Sunday, 21 July 2013

Omohara Beer Forest (SUMMER 2013 ONLY)

THIS WAS A ONE SUMMER ONLY THING, SO PLEASE DON'T TRY TO GO THERE NOW. I'LL UPDATE IF THERE IS ANYTHING INTERESTING THERE THIS YEAR.

A quick post on what is one of the first craft beer beer gardens that I have seen. As you may be aware, Summer is the season for drinking beer on top of the roof of department stores in Tokyo. Normally this means drinking more Super Dry than anyone could want but still having a nice time. Thankfully, this year we have Omohara Beer Forest.
The concept is pretty much the same. You sit on top of a department store, this time Tokyu Plaza in Omotesando/Harajuku and drink beer. This time though the beer is supplied by Sankt Gallen. There are 6 types on offer. When we visited these were Shonan Gold, Amber Ale, Pineapple Ale, Golden Ale, Extra Cold Wheat Ale and a Coffee Vanilla Stout. There will be rotation of beers too; the last two listed were marked as for a limited time only. I have heard that at some stage there will be an apple IPA which sounds interesting. All beers are served in decent size (must be at least 350ml if not a bit more) plastic cups for ¥500, so pretty good prices too. And you get to drink them in a forest environment. Well as close as you can get to that on top of a department store.
So, to find it, make your way to Tokyu Plaza and head for the 6th floor. No reservations are taken as the seats are of various types and spread all over the place, so it's not really that kind of place. No extra charges, no limited time deal, so all in all a pretty refreshing experience. It's open daily until the 8th September, Monday to Fridays from 17.00 to 21.00 and Saturdays and Sundays from 12.00 till 21.00. Weekend opening hours also from the 12th-16th August for the public holidays. Pretty good stuff!

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Sankt Gallen

Opening Hours:
SUMMER 2013 ONLY
 Monday-Friday, 17.00-21.00
Saturday and Sunday, 12.00-21.00

Location/map
6F, Tokyu Plaza, 神宮前 4-30-3, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0001

Directions:
No map necessary this time. Leave Meijijingumae metro station from exit 5. Turn round and you'll be able to see it on the corner just across the road. Difficult to miss it.

Dry Dock

Today, a post on Dry Dock, a nautically themed bar in Shinbashi. I have long intended to visit here as I have heard good things about it. Dry Dock has been around for a few years now, making it one of the more established places in Tokyo. I was curious to see how it compared to some of the newer Tokyo places, so I finally popped in for a visit in combination with a trip to Shinshu Sake Mura and a couple of the satellite shops in the area to get some bottles.
My first impression was how well established the nautical theme was. There are portholes and ships wheels everywhere. It was actually kind of fun. Second impression was how small it was downstairs. There seems to be a lot of places that claim to be the smallest bar in Japan, and whilst I don't think Dry Dock would win this, they must certainly be close (if you don't count the upstairs area). Downstairs is basically standing for 5 or 6 people along the length of the bar, and a few more at standing tables by the front windows. I would imagine it would seem pretty packed if it were full, and I have to say it was pretty busy when I got there not long after opening on a Saturday. Apparently there is a more spacious seating area upstairs, but I didn't get to see this. However, given the size of the building, it can't be that much more spacious (I have read it seats about 15). There is also the option to drink outside, standing under the train tracks, which can apparently be quite noisy, but might be more relaxed than squashing inside.
On to the beer. For once my meticulous note taking has let me down as I don't seem to have come away with much information. There seemed to be five taps of craft beer available. There were a couple of others too, but I am not interested in Super Dry or Bellevue Kriek (yuck, sickly and syrupy, an insult to the good name of Kriek). On tap when I visited were a couple from Hideji, a Hitachino Nest Cask Conditioned Ale, a local Weizen from Sumidagawa (which I believe is a craft beer arm of Asahi, so probably doesn't count), and an import from Ballast Point. So, clearly, this place does not have as big a selection as some others around at the moment. There was also a decent selection of bottles (mainly Belgian and US imports as far as I could see) but I am not sure what the prices were like. Generally it seems that bottle prices in bars are not so good (one notable exception is The Hangover). The draught beers only seemed to be available in one size, but this was a pretty decent sized glass. As I have said before, my volume estimation skills are not so hot, but I would imagine it would be something like 400ml, maybe a bit more or less. Prices for these taps ranged from ¥700-¥950, so not bad at all, unless I have vastly overestimated the size of the glass!
So, apologies for the vagueness of this write up. I was overburdened by baggage and alcohol so didn't do a very good job of writing down what I should have. But anyway, I feel I got a good enough impression of the place to be able to recommend it. It is clear that there are places around with bigger tap selections, and possibly if you arrived and there was nothing you fancied on due to the smaller number of taps this could be a problem. However, I think it's a pretty nice place. The staff were very helpful and interested to talk about beer. The place felt nice and was certainly different. I am pleased to report that there was no cover charge and this is definitely something that makes it more enticing. I will be back!

