Wednesday, 26 March 2014

BrewDog Roppongi

So, BrewDog have arrived in Japan. Although to be honest, they were around quite a lot beforehand anyway, but now they have their own bar located in the heart of Tokyo's foreigner's playground, Roppongi. BrewDog have long been a divisive 'marmite' type of company (probably not a good reference for anyone who is not British, but this basically means, people love them or hate them) and I think this is something that they have tried to cultivate. After all any publicity is good publicity. Personally though, I waver. When I was living in London and they opened their first bar in Camden, I was a regular, trying all of their new beers and plenty of their guests. However, what started out as a very reasonably priced place slowly and almost imperceptibly became one of the more expensive places in town. So, it was with some reservations that I visited their new bar in Roppongi.
First impressions were that it is a great looking place. I do like their bar designs; a kind of slightly industrial minimalism but still quite comfy. There are a lot of hard surfaces, but it doesn't feel like you are in a factory or something. It's a nice place to have a drink and the Roppongi bar is the biggest one of their bars I have seen so far I reckon. The front section is taken up with a few booths and a few more tables. The back raised section has lots of seating, some at counters, some at high tables. Also, importantly as I suspect they will often be busy, there is a fair bit of standing room. When I visited on a Sunday afternoon, they were plenty of free seats, but at the same time, there were quite a few people in for what is a not very popular drinking time in Tokyo. There is no table service, you order and pay at the bar as you go, which I guess is the way it pretty much has to be in a place that will probably get very crowded.
So, more importantly, the beers. There are 20 taps, normally split half and half between BrewDog beers and guests. You can get beers in a multitude of different sizes, 189ml, 284ml, 378ml and 568ml. You may have spotted we are dealing with UK pint measurements here, so if you are more comfortable with pint sizes, the sizes are 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 and 1 pint. The very nice taplist board behind the bar (bizarrely sponsored by Virgin Atlantic!) mainly deals with 1/2 and 2/3 prices though, so these are what I will mention here. I mention that the taplist is very nice because it has a station departure board effect when a beer is added or removed. If you have no idea what I am talking about, it's a digital version of this effect. Not sure why I found it so exciting, but I did.
All of the expected BrewDog staples are in place, along with seasonals, prototypes and special one-offs. So, if you are after BrewDog beers this is the place for you. However, the prices might make you change your mind. 1/2 servings of their own beers range from ¥750-¥1000, and 2/3 servings from ¥950-¥1400. This is my big big reservation about the place. Punk IPA, which I guess is their flagship beer is at the lowest end of these prices, but if you compare with other places in Tokyo who sell the same beer it's a bit shocking. Given that the regular large serving in Tokyo is normally US pint (473ml) and that you can get US pints of Punk in other places named on this blog for between ¥780 and ¥900, the 378ml serving (about 20% less volume) of their own beer in their own bar for more money starts to feel like a bit of a rip off. I wonder if perhaps we will see BrewDog beers less often in other places now, particularly the cheaper ones.
As for the guests, they are generally served in the same sizes, and prices for 1/2 pints range from ¥750-¥1000, with higher strength stuff naturally coming in smaller sizes for a bit more money. 2/3 pints range from ¥1100-¥1300. Out of the ten guest taps, a couple were Japanese and these were Baird and Minoh, so not exactly unusual selections. Since I visited I have also seen they've had Hitachino Nest. Japanese guests are retailing for similar prices to other imports. The other day I noticed Hitachino Nest's Espresso Stout for ¥1300 for 2/3 pint. Have seen this around for significantly less. The other guests were also not so different from what you see elsewhere; Mikkeller, Nogne, Green Flash, 8 Wired etc. One of my favourite things about BrewDog bars in the UK is the guests, which normally are a mix of interesting imports and more local beers that you don't often see. I remember getting amongst others, some great Evil Twin and Dieu de Ciel beers at the Camden bar. However, given that the bar in Roppongi is actually run by BrewDog's Japanese importer, I believe, this might explain why the guests are a bit familiar. This might also explain the higher prices of all the beers to a certain extent, but at the same time, if other bars can afford to sell it cheaper after buying it from this importer, you have to wonder why they don't themselves.
So, you can see what my big moan is. I am worried that these prices might even creep up when they have established their regular customers, as they did in the Camden bar. Aside from my price-related whinging, it's a nice enough place. The staff were nice, and there seemed to be a guy, possibly the manager, who was wandering around presumably keeping an eye on people to check that they were being sufficiently punk. As an aside, bizarrely they played the same Interpol song seven times in a row when I was there and I seemed to be the only person who noticed. I left before they made it into double figures. It's a pleasant place to have a drink, but I'm not sure it's really at all affordable. I will keep an eye on their online taplists on their facebook page, as according to their printed menu they will be getting some stuff in from the UK that I miss and have never seen in Japan before, (Magic Rock) and in these kind of situations I might bite the bullet and cough up the cash. But this is how beer geeks work isn't it? If something is exciting enough, it's worth a bit of extra money. The problem is that here at the moment, the significant amount of extra money required is just for the same old stuff that is for the most part available elsewhere cheaper.
BrewDog Roppongi is highly recommended if you want to try rare BrewDog beers (which certainly won't make it to so many other places) and money is no object to you. I fear that in spite of their desire to make people drink 'good beer', their prohibitively high prices will mean that the bar is a place that is for the most part populated by tourists, businessmen on expenses and people who want to buy into the 'punk' experience and can afford it. Not sure this really fits in with what their marketing department wants to sell as being their demographic. I can't really work out their 'punk' thing. They like to portray themselves as the alternative and underground, but there is a significant feeling that they are trying to wring as much money as possible out of their drinkers. Can you really be punk and a rampant capitalist at the same time? Perhaps, but I guess it depends on your definition of punk. It certainly sits a little uncomfortably with me. But anyway, I don't want to bang on too much about negatives. If you want BrewDog beers, good quality guests and you want to drink them in a nice looking bar, this is the place for you. And when they get some of the more exciting guests in that they have promised, I'll be heading back there and enjoying them.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Minoh

