Monday, 21 December 2015

The Sake Handbook by John Gauntner


Today, a small diversion again, away from beer and bars towards sake and books. I haven't been able to visit many (actually, maybe 'any' would be more accurate...) new places recently due to various constraints. Apologies for this, but it really does take a bit of money and effort and I don't exactly get anything in return. Well, until I received a copy of this book! I was contacted to ask if I wrote about books on here, and whilst I have done this very rarely in the past, I'm always open to suggestions. Thanks to Tuttle, the publishers of this book for sending me my first ever freebies (aside from some much appreciated beers that I received from a visiting beer lover). Please don't think that I have sold out though. My endorsement cannot be purchased! And possibly it might not amount to much anyway.

I have always been interested in sake, but am pretty much clueless about it. Probably the main thing I know about sake is that it should not really be drunk in the same session as beer if you are consuming either of them in anything other than very modest quantities. Sake has always seemed a little intimidating to me. I can't handle it particularly well, I'm not really sure what I am supposed to be tasting and looking for and it felt a little bit like a rabbit hole waiting to be jumped down. Much like the beer world, if you don't really know what you are looking for, there is a decent chance that some nasty sake might turn you off all sake and close you off from a whole world of taste possibilities. So this book is a very welcome guide and pretty damn useful for getting you started.

The book is divided into three main sections, much in the same way that the Camra beer guides are. I am a huge fan of Tim Webb's Good Beer Guide to Belgium and that greatly increased my knowledge and appreciation of Belgian beer. I hope this book can do the same for me for sake. The first section deals with information on the sake brewing process, the various sake styles, parameters by which sakes are differentiated and tips for tasting sake. Each of the chapters in this first section of the book stands alone pretty well I think, so if you are interested in something specific, you can read about it without suffering for not reading the previous chapters. I always struggle with the science of brewing (beer in particular) despite having taken quite a few brewery tours. Something strange happens where I think I am following what is being said but the information seems to leave my brain pretty much instantly. I think I have come away from this book much better informed about the process of brewing sake than I was before. I guess this is something of a requirement for a book that explains the production of sake, but it feels like a real achievement for the book to have got something scientific to stick in my pigeon brain.

The second section consists of a list of sakes (obviously not exhaustive as this would be pretty much impossible, but rather focused on what the author considers good recommendations covering a range of styles and from a variety of locations) with detailed information and some small tasting notes along with a picture of the label to give you an idea of what you are looking for. It's a shame that these pictures are black and white, as it might help people find what they are looking for in a shop a bit easier if they were in colour. Although, I guess that label designs change and it's more useful to have the details. The third section focuses on places to drink sake and to buy sake. These listings are dominated by places in Tokyo, but there is a smaller section of listings for the rest of Japan and some information for places in the US too. The main place listing section has small write-ups with general information, a map to help you get there and notes on price, selection and opening hours.

It's a very interesting book to read and it has certainly encouraged me to try to broaden my sake horizons a little. If you have any interest in furthering your knowledge of sake, I would say that this book would be an excellent resource. It certainly seems that there are quite a few parallels between the Craft beer and sake scenes and these are something that I am looking forward to appreciating more as I consume more.

So this concludes the posts for 2015. I'll try to make more of an effort to get some new places on here in the new year. Apologies if you were waiting for more bar posts and you think that this is out of place on here. I think it is something that many beer lovers will have an interest in though. But now it is time to relax and enjoy the festive season. I wish you a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year and I hope that you are able to enjoy yourself with some good tasting booze. Cheers!

The Sake Handbook by John Gauntner
ISBN 978-4-8053-1306-0

Published by Tuttle
www.tuttle.co.jp

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

PDX Taproom

Today, a brief post on another new place, this one opened only last week. There has been a trickle of information regarding this place for the last six months or so but the actual opening seemed to come around quite quickly. I was in the area at the weekend, so took the opportunity to pay a quick visit.