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Hideji
Hitachino Nest

Opening Hours:
Monday-Friday, 17.00-00.30
Saturday, 17.00-22.00 (although closed the 3rd Saturday of the month)
closed Sundays and Public Holidays

Location/map
新橋 3-25-10, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 105-0004

Directions:
From Shinbashi metro station, leave via exit 2 (there are closer exits, but this is the most straightforward route). Carry on till the main road (you will pass the Tottori satellite shop). At this junction turn right and walk past the shopping centre that Shinshu Sake Mura is in. Carry on along this road till you see the train tracks crossing the road on the bridge overhead. Dry Dock is right under the train tracks on this main road. From Shinbashi JR station, best advice is to exit the station on the ground floor through the Hibiya ticket gate. Turn left and head South alongside the tracks until they cross a main road. When you reach the main road, look under the tracks to your left. 



Telephone:
03-5777-4755

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Friday, 19 July 2013

Hops 125

(Prices update, October 2014: Thanks to Tim M. for alerting me to the change in prices. It seems that the beer selection has shifted away from Japanese stuff and more towards imports. The prices consequently seem to have increased considerably. Beers are now individually priced, which makes sense when you are selling imports and local stuff, but now their main menu only seems to list the lowest price in a 'starting from...' format. On the last taplist they put on their facebook the regular size starts from ¥940 and the large from ¥1150. Not a massive increase, but when you bear in mind this is the very cheapest beer and it is most likely to be something that is priced a lot lower elsewhere, it jars a bit. Some of the imports were priced at an astonishing ¥1680 (regular) and ¥1980 (large). Bit of a shocker, and if they had these prices when I went there, I wouldn't have bothered adding it here. I don't think I will be going back. Actually, I'm sure I won't.)

Today, a fairly new place that has opened in Ebisu. Previous to Hops 125 opening, the only place of particular interest to beer lovers around here was probably the Yebisu beer museum in the nearby Ebisu Garden Place (although to be honest, it's not really somewhere you would want to go very often, even if they do have less common Yebisu varieties). But since June, we now have Hops 125. Ebisu isn't an area I go to particularly often, but there are a few things to do there, and now we have a good beer place too.
Ebisu is a pretty fancy area, and Hops 125 goes someway to fitting in with this. However, even as a sweaty, scruffy man (it was a hot day, ok?!) I did not feel out of place sitting at the counter. It seems primarily aimed at a dining and drinking crowd, as the food menu was expansive and quite classy. I believe they have a ¥350 cover charge normally. I was not charged this, but I said I was only drinking and sat at the bar. Perhaps this was an exception though. I have certainly been places recently where saying you are only drinking and sitting at the bar does not exempt you from the charge. It's always a bit of a grey area. In any case, there is a small counter section and an assortment of tables spread around. I was there pretty soon after opening too, which might have helped my cause.
On to the beer. Hops 125 has 12 taps but we are only really interested in the 10 taps of craft beer. When I visited they were having some kind of Japanese Alps special tap selection, so basically, plenty of stuff from Nagano which is pretty good by me. I quite like themed menus. Beers come in two sizes, regular (330ml) and large (470ml). Prices for all beers are the same. The regular is ¥890 and the large ¥1100. It's certainly not the cheapest place around, but it's not ridiculously overpriced like some new Tokyo places are (places that I won't put on here as I don't want to go to them). The regular size is a bit bigger than most places regular/glass/small/whatever they want to call it, so you do get to enjoy a bit more of each beer if you are on the smaller sizes. They have a daily 'happy hour' till 8pm where you get ¥100 off a large size, which makes it a bit cheaper too. They post their tap lists on their facebook page, so worth keeping an eye on that. They also have a selection of bottles from various Japanese breweries, most of which are around ¥980.
So, a pretty nice place. I spent a while chatting to the owner and he was really welcoming and wanted to talk about beer. He has plans to start importing Australian craft beer which would be pretty interesting as I am not aware of any bars that have Australian draught. It seems clear that the place fits well into the local area and is nice that now people have a choice of something a bit more interesting than the regular beers on offer most other places. Back in London there was a lot more uniformity in the pricing of similar beers in different bars, but this seems much more fluid in Tokyo. There are places that are a lot cheaper than Hops 125, but at the same time there are places much more expensive. I liked the place and will definitely pop in again when I am in the area, but this will most likely be during happy hour and sitting at the counter if that avoids the cover charge. If you have to pay a cover charge in a place when you just want to drink, it's impossible not to think about the charge effectively putting up the prices of your drinks. Cover charges kill pub crawls, and they definitely make me think twice about visiting somewhere. But anyway, this is a debate that would be better aired somewhere that did charge me a cover, so thank you to Hops 125 for not doing that!

