Year of the beer

Year of the beer

Celebrating the highlights of 2008—plus a few brew-fueled countdown parties


Originally published on on December 2008

Best Local Breweries of 2008

Baird Beer, Shizuoka

Nakameguro Taproom

Nakameguro Taproom

Bryan Baird was already an accomplished brewer when he founded Baird Beer in January 2001 with partner Sayuri. He hit the ground running and developed a reputation as brewing the best beer in Japan. Competition is now closing in, but he’s still on top. In May, Baird opened a pub in Nakameguro (see “Countdown Parties”).

Fujizakura Kogen Beer, Yamanashi
Very few brewers will even attempt to recreate the rare rauch (smoked) beers of Bamberg in Germany’s Franconia region, but brewmaster Hiromichi Miyashita seems to specialize in them. His rauchbier and seasonal rauchbock are the best of their type in Japan, as are his clean yet spicy weizen and weizenbock.

Hakusekikan Beer, Gifu
Brewmaster Satoshi Niwa does wonderful things with natural airborne yeast in much the same way traditional Belgian lambic brewers do. He is also Japan’s leading practitioner of extreme beers, as his Super Vintage proves (14.3 percent alcohol).

Harvest Moon, Chiba
Tomoko Sonoda had no experience when this brewery started up in 2000 near Tokyo Disneyland, but now she’s brewing beers with remarkable balance and complexity. Her German-style schwarzbier is a dark beer with a huge following.

Hitachino Nest, Ibaraki
Founded by an old-line sake producer that takes a few new approaches, Hitachino Nest has found unexpected popularity in the US, which now accounts for half its sales. The White Ale is a Belgian/German hybrid with some surprises, but I go for the 8.3 percent XH (for “extra high”) strong dark ale.

Minoh Beer, Osaka
In May 1997, liquor merchant Masaji Oshita gave his two daughters the ultimate gift: a brewery. Kaori and Mayuko are now in charge of brewing beers that garner a surprising number of awards. Minoh Double IPA is famous among beer fans, while Hemp High and Ganja High beers seem to be popular where reggae music is played.

Note: Beers from all these breweries will be served at the 7th Tokyo Real Ale Festival in Asakusa on February 15. Details at

Personal “Near Beer” Favorite

Kirin Nuda Grapefruit & HopKirin Nuda
Talk about light beer! This righteous refresher is really a soft drink with no calories, and no alcohol either. Just the brisk, refreshing taste of hops backed with the tart and bitter flavor of grapefruit in a strongly carbonated water enhanced with tea extract. Grab one after a hot bath and power it down your throat with abandon—you won’t get drunk or fat. Other Nuda varieties include Lemon & Tonic and Pink Grapefruit & Tonic. All make fantastic cocktail substitutes or even mixers, but I like the Hop & Grapefruit. With the demise of Yuzu & Hop, it is now the least popular of the bunch. Check ‘em out.

Countdown Parties

Beer pubs all over Tokyo will be alight on New Years Eve. Here are some suggestions from among my favorites. Keep in mind that most trains run all night.

Beer Club Popeye
From 11pm onward, ¥2,000. No food, but OK to bring your own eats. Call or see site for details.
2-18-7 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku. Tel: 03-3633-2120. Nearest stn: Ryogoku, west exit.

No special party, but many varieties of craft beer will be progressively discounted after midnight.
B1 Green Bldg, 3-13-10 Uchi-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-6659-5884. Nearest stn: Kanda, north exit.

The Aldgate
At the stroke of midnight, all drinks will be discounted ¥200 for the rest of the evening, with a complimentary light snack served at 1am.
3F Shin-Iwasaki Bldg, 30-4 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3462-2983. Nearest stn: Shibuya, Hachiko exit.

Nakameguro Taproom Party
7pm-1am for ¥5,000 per person includes light buffet and all the Baird beer you can drink.
Nakameguro GT Plaza, 2-1-3 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku. Tel: 03-5768-3025. Nearest stn: Nakameguro.

Meguro Black Lion
This lively and cheerful pub will be open from 5pm to 6am. Call for details.
1-15-16 Meguro, Meguro-ku. Tel: 03-3491-2312. Nearest stn: Meguro, west exit.

This “Ale & Cigar Bar” offers the real deal for power users: ¥2,000 for your first beer and one plate of food, after which all drinks are ¥300 off until morning. Located four stops from Meguro station.
7-16-3 Koyama, Shinagawa-ku. Tel: 03-3782-7699. Nearest stn: Senzoku (Tokyu Meguro line).