- 10 taps of Oregon beer, all priced the same. There are two sizes available, US pint (473ml) and half (236ml). They are priced at ¥1100 and ¥700 respectively. Beers are mainly from Portland, but there were a few from other parts of Oregon too. Bar service and cash on delivery, which is a little unusual. No cover charge and tax included. Hooray for transparency!
- Nice looking place, classic 'lots of wood' decor. Around 15 counter seats and a couple of tables for approximately 10 more. Unsurprisingly large array of Portland themed decorations and reading materials.
- Nice looking food menu, which was quite veggie friendly. Focuses more on bar snacks than main meals, but looks tasty. Their food menu and beer menu are available on their facebook. The beer gets posted most days, but you might have scroll back a little for the food.
- Located between Shibuya and Meijijingumae stations. Can't be more than 10 minutes walk from either, so easily reachable.

I think a lot of people presume that this is run by an importer, but I have heard that it is an independent venture. Given their theme, they understandably rely quite heavily on beers imported by Ezo and Oregon Beer Geeks though. You could possibly argue that the prices are a little higher than other places, but given that it's an independent place, I'm prepared to cut them some slack on this. I saw on their facebook page that they are doing beer flights. Didn't notice anything about this when I was there though, so either I am horrendously unobservant or it's something that is coming soon. (It seems it was something that was coming soon, they posted today that flights are available on weekdays from 15:00-17:00 and on weekends from 12:00-15:00). Very pleased that they are opening in the daytime. Hope it lasts, as many daytime places seem to give up after a little while. I like this place and will be keeping an eye on their taplists to decide when to go back. If you are a fan of Oregon beer, this is the place for you. Sorry about the bad photo again. It was raining quite hard, so I did it quickly.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
None


Opening Hours:

Monday-Friday, 15:00-23:00
Saturday, Sunday & Holidays, 12:00-23:00
 
Location/map:

神宮前 5-30-2, 2F, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo



Telephone: 
03-6450-5455


Links:
Facebook page
Website
Ratebeer listing

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

T.T Brewery

Another brief post on another place in an area that is at this stage fairly unrepresented on this blog. I have been aware of the T.T Brewery and of the existence of their sour pilsner for a while but haven't been in the right place. After a Kawsaki Frontale defeat to Yokohama F Marinos (truly appalling referee, but probably still a deserved defeat...) I made my way there to drown my sorrows in sour pilsner. 

- Pretty small place. Counter seating for ten and table for about eight. I guess they must brew somewhere else, but as far as this blog is concerned, I'm calling it (inaccurately) a brewpub. Maybe brewery tap would be more accurate.
- Seven taps of their own beer, of varying quality. Probably not a place for beer snobs who could probably pick holes in the brewing. Not sure if the sour pilsner was initially a mistake or a ground-breaking style mash-up, but it seems to be a permanent fixture and it was actually quite nice. The porter was very nice too.
-Beers served in three sizes, small, medium and large. The small must have been about 300ml. The large looked absolutely huge. Prices ranged from ¥480-¥630 (S), ¥680-¥930 (M) and ¥880-¥1230 (L). No cover charge, but tax was added on at the end so be prepared for that.
-Unfortunately, smoking is allowed, but I didn't notice it too much, so maybe the ventilation is good.
- Food is regular pub stuff and was quite nice. Apparently they do an all you can eat, which is good news for kuishinbos.

I went here with some preconceptions and some of these proved to be right, but all in all it was a nice experience. The place is nice enough, the food's good, the beers are pretty cheap and some of them are pretty nice. I think the quality could be a bit hit and miss, so maybe we were lucky. I like the fact that they are doing their own thing though and would encourage them to keep on going. Much easier to open a bar and serve the same old import taps and cheap kegs. So, hats off to the T.T guys. If you're in the area and you want to drink beers that you won't find anywhere else, this is the place to go. If you are a big name loving IPA/Imperial Stout only kind of person, better go somewhere else.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
T. T


Opening Hours:

Monday-Friday, 17:00-24:00
Saturday, Sunday & Holidays, 12:00-24:00
 
Location/map:
 
小川町2-1, 美須ビル1F, Kawasaki-ku, Kawasaki, Kanagawa



Telephone: 
044-201-4282

Links:
Facebook page

Ratebeer listing

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Square's Cafe (NOW CLOSED)


NOW CLOSED IT SEEMS

A quick post on a cafe in an area that is pretty empty on the tokyobeedrinker map at the moment. I was not aware of this place till Davido told me about it. Thanks a lot Davido for the many tips for new places you have given me. A short post because it's probably not somewhere you would travel across town for, but if you are in the area and thirsty, it works pretty well.