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Minamishinshu
Shiga Kogen
Outsider
Yo-Ho

Opening Hours:
Monday-Thursday, 17.30-01.00
Friday, 17.30-03.00
Saturday & Sunday, 17.30-24.00

Location/map
Lights Ebisu 1F, 1-21-18 恵比寿, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Directions:
From Ebisu JR station, leave via the West gate and the West Exit. This should take you out on to a side street. If you are coming from the metro station, leave via exit 1 and then walk through the JR station at ground level. Turn right out of the West Exit and take the second left hand turn. When you get to the main road, turn right and walk up to the big junction. At this junction it gets a bit confusing! It is basically a left that you are doing, but it is the left slightly after the lights rather than the one before. Basically, Mizuho bank needs to be on your left as you turn down the side street, rather than your right. Hops 125 is a bit less than 100m down this side street on the left hand side.



Telephone:
03-3447-1496

Links:
Website
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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Vivo!

Ikebukuro is a place I have never had much luck with beer. There are a few places that I have been wanting to check out here for a long time, but events always conspire to frustrate my efforts. Admittedly, making a reservation would normally be enough to sort this out and fairly easy, but yesterday I took my chance again and this time was lucky. It is a sign of the increasing popularity of craft beer in Tokyo that you will need a reservation for a lot of places these days, unless you can turn up just as they are opening, or quite late, or are happy to stay for a short time. Seems that lots of people agree that craft beer tastes a lot better.
So, Vivo. Previously I hadn't got much further than the front door before being told that it was full. Ikebukuro has got a good selection of good bars, so the fact that it was fully booked tells you something I guess. The place is classy looking and comfortable, two characteristics that don't always go together. There are around 10 seats at the counter and maybe 20 more at tables. The atmosphere was pleasantly relaxing after a fairly long day at work. I presume it is unnecessary to say that I would like somewhere like this in Yoyogi Uehara.
On to the beer. Vivo has 20 taps (two hand pumps), the majority of which are Japanese craft beers. There are a few US imports and I also spotted a Belgian one. In addition to these there are quite few bottles (mostly imports and not so cheap) and a couple of taps of macro stuff (in case you are coming with someone who has bad taste). There were a few beers in their selection which were new to me, one of which was their house beer, ISP (Ikebukuro Sunshine St Pale) made for them by Baird. This was really nice, made with New Zealand hops (and not the usual ones you might expect) and one of the best Baird beers I have had in a long time (not saying I don't like Baird beers, just that this one was especially nice). The beers come in four different sizes. The prices listed in the menu are for regular size (360ml) and half (285ml). Regular size ranged from ¥900-¥1150 and half size from ¥750-¥1000. In addition to this you can upsize to US pint (473ml) for an extra ¥150 or UK pint (568ml) for an extra ¥250. These interesting sizes make it a bit difficult to compare prices with other places. I have some nostalgia for the strict sizes used in the UK as you always know what you are getting. Visualising 360ml is a bit tricky for me. As you can probably see from these prices, Vivo is at the higher end of Tokyo prices. But I will say it didn't feel like a rip-off, and there is no cover charge like other places have, so popping in for one is definitely possible (if they have space).
So, all in all a very positive experience. I am starting to have trouble remembering the details and features of bars, so find it easier to go on my gut feeling, and my gut feeling here was very good. Yes, it is a bit more expensive than other places, but if all we were concerned about was price we wouldn't go to craft beer places. The beer selection and atmosphere were good and I left with a very positive impression. They publish their beer selection online here, so if you want to check before you set out, you can. If I ever find myself in Ikebukuro just after midnight on a weekday and fancy a drink, I know where to come. I'll think about how to get home when I have to.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Baird
Yo-Ho
Noboribetsu
Ise Kadoya
Coedo
Craft Liquors
Kisoji
Yokohama
Oh La Ho
Loco
Minamishinshu
Sankt Gallen
Iwatekura

