Our week was packed with three breweries visits around the Tokyo area. First off, a visit to Harvest Moon in Chiba. Sonoda-san welcomed us with open arms to her brewery located next to Disney’s mega-land complex in Chiba, a prefecture neighboring Tokyo. Greeting us wearing a hair of the dog T-shirt (none-the-less!), she kindly escorted us around her brewery as they were in the middle of finishing up the days brew. We quickly scrambled to get our equipment together to capture as much of the process as possible. Her assistant brewer, Adachi-san, was clearing out the mash as we started filming. As we continued, we talked to Sonoda-san about her beer making practice. She started working at the brewery about 16 years prior with little experience but with love for what she was making. As the process moved along and she had to help out Adachi-san, we we’re astonished at how much of the work she did herself. What incredible person. Really! So kind and caring. Talking to us with a smile after lifting a couple hundred pounds of grain into the mill. Afterwards we were able to fit in a short interview as well as taste some of her delicious beers (necessary of course). She also gave us a few bottles to take with us, one of which being made with sake rice that we are excited to try. She welcomed us back anytime and we made sure to pass on our cards as well as a few brewery stickers of our own. By the time we left it was dark out, perfect timing to capture the nights crescent moon.
The next day we went to Shonan beer in Chigasaki, about an hour south of our Hostel in Kawasaki by train. Tsutsui-san, the head brewer, welcomed us. We we’re blown away by the size of the compound that the brewery was located on. The brewery started about 20 years ago, right around the time of legalization for small breweries. Started by a sake brewery, it originally focused on the typical pale pilsners that are still very popular in Japan and worldwide. Since then a lot has changed. Not only has the breweries beer styles branched out to stronger, more flavorful styles but Tsutsui-san has also be experimenting with new and unusual styles, specifically with Japanese ingredients. Since they are located next to a sake brewery, he is using a lot of things used in the sake brewing process such as koji, a fungus used in the intial process’s of sake fermentation. Alongside the brewery stands a number of buildings which house a couple restaurants, bakery, cafe, and art gallery. Each with their own unique style, the place is truly a destination for those interested in finding new and unique food, drink, and art. Specifically in the art gallery was a section devoted to the owners favorite indigo ink dyer. The walls were lined with beautiful hues of blue each unique in the characteristic ‘indigo’ that is so recognizable from the dying style.
Our last brewery of the week was Brimmer brewing in Kawasaki. Kawasaki is an industrial city south of Tokyo and Brimmer happens to be the only brewery in the area. When they were starting the brewery, the city was eager to help them start out on a good foot. Scott Brimmer, a Mendocino via Chico transplant to Japan, has been brewing since College at Sierra Nevada. Moving to Japan with his Japanese wife he bounced around at a few breweries before deciding to set out on his own. The beers are clean and drinkable. Not too experimental or hoppy but a guaranteed good, solid beer. As the companies logo of a tree and a fisherman by the Santa Cruz sea connotes Brimmer Beer is something for the everyday kickback. Scott and his assistant brewer Chris (an Oregonian) showed us around their small brewery as we talked to them about Japan, beer, basketball, and where to find the best burritos. We also discussed their plans for expansion which will be happening while we are in country. We look forward to going back and seeing the changes occur. And also getting burritos with Chris, thats high on the list.
We then headed back to Titans for a tap-takeover from Knee Deep brewery out of California. The brewery specializes in strong beers and a few drinkers were not prepared. As we arrived one drinker in particular was having a hard time standing up. Albert, the owner of the bar, greeted us along with Mike, one of the brewmasters at DevilCraft. They happen to be childhood buddies who came to Japan together long before getting into the beer business. The event was a lot of a fun and we saw Chris from Brimmer again. We promised him that we would let him know when we came back to Tokyo so he could take us to his favorite burrito place.
The next day we rented bikes from our hostel and spent the day filming some of the natural sites around the Tamagawa river. It separates Kanagawa and Tokyo proper. It was a bright, windy day and the seagulls and pigeons were out riding the gusts. Taking time to photograph nature was cathartic after a long week of brewery hopping.
Afterwards we headed to Shibuya to meet Dede Bribrom, a transplant from Israel, who is the general beer manager for Good Beer Faucets. They are known for having over 40 taps, about 10 of which are consistent house beers from Brimmer and Baird (a brewery based in Shizuoka). Dede talked to us about the interconnected community of beer makers and lovers throughout Japan. A trained chef, he moved to Japan to learn the language, and worked in a restaurant that had a couple of taps for beer. The most knowledgeable person in house for beer, he would work mornings in the kitchen and then nights at the bar working the counter expanding peoples beer knowledge. One of the regulars, Holy-san, took to liking the idea of opening his own beer bar and found Dede to be the perfect candidate to run it. So 8 years later they have four bars and he is the managing director. We started to talk about the different breweries that we were planning to go to. ‘She my little sister’, ‘He’s my big brother’, and ‘She’s my secret girlfriend’ followed each place that we told him about. Like he explained to us the brewery world is small and full of love and friendship…
To round out our weekend, we planned to go to Craftheads where Koji was hosting 苦い人生(Bitter Life) a tap takeover from Eigo Sato’s Shigakogen. 42 different beers in total including two collaboration beers from Hair of the Dog, Adamu and Monkey claws. Shigakogen showcased their immense talent in variety and flavor at the event and we were happy to join going back again the next day. We hope to venture out to Shigakogen in Nagano next month to see their new brewery that opened last year and talk to Eigo about his thoughts on beer in Japan. Prior to the festivities we went to visit our friends Phred and Shoshana Kaufman at Feel Portland, a small fair with Blue Star donuts, Columbia Sportswear, and beer straight from the rose city. We met Miyuki-san, owner of PDX taproom, a Portland only beer bar in Shibuya with their own PDX carpet! The event turned out to be quite cold and windy and strangely flooded with country music so we did not stay for long. Luckily before leaving we met Santa, a dream come true in not-so-little Tokyo.
With this childhood dream fulfilled =) we now are prepping our next leap. Friday 12/16 we are off to Kansai/Wakayama area and Tokushima to meet Arii-san and get to know Rise and Win brewery a bit better. Then we are off to Sapporo for a White Christmas/Chanukah in a true Hokkaido winter wonderland. We will even be able to see Santa again, and if all works out go out with him for the Jewpanese New Years Festivities.
Love to you all