August 7, 2009
The land of shochu gets a craft beer infusion
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2009
People familiar only with the Asahi Super Drys and Kirin Tanreis of the world usually scoff when we mention beer in Japan. But the fact remains that you can find far more bars specializing in microbrews here in Tokyo than in many major European and American cities.
Though we’ve got a few clear favorites, we’re always on the hunt for new hangouts. And since we’ve not yet achieved beer enlightenment, our criteria have as much to do with atmosphere as the specific selection on tap. So we were excited when we first discovered Kura-Kura in the trendy enclave of Shimokitazawa—and alarmed to learn that they were closing up shop and moving to Kanda. Why, pray tell, would you want to do a thing like that? Still, curiosity got the better of us, and we made the trek out to salaryman-land to inspect the bar’s new digs.
Walking through the front door, two thoughts immediately flashed through our minds: “fancy” and “busy.” Kura-Kura certainly isn’t large, but for a Wednesday night it was packed with work groups and several casual couples. And while “fancy” doesn’t quite do justice to the relaxed ambience of the place, the bar would fit in perfectly in Ginza or Akasaka.
Kura’s biggest claim to fame is its “Perfect Beer Server,” an ingenious device that allows the pub to keep 12 different brews on tap at all times. The selection includes many of the major players on the Japanese craft beer scene, including Sankt Gallen (¥650), Baird Beer (¥650/¥800) and Umenishiki (¥700). Rounding out the selection are Edelpils, Sapporo’s attempt at a pilsner (¥600), and Hoegaarden White (¥850). Several local brews and a decent selection of German and Belgian beers are also available by the bottle—including our personal favorite, Delirium Tremens (¥1,200).
We decided to start simple, and asked our server to recommend something pale. She seemed a bit nonplussed by the question, but her advice of Sankt Gallen’s Golden Ale was solid, if a little obvious.
Kura’s kitchen churns out mainly izakaya-style food, with lots of meat-heavy dishes designed to go well with beer. We started off with the “saku-saku” kara-age (¥780), which was as piping-hot as its name suggests, then followed up with garlic potatoes (¥580) and spicy duck (¥780). The latter, though not particularly “spicy,” was juicy and had a pleasant peppery taste. It was our cue to go a bit stronger on the drinks, and we settled on Ezo’s Namara Nigai, a.k.a. “Brutal Bitter” (¥800). We wouldn’t exactly call it brutal, but then we’ve got a soft spot for IPAs, so we might not be the best people to ask.
All in all, Kura proved to be a very satisfactory addition to our roster of microbrew hangouts. We probably wouldn’t give it a berth in the top five, but if we ever find ourselves in Kanda again, we’ll definitely drop by.