CRAFTBEERU Vol 2. – Tokyo Part 2

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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

Konpai

-T&

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CRAFTBEERU Vol. 1 – Tokyo

What a whirlwind. Been in Japan and Tokyo for only 5 full days now and wow. Busy, excited, fun, people, and of course beer. And not as much drinking it, being around it. As many may expect the beer scene here, like our home on the west coast of USA, is wildly friendly and extremely helpful. We have made so many contacts from even the very first night-and the support we’ve received and the friendships we’ve made only seem to grow. We feel crazy-lucky even coincidentally sitting next to Jason, one of the owners of Magpie Brewing in Seoul (asking him to move over for a seat at the bar).

Just after getting into Tokyo we raced to our hostel, changed and went to meet Ariisan who we met through Red (oshuushu.blogspot.jp). This wonderful evening at Rise and Win Brewery was also had with Chihiro, an editor for a local magazine and Ken the owner of Hi-Wheel Wine and Mead Co. who was visiting from PDX. And this was a blast. We got to taste some local brew, chat about beer and culture, and of course meet the entire staff of the brewery who were all wonderfully kind and supportive of our project as well. Flipping phenomenal. And if this wasn’t enough we ended up sitting right next to the man who’s family raised the food we had just ate and the editor for Transporter mag, a local beer magazine, the CEO of which we would meet later. Just brilliant. The kind of night that very cleanly and joyfully is still clicking its heals after midnight as you’re on your way home. 

The next day was equally as busy. We prepared some things, barely having time to unpack, went over our plans and left for Devil Craft Brewery (http://en.devilcraft.jp), an awesome brewery here that has a few restaurant location where they make pizza and serve their brew. After taking a brief tour of the brewery located in a 4 story open floored building we sat down turned on the cameras and began talking with the two of the owners Mike and Jason, as well as the brewer Ryu, a local nihonjin. It was a great time and took a bit longer than we thought, but who doesnt love to talk about beer forever. We left and visited their Kanda location, their first location, a 5 story building with probably less than a 350sf floorplan. So tall and skinny and full of character with stickers plastered all over the walls. Once again we set up camera and chatted with the manager, Fujigamorisan, who kindly agreed to let us in before they opened and take a peak around at their pub which was unlike any we had ever seen.

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As if this wasn’t a full enough day we then went to Titans (beertitans.com). This local beer bar was a blast. Located near Ikebukuro, this 3 level beer bar offered about 12 taps and a wonderful atmosphere that is often lacking at other locations in Tokyo. As founder Kuwanosan explained, they wanted to make a “free space” for people to do what they wanted. The first floor is a bar style, the music is louder, people are chatting and the bartender is assertive. The second level is more of a lounge with low ceilings, short sitting tables and pillows around the space for locals to learn the word ‘chill’ as we say it on the west coast. The third floor then turns more into a sit down style place for salary men. Where those wanting chaired tables can sit down and enjoy a beer in a quieter atmosphere. And you could really tell, the atmosphere of the entire place was very welcome as there seemed to be a space for all styles of visitors. However ‘Free Space’ often was taken a bit too litterally by some Japanese who initialy went a bit crazy, so they “had to scale that back a bit”. Returning home we just had time to transfer files and organize before crashing hard from the two days. 

The next day was hardly different. After taking care of some neglected organization and an hour of personal time. We headed off to Devil Craft again to film a brew, wanting to add some dynamic and interesting B-roll to the footage we got the day before. Here we were also able to meet the third owner, John, who was just as kind as the others and very inviting to show us the brew, explaining their specific system and methods. 

ts2_9865John Chambers from DevilCraft working with the mash.

Some more B-roll and we were off to shoot some train shots, outdoor shots and various others that we think will come in handy later. With a couple hours to spare I was finally able to get my beloved first tsukemen in Japan and Elijah was able to get his first ramen, oh my lordy lord the food. This was of course just before heading to Craftheads, an awesome beer bar in Shibuya, which sold a wide variety of specialty alcohol and beer. This spot was also home to Koji-san, a family friend of Elijah and the meeting place we had deided on with Transporter magazine ceo Nobuhiro-san—who had also brought along his very talented videographer friend Okumura-san. We chatted for hours and had a few beers and again received invaluable amounts of recommendations and help from both of them. Please check them out, by searching brewfilm.jp and transporter magazine Tokyo. Here, for me personally, the Japanese began getting hard. Elijah knowing many more words and having much more experience took off talking to Nobuhirosan. Though they subsequently dumbed it down for me a bit, meaning they slowed it down and added some english ha. But both were such wonderful people, its again unbelievable how much support and help we have gotten. I just can’t get over it. 

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Though exhausted, we didn’t feet it a bit—the beers helped. Though our brains, especially mine I think needed those beers to relax a bit after not only the travel, camera-work, and planning, but the language usage. Though I’m stoked as I feel my brain has been using the majority of my food intake. After thanking them we headed home, excited, with as little physical enthusiasm as possible, to get to bed a bit early. BUTTT OOOHHHHH WAIT. There’s more. 

Within literally 50 feet of the hostel, and while literally chatting with Elijah about how stoked we were to get some sleep, we passed a drunk, Japanese business man. Who proclaimed, “hHEey guYs”. “where are you going”. We replied in Japanese and asked where he was going, and he said, “oHhh just here, To EaT a bite”. And he pointed at a plainly closed Italian establishment as he walked over to it and began to nock. Now of course Elijah and I were confused. It was past Midnight and the steal shutters of this place had obviously been down for hours as the place was black. “Come, cOme join me, you want SomEthing to eAt?” He said. Thinking he was rather crazy we were about to turn and just walk away as he knocked again this time prompting the door to open as a small, kind Japanese voice answered “hai”. 

“CloSed so EaRly?” he said to the man inside. And as if the king of the castle the man replied, “hai” and came outside opening the steal shutters and beckoning us inside. We, as you may have expected were stunned and quite frankly couldn’t not go in. I turned to Elijah and said, “well…”. When of course the complete sentence in my head was, “well …we are either going to lose our kidneys or this guy is the boss and wants to treat us to a midnight feast.”

Either way I think we had to find out and we went inside a truly beautiful, but small Italian restaurant with a bar and maybe three tables. The man who had opened the door went behind the bar and served us a liter of wine and waited for an order. Low and behold they were old friends and the old gentle man who invited us in was the restaurant owners oldest best customer. We then enjoy some some great Italian carbonara while drinking a light summer Italian ine and remeniscing on both the restaurant owner’s time in Italy and the old gentleman’s time abroad in New York. Never in my life have I met someone within 10 seconds and then gone to a restaurant 20 feet away while being forty feet from home. Just goes to show what a simple sentence can do. 

“Hey you GuYs, where you GoinG?” 

Needless to say I won’t be forgetting that night any time soon. 

Off to Harvest Moon Brewery Tuesday, right outside Disney Sea. Shonan beer near Chigasaki the next day. And Brimmer brewing in Kawasaki on Thursday. A full week. Stoked. 

Rest the body, drink water, drink beer, and always be open to new opportunities. 

T&イ

ts2_9870A view from the balcony at DevilCraft.