Monday, 29 April 2013

Antenna America

Cheating a bit again today, as Antenna America is in Yokohama and not Tokyo. Maybe I should change the name of the blog. Also, as you might have guessed from the name of the place, this is not a place you would come to drink Japanese Craft Beer. However, given the great stuff they stock and the great prices, I really think it is worth mentioning on here.
Firstly, a small introduction. Antenna America is the bar/bottle shop of Nagano Trading, the company who is importing a lot of the really good US beer that has been seen around in Japan at the moment. The place is on the 5th floor of what seems to be predominantly an office building in Yoshidamachi, not too far from Kannai station. There is a bit of seating spread round the room and a few high tables. In addition to this there is a nice balcony for good weather drinking. There is a kitchen too, but I haven't had the food, as it is quite meaty, pretty much par for the course in Japan, and I am a vegetarian.
On to the beers. It now has 8 taps of ever changing beers, very reasonably priced. They often seem to have themed tap takeovers where on brewery dominates the taps for a weekend or so. [Update: they now also have beer flights. 4 x 150ml for ¥1500] In addition to this, there are four or five big fridges stocked with loads of bottles in various sizes and styles. Breweries available when I last went included Ballast Point, Stone, Lagunitas, Moylans, Karl Strauss, Coronado, Maui, North Coast and probably a few more that I can't think of. There is also a fridge of reduced items where you can pick up bottles at an insanely low price. I presume this is because they are concerned to offer their beers in the best condition possible, so would rather keep stock moving than have it reduce in quality whilst sitting on their shelves. The stock does move too. I have only been there a few times and there are always interesting new things turning up. I should mention that all of these bottles are priced identically for consumption on the premises and takeaway. This must make it the cheapest place in Japan to drink US bottles. As a general guideline, 330ml bottles are priced around ¥500, and bombers around ¥1000-¥1100. Obviously there is some variation depending on % and other considerations. Either ask at the bar for draught, or take the bottle you want from the fridge to the counter for opening and payment.
Even having only been open a few months, Antenna America is already a great addition to the Yokohama/Tokyo area beer scene. If you wanted to be picky, maybe you could quibble about the atmosphere given the office ambiance, but I think atmosphere is what you make it. Last I went we were only intending to stop by for a quick one and ended up staying for a few hours and then taking some stuff away too. I have always had a good time here enjoying good beers which is what it is all about really. Definitely a good place to take away from too. If you don't want to carry your purchases, they also offer a ¥1000 delivery service to anywhere in Japan. I believe they will waive this if you buy a case. At the moment, they are open from Wednesday to Sunday (and Mondays if it is a public holiday) but they do open early on these days so here is another option for a bit of mid-afternoon drinking. It's unfortunate that there is no Japanese beer here, but totally understandable, as the place is not about Japanese beers and a US import does make a nice change sometimes. For the discerning beer drinker with limited funds, this must be one of the best places to drink in Japan.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Erm... none. But that's not really the point here.

Opening Hours:
Wednesday - Friday, 15.00-23.00
Saturday, 11.00-23.00
Sunday and Public Holiday Monday, 11.00-22.00

Location/map
5F 吉田ビル 6, 吉田町5-4, Yokohama, Kanagawa-ken

Directions:
From Kannai JR station, leave via the North exit. After you come through the ticket barriers turn left and then left again out of the station. When you get to the main road, cross it and turn left again and walk under the railway tracks. As you come out from under the tracks cross the even bigger road and at the other side, turn right. Carry on up this road and take the fifth left turn. If you get to a river you have gone too far! Turn round! After making the left turn Antenna America will be about 10m down on the right hand side. Look for the blackboard in the picture above. 



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045-315-5228

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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Lambic - Atsugi Beer