Opening Hours:
Monday, 17.00-24.00
Tuesday-Friday, 17.00-26.00
Saturday & Sunday, 15.00-26.00

Location/map
B1F, 1-20-5 東池袋, Toshima-ku, Tokyo

Directions:
From Ikebukuro station leave via exit 34 (broadly speaking you need to head East, so follow any signs saying East gate). Come up the stairs at exit 34 and carry on walking and take the second right turn (the first right is pretty much where you emerge out of exit 34). Cross one main road and then two smaller roads and Vivo is on the left corner after you cross the third street. The door is just past the Starbucks.



Telephone:
03-3987-1588

Links:
Website
Blog
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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Lush Life

Today, a neighbourhood bar not so far out of central Tokyo. The name of this place has always appealed to me, and I finally found myself in the area, so I thought it was time for a visit. Once again a local neighbourhood has its own beer bar. Still nothing in Yoyogi Uehara...
Lush Life is a short walk from Sakurashinmachi station on the Den En Toshi line, not too many stops out from Shibuya. When I visited they were celebrating their first birthday, so understandably, the place looks pretty modern. There is seating for around 10 at a fairly long counter and for 14 more at a mix of high and low tables. Even though my typically bad photo doesn't show it, there is a large, bright sign in their window on the third floor, so it would be very difficult to miss the place if you were looking for it.
On to the beer. Lush Life has 12 taps which judging by the past tap lists on their Facebook page seem to be normally split about 50/50 between Japanese micros and imports. On the night I visited, there were only 4 Japanese taps on, but the import selection had some pretty interesting stuff. It was particularly nice to see Aventinus on tap, as the majority of draught imports around at the moment seem to be from the US. Beers come in two sizes, 250ml and 473ml. They are split into groups for pricing, unsurprisingly the imports coming in at the higher end. The prices varied from ¥550-¥700 for the smaller size and from ¥950-¥1200 for the large. Alongside the taps they also have a decent selection of bottles (round about 30 were listed on the menu). These were a mix of US, German, Belgian and a couple of Czech beers, and ranged from about ¥800-¥1200. They also had three beers from the Canadian brewery Phillips, which is something I haven't seen around, so that was a nice surprise. One thing that I found slightly irritating was that the prices listed in the menu didn't include sales tax. I know it's only 5% extra, but it did feel a bit sneaky. And there is also a ¥300 cover charge. The snack I got for this was pretty nice, but it does make it less enticing to pop in for one or two.
So, a bit of a mixed report. The prices are about normal for Tokyo, but once you add on the cover charge and the tax it is moving towards the top end. The place is pretty nice and I had some good beers there. I would love to have an option like this near my house (maybe I mentioned that before). If you are in the area and want a good beer without going into central Tokyo, this is an excellent place to get it.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Gotemba Kogen
Yo-Ho
Shiga Kogen
Hitachino Nest

Opening Hours:
Monday-Friday, 18.00-24.00
Saturday, 15.00-24.00
Sunday, 15.00-21.00

Location/map
フジヤビル 3F, 1-11-4 桜新町, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

Directions:
From Sakurashinmachi station, leave via the South Exit. Turn left at the top of the stairs and take the second left at the traffic lights. Cross two side streets and you will find the bar on the left hand side between the second and third streets.



Telephone:
050-3515-5521

Links:
Website
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