tables, there is a small counter area so if there are one or two of you, you might be lucky and be able to squeeze in somewhere.
I have to say, I really like this place. Their beers might not be as in your face as some breweries are now making, but they are really tasty, and given that most of them are around 5%, they are definitely good for a session. They have recently opened another branch in Asagaya, one stop along the Chuo line, but I have yet to visit that one.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Koenji (of course!)

Opening Hours:
17.00 - 23.00 Wednesday to Friday
15.00 - 21.30 Saturday and Sunday
Closed Monday and Tuesday (although might be open if these are public holidays)

Location/map
高円寺北2-24-8, Suginami, Tokyo 166-0002

Directions:
From Koenji station, leave via the North Exit. Standing in the North Exit, look across the square and go down the right hand of the three roads you see opposite the station. Carry on at the first junction, past a Pachinko place and at the next jucntion you will see Olympic on the right hand corner. Turn right here and then take the second left (the road after the mini car park). Carry on down this small side street and just before the next junction you will see the bar on the right hand side. 



Telephone:
03-5373-5301

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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Popeye

One of the most famous bars in Tokyo and a longstanding favourite of many. Popeye is a really cosy pub in Ryougoku with a big tap selection and nice food. Their website proclaims '70 beers on tap' and this selection is made up of mainly Japanese micros, with maybe 15 or so craft imports. They also have bottles, but I think most people come here for the taps. Prices are a bit strange, most being odd yen amounts and not rounded off. I have no idea why this is, but I find it quite entertaining. For around 260ml glasses of Japanese beers, the prices range from the low 600's to high 700's in general. 410ml glasses range from the low 900's to mid 1100's. Imports are naturally more expensive, 260ml glasses for the high 800's to high 900's and 410ml glasses from the mid 1300's to high 1400's. However there are a range of different sizes for different types of beer (Barley Wines for example), that don't exactly fit into these parameters. Best thing to do is go to their website and check out the prices for yourself. They publish their tap list on there every day (on the left-hand side, click Todys Beer and click the A and B to view the PDFs), so it's pretty useful to be able to check before you head there.
So, even though the prices don't make it the cheapest place around, they do have a number of pretty good offers that can help bring your costs down. Every time you visit, they will give you a 50% off a glass coupon to use the next time. Also, they have a really good happy hour, which runs daily from 5-8 where you can get a free plate of food with every order of selected beers (a decent proportion of the menu). I would make sure you get there at 5 though, or book in advance as it does get busy.
All in all, it's a great place to go. The staff are always friendly and helpful, they have a big selection and some stuff that you can't get other places. Until recently the had Hakusekikan Hurricane, but sadly this seems to have run out now. It might be a little bit out of the way, but it's always worth a trip. And last year they apparently did a highly irresponsible but quite tempting promotion where you got a good discount off your beer if you managed to spend an hour sitting outside without a coat in the winter. What more could you ask for!

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Fujizakura Kogen
Ginga Kogen
Swan Lake
Hitachino Nest
Yo-Ho
Outsider
Baird
Shonan
Preston
Brimmer
Ise kadoya
Echigo
Shiga Kogen
Iwatekura
Minoh
Minamishinshu
Hidatakayama
Nasu Kogen

Opening Hours:
17.00 - 23.30 Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday

Location/map
両国 2-18-7, Sumida, Tokyo 130-0026

Directions:
From Ryougoku station on the Sobu line, head to the West exit and out on to the main road. Turn left and you will pass a McDonalds on the other side of the road and then the hotel Bellegrande on your left hand side. Take the left immediately after the hotel and it is a short walk down the road on the right-hand side. 



Telephone:
03-3633-2120

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