Lambic is not really in Tokyo so I am cheating a bit. But then again, I never said this would be exclusively Tokyo, and I think I have broken the Tokyo only thing a few times already. Lambic is the brewery tap for the Atsugi brewery, located in, surprise surprise, Atsugi. So, not in Tokyo, but very much in easy reach of Tokyo. It takes about 50 minutes to get to Hon Atsugi station on the Odakyu line from Shinjuku. Lambic is about a 20 minute walk from Hon Atsugi station, but as it was absolutely bucketing down with rain, we got a cab.
The place itself is split over two floors. The first floor houses the brewery and a long bar with about 10 counter seats and a few tables. Upstairs there is a beer restaurant, but as you can eat downstairs in the bar I didn't look upstairs. They have 7 taps, all unsurprisingly of Atsugi beer. When we visited there were only 6 in action, but there was a nice variety of styles available. The six beers on tap were Lager, Honey Ale, Weizen, Stout, Abbey Tripel and Hopslave, the double IPA that Atsugi make for Thrashzone in Yokohama. Generally speaking the beers come in two sizes, medium and large. The medium is probably around 300ml and for most of the beers was ¥505. When I ordered a large glass I was shocked by the size. I have long got used to medium and large sizes not being so different, and the prices reflecting this. However the Lambic large is massive. Must be at least a UK pint size, and was ¥610! So, ¥610 for a UK pint of 6.5% stout. Amazing! The Abbey Tripel also came in a smaller size, I guess because it is pretty strong. This was around small wine glass size and was ¥400. The stronger beers were ¥600 for a medium and ¥900 for a large, and given the size of the servings, still excellent value. As well as the taps, they also had 4 bottles to drink on the premises or take away. These four were all on tap, but if like me, you wanted to try everything but were running out of time, it's a good option to have. There was a ¥300 cover charge but given the prices of the drinks this was made up in no time.
I really liked Lambic. It definitely felt different from a lot of Tokyo beer bars. The staff were very friendly and helpful, and the place had a nice relaxed feel. I haven't really seen Atsugi beers around in many places and had been wanting to try them. Unsurprisingly given the name of the bar, there was a definite Belgian feel to a few of the beers and they were well worth traveling for. There seem to be a few beer bars in Atsugi, but Lambic was the one that stood out for me from reading reviews. Next time I will try some of the others too. It's the kind of place I wish I had five minutes walk from my house. Unfortunately it is more like 45 minutes on the Odakyu, but in any case, a trip worth making.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Atsugi

Opening Hours:
Monday-Friday, lunch 12.00-14.00, dinner 18.00-22.30
Saturday, lunch 11.30-15.00, dinner 17.30-21.30
closed Sunday

Location/map
水引2-12-36, Atsugi-shi, Kanagawa-ken

Directions:
As we went in a cab I can't be totally clear on what the best route is. In any case you need to leave Hon-Atsugi station by the North exit. Head across the taxi rank/bus station area in front of the station and take the main shopping street that is in front of you. Follow this road along until it meets a main road (the 603) just after it bends slightly to the right. At this main road turn left and continue along to the next big junction where it meets a bigger road (the 129) which is on a bridge over the 603. Go under the bridge and turn right to walk alongside the 129. Carry on down here for around 500m until you reach another large junction where the 129 is crossed by the 412 and the 60. At this junction go left, and you should be able to see Lambic on the left shortly after the turning. This is all a bit vague so here is a map of the route I have just attempted to describe.


View Larger Map

Telephone:
046-222-5959

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Saturday, 13 April 2013

Big Love Records

A bit of a different post today. Big Love Records is a record shop in Harajuku. The reason it has made it on to this blog is that it also happens to have three taps of Shiga Kogen. The record shop itself specialises in imports of alternative music. There was plenty of stuff that was interesting to me, but given that this is a beer blog, I'll stick with talking about the beer. The shop itself is quite compact and there is a similar sized bar area. There's probably seating for around ten people at a small counter and a few tables. Given that you are in a good record shop, the music they play is interesting too. The first time I went here was for record shopping, and I was amazed and delighted to see that they had Shiga Kogen on tap, so had to return at a later date and have a drink.
The beers on tap when I last visited were the Shiga Kogen Pale Ale, IPA and Saison 8. A pretty decent selection. I suspect that they rotate as the beers were written on a blackboard, and their website shows photos of other beers. Next time I go in, I'll check and update here. Serving size is in the US pint area. Not sure exactly, but it is definitely a decent size serving. They also have their own snazzy branded glassware. All beers were ¥780 which is a pretty good price if you ask me. Along with the three taps, they also serve soft drinks and some bar snacks. Looking at the website it seems that they also do a Big Love Beer Ticket for ¥7800, which gets you 11 beers, making it even cheaper. I think I might have to buy one of these next time.
So, not much else to say. As it is a record shop, it is open during the daytime, which is a real rarity in Tokyo. It is a very nice place to have a beer or two to escape from the Harajuku hustle and bustle, and maybe even buy a record or two. Good prices and good beer in a good location. Can't ask for much else. Have no idea how busy it gets in the evenings, but I was the only person there around 6pm on a Friday. I will drink here as often as I can, because I am definitely up for supporting a place that sells good beer and records!