- 15 taps of Japanese craft beer. Although not all were available when I visited, but that was a Saturday lunchtime, so probably not prime beer drinking time. Served in three sizes, 240ml, 360ml and 480ml. Prices range from ¥600-¥650 (S), ¥850-¥900 (M) and ¥1050-¥1100 (L). Beer flight of four 120ml glasses available for ¥1200.
- Decent range of breweries, not just focusing on cheap kegs. Shiga Kogen were in there, which is good by me. Bottle selection is much less interesting than the taps and focuses on world beers. The kind of stuff you would expect to find in a bigger supermarket.
- Primarily a cafe, so lots of people there eating lunch and drinking coffee, but they are fine with you just drinking beer. No cover charge!
- Big place. A few counters and lots of seating. Too many to count to be honest. Including the patio, it must be approaching 100 I guess.

So, if you find yourself in Ota-ku with a thirst, this is the place to go. Not sure how often their taplist changes, but it's a decent selection. It has satisfyingly long opening hours. This is another place you can drink during the day. It has a slight family restaurant feel to it, but it's a perfectly nice place to spend a little while drinking some nice beers. Oh, and a quick tip. Leave the JR station by the east exit. The south one takes you a very long way round.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Ise Kadoya

Shiga Kogen
Minamishinshu
Hansharo
Bay
Fujizakura Kogen

Opening Hours:

Monday-Friday, 10:00-23:00
Saturday, 11:00-23:00
Sunday & Holidays, 11:00-20:00
 
Location/map:

蒲田5-44-5, Ota-ku, Tokyo 



Telephone: 
03-6424-8821

Links:
Facebook page  (beware, the map is wrong on the facebook page)
Gurunavi page

Ratebeer listing

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Mikkeller Tokyo (CLOSED) New location coming soon hopefully