Baird
Hitachino Nest

Opening Hours:
Monday-Friday, 17.00-00.00

Saturday, Sunday & Holidays 15.00-00.00

Location/map:
5-3-2 六本木, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Directions: 
From Roppongi metro station, turn right out of exit 3 and take the first right. Go down the hill a little and take the first left. Ahead of you the road splits left and right. Take the right fork and BrewDog is a couple of buildings along on the right hand side opposite the back entrance of the 7-11. 



Telephone:
03-6447-4160

Links:

Website
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Saturday, 22 March 2014

Blue Magic - Utsunomiya

Today, another journey out of Tokyo, this time to Utsunomiya in Tochigi. On my previous visit to Utsunomiya, I visited the Tochigi microbrewery, home to some interesting and varied beers. However, now Utsunomiya is no longer a one bar city. Blue Magic opened late last year (I think) and is the home of the soon to be fully functioning Utsunomiya brewery. They will be making beers on site, and you can see some of the brewery from the bar area. Their beers should start appearing in the next couple of months.
The concept of Blue Magic is a little different from other bars on this blog. In fact, it is safe to say that Blue Magic is the only bar focusing on beers from Tochigi prefecture. This means that they have beers from Preston, Nasu Kogen, Romantic Village, Tochigi microbrewery and, when it is fully operational, Utsunomiya. I like the fact that they are keeping things local. Recently you could say that a lot of places that have opened are fairly similar, so it's nice that Blue Magic has something different. Perhaps the future for new places in Tokyo is in finding something unique and going with that. There certainly is a lot of competition now.
Anyway, back to Blue Magic. The bar area has seating for around 20 and eight more at the counter. As is befitting of a recently opened place, the place is comfortable and fairly modern looking. There's not a huge amount of daylight, but given that most people will visit at nighttime, I am mentioning this more to give you an idea of the place rather than pass comment on the atmosphere. The lady who was serving when we visited was very friendly, and told us a lot about the place and the beers they had on offer. They offer a few bar snacks, but also allow and even encourage you to bring in your own food to have with your beers. They have some suggestions of local eating places that do takeaway if you need inspiration.
On to the beer. There are ten taps, two of which are macros. The remaining eight will be usually all Tochigi breweries when the Utsunomiya brewery is up and running. Until then they have some out of Tochigi guests. When we visited, these were the Coedo and Luc 'Bim' Lafontaine collaboration saison Setsugekka, and one from Victory from the US. Beers are served in two sizes, short (310ml) and regular (420ml) and prices for all these beers ranged from ¥500-¥600 for the short and ¥700-¥800 for the regular. So pretty affordable, and a nice change from Tokyo! They have a nice board behind the bar demonstrating where the various beers on tap fit in taste and colour wise if you need any advice. When they are up and brewing, they will also sell bottles to take away or drink on the premises.
So, not much more to say. It may not have the biggest selection around, but it does offer something different. Prices are really good, there's no cover charge and it's a nice place to enjoy a beer. They open at 15.00, so for once daytime drinking is an option. In the evening, I would imagine it is popular with locals. Whilst we were there in the late afternoon, a few popped in for a drink and a chat with the staff. They post their tap list online daily so you can check before you visit if you are so inclined, or just turn up and take the plunge.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Preston