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Shiga Kogen

Opening Hours:
Monday, 13.00-20.00
Tuesday - Saturday, 13.00-22.00
Sunday, 13.00-21.00

Location/map
3F-A, 神宮前2-31-3, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Directions:
Hmmm, maybe a bit tricky, but the map shows the correct location. Will give it a go anyway. From Meijijingumae metro station go out exit 5. Turn back on yourself and walk to the big junction (it will have been directly behind you as you were walking up the steps to leave the station. At this junction turn left down the main road. Carry on down here for about 500m until you get to another big junction (the landmark is the footbridges I guess), where the road branches off to the right. Take this right turn and then about 50m afterwards take the first left. Walk down this road and you will see a post office on the right hand side. Take the second left after the post office (there is a small playground at the turning). Big Love is on the third floor just after a couple of vintage americana type shops. The picture above is of the steps you need to go up. 



Telephone:
03-5775-1315

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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Craftheads

Craftheads is a craft beer and bourbon bar tucked away in a basement on a side street just a short walk from Shibuya station. Given how recently many of Tokyo's craft beer bars have opened, Craftheads is something of a veteran of the scene. It would be fair to say that the emphasis here is on US craft beer and bourbon, but nevertheless there are still a decent number of Japanese micros on tap. There are around 15 taps and they are split pretty evenly between US and Japanese, with a solitary Swiss micro on my last visit.
Serving sizes vary from beer to beer, but most come in a couple of sizes. The one commonly voiced criticism of Craftheads is that it is expensive and the sizes are smaller than usual, and whilst there is an element of truth in this, sizes and prices are mentioned on the menu, so you can't say you don't know before you buy. Also the Japanese micros are generally priced around about what you would expect in most Tokyo places, and some of the US imports are pretty special stuff. As a rough guide, prices for Japanese micros ranged from around ¥600 for a 200ml glass, up to a little bit over ¥1000 for 400ml. US imports are naturally a little more expensive but not excessively so. I got a glass of Ballast Point Big Eye for ¥700, and given how it tasted, I was more than happy with that price. (Update: After the recent increase in consumption tax, the prices have remained the same, but now the 8% tax is added to your final bill. Just to let you know).
In addition to the taps there is also a very impressive selection of (mainly US) bottles. A list can be seen on their website and there is stuff on the list that would excite even experienced beer tickers (Three Floyds, Hair Of The Dog, Alesmith, Lost Abbey). Unfortunately for someone on a budget like me, these are priced appropriately to their rareness and desirability. I have heard that many are private imports so I guess this is not surprising. There is also an extensive bourbon selection, but given that I know nothing at all about bourbon, I can't really comment on that, so best check the website. Oh, and the food is supposed to be pretty good too, but I haven't had that either.
Definitely worth a visit if you like Japanese craft or are more interested in US stuff. No smoking and no cover charge, which can't be said for some other Tokyo places. And if you are feeling particularly flush a great place to drink something that you can't find anywhere else.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Shiga Kogen
Johana
Harvestmoon
Coedo
North Island
Shiroyama
Fujizakura Kogen

Opening Hours:
Tuesday-Friday, 17.00-24.00
Saturday, 15.00-24.00
Sunday, 15.00-22.00
closed Monday

Location/map
B-1, 神南1-13-10, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Directions:
From Shibuya, leave the station via exit 6-2 (follow the signs for exit 6 and then when you get there go up the staircase on the right signposted 2). Turn left at the top of the stairs and walk past Tsutaya. Carry on on this road for a little way crossing at two sets of lights, you will go past OIOI, Seibu and eventually Tower records. At the third set of lights, next to a post office, cross again but also turn left onto the side street. Take the first right shortly afterwards and head up the hill. Follow the road round and again take the first right. Walk to the next corner and Craftheads is on your right just as you turn in the basement underneath a bicycle shop. Harajuku is slightly closer, but the directions are a little bit more complicated. You should be able to work it out easily enough from the map at the link above though. 



Telephone:
03-6416-9474

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