Finally getting round to writing about the new Mikkeller bar that has fairly recently opened here in Tokyo. This is certainly a place that is going to divide opinion for reasons that I will go into in due course. The bar opened with a free drink giveaway which unsurprisingly resulted in a huge queue and I imagine created quite a buzz. I didn’t go. I was excited that Mikkeller were opening a bar in my (kind of) neighbourhood, but didn’t fancy getting all squashed up in order to get a free beer. Since the hugely popular opening things seem to have calmed down a bit which is a relief. I walk past quite often on the way home from work and it always seems to be buzzing along, but not horribly overcrowded, which is pretty good by me.
If you have been to any of the other Mikkeller bars you will have some idea of what to expect. The decor is modern, lots of wood and Scandinavian (so say people who have more idea than me about these things). It’s certainly a nice looking place. My initial worries about the lack of seating have abated slightly. Inside there are two tables for four, two tables for two, a couple of counters and a long bench seat with little tables in front of it. All in all, there is probably seating for around 30-40 people. In more temperate months this is augmented by a bit more seating outside the front of the bar and I have to admit, it’s pretty nice to sit out there (unless you have a heavy smoker sitting nearby). All in all, it’s a nice comfortable space.
On to the beers, and to the prices (probably the thing that most people will complain about). There are twenty taps which are generally speaking split 15/5 between Mikkeller beers and Japanese craft selections, although occasionally this seems to vary slightly. Beers are served in two sizes with everything being available in 200ml glasses, and the less strong stuff being available in what I guess is around 400ml. The cheaper end of the pricing (mainly the house beers) is ¥550 for the small and ¥950 for the large, which I think is pretty reasonable. Other less rare Mikkeller stuff and some of the Japanese guests go up to around ¥650 and ¥1200. Given that this means that I can get a big Udagawa Spontan for ¥950 most of the time, I’m pretty happy with this. However, as the alcohol percentage and the amount of barrel aging goes up, so do the prices. The highest price I have seen is ¥1600 for 200ml for the Chokeberry Spontan, which is really pushing it, I reckon. However, I think you have to take into account the fact that these beers are expensive in Denmark too. I guess it’s inevitable when you are a gypsy brewer. Beer is just more expensive to make if you have to pay someone else to do it. The beer selection is pretty interesting though. I can’t think of any other bars in Japan that have these kind of beers on. It’s great that they usually have some sour beers on. And the massive amount of varieties of barrel aged stuff sets it apart. Some of the guests though are definitely overpriced. Gueuze Tilquin was ¥1600 for 200ml I think and this is a crazy price for something you can get much cheaper in a few other places in Tokyo. Also, on my last visit they had Magic Rock’s Cannonball for ¥900 for 200ml. This also seems a bit too much for the same reason. As I come to Mikkeller in the most part for Mikkeller beers, I’m not going to gripe too much about the prices of stuff that I’m probably not going to drink.
This place is clearly not going to be for everyone. And I have the feeling that they are not 100% sure themselves who their customers are. It’s clear that this is a very fashionable place at the moment. Plenty of people come here for things other than beer. There were a few teething problems at the start when things weren’t quite running as the might have been expected to, but I think things have definitely improved recently. They now have their taplist online and things are running more smoothly. If you go here on a weekend evening, it will probably be busy, especially later on. They are open in the daytime though, even during the week, which is something I always love. Big thumbs up for that from me. Yes, it’s more expensive than other places, but they do offer something very different from the majority of bars in Tokyo. I actually enjoy the smaller sizes, as some of their beers are extremely strong, and I don’t particularly want 300ml of 17.5%. Naturally, I’d enjoy them more if they were cheaper, but then that goes without saying I guess. I think it is a massive plus for us to have this place in Tokyo, but I can also quite easily understand why people might not like it. I imagine most beer lovers in Tokyo will come here at least once and form their own opinion, so I’m not going to spend any more time trying to convince you either way. It works for me though.

Japanese breweries seen on tap here:
Shiga Kogen
Kyoto
Kokage
Minoh
North Island
Loco

Opening Hours:
Monday-Thursday, 15:00-24:00
Friday, 15:00-02:00
Saturday, 12:00-02:00
Sunday, 12:00-24:00

Telephone:
03-5738-7186

Links:
Website
Ratebeer listing

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Kichijoji round up part 3: Beer Cafe Camiya

(This was initially part of a larger post combining three places in Kichijoji. There are now split into individual entries. Here are part 1 and part 2


- Fancy new place attached to what I think is a bakery about 10 minutes walk away from the hustle and bustle near the station. The modern minimalist decor you would expect. Light and airy during the afternoon on a Sunday. Seating for ten at the counter and seating for eight others at tables. Nice place to enjoy a few drinks.
- Eight pretty good taps, mostly Japanese craft but with a couple of imports, one of which was Abbaye de St Bon Chien! Beer served in three sizes, 260ml, 400ml, 568ml. Prices are a bit expensive, ranging from ¥750-¥900, ¥950-¥1100 and ¥1350-¥1500 respectively. Taplist is on their Facebook page. Some bottles in the fridge at the back, but didn’t get a good look at them and couldn’t see prices on the menu.

This is an interesting one. From comments on this blog and from reading elsewhere I have heard two very distinct things about this place. Firstly that it is very expensive (guess you can see from above that this is probably pretty accurate) and secondly that it’s a nice place. After visiting, I’d agree with both. Not sure how often I will be back as the prices are a definite turn off, but the selection is pretty good and it’s a nice place to have a few beers. As I am not in Kichijoji particularly often I suppose I don’t need to think too much about how I feel about the place. If you go there be prepared to pay a bit more than you would elsewhere but also, to probably have a nice time!