Romantic Village
Tochigi
Nasu Kogen
Coedo

Opening Hours:
Monday, Wednesday-Friday, 15.00-22.00

Saturday, 12.00-22.00
Sunday, 12.00-21.00
Closed Tuesdays, and the third Monday of the month (unless it's a holiday)

Location/map:
3-8 池上町 1F, Utsunomiya, Tochigi

Directions: 
Blue Magic is much closer to the Tobu Utsunomiya station but I suspect most people will arrive at the JR station, so the map shows directions from there. It's about 1.6km, so if you don't like walking, might be best to get a cab and give them the address (3-8 Ikegamicho). If you are up for the walk, you can do most of it along the main road Odori. It's a bit complicated to explain, so best check the map below. It's probably a bit more interesting to weave through town rather than going along the main road, so I guess I'll leave it to you this time. Sorry!



Telephone:
028-307-0971

Links:
Ratebeer listing
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Website
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Friday, 21 March 2014

Map problems

I have recently been told that there are some problems with the maps on the blog. Since googlemaps updated it seems that all of my directions maps have been messed up. I am currently going through every post and updating them, but this is taking a while and is a bit of a pain in the neck. Even after this, I have noticed that googlemaps sometimes seems to change the route on the embedded map from the one I have described. This is slightly irritating, but I can't work out how to change it, and if I do find out, I'm not sure I have the enthusiasm to change all of the maps again. It does seem that the route described is one of the options on the map, but it seems that google knows better, so you might have to change the selection. If you do ever find any mistakes or problems with the blog, please let me know and I'll try to sort them out. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Campion Ale

Today a relatively new place in an area that is, at the moment, quite empty on the Tokyo Beer Drinker map. Campion opened in December in Nishiasakusa and I have been waiting for a good opportunity to visit as it's over the other side of Tokyo to me. Saying that, it really isn't that far. You can ride the whole length of the Ginza line in just over 30 minutes, so it won't be much more than that long from anywhere in central Tokyo.
Campion, as it states on the sign outside, is a British pub and brewery. This means that you can have the fairly unique experience of drinking authentic British style Ji-Biru, if that is not a oxymoron. But given that it is beer made in Japan, by a Brit, in a British style, I think that's a pretty good description. When you enter you can immediately see that it is a brewpub. There are large tanks by the entrance and behind the bar area. When we visited there were four beers on tap, (Amber, Bitter, Porter and Ginger) but there are five taps, and one of the beers was served straight from the tank, so there is room for there to be more available. They are served in three different sizes UK half, UK 2/3 and UK pint, for ¥500, ¥600 and ¥800 respectively. These are very good prices. Because I have quickly got used to US pint size servings here In Japan, the UK pint seemed huge. And it was the Porter, which was delicious, and my favourite of the beers they had on that day so good news all round. As well as their beers, they offer wine and spirits, so you can even bring beer haters here (if such people exist).
The pub itself felt really nice and is split over two floors. The ground floor bar area is a bit smaller, but still has a variety of seating for about 15 people. Upstairs is a bit bigger, lighter and actually managed to make me feel a twinge of pub homesickness, particularly over the design of the stools for some bizarre reason (possibly I am losing my mind, but I like to think it's the details that make the place). I imagine they have imported a lot of the fittings from the UK and it's pleasing that a 'British Pub' in Tokyo feels like a real British pub. That is if you ignore the orange tree growing outside. You don't see many of them in the UK. There is seating for about 30 upstairs I reckon, at a variety of table sizes. To go along with your beer they serve a range of UK dishes from larger meals (Shepherd's Pie, Meat Pie, Beef Stew) to bar snacks (crisps, cheese and a great cheese scone). This is all at really good prices too, so it really is a good value place. If I was being ultra picky, I might say that I wish they had a veggie pie option, but after all, this is Japan, so I think I am being a bit optimistic.
So, another highly recommended British pub on this blog. Excellent value, good beers brewed on site, no smoking throughout, free WiFi and no cover charge. You even get to order at the bar and pay cash on delivery (very authentic!). The staff were very friendly, the place and the beer is nice. What more could you possibly want? Check their website for which beers they have on at the moment and for some nice pictures of the interior. Oh, and have the Porter. It was really nice!

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Campion

Opening Hours:
Monday - Friday, 17:00-23:30
Saturday, Sunday and holidays, 12:00-23:30

Location/map
西浅草 2-2-2, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Directions:
Hopefully, relatively straightforward. It's easiest from Tawaramachi station. Leave by exit 3 and carry on along the street. Take the first left and then the first right. Cross the first junction and then turn left at the second junction. Campion is on the right hand side just after you turn.



Telephone:
03-6231-6554

Links:

Website
Facebook page
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