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited: 
Baird
Sankt Gallen
Coedo
Ushi Tora
Shiga Kogen
Shonan

Opening Hours:

Tuesday-Sunday, 15:00-24:00
Closed Monday

Location/map:

吉祥寺東町 2-31-12, ワイエ吉祥寺 1F, Musashino-shi, Tokyo 



Telephone: 
0422-27-5718


Links:
Facebook page 
Twitter

Kichijoji round up part 2: Bicke

(This was initially part of a larger post combining three places in Kichijoji. There are now split into individual entries. Here are part 1 and part 3


- Fairly big place for a Japanese beer bar. Counter for around ten and seats for maybe 35. Feels pretty spacious too and has quite a comfortable ambience to it. Perhaps due to it being around for a while, it looks quite different from the modern light wood and bare stone places that abound now.
- Ten taps, six of which are of interest (at least to me). Japanese craft well represented. Sizes are 260ml and 420ml and prices range from ¥630-¥730 for the half and ¥930-¥1030 for the pint. My half was served in a nice stemmed glass! Sizeable import bottle selection mainly focused on European stuff.

I visited in the afternoon on a Sunday and there were a few people in there. Not sure how busy it gets in the evening. Feel like it probably has more to offer for readers of this blog than Rogue. No cover charge again which is very welcome. Their Facebook links to a gurunavi page where they publish their taplist so you can check it before you visit. Sorry for the terrible photo. It's on the third floor of a building on a busy shopping street, was tricky to get a good photo, so I settled for this terrible one.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Sankt Gallen

Yo-Ho
Minamishinshu
Ginga Kogen
Outsider

Opening Hours:

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 17:00-24:00
Saturday, 15:00-24:00
Sunday, Holidays, 15:00-23:00
Closed Wednesday

Location/map:

吉祥寺本町 2-13-7, グランデールビル 3F, Musashino-shi, Tokyo 


Telephone: 
0422-21-8775

Links:
Facebook page 
Website

Gurunavi

Kichijoji round up part 1: Rogue

(This was initially part of a larger post combining three places in Kichijoji. There are now split into individual entries. Here are part 2 and part 3)

I had been meaning to get to Kichijoji for a while as there are a few bars there that I needed to check out. I finally did it last weekend, so here is the Kichijoji round up (to be added to if required in the future). For some reason I decided to walk there from Yoyogi Uehara and it was one of the dullest 11km walks I have ever done, so I would recommend taking the train. It did give me a bit of a thirst though. There are a couple of well-established places here that I imagine are suffering a little with the arrival of Craft Beer Market, so I have added them in the interest of fairness. I realise it must be pretty difficult for independent places to compete with the chains. Although it has become a bit tricky to work out what places are independent these days as there seems to be a lot of chains that don’t look like chains. Plenty of places have the same owner and therefore bulk purchasing power, but market themselves under different names. I have a loose plan to post something on here about that, but it seems like it might be quite tricky to work out. Anyway, my Kichijoji round up presented in brief and in chronological order as visited.


- Nice little Irish pub tucked away in the side streets just south of the station.
- Seven counter seats and tables for about 20.
- 6 taps, but the three regulars are not so exciting (Heartland, Guinness and Kilkenny!). The guests seem to be mainly imports with the occasional Japanese craft beer in there (Ise Kadoya when I was there). Prices start at ¥650 and ¥1000 for the Japanese craft end of the more interesting stuff. The imports are a little extra. Thornbridge Jaipur was the most expensive at ¥850/¥1400. Selection of import bottles too.

Before the huge boom of places opening I guess this would have been more appealing. It’s still a nice place, especially if you are looking for a nice location rather than a huge beer selection. I liked the feel of the place but I doubt I will be back as there are more places around that have beer I am more interested in drinking. However, they do publish their taplist from time to time on their Facebook page and there is no cover charge, so if you see something you fancy and you are in the area I’m sure you’ll enjoy popping in.

Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Ise Kadoya


Opening Hours:

Monday-Friday, 17:00-01:00
Saturday, 15:00-01:00
Sunday, 15:00-24:00
 
Location/map:

吉祥寺南町 1-11-6, Musashino-shi, Tokyo 



Telephone: 
0422-42-0654

Links:
Facebook page 
Website